He’s best known for partnering with Louie Vega in Masters at Work, but that’s just one entry in a long list of Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez’s career highlights. He’s also collaborated with Vega in MAW’s Latin- and jazz-oriented offshoot, Nuyorican Soul, of course – but his solo resume is jam-packed with seminal moments as well. He’s kept up a busy DJ schedule since the mid-’80s when he began playing block parties in his native Brooklyn; he’s been in the studio for almost as long, starting in 1987 via partnership with King Grand under the KAOS moniker. Since then, he’s spent the past three decades producing both his own material (he’s got literally hundreds of tracks out under various monikers – including, of course, the Bucketheads) and for other artists, gathering four Grammy nods along the way. And Gonzalez, who hosts a weekly show on Rinse FM, is a tireless crate digger: At last count, his record collection hovered somewhere around the 50,000 mark.
You can add “label impresario” to that list, too. There’s the vinyl-oriented Kay-Dee specializing in funk, soul and breaks that he and Keb Darge started in 2002 – but there’s another Gonzalez-run imprint with a history that goes back even further. That label, Dopewax, sprang to life in the late ’80s as an offshoot of the pioneering Nu Groove label, and served as a home for early Gonzalez productions under such names as Total Madness, Kenny’s House, 2 Dope and House Syndicate; later Dopewax artists include Julius Papp, Cassio Ware, K-Alexi and Gene Hunt. In the past, the label’s kept to a somewhat casual release schedule, characterized by flurries of activity punctuated by long stretches of silence – but it seems like Gonzalez is about to give Dopewax his full attention. Recent releases include “Bricks Down” (a Gonzalez cut featuring Robert Owens on vocals), “Be Somebody” from Benji Candelario & Bishop, and “Bust A Move,” a collaboration between Gonzalez and Sander “Man Without A Clue” Van Der Meijden – and there’s plenty more in the pipeline, one that’s ready to burst with a deluge of House thumpers. Following an Dopewax “relaunch” party held on April 1 in NYC, we caught up with the scene lifer to talk about the label, his work ethic and the future of Masters at Work.
You’ve just relaunched the label that first put you on the map, Dopewax – but Dopewax never really went away, did it?
Not really. I’ve had it since 1988, when Frank Mendez from Nu Groove gave it to me to do my own stuff. I’ve kept it all along, though it’s been a little sporadic at times.
Did you just figure that this was the time to give it a push?
Yeah. You know, things change – always! And it just seemed like this was the time to pick up on other artists, instead of just having the label focus on myself and put stuff out just whenever I felt like. So it is a relaunch in a way – just a way of saying, hey, this is what we’re doing now.
The label first kicked off in the late ’80s – this was around the time when things were really starting to happen for you, right?
This was even a little bit before that, but yeah, almost around the same time. Those were crazy times. Once things got going for me, it was ten years before I even had time to look back and think about what had happened. It took me that long to realize the impact of what I had done over that time. Around 1998, a little after we had released the Nuyorican Soul album…that was the point where I was just like, wow. I mean, I was now involved with a lot of artists who I had grew up with and looked up to. But the whole vibe was to keep pushing forward. It was like, let’s just keep making the best possible records we can make.
“What they call Deep House now is not what I’d call Deep House. What they call Techno is not Techno. But whatever – for me, it’s just House Music.”
That still seems to be your outlook.
Definitely. That’s always been my vision. But like I said, when it came to Dopewax, that was just more for me to do whatever I wanted. There were records that we didn’t even promote at all. Things would just pop up, and that was the mystique of it.
But now Dopewax is entering a new phase?
You know, I’m 45 now, and there’s a whole different vision for what I want to do with it. In the past, lot of talented people would come to me with music, and I’ve passed them on to different labels, different A&R people. That was kind of my role, to pass on the information; I’ve done that with a lot of crazy big records that people don’t even know about. But now, it’s time to get behind the music that comes to me. That’s basically what the concept is now.
You’ve just released a record from Benji Candelario. He’s an old cohort of yours, right?
Benji used to always be around MAW Studios; he did a lot of editing for us. MAW Studios used to be like a machine. There were different rooms, with different projects going on in all of them and lots of people around. It was like, boom boom boom, you know? He was a part of that. He’s been a part of the scene for a really long time. And he’s a good friend. What happened was Benji reached out and said, “Hey, I’ve got this music and I’m having trouble getting it out there.” I just told him to let me hear it, and that basically was how the “Be Somebody” joint happened.
Yeah, it was. That’s an example of what I was talking about, putting out the music myself instead of passing it along. And Benji has an album coming out, too. He’s doing that with this kid Shok, who did a lot of the Ruff Ryders stuff. Which is kind of crazy, right? But it’s on the House tip. That’s another part of what I want to do – have different people coming together and just putting the vibes out.
