A fixture in the Bay Area’s underground hip-hop, funk and boogie scenes for over 20 years, K-Maxx (a.k.a. Kenyan “Ken” Hopkins) died unexpectedly of unknown causes on Dec. 29, 2020. KQED was scheduled to interview the San Francisco multi-instrumentalist, producer, MC and radio DJ about his new album when we learned of his passing. Selections is a funky, love-laced dance record that now reads as a fitting last dispatch from a well respected artist.
“He was a brother, an amazing musician, and a cherished friend to all. Words escape us as we are still in shock,” reads the announcement of K-Maxx’s passing on his Instagram. Among the most common comments were memories of K-Maxx’s positivity, big smile and penchant for deep conversation.
K-Maxx was a prolific musician and producer, though his voice is perhaps his most enduring legacy. He spent well over a decade behind the mic at 89.5 FM KPOO in the Fillmore, lightly lisping as he threw down fire tracks on his four-hour Friday night show, Ghetto Gumbo. While Gumbo was billed as a hip-hop program, it grew to encompass a breadth of adjacent genres. K-Maxx played modern roots reggae, Roy Ayers and The Crusaders’ 1979 hit “Street Life” alongside tracks from Outkast, Fashawn and Common. His knack for connecting the dots between funk, soul and hip-hop were unparalleled on local radio.
Roots in ’90s Hip-Hop
The same could be said of K-Maxx’s progression as a musician and producer. Raised in a musical household with a jazz-head father and a mother who was into funk and soul, K-Maxx “always had an open ear.” Speaking to Chicago’s Cherries Records in 2015, K-Maxx said, “I just approach [music] from a grassroots, organic kind of way….I’m just trying to capture [feelings], and I don’t know what that’s going to manifest as, but when I sit down at the keys or the workstation I try and figure out what it might feel like to be in that moment.” Over 15 years, K-Maxx released three self-produced albums on his own Arielle Records: Sumthin’ Ta Roll Wit (1994), Still Rollin’ (1996) and The Whole Woo Wop (2009). Each project came hard with head-bobbing beats and sensitive, shrewd lyricism that stood out among the Bay’s prolific hip-hop scene. They still sound fresh today.