When talking with L.A.-based beatmaker Knxwledge, it’s hard to believe the 27-year-old isn’t actually from California. The Stones Throw artist, born and raised in Central New Jersey, comes off laid back and carefree. His voice is a gentle hum, built on mumbles and a relaxed laugh.
That slack attitude, unfortunately, seems more a result of pain than light-heartedness. “I’m just numb to surprises I guess,” he says. “I’ve just seen some wild shit and have had too much traumatic shit go on in my existence.” Knxwledge, also known as Knx, isn’t quick to talk about what exactly that “shit” was. However, he did share the most recent example: His aunt and uncle, who he viewed as a second mother and father, recently died in a car accident.
“You can pray all you want, but you can be here today and gone tomorrow,” he says. “[You] kind of just have to treat the moment like it is.”
Knx has been crafting beats since he could barely walk, capturing whatever he could on a 303 to chop. Since then he’s dropped a bevy of beat tapes, mostly with an $8 price tag through Bandcamp. Many are centered on contemporary and Golden Era hip-hop A cappellas, breathing new life into songs by MCs like Meek Mill and Mobb Deep alike.
The rest of the world is just catching up—with big names like Kendrick Lamar plucking a two-year-old Knx beat for “Momma” off To Pimp A Butterfly. Then there’s the raspy crooner Anderson Paak, who, after hearing Knx flip audio of him playing the tambourine and singing, asked to work together. The two form a thumping Cali groove group, NxWorries, who will release an LP later this year on Stones Throw.
In a land full of gloss, glitter and people begging to get their beats heard by Dr. Dre (more on this below), Knx is merely trying to create and be comfortable. — Reed Jackson
What was it like growing up in the church and how did it mold you as a musician?
Knx: Ever since I was born, my parents cleaned the church every single week on Saturdays. After I got done cleaning the church, I was able to mess around on the instruments. All my uncles and my aunt actually played the drums, and I had a few cousins who played the drums as well. Once all those instruments got beat up, I would take those back to the crib and then that was my only means of recording—I could record at the crib. My dad had this weird little tape recorder that he brought from Jamaica that randomly had a pitch bend on it and a speed wheel. I used to record the sermons at the church on little white tapes that had 40-minute sides. I would just use those and record, put my 303 up through the house and just record the tape that way.
What inspired you to start recording the sermons?
Knx: I was trying to grab everything I could grab, you know? For the most part, I was grabbing oldies on the radio when I couldn’t be at home. And when I wasn’t home, I would leave that shit recording, like when I had to go to church or something. Just leave that going so when I come back I have something to chop.
Was it ever difficult growing up in such a religious household?
Knx: It actually was. I couldn’t listen to a lot of the ’90s hip-hop that I wanted to. [That was] the epitome of East Coast hip-hop. It was kind of hard to hide that shit. Thank goodness for headphones. I had to record all that because I couldn’t buy it. I could only listen to it in my headphones on the way to church. It was never frowned upon, though. Of course you’re going to get, “What are you doing making music? No one makes music. You’re not going to be like Kanye West.” But they never frowned upon it. I was an athlete as well. That shit was kind of wild.
What’d you play?
Knx: Soccer, wrestling and track. Wrestling is kind of big in New Jersey. They take that shit really seriously. I ended up ranking really highly. I went through a couple phases where I wanted to fucking quit, but I got my little medals or whatever. I got my names on the board with my family and brothers so that was cool. I don’t know what to compare it to … it was kind of like the NFL.
Growing up, did you ever envision yourself being something different than a musician?
Knx: Nah man, honestly. Nothing I’ve ever done has made me feel as ill as music has. Or taken care of me as much as music. It’s been almost eight years since I’ve been living on my own, and I haven’t worked a regular job and [have] just been living off my music.
What has it been like getting notoriety as an artist and traveling around the world to play your music?
Knx: It’s been weird since the beginning, honestly. Like these fools picked up this random show in Moscow. Shit is next week. So random. It’s going to be me, Breezy Lovejoy (Anderson Paak), DJ Premier and Black Milk, randomly. I don’t know what’s happening. I’ve been getting this placement, which has been kind of weird because I’ve never really considered myself a DJ, but you have to be. It’s been cool, man. I’ve been a lot of places thus far.
I hear you get described as prolific all the time. Does it ever bother you that people may just be skimming the surface of your catalogue when they listen to one of your tapes?
Knx: I never pay any attention honestly. It’s kind of cool, though. I guess in my mind I’m not worrying about it. If they hear one and they’re a real music individual, they’ll probably listen to the rest. Or ask somebody what’s the other banging joint or whatever. It never really bothers me. It’s an awesome compliment.
I read in a previous interview that you weren’t a big fan of rappers jumping on your beats. How are you feeling about that these days?
Knx: I’ve actually finally met some rappers that I’m intrigued by. It’s been good lately. The bootleg game is still at an all-time high. The real rap stuff is cool, though. I’ve been meeting some ill dudes out there who are killing it simultaneously as well. My G Action [Bronson] is out here and trying to get in here a little later actually. He’s staying down the street with Body (Action’s cousin).
