The Subversive Brilliance of Knxwledge, The Bootleg God

From trap anthems to groovy gems, no one flips a record quite like Knxwledge.
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From trap anthems to groovy gems, no one flips a record quite like Knxwledge.

Knxwledge is one of the best new producers around—even if he doesn’t know it.

With a crate digger’s ear for samples that range from soul and jazz to R&B and early ’00s rap, the 28-year-old New Jersey native is best known for his work with Anderson .Paak (as one-half of NxWorries), as well as producing Joey Bada$$’ “Killuminati," Earl Sweatshirt’s “Balance" and Kendrick Lamar’s “Momma" (which was actually an old beat photographer Eric Coleman played for Kendrick while shooting his Complex cover back in 2014).

To reduce Knxwledge to production credits would be a disservice to the man’s prolific solo output, though. Over the last eight years, the bedroom beatmaker has been growing his Bandcamp page at a rate that makes Curren$y look like a slacker stoner. In total, he’s released 73 projects (and counting)—all for a small, reasonable fee that allows him to do it full-time.

While most would agree that his 2015 Stones Throw album Hud Dreams is the best of the bunch, the most frequent—and fascinating—part of Knxwledge’s catalog is his countless “bootleg”-style remixes.

Through a number of mixtape series, including WrapTaypes for hip-hop, HexualSealings for love songs and karma.loops for good old fashioned loops—most of which are several installments deep—Knx has released a wealth of lo-fi (and lawsuit-free, touch wood) remixes that are brilliant, blunted and sometimes so bizarre you can’t help but to literally laugh out loud.

Take his latest project, for example. On WT.PRT10.8_ (Knxwledge speak for WrapTaypes Part 10.8), the NxWorries beatsmith gives Drake and 21 Savage’s “Sneakin'” an almost paradoxical makeover, swapping out London On Da Track’s sinister production for a breezy tempo and bright synths—basically, the last beat you’d expect to hear 21 Savage rapping over (and exactly the kind of beat Drake would be rapping over if he wasn’t siphoning cool points from certified killers).

Like a lot of his other releases, Knx uploaded his “Sneakin'” remix to Vimeo synced up with the original music video, which only makes the juxtaposition even more hilarious.

O.T. Genasis’ “Push It,” Mobb Deep's "Got It Twisted" and Skepta’s “Nasty” have all received similar treatment across Knx’s most recent projects, but he doesn’t just limit himself to street rap. In fact, it doesn’t even need to be a proper song at all. Adopting the same dig deeper philosophy as when he’s hunting for samples, Knxwledge also has a habit of ripping and remixing freestyles straight off YouTube.

As far as I can tell, it all started with “nokoreus.” (all of Knx’s tracks are named—phonetically—after a line from the song they sample, purely for ease of reference), a remix of a Kendrick Lamar freestyle on Tony Touch’s Shade 45 show, which appears on 2012’s WrapTaypes.Prt3. Since then, freestyles from Danny Brown, Freddie Gibbs and Gucci Mane (via his iconic Hood Affairs freestyle) have all been given the Knxwledge makeover.

Nothing compares to “theydntkare.,” though. Here, Knx takes a recent Uncle Murda freestyle on Hot 97 and replaces the original beat—A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Don Q’s “Bag on Me”—with a chintzy, almost erotic groove that sounds like it belongs in a Boyz II Men porno parody. Funk Flex would be madder than he was at Bow Wow and Lil Yachty. Murda might just clap him.

There’s a subversive brilliance to Knxwledge—in the way he releases music on his own schedule, in the way he spells stuff how he wants, and in the way he creates these absurdist alternate realities where hardened trap rappers spit street shit over soul, jazz or even folk samples. Knx's production is certainly an acquired taste—more palatable to those who grew up idolizing Dilla and DOOM over Diddy and Drake—but you can never call it uninteresting. Just ask the hundreds of thousands of fans who stream his DJ sets or the dozens of loyalists who happily pay for his obscure remixes.

Just think about that for a second: while many artists and producers on the come up release their best stuff (often flush with guest features) for free via mixtape or free streaming services, Knxwledge drops bootleg remixes (that are designed to be “rapper-proof”) and gets paid for it. That's fucking genius.

When reading his interviews, you don't get the feeling that money, acclaim or even high-profile beat placements matter all that much to Knxwledge. Rather, his tireless work ethic seems to come from an insatiable desire to not only create, but to push the boundaries of his creativity. “I kinda just test limits on how funky or smooth you can make some, like, super hood rap shit about shooting people in the face," he told Bonafide magazine. "It’s incredible."

Amen to that. TYBG (Thank You Bootleg God).


By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Stones Throw