Music should be timeless, but the music business is about timing. When the Knux dropped in ’08, being a “weird rapper” was considered unmarketable. 50 Cent was still T-Rex rampaging through the halls of Interscope and no one there knew what to do with the Knux or Freddie Gibbs, who ostensibly occupied two different ends of the spectrum. After all, both media and moguls insist on branding/boxing in artists and thanks to the “Cappuccino” video, the Knux were falsely stereotyped as “soft hipster rappers.” Meanwhile, Gibbs was wrongly labeled a one-dimensional gangsta rapper.
The truth is that when I wrote an LA Weekly story on The Knux, I discovered they had an outstanding arrest warrant for running a stolen car ring in their native New Orleans. They refused to play up that angle and thus, got shit from suburban-raised white bloggers whose criticism usually boiled down to “LOL GLASSES.” In hindsight, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook stole their whole style from that video. (This may or may not be a good thing). As for Gibbs, he’s always been more nuanced and versatile than anyone ever gave him credit. And whatever you thought about the Knux’s first record (I still ride for it), they were the first to help put on the current hardest rapper out.
Come album two, Interscope wanted to shape them into the next Black Eyed Peas. By now, the hipster rap wave had come and gone. Even the winners (see Kid Cudi) ended up looking like losers (see Kid Cudi). But though their fashion sense might have been prescient, the Knux never struck me as hipsters. Their love of music went too deep. They were analogues to Danny Brown, guys wearing leather because they loved Iggy Pop, not because they thought they could get in Nylon magazine. But no one but me and Gotty paid attention to Danny Brown until he cut off his braids and signed to Fools Gold. Post-Odd Future and Lil B, that lane was wide open. And now, the new normal is rappers with weird jewelry, stupid fur hats, and calculated eccentricity…just to get a record deal.
Theoretically, it should be a perfect time for the Knux. Except they never really got the right co-signs, label push and most damningly, never released mixtapes that showed exactly how gifted they were. They returned last week with their KTWN EP, which unfortunately costs money, meaning most of you won’t pay for it.
That’s a shame because it’s the best thing they’ve done since their first singles. They’re no longer on Interscope and thus free to pursue a path without A&R interference. The record fuses post-punk, garage rock, and Hendrix with boom-bap and Southern rap. Call them hipsters all you want — hipsters weren’t listening to Gravediggaz and the UNLV-era of Cash Money back in 95. These guys were and it’s been synthesized into their sound.
“Sex Talk” name-drops Janet Jackson and The Pixies “Gigantic”and interpolates “The Rain.” If “It’s all Gonna Fall” came out on Sub Pop, bloggers would be falling all over themselves to praise it. I’ve already talked about “Animal” and “Toke Up.” Just check the latest Big Boi record to see the pitfalls that can ensnare even the greatest. You might have dismissed them in the past, but no one in rap can seamlessly blend this many different textures into something that bangs. I don’t give a fuck if they aren’t hot right now or if their label dropped them or whatever extra-musical considerations get factored into the equation. This is exceptionally creative music — five psychedelic slaps worthy of your time.
MP3: The Knux – “Toke Up”