Photograph by David Huang
In Flux: Rapper and poet Dennis 'Denizen Kane' Kim notched three appearances on HBO's 'Def Poetry.'
Denizen Kane is a work in progress
By Todd Inoue
EVEN THOUGH it's full of mind food, Dennis 'Denizen Kane' Kim won't give a ringing endorsement of his latest record Tree City Legends Vol. II: My Bootleg Life. He isn't ashamed of the thing, which came out last December on Galapagos4 label; it's just that Kim's already moved on to a whole new sound and direction. He's become more proficient as a beat programmer and guitarist.
"It's the last record I'm going to do in the Galapagos4, Typical Cats type of sound," Kim says. "It's been 'Get some beats, smoke some weed and do the track.' There's something to be said about it, but I'm feeling more inclined to change."
It's an evolution that's been building since 1998 when Kim gained notoriety in the inspirational pan-Asian American poetry squad I Was Born With 2 Tongues. The crew came together in Chicago when Kim was an English major at the University of Chicago by day and up-and-coming poet at night. He performed poetry in bars and eventually formed a bond with fellow poets Marlon Esguerra, Anida Yoeu Esguerra and Emily Chang. The quartet shared solidarity in their first- and second-generation immigrant roots, speaking on subjects of race, sex, home, family, history and expectations.
The crew disbanded in 2004. Kim moved to Oakland, where he went on to further explore his hip-hop foundation solo and with the group Typical Cats. In 2003, he parlayed music ("Calling Back") for a Honda Civic advertising campaign but ultimately bummed out on those who saw the move—getting paid doing something you love—as unethical. "I'm grateful to do what I do. Really, people get wild on a superficial level," he says. "It's not like those things aren't real, but at a certain point, it's your life—not a scene, not a livelihood."
All the while, Kim flexed his poetic muscle, logging three appearances on HBO's Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry. One episode saw Kim perform a piece "Patriot Act" half singing/half signifying that provided solid evidence that Kim sticks to his own script. Surrounded by dozens of poets over two days, many with a chapbook and CD to grind, Kim took it all in from the sidelines. "I was the weird dude who wasn't saying anything, just observing," he says. "I felt these little struggles; should I go into tap dance mode or do the joint I was really feeling? I've never been in those situations."
Add all these experiences together, stir in two kids (Micah, 4; Mahalia, 1) and all the inherent responsibilities and something had to give. Kim admits he went into a down period but now sees the fog clearing and feels the giddy anticipation to create. That's why the next record will likely mark another evolution for Kim—matured, curious about the past and optimistically critical about the future.
"It feels real good just being grown," he says. "If I want to make a mark in creativity, it'll be in my voice. I don't know what it'll sound like but I feel it's the difference between the crying of your soul and doing a hot 16 bars."
"I don't know how to talk about them yet," Kim concludes, about the songs dancing in his head. "I'm always surprised because music is a way to say things I can't say. That's why it's music." Preview Kim's next step in his journey on Friday.
Denizen Kane appears at [Re]Definition on Friday, June 2, at the Hinson Campus Center at De Anza College, 21250 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino. The show goes from 6 to 9pm and is free. Other performers include Esoin, Jane Doe, Trademark, Rey Resurrection, Gi, Jocelyn DeLeon, Apakalips, Magnetic North, Dandiggity and Godfrey Ramos.
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