Page Kennedy just might be the only Shakespeare-trained actor who can say that they once opened up for Biggie Smalls.

While such a duality has been a part of his life for decades—getting his start rapping before he turned double digits and coming into his own as an actor—it was perhaps inevitable that one passion would take center stage over the other as he got older. With his energy fully dedicated to his acting, Kennedy’s love for rap inspired him to work to the point where he could independently fund his own album release, further proving that at the end of the day, if you want to make it happen, you will find a way. No matter what.

With noteworthy roles, such as playing U-Turn on the Emmy Award-winning TV series Weeds and Radon Randall on Blue Mountain State, tying up his time on set, the 40-year-old began building up a substantial audience on social media, something that would later play a direct role in his success as a rapper.

Establishing himself on platforms such as Vine and YouTube helped keep his creativity flowing, and when it came time to put the pen to the paper, he was ready to challenge himself in a way that legendary artists such as Royce Da 5’9″ and Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius couldn’t help but genuinely tip their hats to. It’s not everyday that a new rapper is able to secure such high-profile features without relying on a beefy budget, something that Kennedy was able to impressively do off the strength of his relationships and reputation alike. With his first official foray into the rap game, Kennedy demands both attention and respect as a lyrical emcee, doing so with a confidence that not even the best actors could pull off faking.

While it’s arguably been a long time coming for this day to arrive, his debut album Torn Pages is a testament to the fact that things happen how and when they are supposed to. While the 14-track collection is not his magnum opus, it’s an impressive first offering. Full of a humble balance of hits and misses, the album builds a strong argument that the 40-year-old is only going to continue improving as a rapper and executive producer with each and every release.

As someone who has lived many lives (both on and off screen), Kennedy’s commitment to the rap game is strong enough to make a believer out of even the most unconvinced critics. As he reintroduces himself to listeners, his personality shines through, showing that when it comes to being authentic to his artistry, that vital quality doesn’t change between mediums.

With each track representing a different story or concept, Page Kennedy delves deeper into his calling as an emcee, inspiring those who have watched his journey unfold from day one to keep tuning in.

When did you transition from acting into rapping?

I actually started rapping when I was seven years old, after my brother first introduced me to it. I moved from Los Angeles to Detroit with my dad when I was six and that’s when I first met my brother. He introduced me to Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, the Fat Boys and I instantly fell in love. It got to the point where I would learn other people’s raps and perform them before writing my own. All throughout school, I was known as a rapper, and I was always the youngest one in the neighborhood. So it was like, “Yo, that little kid can rap!”

When I went back to LA later on, acting stuff started happening for me, so I was like, let me live in the moment. I would still make little CDs and make a bunch of songs, but that was really just for my friends because I didn’t have a way of getting it out to the public. All my friends would tell me that I was so good I should be signed. I always felt that when I made enough money as an actor, I’d put out my own album, exactly how I want to. I was able to do just that.

Do you identify more with being an actor or a rapper?

I feel like the acting is always going to be at the forefront because I’ve established myself enough to be able to do that for a living. With rap, it’s a little bit more difficult to truly flourish and make real money in it, unless you are a certain type of rapper who has a solid label backing or crazy social media following so you can make money from YouTube and touring and all that. For me touring is a little bit more difficult because it could compromise different roles, but I’m definitely interested in doing shows when I can.

Right now, I’m really excited about the rap stuff again. I just put this album out and it was a year in the making. I’ve already committed to doing a mixtape to follow this up, and then I want to get right back into album mode. I have a big movie coming out in August 2018, so I want to have an album lined up to go along with it.

How do you approach making music over preparing for an acting role?

My album is full of concepts and stories and isn’t your typical album. I feel like nowadays, albums are full of things to make you feel good. You turn it on when you’re getting ready to go to the club or you’re in the club. I’m not interested in making that kind of music because there are enough people out there making that kind of music. Why do I need to add to that? I’m interested in making the type of music that you want to listen to in one sitting and makes you feel some kind of way like movies do. So that’s my process.

Was it natural for you that your debut album would be so personal?

