Beat Construction: Knxwledge

With a Stones Throw deal and To Pimp A Butterfly credits, a fresh young soul-stirrer lands at the center of L.A.’s beat scene.

Photographer Theo Jemison
May 19, 2015

The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. This week, we talk to Knxwledge, who's been quietly dropping soul-chopping beat tapes since 2009, and soon stumbled into a deal with Stones Throw for his new album, Hud Dreems, as well as a career-catapulting placement on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. The Philly-born, Hollywood-based musician told us about channeling his church background in his music, four-course meals with Big Body Bes, and the insanity of his new rap life.

Homeboy Sandman"Problems"

One beat of yours I really loved was "Problems," the Homeboy Sandman joint on his album from last year. That track is crazy. That's funny. I thought it was just like a funny song, and that it wouldn't drop. But it's so dope that it dropped—such an ill concept. Sandman is a genius; the way he writes shit is nuts. The first time I met Sandman we did that. He came through L.A. and we got in the studio. I might have gave him a little batch­ of beats, and he got "Problems" from that batch the first time we got in the studio. He's actually out here right now, but my fucking parents are gonna be here. I'm gonna see how tired they are and I might go fuck with him for a little bit.

Are your parents fully into what you do? Are they supportive? Oh yeah. 100% They love this shit more than I do, it seems like. And they're 100% religious, which is funny. But I make them proud. They pretty much solidified music for me when I was super young in the church. I was in church like five days a week for almost eighteen years straight. I grew up getting all the instruments from there. We were all in the choir. I have two younger brothers. They both play drums and guitars. I play everything. They play everything, too. I was a musician first, and then finally started sampling beats and shit like that around middle school.

On your album Hud Dreems, all of the beats are edited tight, none longer than two minutes. Is that a style choice? To be honest, I do that because I really don't think about the listener. Probably should, but nah, fuck that [laughs]. That's how I want to hear it, to be honest, so that's how long you guys are gonna hear it.

Your dedication to traditional, sample and loop-based based hip-hop production is harder to come by these days. What drew you to that sound? It's really close to church for me: the feeling you get when you drop these chord progressions and make them your own. There's a lot of R&B and soul music that came from gospel. I've listened to hip-hop and a lot of R&B songs, like, all those Monica joints—the melody is always driven, so a lot of that shit is comparable to church songs to me. It gives you the same feeling. Everybody gets that chill down their spine for something.

Are you still going to record stores trying to find samples? Or are you on YouTube? It's tedious, since I fucking live in Hollywood, CA, where there's not that many record stores that haven't been ran through. Shit gets fucking recycled. You got to leave the country sometimes and get some new shit. I still dig a lot—my parents are gonna be pissed because I have so many fucking records that I brought back from Moscow and Asia—just all in my room in a box and so dusty. I dig a lot of gospel in the States. Sven [Libaek] and the random Turkish shit. I pull from everything. I pull from movies. Fucking radio. It doesn't even matter. Anywhere I can get that RCA-out, straight.

Some producers set out to make beats specifically for artists, but people want a sound from you. How'd Kendrick first seek you out? Yeah, he heard a joint that was on my Anthology tape, it's like fucking six or seven years old. That shit was crazy. He was doing a photo shot for the Complex cover that he did before the album came out. My you know about Eric Coleman? He's done phenomenal fucking photography in hip-hop and the West Coast's history. He's done a lot of album covers. He shot that cover for Kendrick, and he was playing some joints. Kendrick fell in love with a joint and got my number and texted me. I fucking heard that shit a year and a half later with you guys.

So you had no idea he picked it up? 
No, I didn't hear it at all before it came out. I wasn't really looking forward to it—I know this fool is Obama rap. I would imagine two thousands of his cousins, his own family are trying to give him beats. I couldn't put all my eggs in that basket. I had to just keep doing other shit. It came back around. Doing interviews with The FADER. Rap life.

As a producer, you can be the guy making five beats a day, hoping something lands somewhere. But you're releasing an album, and establishing yourself as an artist. Was that a conscious decision? Honestly, I just kept dropping shit. I didn't have a plan of getting placemats or any kind of shit. Having super rappers rapping on my shit. Those were my intentions really, but there's something about sharing shit that you love. It gives you that same feeling that you get when you've made it. It comes back. Randomly fucking Joey, the shit that he rapped on is from my first ever beat tape ever on Bandcamp, and fucking Kendrick raps on some other shit from Bandcamp. What if I didn't share that shit? That's crazy. It's stupid. It's all up to you. You can't hoard shit. Shit can be refurbished. A seven year old beat, and he rapped on that, then millions of people hear it? What the hell? I don't know the science behind that.

How'd you end up signing to Stones Throw? I don't know if I did the Sandman joint before I signed, but I guess they knew about me. I had a meeting a week after whenever that LA Boiler Room aired. This fool Wolf walked up to me, and was playing them the "Casanova (Remix)". He was like "What the hell?" That did it man. I've met a majority of [the label] years ago when they came to Philly when I was a kid, and I got into some show. It was a Supreme team show that they did in Philly. I haven't even told fucking Wolf this shit, it's hilarious, he probably won't remember.­ It was pretty much the whole team: Kareem, Ribs, Wolf, Percy, Guilty, mad fools there. Even that happening, never even thought it would amount to something so wild, but here we are.

What equipment do you use most? 
Ableton is my jam, to be honest. It's been my main tool for playing live and making shit. There's the two different views. There's that one front video, with all the clips and shit. If you've seen somebody play live, you know how they use it. But when you're in that view creating, for every little scene across, it's a new beat. I make beats in that view and it gives me unlimited ideas in one session. Then you can have master BPMs set up. It's really convenient software, light and fast.

What's next for you? Try to finish these rap records. There's some rap stuff in the works with probably the three most incredible rappers in my opinion. I got stuff with Prodigy coming out. With the Infamous Mobb, actually, too, and my man Big Twin. Shoutout Twin. He's a fucking G. That used to be my neighbor, and he just moved.

There's some joints with young fucking Roc Marciano. And then my man Action Bronson got some joints coming soon after. He's fucking singing his heart out with this record. He's a good dude. He treats me good when he's out here; he has Body call me. It's hilarious. He has Big Body Bes call me like "Yo, where the fuck is you at, man?" Incredible fucking cuisine every time. Phenomenal.

He cooks you a four-course meal while you're chopping up samples. Most rappers won't even break up weed for you. Aw man. Come on man. He's just wild exceptional, man. I can't ask for more. He's good people.

From The Collection:

Beat Construction
Beat Construction: Knxwledge