"I was always the kid at school that had characters," says David Cohn, aka Serengeti
. While these multiple personalities might've gotten him in some hot water with his teachers back in the day, now they're gaining him plenty of fans around the city.
One of the rapper's most recent albums, Dennehy, finds him playing the roles of three city characters, complete with varied accents and storylines. Perhaps the most interesting of the group is Kenny, a die-hard Chicago guy whose main loves are da Bears, auto shows, O'Doul's and his girl, Jueles.
"About five years ago, I was working for Budweiser delivering beer, so I was always in these different neighborhoods in Chicago, meeting all these different people," recalls Serengeti about the inspiration for Kenny. "And then one day, three years ago, I was watching the Little League World Series. Right before they show a kid, they ask, like, 'who's your favorite actor?,' 'what's your favorite movie?,' yadda yadda. So all of a sudden I was like, man, what if someone's favorite actor was [Brian] Dennehy? And everything just sorta steamrolled from there."
If this doesn't sound like the typical subject matter for a hip-hop album, that's kind of the point. "Hip-hop is so depressing to me," says Serengeti. "It just doesn't bring any new thoughts to the table, it's the same redundant ideas. It's like, it's not cool to kill people, but let's rap about killing people as cool. Even in underground rap, it's all just homaging old shit, there's never any new thoughts. Why do I want to hear a rap song about rap, or hear a song about how you flip styles? It's the same voice played a thousand times."
Serengeti's certainly been doing his part to get a few new voices out there. He has six albums out right now on six different labels, including 2005's Gasoline Rainbows (Day by Day Entertainment), which took nearly five years to complete, and last year's Noticeably Negro (Audio 8). He's got a band, The Serengetis, which he describes as doing "little story songs," and the upcoming Don't Give Up, with producer Polyphonic, will feature electro beats and cello players. "I just have a lot of different inspirations," he says. "I don't want to keep on making the same album over and over again."
Fans have come to expect the unexpected from Serengeti, who has applied his drawling rap style to subjects like Chuck Norris, iPods, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Aurora Borealis over the years. He often uses the experiences he's had as a Chicago native (growing up, he split his time between his mother's home on the South Side and his father's in Olympia Fields), but there are still aspects to the city that can surprise him. He recently premiered the video for "I Don't Know," a Dennehy track done from the perspective of a nameless hipster kid who continually declares his "emo" status.
Until recently, Geti says he knew nothing about the whole emo trend, until a friend used the term to characterize Wicker Park. "For the longest time, I didn't really venture out of Rogers Park," he says. "And then I went to North Avenue and Damen, and I saw all these kids. I'm like wow, they're all rock stars. It's amazing. Like who are these kids? Where do they come from?"
No matter what their origin, these colorful characters now take their place alongside many others in Serengeti's head.
In the beginning: My first show for myself was when I went on this tour after I did the Dirty Flamingo album in 2003. It was in St. Louis at this place called the Pepper Lounge. And back then, I just used to get really drunk and get on stage. It was like a trainwreck. It was fun for me but after a while you just get tired of that drunk thing. People liked seeing me self-destruct on stage...but it's no good for me.
What's cool in my neck of the woods: I don't really get out much. I like goin' to Danny's...my guy Trimm spins there. I like the shows at the Abbey Pub, the Empty Bottle. Standard places, I guess...I don't have any secret spots that like nobody knows about.
What I'm listening to: A lot of Black Sabbath's The Paranoid Album, The Sword, The Casiotones, Ghostface, the Viktor Vaughn album. Nothing really new, I haven't really bought a new record in a long time. I think the last thing I got was the Juggaknots, and that's fairly recent. As far as me putting on a record casually, I haven't done that in a really long time. Except for The Streets. A Grand Don't Come for Free, I was really stuck on that album for about a year. At the same time, Vespertine, by Bjork, I loved that. The latest Thom Yorke album, I actually bought that. I used to love Kid A, that was like the best shit ever.