KNXWLEDGE: HEAT ON TOP OF HEAT
photography by theo jemison
At 26, producer and beat-maker Glen Boothe boasts the kind of deep discography more common with musicians twice his age. But a casual perusal of his Bandcamp page is the first indication there is very little common about young Knxwledge. Soft-spoken but certainly not passive, Knx has maximized the online outlet with over 50 label-less releases since 2009. Operating within his own realm, he’s won over audiences with soulful lo-fi tracks that expertly mesh YouTube samples, rap-remixes and R&B flips. His ‘proper’ releases have come courtesy of labels like L.A.’s Leaving Records and Ireland’s All-City Records. I skyped with Knx to take a look back. The usually private producer shared stories about growing up in New Jersey and going to church everyday, the importance of having a catalogue, the Myspace era and what effect Jay Dee had on an adolescent Knx. We know the future is unwritten, so perhaps it is strangely appropriate that the recording of my conversation with Knx cut short just as he was detailing his plans for global audio domination. What’s left is a retrospective. His album debut Hud Dreems is out now on Stones Throw. This interview by sweeney kovar.
My pops was born and raised in Jamaica. He came over in his mid twenties. My mom’s just from New Jersey, from Central Jersey. We kinda travelled. We used to go visit my grandparents in Jamaica. I went three or four times when I was younger. I can remember being over there pretty vividly. Jersey is weird, man. White people and shit. Growing up in Jersey is kinda sus because I grew up in the hoody part but then it became not-so hood because Jews came in and took over that shit. I’ve never had to sum up that shit before. You know how out here all those blocks between Melrose and Beverly are predominantly Jewish? It’s pretty much like that over there in Jersey but there’s mad synagogues everywhere—new huge joints. That didn’t happen till middle school though. We moved away. They actually bought my parents crib and we moved outta that town. That’s when I started that young wrestling life at school. Jersey was cool. My mom’s parents lived there. They were from down south, Alabama and shit. My mom’s mom’s sister had a church and I grew up in that church, playing instruments and learning all my music. All my feels right there.
So you grew up with music through the church?
Man, this nigga House Shoes just sent me an Instagram of a laundromat called Yung Laundromat. Y-U-N-G Laundromat. Anyways, this is the thing yo: literally since I could walk, I was in the church. My mom was pretty heavy in church. My dad wasn’t so much at the beginning. We went to church so many days a week, pretty much five days mandatory out of seven until I moved out. After school was sports till like six or seven and then after that straight to church till like 11. Then you gotta wake up at six for school in the morning. It wasn’t five days of full blown church, like church on Sundays. Sunday was mass or Sunday school. Monday was choir rehearsal … you’re a kid, you don’t have a choice. You’re in the choir. When you’re older you lowkey don’t have a choice either. You’re in the adult choir. Tuesday is weeknight church—you know what that’s about. Thursday is like that, too. Friday or Saturday … for some reason when I was younger my mom and dad offered to clean the church. So my whole life, 18 or 19 years, I had to go every weekend and clean the church with my family. Eventually, after I finished cleaning, I would go ham on all the instruments. Some of them got beat up over the years, so they would buy new instruments and I would take all the old stuff. I eventually got that little arsenal set up.
What instruments did you gravitate to?
Drums, of course. Off top. We had a full-blown band style so actually first it was organ because it was a full-blown organ with the keys and the switches—
Damn. With the big ass pipes?
Nah, not with the pipes but with everything else. The bass pedals were everything. I definitely remember mashing on them and the drums too. Every time I’d get on the drums my parents would hear that shit. They would be cleaning downstairs while I’m supposed to be vacuuming upstairs. It’d be fucked up. Every time I’d get to banging on the drums it would be a wrap.
Where did you have time to hear music that was not in the church bubble?
I used to do the radio thing. I used to get these 120-minute tapes. They would record the church every Sunday—actually on weeknights, too. They would record the choir and the preacher talking and solos and testimonies. They still do that. I used to take those tapes and let the radio rock for an hour. I remember thinking that I wished I had an automatic flip-and-switch recorder. I’d usually do the oldies station, and we had a bunch of gospel tapes too. My dad brought a joint that looked like a Tascam 4-track but it wasn’t—it had pitch control and a regular tape player. He brought mad dancehall tapes and VHSs from Jamaica. Those blank tapes, I’d have to go back through them shits on my walkman on the way to church in the whip. That’s all I really had. I didn’t have internet until junior year of high school. Most of my hip-hop was radio shit.
Your dad had a shop in Jersey, too—right?
Yeah, that was pretty serious. For some reason he had all this ill gear. It was all that Malcolm X type shit… Cross Colors. He had these huge cylinder tubs full of clothes. I didn’t know where they were coming from, to tell you the truth. There is this spot called English Town in Jersey. This was before my dad was going to church with me and my moms—he used to slang clothes. My mom would be there working with him, too. It was only on Saturdays. We used to be there hella early in the morning and we had this spot inside this building—it was a swap meet. Straight-up flea market joint. I just remember that and this egg and sandwich spot. They had this hot roasted peanut joint—it’d smell like peanuts in the whole building. I used to live off them shits. I swear that’s why my protein is crazy. That’s why my nails grow crazy. In a week my nails be Wolverine-style. Protein levels ridiculous.
