There are many genres and styles of music in the world – with rock, pop, hip-hop and country making up the majority of today’s top 40 hits. Out of those four main styles, though, I think it’s safe to say that hip-hop has been the most dominant since the early to mid-nineties. Much like other genres, there are new hip-hop artist popping up everyday, so finding new tunes and artist to listen to shouldn’t be a problem; finding new artists that are good is the problem. A lot of the lyrical content within the genre is questionable, and some artists do nothing more than coast off of other’s success, but one group I recently heard is doing something pretty special.
Keen Society is a duo out of Charlotte, NC that blends multiple styles together in their music. Vocalist Ren Harriston has this to say about their style: “I would say our music is a blend of hip hop and pop with r&b elements.” With the powerful, soulful vocals of Harriston and the rapping abilities of Matt Poplin, as well as his work on the acoustic guitar on a few tracks, these two are capable of making a lot noise in the Charlotte music scene. The pair has started to get a pretty good following around town, calling their fans the “Keen Krew.” It seems like every song these two put out is capable of hooking you in and getting your head bobbing, from the beats and flow of the backing tracks to the intensity of the vocals and messages within the lyrics.
While the duo is primarily known as a hip-hop group, most of their tunes have an r&b feel with the slower tempo and the vocal melodies. The group’s track “Breakdown” has a style that is hard not to like. Harriston occupies most of the song, weaving in and out of the beat with her singing and rapping while Poplin takes over for a few measures halfway through with a dominant performance.
One of their more up-tempo songs that really stuck out to me is “Fine.” This tune features a contagious melody in the chorus by Harriston and a couple very powerful and moving verses featuring the rapping of Poplin. When asked about their message, “we talk about chasing our dreams no matter the cost and praying those dreams never fail. Instead of the basic hip-hop scene of money, girls and mansions.” Keen Society is certainly a unique and extremely talented group within the Charlotte music scene, which is why I asked them to do an interview. They kindly agreed and you can check out the full Q & A below.
S16: What would you say makes your style and sound stand out compared to other artist in the genre?
KS: Our music is broad yet, unique. It’s like your favorite r&b artist featuring your favorite rapper for every song. It always brings a different element. Our image, as well as our sound is diverse and compatible.
S16: How do you go about writing your music? Is there one person in particular that writes? Do you write in the studio, on the road, or is it something that can happen any time?
KS: We have to vibe out to the instrumental first before we can decide on the concept of the song. There are many times when we hear an instrumental and we are not sure where to take it. That’s when we dig deep. Sometimes our lyrics don’t come to us while in the studio. We could be anywhere and get inspired by a beat we heard days ago. That’s how the creative process works with us. We write the majority of our songs in the studio, but we write based off of emotion, therefore we could write at any given time.
S16: Who are some artists/musicians that have been major influences on your music?
KS: Drake! He does a really great job at tapping into his emotions and laying it out on the table. We admire his truth and his bravery for being so honest. Of course Chris Brown, just like Drake he is also everywhere. He can make any song absolute fire. We’re inspired by an artist that goes by the name of James Bay as well. He is incredibly raw and authentic with his talents. His lyrics reach deep within the listener and grabs a hold of a long lost memory and brings it back to life. Justin Timberlake with his ability to adapt to many styles of music, rather it be jazz, soul, or r&b, he always make it work while also being original. John Mayer simply because of his lyricism and his way of storytelling that makes you feel like you’re the one he’s singing about in each song.
S16: Do you have any non-musical influences that have fueled your songwriting?
KS: Personal experiences with family and friends. Ones that have believed in us from day one. Experiences that only we have had, but are able to express through our songwriting so any listener can connect.
S16: In your bio on ReverbNation, you say that “each song carries a message that is not common in mainstream pop, hip-hop & r&b.” What are some examples of the messages your songs have, and why do you feel they are not common within the genre?
KS: In songs such as ‘Ready,’ and ‘Cold Floors and Liquor’ we talk about chasing our dreams no matter the cost and praying those dreams never fail. Instead of the basic hip-hop scene of money, girls and mansions. In one of our unreleased tracks ‘Where are you now?,’ we touch on subjects of domestic abuse. We believe we stay emotionally connected to each song so that it feels real in a way.
S16: Have you ever considered expanding the band, or has the plan always been to be a duo?
KS: Not in a way of more members of the group (artists), but definitely want to be able to perform with a full band behind us. That way we can bring each track to life that can’t be obtained with just an instrumental.
S16: You also mentioned something about the loyal fans that follow the band in your bio. You called them the Keen Society Krew, how did this name come up?
KS: It’s actually just Keen Krew, it started as KSM (Keen Society Movement) but we wanted the fans to have a connection with us in a way they can feel a part of the group. And by spelling Krew with a K stays true to who Keen Society is. We go against the grain and are building our empire in an unconventional way.
S16: Do you have a favorite venue that you’ve played at?
KS: We’d have to say Mynt in Charlotte, NC. It’s where we’re based (for now) and we were welcomed with lots of love and could feel the energy the entire set.
S16: What about a favorite band/artist you have played with? What band/artist (local or national) would you want to play with?
KS: We’ve grown with our friends and extremely talented artists T-Rich, Jey Rich and J-Doc so they’d obviously be our first choice. Other than that we’re always open to any artists local or national. And of any genre, we like to see what we can make from something not considered to be in our lane.
S16: What has your experience in the music scene in Charlotte been like?
KS: At first, it was very difficult and slow. People didn’t care to listen to our music or book us for shows. And at some point it started to move forward positively. They started to understand our music and genuinely enjoy it. That was only several months back. Since then it’s been a roller coaster ride.
S16: Are you currently in the studio or writing any new music?
KS: Constantly. We’re currently working on building a catalog of music to use for our first official EP. We have no idea what’s going to be on it yet, or what we’re gonna call it for that matter. It’ll hopefully be all new, unheard music. You’ll have to another interview after it’s all done haha.
S16: What about any plans to tour?
KS: Not at this moment. Right now we are focused on knocking this new music out, but once we have the songs for our EP, we are most definitely going to pick up shows and start touring. That’s our favorite part aside from the creative aspect. We love to be able to interact with the audience. Doing new and old songs are a great way to interact with our fan base. We get to tell the the stories of how the songs came about, and after the shows we get to hear how the song impacted them.
S16: Is there anything else you’d like to add for your fans?
KS: We just want to Thank everyone for supporting us! Old and new fans! We are so appreciative of the love and support we get from everyone! Please be sure to keep up with us through our social media. Feel free to comment or send us a message! We can’t do this without your support!
If you’re a hip-hop enthusiasts and are looking for some fresh tunes, Keen Society should be high on your to-do list. With the way they blend the styles of pop and r&b into their music it’s hard not to find something to like about this duo. Make sure to do as they mentioned and follow them on their social media sites and keep an eye out for any upcoming shows, they may be on the big stages soon so you don’t want to miss them while they’re on the rise!