And you got a spot on Kendrick’s new album. How’d that come about?
Knx: That joint … I released a few years before he heard it actually. It was on a tape before it was on a tape. It was on a Side B release I had. But then I put it out on Stones Throw; when I signed, they wanted to make an anthology of their favorites and other people’s favorites from all that Bandcamp stuff. The track that he picked from was there. It’s just a beat, honestly. One day, maybe a year and some change ago, he sent me a text. He told me the name, the title, and was like, “Yeah man, I think we got a keeper.” I was like, “Damn, I had no idea.” Not the Kendrick Lamars of the world, but I’ve had [other] rappers say that they were going to keep beats. Even though he said that, I didn’t know he was going to go through with it. During the process, I was in the dark.
So you think someone in Kendrick’s crew heard the anthology and passed that beat to him?
Knx: I think he was doing a photo shoot for Complex, and one of my homies [who] is a photographer—he did the Madvillain cover for Complex. I think [Kendrick] may have heard it then because he’s always playing my stuff. I haven’t even met the homie yet. Maybe I’ll remember to ask him. Just random.
You sound really excited about all this [laughs].
Knx: [Laughs] To me, it’s like, I don’t know. I feel the same. I don’t feel any different. I don’t feel as surprised. I haven’t been surprised in a long time. I feel blessed to be a part of it. 10 million people listening to it in one day is … I can’t even really put into words what that is. Like, what the hell?
How come you haven’t been surprised in a long time?
Knx: I’m just numb to surprises, I guess. I’ve just seen some wild shit and have too much traumatic shit go on in my existence.
What sort of traumatic shit?
Knx: The one that’s the most current would be maybe a year and a half ago now. Like I said, I wrestle. My mom’s sister, she had five boys, so they grew up in Jackson [New Jersey]. They all wrestled. The fifth one, the oldest one, he worked on World of Warcraft, so why does he have to wrestle? He is like a computer genius. But the other four are all like state champions. Pretty much grew up with those dudes. I would always stay over there and train with them. But they’re all 10 or 12 years older than me, so they were hanging me over the railing by my ankles, you know—it was that kind of gap. Their parents were pretty much my parents, too. I was just really close with those boys and my aunt as well. My uncle ran a tow truck company like my whole life. He’s always worked on cars. And all the boys would fix cars. One night, a year and a half ago, no one knows what happened . . . sometimes [my aunt] would go along with them to tow cars in accidents. So I guess they had a call for their tow truck to tow another tow truck from an accident. And on the way, they just hit a tree and just caught up in flames and were just like gone. I’ve been religious my whole life but … you can pray all you want, but you can be here today and gone tomorrow. Kind of just have to treat the moment like it is. I don’t want to keep any of this shit here on my hard drive like hoarding that shit for Dr. Dre—what for? I just sent him a bunch of shit and he’s asking for harder shit.
You sent beats to Dre and he asked for harder shit?
Knx: He just wanted more. I meet a lot of dudes out here, walking past the studio … and they really, really care about how specifically Dr. Dre feels, and they get really sad if they play Dre a bunch of shit and he doesn’t like it. Which never bothers me—two different colored people. But it’s amazing to be able to send beats to Dr. Dre, I’m not trying to knock that shit at all. I don’t want to sound like I’m a piece of shit. I just have to keep some sort of integrity for myself, ya know? I don’t want everyone to have my ideas. Somebody could easily recreate anything, and I could have no idea about it. Shit happens all the time. I’m not paying a fucking lawyer for some bullshit like that.
You also mentioned Action Bronson. Seems like you’re working with some big names now. How does that feel?
Knx: It’s moreso just how real you are. Like, I know Action personally. I know Prodigy personally; he’s a real ass dude. I haven’t met Kendrick, but I met ScHoolboy a few weeks ago. Just fucking real ass dudes. This fool Roc Marciano is probably the realest dude in my existence on this earth. Another fucking incredible rapper. That’s literally one if I had any fucking aspiration to do an album with someone, Roc Marciano would be the one.
Meanwhile, you have an album coming out on Stones Throw with Anderson Paak. How’d that come about?
Knx: I think I did a flip of one of his joints. A video of him playing tambourine on the roof with guitar playing. This fool heard this shit a year later, maybe even longer, and then I sent him a few beats, and they turned into full fledge songs. Randomly played them over [at the Stones Throw office] the other day. Jeff Jank was like, “This shit is fresh.” And when Jeff Jank says it’s fresh, I’m with it.
Another random occurrence, eh?
Knx: It’s crazy, man. So why would I ever stop sharing [my beats]? Have to keep going.
Final question: Do you like living in L.A.?
Knx: Where I’m staying is just like wild; it’s really green. I don’t even feel like I’m an L.A. There’s trees and shit, and animals. A little safari back here, kind of. It helps, honestly. I’m real comfortable where I’m at. And if you feel comfortable, then it’s like, why stop?