You’re like the Tin Pan Alley of House Music.
It’s about to be crazy. People don’t understand what’s about to happen. [laughs] Just to give you an idea, we’re about to reach catalog number DW-115 – but when you add in the releases that we have ready to go, we’re up to 152. And I haven’t even started to make calls yet. I haven’t even said to people, “Yo, I need a record for the label.” The only person I’ve hit so far to tell them that I want a record is Carl Craig.
I guess the fact that you’re having somebody like Craig give you music says a lot about the range of music that Dopewax will be putting out.
It’s really just about music. Music is either good or bad. I get annoyed with all these genre names – it’s too confusing, man. Like, what they call Deep House now is not what I’d call Deep House; what they call Techno is not Techno. But whatever – for me, it’s just House Music. At the end of the day, if it gives you a certain vibe, then the record’s good. The only thing that I’m going to try to avoid is to having records step on each other. Like, if I put out a vocal song, then the next one might be a track; the next one might be a disco-sample track; then there might be a song again; then there might be a Techno record. That’s how I’m breaking it down.
Your aim is for Dopewax to be an all-inclusive label House label?
And one of the reasons for that is, if someone who is into the soulful joints but might not be into Techno, then that person hears a Techno record, they might like it. It’s basically bringing people together.
You still have Kay-Dee going, right?
Yeah, but that’s been a little slow lately. The last release we had was the Wild Style book, which was seven 45s in a book, with photos and everything. The problem with Kay-Dee had been the pressing issue; it’s been so hard to get records pressed due to backed-up demand. I literally have 2,000 records on back-order that I can’t get! It’s hard to run a business when you have so much money tied up in mastering, plating, labels, record jackets and everything… and then you can’t get your orders. I might be in a good situation soon, and if that happens, I’ll be able to catch up with that. And the people who consume Kay-Dee music couldn’t care less about a download, so that’s not even an option. They want the physical goods.
Do you have any plans for Dopewax vinyl down the road?
Once I get this situation straight, yeah – the plan is to start pressing House stuff on vinyl as well. We’re getting a lot of requests for that. One thing I’ve noticed lately is a lot of vinyl-only parties, where they don’t even let you play downloads. It’s good because it’s teaching the younger generation of how this with done before – not by just pressing buttons, everything gets locked in for you, and you’re just pushing faders up and down. Vinyl is so much more interactive. I’m definitely for vinyl – it’s the only way to keep the culture alive.
You play out internationally every weekend; you’re producing music; you have the Rinse FM show; you have Dopewax going full-force. How do you keep your energy level high enough to do all this?
And don’t forget, I’ve got triplets. [laughs] Seventeen months old. Let me tell you man, my work ethic is just out of this world. I amaze myself sometimes. My main thing is just try to stay healthy and tries to sleep as much as I can.
Let’s be real – the people who came up with me are kind of the same position I am. They’re not going out anymore, and they don’t buy music the way they used to. So I’ve had to reintroduce myself to the new generation.
But still, it must be hard to organize your time.
Well, I’ve been doing this for so long that it doesn’t take me long to make a record; it doesn’t take me long to mix a record. And really, it’s all about scheduling – having a schedule and sticking to it. The babies are up at seven in the morning; the nanny’s here at eight; and then I have until six o’clock to do what I have to do. And then when I play out, I’m basically in and out. If I hang anywhere anymore, it’s basically hanging in record stores, looking for old records.
What’s the current status of Masters at Work?
We play about six parties a year. Otherwise, we’re pretty much doing separate things. He just put out his own album, and I’m up to my neck with stuff… but I don’t consider it to be totally over. We talk about doing some stuff together, but like always, it’s all about getting the time to do it. When we were doing all of our stuff, we were together for like 20 hours a day. That can never happen again. But we have spoken about someday getting together for a couple of weeks or a month, and just work on music for like eight hours a day. We’re also in the process of getting all our old masters back. Like with everything, there’s a laundry list of things to do.
Do you ever foresee cutting back?
I realize I might have to slow down at some point, but my whole thing for the past couple of years has been to reintroduce myself. Let’s be real – the people who came up with me, who grew up with the music I was making, are kind of the same position I am. They’re not going out anymore, and they don’t buy music the way they used to. So I’ve had to reintroduce myself to the new generation. A lot of the guys my age and older don’t really get that; they think that they can constantly play to the same crowd they always did, and that just isn’t gonna work. But you know, doing all this stuff is what keeps me moving. It’s what keeps me motivated. You’re constantly bobbing and weaving, so there’s no time to get bored.
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