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Let the Music Speak :: A Conversation with Beatmaker & Producer Knxwledge

Let the Music Speak :: A Conversation with Beatmaker & Producer Knxwledge

By Senay Kenfe

There was a running gag on the popular ’90s sketch comedy show In Living Color about the hardworking Jamaican with 6 jobs under his belt. That prodigious level of output ingrained within the immigrant work ethic has been prevalent in the artistic endeavors of young Glen Boothe, better known by his stage name Knxwledge. With a discography of over 64 releases spanning the last ten years, Knxwledge has developed a near-cult following for himself within the beat scene, and brought about a resurgence of attention towards the lost sample-driven art of chopping beats. Many people know him for his work with fellow Klipmode homie Mndsgn, or for his juke-inspired pseudonym VATOGATO, or even his new NxWorries project with star-in-the-making Anderson Paak. And yet, as abundant as his creativity clearly shows itself to be, never have I met a more non-assuming, low profile, budding celebrity.

In the midst of rolling up giant spliffs in his bedroom, we debated about our favorite battle MCs on a distinct familial level that almost made me forget I was interacting with the darling child of the beat scene, with production credit on seminal releases like the Jesus LP, this year’s hit To Pimp a Butterfly, and Joey Badass’s 1999. Some musicians use fame to camouflage the mediocrity of their work, but for me, Knxwledge uses his work to hide him from the excess of the theatrics that come with recognition.

Gearing up to release his debut album Hud Dreems with LA powerhouse indie label Stones Throw tomorrow, May 5th, we spent the day with the modest, sandal-wearing producer. We drove around Hollywood to find his secret sanctuary and discussed the new generation of non-crate-digging producers, his recent collaboration with the “Obama of rap” Kendrick Lamar, why music is his version of church, and dropping off tapes at Jeff Goldblum’s house.

SENAY KENFE: I think a serious question that people want to know is: coconut oil or shea butter?

Damn, that’s hard. I’ve actually been boycotting both.

Really?

I don’t know, just because I’m Jamaican or what – I’m just naturally oily as fuck. I haven’t been using that shit for the last 364 days.

I saw, just now when I was coming from Amoeba, that you’re playing there for Record Store day. How do you feel about this resurgence of vinyl and the whole culture of it now? And your part in it? Because I was just at the crib with you and there were a couple thousand records you got in there, easily.

I support it. It’s just one of those things that’s – everything will be gone, the whole world would be gone if there were no records here. But you can just pull the plug out of the Internet. I kind of treat it like that. If it’s enough to get exported out of whatever I make to make that shit, that’s where it should be, that’s where it started at.

How do you feel about today’s remix culture? Because I find like a lot of the remixes that are made today don’t even really have the vocalist or acapella really in mind. The beat is supposed to be centered around the acapella – if anything the acapella is centered around the beat.

No one’s really putting that term to use I guess. Everybody’s technoing everything out. I don’t know, it’s weird, man. Nobody’s really remixing anything, they’re just – it just sounds like robot shit to me. I guess they just have no soul in them to be honest, you can make anything soulful. You can make some Gavin Degraw a cappellas. It doesn’t even matter. Shout out to Gavin. I fuck with that nigga.

“Cats don’t know that you have to go outside of your room’s room sometimes to get some shit that nobody’s heard before.”

I think a lot of my problems with today’s remixes, first and foremost, you have a culture of people who are producers, but not diggers. Speak on that.

I guess it’s just really easy to make music now. You just get an Apple gift card and download Garageband or whatever-the-fuck. It’s dead. I feel like it’s because there’s really nowhere to dig, that shit is really dying down. And then the most centralized places to dig are ran through. Cats don’t know that you have to go outside of your room’s room sometimes to get some shit that nobody’s heard before. It’s just a thing with kids – J. Cole’s – I forget what sample it was because I don’t really listen to him. But someone said he used the same sample as some Mobb Deep shit. I was just like how? That’s totally fine, but how –

But it’s kind of not.

