Arizona Rapper Chef McKenzie Brings Mellow Vibes for Nice Days

Chef McKenzie has come a long way from recording songs in a closet.
Chef McKenzie has come a long way from recording songs in a closet. Carlos King

Nice Days
isn't just the title of Chef McKenzie’s first release on local label Fervor Records; it's also a name he used to go by.

McKenzie's been making music for more than a decade, but this new effort gave him a chance to do a little rebranding.

“I’ve got some history out there for sure,” McKenzie tells Phoenix New Times. “I was making music with my friends back in high school — the first song I ever recorded was in my friend’s closet, with me and a couple of other friends.”

“Things were a little looser then,” he continues. “We were young-minded and just trying to have fun. This new release is a chance for me to rebuild from a better ground and create a structured platform for me and my team and our different media projects.”

The McKenzie-Fervor connection happened at the label’s annual Music Biz Summit when Chef met founder David Hilker. “We chatted about the music scene here and a lot about the business side of it, particularly some of the business opportunities that are lacking here compared to some other cities for hip-hop artists,” McKenzie recalls.

The Nice Days tracks are ones McKenzie already had in the bag, working with collaborators like basshaus — a  production and mixing crew — and Tree House Creations for recording.

Prepping it for the Fervor release, they put some new touches on it. “We did a little re-engineering," McKenzie says. "I worked with one of their producers, and we revamped the sound a little bit — made it a little bigger and more quality.”

All those hands involved with the production mixed with McKenzie’s voice makes for one seriously good record. It’s a whole mood — a continuously intense one.

Tracks like “Wake Up” don’t try to hand you its message in a fluffy package. Instead, it hits you like a hard slap on the back, basically reminding you that while time is yours to waste, once it’s gone, you’re not getting it back.

The beats are the cement that keeps you locked down while the heady layers of background vocals playing off McKenzie’s thoughts take you in different directions. That’s true throughout the record. “So Many Hours” is another song with beats that come for you out of the gate.

McKenzie is pretty brilliant at kicking a track off with some drama. No soft lures here; the immediate boldness makes you wonder what the hell is coming next. Mostly, what happens after is hypnotic and mellow, and from the jump, you’ve already committed to finding out.

It's the chill feeling that McKenzie wants to convey. “That’s what I was going for — a mellow vibe with a tune that you could follow. My concept in life these days is to follow a path to get what I need out of life. Sometimes, I reminisce on how things could have gone and think about memories, but it all goes into focusing on the way I see myself and the people around me. And you know, my family’s from Jamaica, so yeah, we be chillin'; so it’s all a good time. The record shows a part of me — some of the sounds that you can get from Chef McKenzie."

A growing Arizona hip-hop scene is something McKenzie wants to be a part of, so while he does plan to explore and create in other cities, he’s not in a rush to leave. Though he grew up here, he was born in Queens, New York, and that’s another place he wants to spend some time hanging with family and exploring the music world. California is another destination that interests him.

“I am opening a studio next year, and that’s another step in helping build something here. Cities like New York and Atlanta have such defined hip-hop scenes; I definitely think it’s Phoenix’s time."

Find Chef McKenzie on Instagram @chefdapot.
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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young