ITHACA, N.Y.—Fresh off a year in which he attempted to release a new album every month, Ithaca hip-hop artist Anthony Kannon has signed a record deal with New Dawn Records, a Universal Music Group affiliate, with his first official release through the company slated for October 20, 2023.
The album will be called “Cautionary Tales,” with a single called “Pitfalls” coming out in June and more singles following each month until the release. Promotional album events will be held in Ithaca around the time of the release.
Kannon, whose real name is Anthony Henry, said New Dawn is an independent hip-hop label based in Europe, which is connected to Universal Music Group and Ingrooves Music Group, both of which will handle the album’s distribution. The deal evolved from a project during that aforementioned run of albums, specifically the third one released, “Freedom of a Slave” in March. That was a collaboration with Canadian producer Frost Gamble, who had heard about Kannon through upstate New York connections.
That project then spawned continued collaborations between Kannon and Gamble, before the latter asked to send some of the music they had created (about 30-40 songs at that point) to some industry people he knew in Europe. Some of them were interested, picking out 12 songs from the bunch that they wanted to compile into an album.
“Once I provided all the assets, like the cover art and the songs, track listings, they were able to come up with a full release plan,” Kannon said. “That led to us announcing it last week, and now we’re going to start rolling out the album.”
Kannon said he looked for “any reason not to do it,” aware of some of the pitfalls of artists getting involved with labels. But through conversations with people he trusted, he concluded that it was an opportunity he couldn’t neglect.
The music is what caught their eye, Kannon said, but there was a process of vetting that took place before any contract was offered.
“They did a lot of research into me after listening to the album,” Kannon said. “They said they watched just about every video interview that I have available, every press interview that’s been written about me. […] They were able to decide, between the music, the existing relationship with the producer, and the backstory behind me as an artist that I was someone they wanted to invest in.”
It’s quite the backstory indeed. Kannon got his start while at Ithaca High School through Smacked Records, a local record label and artist collective founded by Ithacans Kelsey McBean, Dana Malcolm and Reggie Feaster, and has gained prominence in Ithaca and the central New York region over the years since. He was also the victim in a shooting and home invasion in Ithaca in 2018, eventually emerging from the incident healthy but with two scars from bullet wounds in his back. That experience has been tied into Kannon’s music since it happened.
The deal with New Dawn, Kannon said, and since the music is already made and finished Kannon said the largest advantage the label’s influence will give him is a larger network available for promotion both before the album’s release and afterwards. Kannon is handling the business side himself, with some advice from lawyers, friends, etc., but views it as a significant chance to ready himself in case more substantial opportunities come later.
“It’s a learning experience, I want to get this hands-on and I want to advocate for myself in these situations,” Kannon said of primarily handling the transaction on his own, without ever having actually met the label executives or even Gamble himself. “These are doors and opportunities that I can’t get myself in without somebody guiding the way, essentially. They have a network of DJs, so it gets play on live radio. […] They’re able to get me a different level of exposure than I’d ever be able to get myself.”
As always, Kannon is enthusiastic about the actual content of “Cautionary Tales.” He characterized it as somewhat of an extension of “Color Blind,” his 2018 album, and said it is his longest project since then.
“It’s the most cohesive sonically, and I think it has the best hooks that I’ve done,” Kannon said. “The lyrics are always going to be something I’ll always take pride in, so those are going to be just as good as ever, if not better. But I was able to really hone in on some song-making and structuring for this album, along with tying it to the art, to really build a whole concept and cohesion for the project.”
The songs were already made without a label, so the actual art itself won’t have many New Dawn fingerprints on it. Kannon said he thinks that will help maintain the honesty and accuracy that he feels has helped his music gain the momentum it has.
“Me and Frost weren’t even building anything specific, we just wanted to get as many songs together as possible so we had options,” Kannon said. “It ended up working out. It’s just music that I had naturally made in the course of all the other music I’m always making. […] It’s just a fortunate situation that was able to transpire and it’s going to be as natural and organic as all my other music.”