It’s not! You know what I’m saying? Nobody does research man! It’s like, nigga – for me, it’s quick. You Google everything anyway, it’s not that hard to type in “For Me 178” and find if that shit is out. If that shit is not out, wouldn’t it be considerate if you know a nigga to be like, “Yo, man, I’m going to put this beat in the mix.” It’s just violation on all sides.

Do you feel like it’s a lack of brotherhood within the music community?

Definitely. It’s just little clicks and sounds, so the majority is trying to sound like the same shit.

Do you put the blame for that on the backs of the artists or the fans? Because the fans kind of dictate it too, right?

They definitely do. With time – fools damn near review shit before it comes out. I’ve never paid attention to this major label shit or releases, but fools will drop a single and they’ll judge the whole album off of what the fucking single sounds like.

That’s why people were freaking out when Kendrick dropped “i” like, “This album’s going to be fucking wack!” So much that even on the album, he switched the version. Speaking of which, congratulations for you. I think it’s a big thing [that] you had a production credit on there. It is something that’s relevant for right now. Especially to see someone within the scene get such a heavy feature. You want to talk about it? For those that don’t know that you did the “Momma” track off of there.

Long story short, shout out to my man Eric Coleman.

Legend.

I think maybe a year ago – because that beat is 6, 7 years old. Well, I think I flipped it a year after it came out, which I think was 2005 and the song came out in 2004 or something. I just got a text one day and I guess the homie was – he does very legendary things. So he was shooting, I believe, the Complex cover a year ago or something like that. I always give him shit – cassettes – and he had to double the Ampology joint. So I guess he was playing that while he was shooting or whatever, and a few hours later, I get a text from Kendrick like, “Yo, It’s K Dot. I got a keeper.”

It was a wild –  it wasn’t a definite thing. This nigga records hundreds of songs and is Kendrick Lamar AKA Obama of rap. So just imagine how many of this nigga’s probably own family is trying to send him beats. So it took a lot of time, I wasn’t tripping because it was just a ridiculous situation to begin with.

Did you see the Dame Dash interviewHow important do you think this whole – he was talking about self-worth. How do you feel about the whole boss/employee mentality?

That was incredible. That was just very – I’m about that. Niggas gotta be their own boss, niggas need bigger checks and sometimes you can make [that] for yourself. That shit is real man, niggas are taking advantage of niggas for a living. These niggas will rob you, son. First and foremost and long story short, no one cares about you. You have to be doing a lot for someone for them to care about you. It’s ridiculous, but it’s 2015.

No, I agree. People were taking it very personal, saying like, “Oh, he’s saying I can’t work a job, blah, blah.” But I think he was referencing more on the idea of ownership within [our] entire culture.

First of all, if you’re having a conversation with Dame, you have to be prepared. Dame is obviously very intense and very smart, but, at the same time, Dame is like a mix between two generations before us. This nigga is all black. You’re not going to talk over him and shit, he’s going to be like that. “Because I’m black.” He has diabetes, you know what I’m saying? He has every right, he feels like he has every right, which he does, he’s his own boss. I get it.

“[Music] is just my version of church.”

How do you feel social media has impacted your standing and presence within music?

I mean, it helps. I use that shit to get money like you should. That shit is literally the world at your fingertips. I guess the amount of people – shit can go from zero to infinity with the amount of retweets as there are seconds in a day. That shit’s everything.

I sampled Scott Pilgrim and – what’s this niggas name tweeted me like, “Yo this shit is hard.” He retweeted the track and that joint on SoundCloud had almost 500,000 more plays. That’s what’s up.

[How do you feel] in terms of the samples that you pick?

It’s more-so like a feeling, like a heartbreak or something. I’m 800% melody-driven with the way I make shit.

Speak on the melody for you.

That’s from church to be honest with you, I grew up in church. Very large portion of my existence was in church – five days a week, mandatory. I played instruments there and played instruments with my cousins and making beats from a young age.

…It’s just my version of church, I’ve never felt that – what that feels like, the holy spirit or whatever. If I could define how music as a whole makes me feel, it’s kind of that. Like the holy spirit, but hip-hop.

Do you ever find  yourself struggling as a creative? In the sense of, “What is my direction?”

Nah. The real strain or pressure comes from like, “Damn, my rent is due.” That kind of real life shit.

Do you think about the relevance of your music before you make it?

Just recently, fools are hitting me with the realization of life and music in general because I guess my whole style is bootleg [sampling]. It’s not bootleg, but you know what I mean. It’s like – shit’s not mainstream in any shape or form. Not even that, it’s just like I can send fools so much shit. I feel like I could send Big Boy the whole series of Hexual [Sealings]. But would that nigga play that shit?

Probably not.

Would that nigga be allowed to play that shit?

He’d probably like it, but he probably wouldn’t be allowed.

Nobody would be allowed to play that shit.

Do you feel like that’s what gets in the way? The gatekeepers, I would say, more so than people within the industry genuinely being interested in what you’re doing.

This shit is just like air waves. It’s like smoke. Of course there’s a record taken of what’s being played on the radio, but someone’s hearing it at that time and then the shit is gone. I don’t understand why they can’t play whatever kinds of music. Obviously, there is some formal fucking rule from the fucking justice society where you can’t play Hexual. Or you have to pay. I don’t get it, that part’s stupid to me.

You think the copyright laws are antiquated?

I mean, I get it. It’s understandable, but when shit is doing as much as it’s going to do and it’s going to have it’s time like everything does – there’s too many people for niggas to even concentrate on shit anymore. That’s your favorite song for a week or so.

From Hexual Sealings Pt.3.5

So you got a new album coming out, Hud Dreems, for those who don’t know. What can people expect with this one?

A lot of beats on this one, probably the most released so far.

I saw the cover art, it was crazy.

Yeah, it’s kind of like an instrumental beat story. There’s a lot of drops, a lot of joints on there.

Was this all new shit or was it stuff you already had in the archives?

It was a bit of stuff I was holding for vinyl. It’s been a minute, it’s been like five years. Well, I dropped a few little – another 12 inch.

You were telling me that the vinyl release for it is coming out on May 5, the vinyl release for it has tracks that won’t be on the digital release.

Yeah, cop the vinyl joint, I’ll tell you that. I know that the digital is only going to be three sides. But yeah, there’s a bunch of shit, there’s not just one beat for every fucking track. That shit’s not looping for four minutes with the same shit. It’s different, just a lot of different sounds. Shit is kind of OD. It’s kind of like my process, as long as I want to hear something for, and then I’ll cut that shit off. It’s just my attention span, actually.

That’s a great one to talk about, the NxWorries project. How did that come about and –

Those videos I was showing you earlier, maybe two years ago, I did a remix of this nigga Breezy’s songs. I just put drums behind it because it was acoustic on a roof with Jose. Shout out Jose, shout out my OG Diego. He heard that shit maybe a year or two later. I finally just sent them a few joints and “Suede” was one of those joints.

That’s a Gil Scott sample right? That’s a heater man.

Shout out to Gil Scott-Heron and his whole family, bless your life. I actually just talked to them, very grateful to them for letting us use that. Because we all want to pay Gil the most homage, but those lyrics are low-key kind of extra. It’s okay though, it’s still beautiful.

Is that going to be a whole project?

The NxWorries shit? Yeah, it’s going to be a full album. We got like 18 joints. They’ll be out soon, I just gotta get some artwork cracking and shit. Artwork and finish this video up.

You gonna have a “Suede” video come out?

Yeah, eating grits in the fucking video. That nigga used to live off grits.

KNXWLEDGE: …We should stop by Jeff Goldblum’s crib.

Jeff Goldblum?! That’s your boy? You playing him beats?

I drop him some beats every now and then. His gate’s right there.

Has he ever responded?

No. Who the fuck waits for Jeff Goldblum to respond?

***

Keep up with Knxwledge on Soundcloud, Twitter @knxwledge and Instagram @knxwledge. Photos by Josh Zucker @joshuazucker.

Order Hud Dreems from Stones Throw.

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