It’s been 5 1/2 years since Kennedy Meeks blocked the shot then stole the ball to seal North Carolina’s NCAA championship-game win over Gonzaga — and according to the 27-year-old former UNC center and West Charlotte High star, Tar Heels fans still won’t stop talking about it.If you ask him how often someone recognizes him for those pivotal plays, he starts to answer before you even finish the question.
“Every day,” Meeks says, his eyes widening, as if he can’t quite believe the words coming out of his mouth. “Every single day. Literally. There’s Carolina fans everywhere. I think we definitely have one of the biggest fan bases out of any school. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. For people to know who I am for doing something that I invested so much of my time for, it’s very rewarding.”
Now he’s making a play to get people to recognize him not for his athletic ability, but for his artistic talents. Last Friday, Meeks dropped a 13-track independently made hip-hop album under the rap moniker Kenn.His hope? That “Westside Heartbreak” is the first of many musical projects he cranks out, and that he can find the type of success as an entertainer that he’s continued to have on the basketball court since graduating from Chapel Hill in 2017.Meeks says he actually began recording the album in 2021 before heading to play for Cholet Basket in the top-tier men’s professional basketball league in France (the fourth country he’s played in over the past five years); continued working on it there; then took work on “Westside Heartbreak” into the homestretch upon returning to the Charlotte area (he currently lives in Pineville).
Ultimately, in a bittersweet twist of fate, he found extra time to finish the album after tearing his Achilles’ tendon over the summer. The injury, suffered not long after he signed a July deal to play in the Dominican Republic, will force him to the sidelines for a full year.But Meeks isn’t whiling away the time on the couch with his feet up. Just this week, his surgery incision having healed, he returned to the weight room. He’s also already back in the studio recording yet more songs. Plus, he’s now chasing around a daughter, Sage, who is 1-1/2.We spent an hour with the 6-foot-10 budding entertainer at that studio — Insynction Music Studio, off Wendover Road — to talk about his sixth-grade talent show cover of an R&B hit, how many more years (and where) he’d like to play pro basketball, and the NBA players he sometimes gets confused with.
Here are nine of the things he said that stood out to us most.
On his musical inspiration: “Not many people know, but my dad was a singer coming up here in Charlotte in the ’90s. He was in a group and he was the lead singer. Their name was Perfect Blend — it was an R&B group — and they were local. They performed at Hornets games. A couple majors (labels) reached out, but I don’t think they ever solidified anything. … I was able to ask him questions about how he went about certain things. It’s always good to have somebody musically in your corner when you’re trying to pursue music. So he’s definitely played a major role in it.“As far as (rappers I looked up to), Jay-Z was the first one that stood out to me — his impact on the game and people in the community. The positive things about him definitely stood out to me. And then as you grow older you get those J. Coles and Drakes and all those type of people who really talk about the right things in their music.”On the only other time he’s performed with a microphone: “One time in middle school, sixth grade, I sung in this little talent show we had. It was Ne-Yo, “So Sick.” I didn’t win, but definitely some people liked it, some people didn’t. … I just feel like when you put your mind to something you can pretty much do anything. Or at least try. You know? I feel like I did a good job. I’m OK with it.”
