It was a match made on the practice field.
One rapped, played the drums and bass guitar. The other could sing, play piano and guitar. It just made sense.
Former University of Michigan walk-on’s Jack Kennedy (graduated in 2012) and Joe Reynolds (currently a wide receiver for the Wolverines) formed JDK and Rey to share their passion of music with the University of Michigan and the world. What started as a small project eventually blew up right before their eyes due to the sheer enormity of the Michigan fanbase and quality people in the University’s Media Department who helped promote their product at the Big House and UM Football’s popular Facebook page.
In August, JDK and Rey released their first EP titled “The Nightcap EP” for free. The first full-scale project the two have collaborated on, their masterpiece.
From playing guitar at the end of his driveway for tips as a child, to releasing a EP for the world to hear. For now, Kennedy is one step closer to his dream.
I spoke with Kennedy about his project, his influences, and the struggles of self-releasing an EP.
TBHR: Talk about your history with music. How did your passion start and when did you find out that you could rap?
KENNEDY: I first got into music by playing guitar. I was in middle school and I would sit in my driveway and put a sign up asking for tips. Needless to say, I didn’t get much. But I did love performing. From there I played bass in a band and eventually ended up playing drums, which is where I’m best. I found out that I could rap when I was in high school. I used to watch the movie “8 Mile” rap battles all the time; One day I figured I’d try for myself.
TBHR: Who or what influences you, personally, when you make music?
KENNEDY: I would really say trying to make music that moves me and that I want to listen to. I usually try to stay away from listening to one artist too much because I feel it pushes you creatively in their direction. However, I’m a big Eminem fan and I love Kanye because he thinks outside the box and really puts high priority on his music, not just his rapping. I think the musicality is lost in a lot of hip-hop of late. We are aiming to bring some of that back.
TBHR: Talk about how JDK and Rey came about as a project, what is it about you and Joe that helps you gel so well together as artists?
KENNEDY: It really started with our friendship. Joe came up to me one day after a workout when he first got on campus and asked to throw afterwards. I had been looking for someone to throw to because a lot of the receivers would get tired and not want to run extra. They had to run a lot so that made sense; I was usually stuck throwing to a garbage can or goal post. But Joe was an extraordinarily hard worker and had a track background so he could run forever, and that’s where we really bonded. The music came later. I had made some tracks on my own and needed a singer for one of them. Joe and I collaborated on the lyrics and beat, then went to a studio and recorded it. It got a great response so we kept at it. He sang, I rapped; he played piano and guitar, I was a drums and bass guy. It just made sense.
We really turned the corner when we worked with our good friend Ryan Doyle, who makes our music videos. He helped us put out a professional image and worked on our social media and YouTube so we could make a real run at turning music into a career.
TBHR: Were you nervous or worried how your music would be perceived when you first started releasing it to the public?
KENNEDY: Not really, more curious than anything. We were anxious to see if people would like it enough for us to take it very seriously. There’s a point where you just make the music you like and the world will either like it or not. You can’t worry about that, just have to worry about putting the best music out that you are capable of making.
TBHR: As a quarterback at the University of Michigan, how was your music perceived in the locker room? Did the players give you a hard time at first or were they accepting? How about the coaching staff, is Brady Hoke a JDK and Rey fan?
KENNEDY: (laughs) It was great. We first performed at a talent show in training camp in 2010 and no one had really heard me rap before. We did a mash-up of some songs and then I did a verse from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and the guys just went crazy. You have to think, though, I was just some normal white kid who was a physics major, pretty quiet and stuff. I don’t think a lot of them saw it coming, but they all liked it and were really supportive which meant a lot.
The coaches are all supportive too. Not all of them like rap, but I know Mrs. Hoke follows our videos and shows them to Coach Hoke. They always ask how’s its going when I see them which is great. One of our strength coaches, Coach Caralla, I think has listened to our CD in his car for literally the past year, and our nutritionist Joel Totoro is a huge hip-hop fan and is always putting us on to new music. We get great support from Schembechler Hall.
TBHR: To me, I feel like you two really blew up after successful releases of ‘Away’ and ‘Hundred Level’. How shocked were you that everything blew up like it did? Do you feel that being on one of the most popular college football teams in the nation helped your music reach a different level?
KENNEDY: Playing football at Michigan absolutely helped us. In fact it was the biggest factor in those songs getting as much play as they did. Our media department was great as well; Justin Dickens, Dave Ablauf and Zach Eisendrath really helped spread the word. Justin especially helped promote us and got us an article in the Detroit News, which was huge. And they posted the music videos on the Michigan Football Facebook which has over a million fans. On top of it all they would play Hundred Level before games. It was surreal. We definitely wouldn’t be where we are without their help. But eventually if we are going to make it, it will be because we make good music. Football is a great springboard and puts us ahead of a lot of other people.
TBHR: You recently dropped your new EP, “The Nightcap EP“, back in August. Talk to me a little bit about that EP. What is it all about and what should those who haven’t heard a song from JDK and Rey before expect? What were your emotions leading up to the EP’s release?
KENNEDY: It’s basically our first cohesive project. All of the songs fit together. Its all about living your dreams. It’s called “The Nightcap EP” because we would make the music after a day at class and football, music was our nightcap. When you listen to it, you should feel like you’re in a dream. Just close your eyes and let the music take you wherever you want.
Our emotions leading up to the release were really just panic and then relief. We were trying to release the EP before football started so Joe could relax during the season. We finished recording literally the morning Joe reported to camp, and then I mixed the album when he was in camp. But the studio had to undergo some maintenance at the end of August so I ended up having to knock out all the mixing in a short period of time. I slept once in the last five days of mixing. I was doing push-ups to keep me awake. It was all just insanity. But it felt great to get it done and come out with something we were proud of.
TBHR: Have you played a live show as a group together yet? If so, tell me about it, describe your emotions at the time, etc. If you haven’t had any shows yet, are there any planned for the future?
KENNEDY: We have played various places around Ann Arbor. We played the Blind Pig a couple times which was pretty cool. Mock Rock 2011 was our first show and it was great. We had both been in bands in high school so we had some experience performing, but nothing on that level. We are currently taking the time during season to work on our live performing so that when we start doing shows this winter we will be ready to go. We plan to play all over this winter since Joe will have more time, being done with football. He will be training for the NFL but we will be focusing heavily on performing as much as possible.
TBHR: What does the future hold for you as a group? Any plans for a full length album?
KENNEDY: The plan is to become professional musicians. We have been working on music for a Chevrolet commercial this fall and already have our debut album planned. Not sure when it will be released but it is definitely coming. In the meantime we are working on another project, hoping to release it before the season is over. We are making new music all the time; we just release the best of it. We had about 15 songs slated for the Nightcap EP but cut it down to seven because we only want to release songs we love.
We have two music videos that we shot this summer and plan to release this fall. Stay on the lookout for those. And if you haven’t, download the EP!
You can support these up-and-coming musicians by downloading their EP for free and never miss an update from the duo by liking their Facebook page.