How were the first beats you were making?
Well, I was off them karaoke machine styles. I would have to pretty much track that shit out in a few different tapes. I straight up had a tape for keys, a tape for bass and so on. I had to record each straight through with no metronome. Well, I had the drums going. I’d record everything and I also had a super weak version of Cubase. I had Fruity Loops, too, but for some reason I had to track it out.
You’d play everything out part by part?
Yeah, pretty much—and then have to piece that shit together and hope it matches. There’s no warping so you gotta hope that your timing was right. That was pretty much the beginnings. This is when I first started figuring out how I was gonna record this shit and how I was gonna get a computer because that’s what you needed to get that catalogue started. You can’t just fuck with these CDs. I was getting over the tapes and CDs. I need to get photos of all the tapes and recordings I left at the crib. My younger brothers destroyed my studio—it’s so wack. My drums, my keys—destroyed that shit. The weakest. Those fools are crazy. They didn’t really grasp instruments note-wise at first though they both know how to read music now. The second oldest plays the drums now—nasty. That fool could probably play for people. The other dude plays guitar nasty too. Anyway, I had a copy of Fruity Loops 4 and I used that shit forever. Niggas was just starting to hack they life out. I was living across the street from this white kid … for some reason I always had these white kids that I knew that were straight hackers and could get any software I needed. I had a dude in middle school and I had a dude in high school that showed me everything about Windows and everything about Mac, like cracks and shit. The dude in middle school lived directly across the street from me and the dude from high school ended up with me in this computer tech class that we took over like … six times. We were only supposed to take that twice, if that. I still talk to that fool. I was just talking to him earlier about not eating McDonalds ever again.
How was life after high school? I know you tried college for a bit.
I was just in the beats. I know my parents hate my existence for that college experience. I mean, it wasn’t that bad. Student loans are on my heels for a couple of grand but what the fuck is a couple grand? It’s thousands of dollars—they’re not getting that shit until I’m up crazy, fuck outta here. These niggas is so dumb. You’re gonna send me three things of mail a day? So fucking annoying, it sucks that they have my address. Don’t even print the name of the school. You didn’t even hear that shit. It was the worst school. That shit was ranked like the worst school. It was savage. Long story short, I made the majority of the early bandcamps in that one year—from not going to class and smoking the most weed. I did not smoke before that year. The weed pretty much opened my chakras that year, 2006 or 2005. Not even just that but actually real life. Not being with the parents and just experiencing real life.
When did you first hear Jay Dee? I feel like his influence in your music played a pivotal role in the early stages.
The question of life. Ima have to say probably late ‘98 or ‘99, as a young adolescent youth, still a young child. It was through the Pharcyde shit. I saw the Spike Jonze video, the backwards joint. Then I started hunting, started Napster-ing, searching. That young Janet remix, man. I remember I had found that on one of those radio tapes. And ‘Fantastic’? After a lil’ nigga heard ‘Fantastic,’ it was a wrap, straight up.
What did that do to the beats?
That made everything have to get warm. I had to start working on that mix. That made me actually just think, after I saw how much shit he had—it’s all about the catalogue. You gotta have heat on top of heat, non-stop. You have to be creating non-stop, obviously. I just started stacking. Stacking these ideas and getting to these loops before these little swagger jackers could. Eventually everything is gonna end up on Youtube. It sucks but it’s what it is. The productivity started when I could finally start working these computers. My mom’s computers man, I broke so many of my mom’s desktops—so savage. Just from trying to download beats and programs. It’s funny because back in the day there wasn’t that many record stores in Jersey. The only thing that was heavy heavy in Jersey was tapes—that’s why I had lots of cassettes. My record stacks were not even that crazy. My dad brought some from Jamaica but it was only so many of those. Myspace put your boy on somewhat. My man Tom came through with the label bars. Lots of people though—it’s crazy. I remember Dam [Funk] left a comment on Stones Throw’s Myspace and then he had that remix, that Baron Zen remix. I just found some screen shots from back then recently. I literally talked to everyone back then. Fuckin’ Steve [Flying Lotus], Sam [Samiyam], [House] Shoes, Ringgo [Mndsgn], Teebs, All-City.
How did that first record Klouds end up on All-City?
My man Olan, my Irish father. That’s my mans. I don’t even know what that fool heard and he was just down, off top. Niggas only had like four songs up on the personal page. That was the first piece of wax. I straight up just wanted something to roll up on. That fool Olan made that shit come true. After a show in San Diego in 2008, I came up here to L.A. and linked up with Teebs. I just asked him if he was down to do the cover. That dude sent me like mad options and alternatives. It was crazy to have him do that first joint. I thought he was just gonna send me a sketch of an idea like ‘I’m working on this’ but he actually sent me a few. On the second go around it wasn’t so. It’s all love though.
What was the reaction from listeners?
It was whatever. It’s not far from the reaction I get now. I never cared about that shit. I knew off top fools were gonna hate as hard as it possibly is to hate. I just try to crank them beats out.