On the name and theme of the album: “I’m from the west side of Charlotte. I was born on Beatties Ford Road. I went to West Charlotte. I went to J.T. Williams first and then I went to James Martin to play basketball. My neighborhood … it’s not bad. Every neighborhood has their flaws. Every neighborhood has their ups and downs. There’s plenty of neighborhood fights that I got into, plenty of arguments that I got into with my close friends. But I wouldn’t necessarily say it was bad, because that was just my experience. That’s what I’m used to
It’s not flowers and candies, and all that type of stuff. So it’s definitely not easy to adjust to. You gotta grow up fast. I was raised by my mom first, then I transitioned to my grandparents’ house, but then I transitioned to my aunt and uncle’s house. It’s not because of my behavior or anything, but just certain situations that we had to deal with as a family, and I think it’s the best thing that was for me.“
So I’ve always been Westside at heart. Everything that I do is for that. It taught me so much. And sometimes it can go bad. Sometimes it can not be as good as people may think. I’ve experienced all o’ that. So I’m fortunate for that, because it definitely helped me grow up kind of early. … I feel like I’ve been through enough, and been through enough heartbreak. Hence the title, ‘Westside Heartbreak.’ ”
On where he sees his basketball career going from here: “This is Year Six for me. Well, it would have been Year Six for me. I don’t really want to put a cap on it, because you never know what’s in store, but (I’d like to play for) seven to eight more years, for sure.“The NBA has always been my dream and still is. I think I’m definitely more than capable to still be on a NBA team and be effective and bring my skills and IQs to the game. So that dream is always gonna be alive. Hopefully from this injury I can bounce back and become an even better player, and show some stuff that I wasn’t able to show before.“
(If not the NBA then) I would love to go back to Japan and finish my career there. I think it’s partially just because the people are so about us. Like, every game, whether you win or lose, they give you gifts around the court. The hospitality’s great there. The food is awesome. I won’t complain about the money. It’s great. And I’m blessed and fortunate for that. I would like to think it’s my second home just because I spent 2-½ years there.”
On where music fits in: “I don’t want people to think just ’cause I’m doing the music that (basketball) is out the window. That’s my first love. That’s the thing that’s gotten me to where I am today. I can never turn my back on basketball, I can never dislike the game. ’Cause I care about it so much. So that’s never gonna stop. … The injury set me back. … I’m pretty sick that I’m not playing right now, seeing my friends overseas and all in the sun.
But hopefully somebody hears the music, and the right person hears it, and it takes off the way I think it could. I’m trying to dive all the way into the music while also doing basketball, because I think that I was definitely put here to do both. That’s honestly how I feel in my heart. … I feel like this is the journey that I’m supposed to be on. So why not continue to grow with the people who have interest in me and want to help me ’cause they believe in my music?
It isn’t about money. It isn’t about anything but straight passion, and me wanting people to resonate with what I have to say.”
On his creative process: “I literally write music every single day. At some point of the day I try to just write my thoughts down in my phone. … I just try to do that as much as I can, just try to perfect the craft. Back to basketball, it’s the same thing as getting up shots, going to the gym and working by yourself and finding out who you are as a person and as a player.
I have to hear the beat first. Of course, I already have something on my mind that I want to say. Or whatever’s on my heart at that time. But usually I just hear beats, play through beats — beats that people send me, beats that I hear on YouTube, or wherever it may be — and just let my thoughts take me where they may. Of course, I have some songs that are more vulnerable and personal to me that I’ll probably never put out, but I just need to record just to get it off my chest.“
But for the most part, the writing process has helped me grow as a person, mentally, from who I was two years ago. From who I was a few months ago. I learn something new about myself every day, about how to express myself to certain people. … The writing process has definitely expanded my mind.”
On putting out a low-key, “underground” album: “That’s fine with me. Because I want people to grow with it. I want it to grow on to people’s minds, and hopefully they’ll hear stuff that they didn’t hear before. But as time progresses and the more people I meet, the more opportunities present themselves and the more better music I’ll make, from just being around different creatives and artists that I’ve always looked up to in my life, because I’m manifesting it. I’m putting it in the air. That’s how I feel. Honestly, that’s how I approach life. Just put it in the air and it’ll happen. With work and God on my side.”
On being recognized by fans: “I don’t know if you ever seen that Spider-Man picture, where everybody’s looking at each other and they’re kind of like, “Is it? Is it not?” And people sometimes get me, Miles Bridges (of the Charlotte Hornets) and Kevin Knox (of the Detroit Pistons) confused, a lot. But most of the time it’s Carolina people, and … it’s always good interactions. … That’s why basketball will always be my dream, always be my love first, because it’s given me so much. It’s given me so much.”
On fatherhood: “My daughter Sage, she’s growing up so fast. … We went to the doctor the other day, and she’s like 95th percentile for height and weight.“
She’s helped me become a softer person. She’s helped me understand life in a different lens, because I have somebody’s who’s depending on me. … Somebody who smiles at me every day, no matter what I’m going through. Somebody who wants to cuddle with me, somebody who wants to watch TV with me, be around me 24-7. I get emotional just talking about her.“.
She definitely changed my life. She definitely made me a better man.”