Every morning I stare at a blank document knowing my job is to fill this canvas with words. I stare with my fingers on the keys, hoping the inspiration comes before the doubt—doubt born from the fear of falling short. Living up to the standards of past writing at times is like being haunted by a ghost. There’s no bigger disappointment than sitting down to write another Illmatic, and by the end, it reads more like Nastradamus. It is the never-ending chase to be consistently great, the never-ending desire to be better than your best, and most importantly, the never-ending war against the artist you were yesterday.
Every artist is judged by what they did before, especially in hip-hop. Your sophomore effort will be compared to your debut, your album will be contrasted by your acclaimed mixtape; the ghosts of your past are inescapable. There’s a carefulness I hear when listening to Kendrick. His albums are meticulous puzzles that sound like months of tireless days and endless nights in the studio searching for perfection. He doesn’t rap for the sake of rapping; he doesn’t record for the sake of relevance. Greatness is both his final destination and his biggest obstacle—I believe falling short is a fear that he carries. I wonder how many songs were made during GKMC and TPAB that will never see the light of day because they weren't deemed good enough to make the cut?
Knxwledge is the exact opposite of Kenny—it's intimidating going to his Bandcamp and seeing 75 beat tapes staring back at you. One is an underground producer and the other is a mainstream rap artist, so there’s no comparing their output. Yet, they are both creatives, and Knxwledge's approach to making music intrigues me. When I listen to Knxwledge, his music comes off as creations born completely by instinct. There’s no overthinking or skepticism; he isn’t haunted by the ghost of an old project or overwhelmed by doubt of not living up to his acclaim. He creates based off creative impulse, as opposed to chasing after some idea of perfection. I feel like he’ll loop any sound, flip any sample, include his favorite movie sound bites, and remix any a cappella based on a passionate feeling, and not thought.
Knxwledge doesn’t overproduce; his style is simplistic, yet layered. His output is impressive, but it speaks volumes that he releases so much to the public. It shows that he cares more about having music in the universe than sitting on his hard drive. What he is doing by building this immense collection is creating a catalog of music that will forever reside on the internet. His Bandcamp is a one-man museum where you can spend days, months and possibly years examining the art. It’s less about public perception of his art, and simply creating art to live with the public. In an interview with L.A. Record that dates back to 2014, he talks about how researching J Dilla taught him the importance of having a catalog. He saw more importance in stacking heat on top of heat instead of trying to make one giant flame. Even if people don't listen now, maybe they will listen one day.
That made everything have to get warm. I had to start working on that mix. That made me actually just think, after I saw how much shit he had—it’s all about the catalogue. You gotta have heat on top of heat, non-stop. You have to be creating non-stop, obviously. I just started stacking. Stacking these ideas and getting to these loops before these little swagger jackers could. Eventually everything is gonna end up on Youtube. It sucks but it’s what it is. - KNXWLEDGE: HEAT ON TOP OF HEAT
“So[rt]” is a beat that first appeared on Knxwledge’s relevnt . b / sde_LP.beat tape. It was one of many tapes he released that year, with one of many songs that graced the ears of listeners. Two years later, Kendrick would be rapping over the very same beat on his song “Momma.” If he kept the music to himself, if he feared releasing too much, there's a possibility that “So[rt]” is never released and Kendrick never hears the beat. With his entire catalog opened to the world, there’s no telling where his beats may end up one day. Based on his output it appears that Knxwledge is only worried about the act of creating, not the bigger results of his creations. Producers are able to benefit a bit more from this style of releasing, but it’s important not to horde your art. There might not be immediate recognition—years could go by before acknowledgment is made—but there’s so much that can happen simply by trusting your art will reach who it needs to when released into the world.
Both Lil Wayne and Gucci Mane have carried that mantra as rappers known for their oversaturation. Wayne recorded a mountain of music that became features, remixes, and songs leaked to the public without his promotion, but all that gave him the momentum to be rap’s most popular martian. Gucci stacked records like a madman and when he was incarcerated all the music he made kept his presence felt. Their approach has trickled down to artists like Young Thug, 2 Chainz, Mac Miller and Future, who create nonstop and aren’t afraid to gift the music to their fans. Not everything is received with rave reviews, but there are benefits to high volumes of quantity. Future is a great example— Monster, Beast Mode and 56 Nights all came within months of each other, but it was the beginning of his Hive era. At his most popular, Future released more music in a shorter time span than any other point in his career. Without those three mixtapes, I'm certain that DS2 doesn't reach the top of Billboard.
Stevie Wonder released 16 albums from 1962 through 1974. He received warm, positive reviews throughout his career but it wasn’t until the Talking Book, his fifteenth album, did he start what critics consider the “classic period.” He continued to create, though, after that period ultimately ended. It's easy to get caught up in trying to release only what’s classic, what will be timeless, but that can be a trap. Flawlessness isn’t human. Ultimately, you have to learn what kind of creative you want to be. You can be a Kendrick or an André, who are careful creatives—perfectionists who only want to give the world home runs. You could be a Knxwledge or a Wayne, who create so much that it feels overwhelming, but you always have something new to explore. You can be a drizzle that rains down occasionally or the ocean that completely submerges the audience. In this ever changing hip-hop market, there’s room for both.
I'm learning that once you decide that your art will live in the world, you don’t decide what’s considered a masterpiece. What you hate can easily be the creation that makes you the richest, while what you love is completely ignored by the masses. The best advice is to just do the work with passion, and not be afraid that it isn’t good enough. Create more, doubt less. Silence all the ghosts.
By Yoh, aka Yohwledge, aka @Yoh31.