This won't be your typical interview feature because Knxwledge isn't your typical producer.
I love getting to chop it up with producers. It's rare that I'm able to talk to other human beings who are even more obsessed with samples, instrumentals and the business side of beats as I am. Getting the stories behind some of my favorite beats are what I live for and in interviews when I get that story, that quote, it's the greatest feeling in the world. I can practically see the faces of rap nerds around the world lighting up.
As I really immersed myself in Knxwledge's work, as I discovered the layers to his music, as I stumbled on the beat where he sampled The Brave Little Toaster, I couldn't wait to get him on the phone. I couldn't wait for the quotes. He's such a enigmatic, interesting artist, surely he had some amazing stories.
50 minutes and 13 seconds later I hung up the phone.
I didn't have any real quotables.
No hot takes.
No crazy Kanye stories, no click-bait.
Still, I knew there was story in our conversation, and that story is Knxweldge himself. It should come as no surprise that his interview was different because everything about Knxwledge - his personality, his music and especiallyhis career - is unconventional.
Producers are often only as popular as the company they keep. Of course what you produce matters, but it's who you produce for that makes or breaks you; placements, placements, placements. Rattling off the hits on their resume is often how we rank and celebrate producers. Knxwledge? He has one major placement. That first placement though? "Momma" off a little album called To Pimp a Butterfly. How many producers can say their first placement came from one the most anticipated albums in hip-hop history? To join the likes of Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Terrace Martin and more on his first placement, to land on the album with no prior relationship to K. Dot, is incredible.
Even the way his beat was developed was out of the ordinary. To Pimp a a Butterfly has been praised for its cohesive feel and emphasis on live instrumentals yet Knxwledge created the beat for Momma years before even Good Kid M.a.a.D City was released. The six-year old original first appeared on one of Knxwledge's beat tapes released four years ago, relevnt.b/sde_LP. Knxwledge didn't even submit it! To anyone! "That shit was ridiculous," he said when we spoke. "Not that it wasn't fuckin' amazing, but I wasn't trying to be on there." He added, "He got my number because he's Kendrick and texted me 'we got a keeper' and a year and some change later, I heard the song with you guys."
Though Knxwledge has just one major placement, he's by no means new to the game. He has a cult following composed of true internet music connoisseurs. Over the course of six years, he's released a staggering 64 beat tapes. That's an average of 10 and half tapes a year. His BandCamp page is his resume and man is it impressive. Knxwledge has released each and every one of his projects through the online service and has made a living off of it. "It's [done] well enough for me to take care of myself, to do the same thing next month."
It's remarkable he made a name for himself before a notable placement, but it's even more amazing that he's yet to receive one complaint considering his material is so sample heavy. Nowadays producers are getting sued for simply being inspired, but Knxwledge has literally made a living selling his sample-driven material on BandCamp. Sort of like his To Pimp A Butterfly placement, he's not quite sure how or why, it just kind of happens. When I asked him about it -- the clearances, the BandCamp system, the samples, the business side - he's seemed charmingly casual and unconcerned. "I'm just flooding it. I've never been hit up, I'm not really waiting for it either,"he said,adding, "I'm broke anyway so..." and concluding with, "Shout out to BandCamp." Knxwledge simply seems to make beats and beyond that, he just doesn't care. There's no grand scheme, no master plan.
Don't mistake his nonchalance for a lack of effort or work ethic. Rappers pride themselves on their grind, but staying in the studio until 4 AM doesn't mean much when you're up at noon. Knxwlegde? He's up at the crack of dawn. After grabbing some breakfast he heads to the Amoeba record shop to pick up materials, whether it be an old gospel record or a 50 Cent acapella, and then he heads to the lab to "record all day." He makes Kanye look like a slacker for his paltry five beats a day for three summers. Every single day he's up at the crack of dawn and spends all day honing his craft. His work rate is blistering and those 64 tapes are but a fraction of his output. When discussing how much music he has, he sounded almost bewildered. 'I'm fucking running out of space man. What am I supposed to do with all this shit? What the fuck? It's stupid." I could practically see him opening up a closet door and staring at a wall of hard drives. In actuality though, "It's a bunch of shoeboxes. Maybe like 30 or 40 hard drives."
Still, it's not the number of raw hard drives that's beginning to earn him a reputation (and a paycheck or two), it's what's on those hard drives. There is a special, distinct flavor to a Knxwledge beat. Though he samples with the best of them, his beats are anything but traditional. Thanks to some echoing, headnotic drums and a thick, shrouded, almost extraterrestrial feel Knxwledge takes a sample and morphs it to fit his own creation. His beats aren't driven by a sample like most beats; the samples are but one piece of the puzzle. Like a labyrinth, at any moment you'll pick up a sonic trail and follow it until it eventually becomes an entirely new destination. At first I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but the more I listened, the more I appreciated the intricacies, all the samples tucked in, the way the drums echo. The beats that he's making are so multidimensional and yet, like Knxwledge himself, they have a nonchalance to them.
The more I talked to Knxwledge the more I got the sense he doesn't even know how talented he is and how unique his situation is. It's not a bad thing, if anything it makes him more intriguing and likeable. He talks about hanging with Action Bronson as if he's a fan. When we discussed his favorite producers (Alchemist, Dilla, and Madlib), when we talked about jazz music, about what he listens to (he's a big Roc Marciano fan) he seemed almost exhausted at the amount of interviews he has on his plate. At one point he got distracted because he just learned he's traveling to Russia for a few shows; it seemed to catch him off guard. The causal aloofness with which he treated everything from sample clearances to a trip halfway around the world makes me believe more than anything, he just does it for the genuine love of music. He does it because it's natural, because he loves music. He doesn't have an end game - granted he noted "It would be tight if my kids ate from BandCamp" - but other than that there's no master plan, no takeover. He just makes beats. Period.
Though he may not see it, I do. With the "Momma" placement, with his impending Stones Throw album due out May 5, and a joint venture with Anderson .Paak (Nxworries) in the works, Knxwledge is slowly but surely making the switch from mysterious internet producer to a force to be reckoned, and yet he remains unchanged.
In true Knxwledge fashion he ended the call and the discussion about what's next with, "I don't know how this happened. I'm just going with it."
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth]