I’ve grown accustomed to visiting Knxwledge’s Bandcamp page and seeing a new album. In the nearly five years since the prolific Los Angeles producer released Hud Dreems—his debut studio album on Stones Throw Records—Knxwledge, born Glen Boothe, has dropped no less than 43 projects worth of deep-fried lo-fi gems. Forty-three. His prolific nature has helped him further develop a pair of golden ears for loops, which has led to classic remixes and the lothario odyssey that is his group NxWorries with crooner Anderson .Paak.
If Knxwledge built his sound on a reliable framework, then what separates a project like 1988, his sophomore album on Stones Throw, out today, from his dozens of previous works?
The answer can be found in the album’s tracklist which, when arranged as a sentence, reads:
“Don’t be afraid. Because tomorrow’s not promised. Do you. That’s all we can do. Listen; learn how to cope with reality. You only get one, so live life. Be safe. Watch who you call your homie. They come and go. Don’t gotta be gangsta all the time. Believe me; it can be so nice. Make use of the time. Make it live forever. A woman’s life is love. A man’s love is life. Keep on minding my business.”
1988 isn’t a concept album. It’s grounded in a strong theme of reflection. The tracklist’s message and Knxwledge’s choosing to name the album after his birth year both call attention to the relationship his music has with time. The album’s opening suite of tracks (“dont be afraid,” “[bc] tm_s not promised,” “do you”) blend the lush instrumental work he brought to Kendrick Lamar’s “Momma” with the dusty drums and vocal samples for which he’s become famous. Low and hi-fidelity sounds combine to provide head-nodding bliss.
A greater sense of ambition and adventure drives a handful of 1988’s standout songs. For instance, take the jack-knifing drums and blinking synths of “awomanslifeislove” or the steady percussion of “amansloveislife_keepon,” which scan as more funk than hip-hop. “Learn” is the only misfire of the bunch, aiming for the session musician beat-making template of hip-hop bandleaders like Karriem Riggins or Chris Dave. Sadly, they sound more like an outlier on a Chillax playlist.
Aside from a handful of deviations, the bulk of 1988 finds its rhythm in the bite-sized grainy loops Knxwledge cranks out by the truckload. Gossamer vocal loops are bent around shuffling drum patterns (“thats allwekando,” “don_tgottabe”); horn lines (“solivelife”) and piano chords (“theykome&go”) are chopped and distorted accordingly; disembodied voices pitched high and low find space in between the cracks of history.
Every Knxwledge project, remix, and loosie has led to this moment. Perhaps more than any other producer working today, Knxwledge uses samples as relics of time, bent to help listeners wade through their memories. 1988 stands as a distillation of time told through music and, more importantly, a fire set of beats for heads to strain their necks to.
Best song: “itkanbe[sonice]” feat. NxWorries
Best bar: The tracklist.
Best moment: Sampling an Ebro diss for cool guy points.