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Kenny Mason, Tony Shhnow turn up the ‘pups’ in Chicago

Photos courtesy of John Cotter

Atlanta’s Kenny Mason is forging his own path as the new wave’s top dog. He and special guest Tony Shhnow shut down Chicago’s revered underground venue, The Subterranean, on Dec. 13, where we caught up with the ATL hitmaker about a potential sequel to RUFFS and new music on the way, among other things.

Waves of cascading barks break out from beneath the Subterranean’s green room, as pack leader Kenny Mason begins to saunter toward the spiral steps of the venue’s hidden-in-plain-sight entrance.

“Y’all hear them barking?”, he says preparing to head down, donning a RUFFS knit, black military vest and matching Stussy Air Maxes. He greets me like we’re old friends minutes before he’s set to perform. There’s about six of us packed into the green room with small plastic cups of Casamigos being poured in celebration.

The speakers below shake the doors that lock us in, with one holding a piece of tape that has “DO NOT OPEN” scribbled on it. It wobbles every time the 808s boom from underneath — like a monster is being kept inside. To my right is the jovial Chicago Bears lineman Andrew Brown, as special guest Tony Shhnow — whose personality is inescapably infectious — sits on the sunken retro couch with his Nintendo Switch smiling from cheek-to-cheek. Mason remains idle in the corner, but is focused in these moments — like a calm before the “Storm.”

His emotion and versatility are not only major insights into his artistry, but feeds his high-spoken spirit and low-key demeanor — flipping a switch as “ZOOMIES’” metal-laced guitar lead revs up from below us. The crowd’s off-the-charts energy boil in anticipation to get a glimpse at rap’s resident rockstar. A faithful crew of fans clamor for Mason as he climbs down from the proverbial heavens — unleashing the pups as soon as he hits the stage.

Just days before, Mason and company performed in Los Angeles, flying from LA to Chicago and then Toronto in two days’ time. His first-ever headlining tour in support of his latest album, RUFFS, is a personification of the tethered connection he has with his fans. He’s humbled, driven and destined for stardom. Even if Sub-T packed in just 200 fans, it felt like 2,000 — with front row rail riders clinging to his every word and rapping his lyrics verbatim.

“It’s real special. The first tour is always one to set the foundation for your career,” he told me as Shhnow performed. “These are the kids that are gonna be able to say that ‘I came here, at this time before it got super crazy. I was here at the beginning.’ I really like making my fans feel special, making them feel like they’re one-on-one with me. I put a lot of my emotions into my music as much as I do with my shows.”

The Atlanta star was one with his supporters — finding faces to personally rap to at every section of the stage. Asking for the crowd to give themselves “a grade” in comparison to his LA and Atlanta shows, he fittingly played SUPERCUT’s “A+” with Denzel Curry, which led to performing his track “SHELL” which has evidently encapsulated Kenny’s moment as of late.

“[SHELL] is one of those songs where I’m just freefrom rapping,” he revealed. “I always try and keep that theme on songs like “SHELL” or “Chevron” where I’m freestyling with friends at the gas station, just spitting not a worry in the world, you feel me? It’s a nostalgic feeling.”

Amid “SHELL’s” classic feel, he turnt things up with performances of “STICK” and “333 / ATOM” — opening up the “dog pit” (as he calls it) with a few rules for fans. “I have three rules,” he announced. “If somebody falls, what do you do?”, he repeats there times. “Pick them up,” the crowd chants back, painting Kenny as a pure heart even if it’s as “Black” as RUFFS suggests. He isn’t remiss to mention how much his fans mean to him during the show, illustrating the love he has every chance he gets. “I really appreciate y’all here that rock with me. You made this possible.”

More somber, emotional moments were found during the set’s closer “WESTSIDE” and his encore of Angelic Hoodrat’s “Pretty Thoughts,” further proving that he — at his core — does this all for those riding for him. The emotions came over him during “WESTSIDE,” telling me that “it’s always easiest when I do something emotional. The intimate sounds come more natural to me.”

With plans to celebrate his birthday — which he and I interestingly share — with Young Nudy and Tony Shhnow on the tour’s finale in Atlanta (Dec. 17), he gifted fans an early birthday present of their own: A performance of he and Shhnow’s upcoming, unreleased track. That was just a taste of what’s to come, as Kenny plans to bring more fresh-pressed tracks to the surface soon.

“I’m about to drop more music. I just want to keep going, I really don’t want to get off the wave [I’ve created]. I don’t want to check the scoreboard, I just want to keep winning regardless of it,” he said. “Singles are coming next, but shit I might do a RUFFS 2. I don’t know yet, but just know more is coming.”

Leaving Chicago on a high note, he continues his mission of building the foundation and “keep going” in every regard. He couldn’t do it without the fans, though, as Mason will never be one to leave his pups behind. “Shout out my fans — shout out the pups, man. And shout out OGM. Just wait for what’s next.”

It’s safe to say 2023 looks bright for the new wave’s top dog.

More Kenny Mason below!