Christion: The Rebirth

No matter how much, or how little, you know about Christion, the truth is that Roc-A-Fella Records gave birth to this creation, introducing the world to a male duo with a rare sound that could transcend time and hold true to the roots of Blues, Soul, & Jazz. Damon Dash was the first to recognize […]

No matter how much, or how little, you know about Christion, the truth is that Roc-A-Fella Records gave birth to this creation, introducing the world to a male duo with a rare sound that could transcend time and hold true to the roots of Blues, Soul, & Jazz. Damon Dash was the first to recognize the talent of the group, and in 1997 he quickly signed them to the budding label. Throughout the next couple of years, they all took part in a dramatic chain of events, and the world watched Christion fall from the radar.

Brothers Allen Anthony and Kenni Ski just wanted to make music – not good music, but ground-breaking music. After selling over 150,000 copies of their debut album Ghetto Cyrano, a critically acclaimed release which birthed the street classic “Full of Smoke”, the brothers soon realized their label had other plans – plans that included a clothing line and a roster of rappers, but no Christion.

As the story unfolds, the label wasn’t the sole reason for the group’s woes. After much aggravation, Christion was finally released from the contract – only to have Allen change direction and sign a solo deal with Roc-A-Fella Records. That album has yet to be released, and there is no indication of a release date.

Kenni Ski, the producer and writer behind the acclaimed Christion sound, has finished waiting. Now joined by his cousin T.Ross, a former back-up singer for the duo, the new Christion album is set to drop in the first quarter of 2005 – with Allen’s blessing of course. Will Kenni be able to bring Christion back to its former glory? Will he be able to do it without a major label and without his brother by his side? Alternatives goes directly to the source and gets Kenni Ski to tell his story. Alternatives: So why did you leave the Roc?

Kenni: Wow, that’s like the million dollar question that everyone wants to know! At the time Roc-A-Fella had just started off, and I think we were the third act to sign to the label. Damon had a passion for music and Hip-Hop that blew me away. I knew they were going to be successful and that’s why I signed with them. What I didn’t know was that the Hip-Hop promotion and marketing system is completely different from the R&B one. I don’t think [Damon] knew it either. So we tried to promote Christion as an act in the same avenues as Hip-Hop and for some reason we just weren’t getting anywhere. There were a lot of people that didn’t even know the album was out when it came out. We weren’t in the public eye and [the label] couldn’t figure out how to get us on BET. There was no such thing as MTV [for us] when I first came to Roc-A-Fella. Even Jay Z wasn’t on MTV. So it was frustrating… very frustrating.

AHHA: That was 1997 right?

Kenni: That was 1998 actually. ‘97 was when we actually signed to the Roc. Jay’s career starting blowing up and we were receiving critical acclaim for our album. So we thought we should do something about it. To make a long story short, [Damon] tried to take us to Sony. We signed a deal with the Trackmasterz. We tried the Sony/Roc-A-Fella thing because we thought Def Jam didn’t know what they were doing in terms of promotion. Remember, this was before Dru Hill even got signed. So we cut an album for Sony in ‘99 and it was supposed to be released in 2000/2001. I don’t know what happened, but I guess Damon had it out with the cats at Sony for what they did to one if his other acts, and we ended up getting dropped from Sony and back with the Roc. They asked us what we wanted to do and I told them that my brother and I wanted to leave to do our own thing. I told Damon I didn’t want to be on his label anymore because we weren’t getting anywhere. It wasn’t that nice but we parted.

AHHA: It wasn’t that nice?

Kenni: No it wasn’t. We went off on each other. He called me a bunch of names; I called him a bunch of names.

AHHA: Why? Didn’t he want to let you guys go?

Kenni: No not really. Damon is like me. He has a lot of trust and loyalty issues. I thought I was very loyal to the Roc. Wherever we went we were promoting them. My brother and I were always in Roc-A-Wear. We were pumping the Roc but we felt the Roc wasn’t pumping us. Jay-Z was now blowing up and doing all these videos, so how come we’re not in the videos? How come we’re not singing any of the hooks? How come they aren’t giving us whatever little exposure they can through Jay-Z? That was very frustrating. I just thought since we’re all ‘family’ we should have each other’s back.

AHHA: How did you become a ‘family’ in the first place? How did you and Damon Dash hook up?

Kenni: I was over at Priority, and Damon was in the office an hour before us. My friend had passed him on our CD and I got a call from him that same night. He had heard ‘Full of Smoke’ and called me up to ask me if we wanted to roll with Roc. At that time, I didn’t even know who the Roc was! But I had to respect him because he was just as cocky as I was. So I told him if he was serious, he should fly us out to New York. Five days later we were in New York kicking it with Jay and them.

AHHA: So where did it go wrong?

Kenni: It was all good in the beginning, I can’t lie about that. But after we sold 150,000 copies of the album and 400,000 copies of the single, we needed to take it to the next level, but none of us knew how to do it. As an artist I didn’t think it was my responsibility to sit in on Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella meetings. On one occasion they asked a room full of people if they had any marketing or promotion ideas for Christion and the whole office was silent!

AHHA: You were there when that happened?

Kenni: Yeah! I had to stand up in front of Lyor and Damon and say ‘Y’all ain’t got no ideas on us?’ My brother and I had to give them ideas because they didn’t know how to market R&B.

AHHA: How did it come to an end?

Kenni: We were all on a conference call – me, my brother, our lawyers, Damon, Biggs and Jay-Z. Eventually they released us. It was frustrating for all. My brother and I were about to release our second Christion album, distributed through Atlantic, when my brother decided he wanted to stay on the Roc and release his solo album first. I don’t know how it went down but I guess Damon offered him this and that. I didn’t have a problem with it because my mom had just died of cancer and I needed to take a year off.

AHHA: What year was that?

Kenni: That was 2001, 2002. His solo album never came out. He recorded it three times, but Damon kept saying that it didn’t have that ‘Christion’ sound. But what they didn’t realize is that I had written and produced ninety percent of the first album.

AHHA: From 2001 to 2004 what did you do?

Kenni: I worked on other people’s projects. I worked on Dawn Robinson’s project. I’ve worked on all sorts of compilations and soundtracks.

AHHA: What made you move on without Allen? Considering you were going to wait for his solo album to come out, what was your breaking point?

Kenni: My love for music and it was unfinished business, you know? I felt like my brother and I had started something that great and we created something that was often imitated and duplicated.

AHHA: Did you speak to Allen about it?

Kenni: Yeah, he was really upset. He wanted to do the second Christion album, but he is contractually tied down so he can’t get down like that. At the same time, I can’t wait for Roc-A-Fella to get their s### together. It was his idea to get T.Ross.

AHHA: Do you think you’ll find that commercial success again?

Kenni: If the stars line up… I’m sure it will but I don’t care. When cats say my music speaks to them that makes it all worth while. I know how it feels because when I was listening to Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke, that’s what it did to me. That’s why I got into the game.

AHHA: So what can people expect from the new Christion album?

Kenni: I think people can expect a sequel to the first album. It’s got a lot of growth, a lot of insight. In fact, one of the songs is actually called ‘I’m Grown’. I’ve called this album Project Plato because I’m still coming from a ghetto state of mind. T.Ross has a couple of tracks on there; Allen wrote a track on there, it’s a lot of different perspectives. I think people will be surprised.