Torn Pictures is definitely my most personal album, and part of that came from how I already give my life away to the public with social media. I feel like my fans are my friends and that’s the relationship that I wanted to have with my music too. I want them to feel like they know me. When someone is a supporter of you and they feel like they actually know you, they feel like they have a real connection with you. What that means is they will support you whole-heartedly, and it’s not fleeting. Because of that, I wanted to be transparent in my music too. Plus, it’s therapy for me. People think that just because you have money or are in the public eye, your life is made and everything’s perfect. It’s not. I’m still a human being. I still go through what everyone else does and it’s therapeutic for me to be able to express that with my creativity. That’s why I chose to be so personal.

Considering your acting work has taken the lead over the years, were you nervous to get feedback on the album?

Any time you let other rappers that you respect listen to your work, you might get nervous. That’s just because you really want them to like it. I definitely had a bit of that. But so far, it’s been crazy and overwhelmingly amazing. I haven’t gotten much negative feedback from this album even though I was expecting some of that because it’s so different. You don’t hear albums like this anymore. Since it’s different, I felt like maybe some people wouldn’t gravitate towards it because they’re used to something else. It’s been all positive, though, because I feel like there’s something for everybody. Songs like “Find a Way” inspired some people and then others liked what I rapped on songs like “Assassins” and “Testing Me,” or my story on songs like “Torn Pages,” “The Audition,” or “Therapy.” Any time someone that I respect listens, I definitely get a little nervous.

You definitely have some bucket list features on this project, such as with Royce 5’9”, Mr. Porter, Elzhi, KXNG Crooked, and Marsha Ambrosius. How did it all come together?

I definitely had a plan in mind where I felt like I wasn’t afraid to ask people for stuff, and I’m not afraid to get told no. I put together a list of people that I love, whose music I listen to and who inspire me. I reached out to everyone and tried to get them on my album. Luckily, most of the people on my list I knew beforehand or was connected to on Twitter. I pretty much got everybody that I asked for with the exception of Dej Loaf. I really wanted Dej Loaf, but the timing wasn’t there because I had to leave to film and she wouldn’t have been able to get it done in time. Royce was the biggest bucket lister for me because I’ve wanted to get him on a song for so many years, and it just didn’t work out in the past. Even when it finally aligned this time, I still had to wait a while for it. But when those vocals came in, man, it was well worth the wait. I had to go back and make that one perfect.

With Marsha, she’s been my favorite singer for many years. I’ve been a Floetry fan forever. I knew the song had to be just right because I knew she wasn’t going to get on just anything, which is why I chose to put her on the most personal track that I had (“Torn Pages.”) She said she would get involved if it made sense, so I made sure that it made sense. She’s the only one, with the exception of Elzhi who was with me every step of the way, who actually came into the studio to work on the song with me. I was a little star struck. When she got in the booth and sung her first line, I almost started crying. That’s how crazy her voice was. She was in there full on pregnant too. I just couldn’t believe it came together. Plus, she didn’t just do her job and leave. She hung out with us and told us stories about Michael Jackson, who is my biggest influence in entertainment. It was just amazing.

What’s it been like doing the project from the ground up as an independent artist?

I went the independent route because of the main reason why people go independent: I had no other choice. It’s not like I had record labels knocking on my door trying to sign me and I’m like, “Nah I wanna do it myself.” It’s definitely a roller coaster. I like being in control of everything, so even if the right person hears the project and wants to take everything to the next level, it’s still a little scary to me. I spent a lot of money on this album that I’m never going to get back, but I got to do everything my way. For me to sign to a label one day, it would have to make sense. Being independent just gives you freedom to do what you want. It also gives you the freedom to be broke [laughs].

How connected are you to the music scene in Detroit now, especially since being back in L.A. again?

Detroit is definitely my hometown, but I don’t know if they’ve got the same love for me, like with local radio and everything. I would love to have hometown support because I love my city so much. I ride for my city so much that I want that love back, but I’m not really sure. Maybe I’ll feel different when I go home. It would definitely be nice.

However, Detroit hip-hop is the greatest thing in the world to me because the greatest rappers come from there. Eminem and Royce are my two favorite rappers, and I just feel like the best emcees are from Detroit.

What would you like to accomplish next?

Even though I’ve been rapping my whole life—even before acting—the fact that I never put out a real project makes me feel like I’m a new rapper. So right now, I’m just trying to build a name for myself in this game and see what happens. I want to be the greatest rapper-slash-actor ever created in the world.