At first glance, Kevin Rudolf’s enigmatic anthem “Let It Rock (featuring Lil Wayne)” seems to have air–dropped over radio out of nowhere, becoming a genre–defying game–changer that has put the alluring artist smack in the cross–hairs. Truth is – the urban music world’s been waiting for a cutting edge hit–maker with a rock pedigree to turn the page on the current musical landscape. Kevin Rudolf answers the call, stepping up with reigning hip hop imprint Cash Money Records to deliver a riveting album debut, In The City.
Produced and written by Kevin, the new CD mines his reservoir of innovative production skills, righteous songwriting and smoldering rock guitar chops. The New York City native showcases the kind of streetwise riffs and adrenalized punk aesthetic he wielded when navigating the hardscrabble world of studio hit–making prior to In The City. He earned his gun–slinging rep as an in–demand guitarist/producer for some of music’s most adventurous artists, offering his scorching guitar brand to trailblazers such as Timbaland, Nelly Furtado, and Black Eyed Peas among others. Unlike most prodigies, Kevin continued to refine his legendary skills under the radar even as he began to craft songs for his own debut.
His first album shines with the same confident but shadowy mystique (online bloggers searching for even a photo of Rudolf has made a guessing game as to his origin and back–story.). In the age of Facebook–flaunting myspace–taunting GPS tracking wannabes, there still remains a refreshing mystery about him. But one look at the cover of his new CD – a silhouetted Rudolf, guitar–at–the ready in front of an ink blot of an urban landscape that would make The Clash proud – and you realize his DNA of rock, rap, and soaring song–craft is in his genes, and not tacked on as some last minute record company marketing plan, with a healthy irreverence that hasn’t fallen through the cracks. “I grew up in New York City. You have to learn how to survive, but hopefully in a way that’s true to you,” he says. “That means putting your head down once in a while and just saying F*** it, too. I promised myself if I got here I’d let my music do the talking. It’s the same way when I work. I’ve always let the music channel through me.”
It’s that same grace under pressure that has enabled him to come out of hip hop–centric Cash Money with hit rock song blazing: Prince–like in its originality and signature proclamation – ‘What the Saints forgot I must now remind you,’ he sings – by the time Lil Wayne spins into orbit you’ve realize the hip hop superstar is deputizin’ a new Sheriff in town – Weezies’ left–of–center spaced out rap complementing Kevin’s rocking call–to–arms perfectly. As one music blogger wrote: It’s the year’s ‘perfect trifecta of pop, rap, and rock.’
“Cash Money has been great,” says Kevin. “They are known for hip hop but they are also known for launching bold success stories. Having Lil Wayne bless my song was truly an honor, and I also think I’m bringing something new and fresh to their label.”
Ronald ‘Slim’ Williams, CEO and co–founder, along with his brother Bryan ‘Baby’ Williams, of the sprawling Cash Money Conglomerate, (enjoying a decade–plus reign with more than 50 million albums sold and dozens of awards/gold and platinum releases) sensed Kevin was something special from the get–go. He signed the newcomer to Cash Money, and in an overture indicative of Kevin’s pop and urban appeal, entered into a deal with Universal Republic Records to help expand the game plan. “We love one–of–a–kind artists and Kevin rolls that way in everything he does,” says Williams. “At Cash Money we are always looking at the next step, the next level we can take our audience. I knew his work with other artists, but when he played me his solo stuff we just knew we had to partner up.”
Of course, it’s never as simple as just walking through the door. Born in Manhattan, Kevin’s mom was an aspiring rock singer who instilled in him early on a love for music. He picked up the guitar at age 11 and knew he had a passion for it. Rising in the New York underground music ranks, he got his first big break collaborating in the studio with the likes of urban music pioneer Timbaland. “I met him through a friend of mine,” recalls Kevin. “At first I just went into the studio to absorb what I could. I brought my guitar as sort of peace offering so I wasn’t feeling completely useless. Soon I was playing parts on songs.” His work landed on a few key Timbaland releases (such as Timbaland featuring Justin Timberlake gems “Release” and Scream”). Co–production stints with heavyweights like David Banner would follow. Soon Kevin had built up an impressive resume of collaboration – Nelly Furtado, Black Eyed Peas, Lil Kim, LL Cool J and others.
But all the time he was also writing songs for his own solo offering. “I kept the dream alive by steadily working on my own music.” With typical Rudolf intensity, the vision for his debut album, In The City, would become what he calls a “loose concept album” that reflects on his New York City upbringing and what some might call – he says – “urban disenchantment.”
Known in underground music circles as possessing savvy producer’s skills, (A–list studio wizards like the Neptunes have recently sought him ought), Kevin stuck to his instincts on In The City. “I didn’t set out to do a concept. The way I work – I just sort of create and see what comes out. The songs were about me growing up, figuring out how to survive. I just stood back and began assembling the pieces. When it feels good you just get out of the way and let the music come through.” Songs such as the title song and “The Great Escape” touch on Rudolf’s dissatisfaction with the world, but also his ability to overcome. On another anthem–like offering, “Give Me A Sign,” his wordplay soars in a style akin to one of his biggest lyrical influences, U2: ‘I asked for a wise man to make me wise/He said son the answer’s contained inside/I choked on the fortune but I feel fine…’
Cash Money in–house production stalwart Josh Berkman (who helped pave the way for Kevin to come to the label) lends a hand, as does another friend and musical compatriot, Ill Factor. But Kevin was secure enough in his vision to sign with a major label that equaled his faith in the creative process. “Cash Money stood out. Before “Let It Rock” came out a lot of industry people who heard my music would comment on how great it was that I am influenced by so many musical styles, and then they’d say ‘but how do we promote it?’ They heard what I heard. What I’m most proud of right now is the music is working itself. And that’s great, because I don’t want to talk about myself all day long. I’m not the kind of artist who is going to get up in the morning and tell you what he had for breakfast on his web site,” he says.
But when it comes to ‘letting it rock’…well…In The City is rolling out loud and clear.