Knxwledge pushes the old school into modernity with ‘1988’

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 3:20pm

NOSELL

Knxwledge via Youtube

There’s a point in everyone’s life when they suddenly become an oldhead. Well, the act of becoming an oldhead isn’t sudden. It’s a years — even decades — long process, and its onset can be quite jarring. Say that in your younger days, you enjoyed 1990s and 2000s hip-hop a la 50 Cent, Notorious B.I.G., Missy Elliott, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Kanye West, but now in 2020, you find yourself repulsed by new schoolers like Lil Uzi Vert, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Trippie Redd and Travis Scott. You only identify with new school revivalists like Dababy and YBN Cordae (BLEGH!), and you’re dying for another rapper like Kendrick Lamar (or even Kendrick himself) to show face. You might hate the new school’s maximalist, booming beats, but you hate their muddled and mumbled deliveries even more. You may even begin to find yourself looking forward to nice home-cooked breakfasts, waking up for blunted Sunday morning television sessions, and enjoying some good, old-fashioned peace and quiet. That’s when you know you’ve become an oldhead. 

It’s not a bad thing! It sucks, but at some point, everyone will metamorphose into the proverbial old man. This doesn’t mean you have to be a sour and jaded curmudgeon, though. The secret to gracefully becoming an oldhead is respecting, or even admiring, the sonic innovation of the new school even if you don’t necessarily enjoy it. Just take it all in stride and give it an honest try, like resident oldhead Glen Boothe.

You see, Glen Boothe, better known as Knxwledge, is only 32 years old, but you wouldn’t guess it from his throwback beats. He’s a student of J Dilla and Madlib that crafts dusty yet highly nuanced loops using samples ripped from YouTube. He’s more than just a revivalist, though. In his mixtape series Wraptaypes, he lifts vocal samples from popular rap songs, processes and distorts them, then overlays the samples onto his beats to fuse the old school and the new school (these hastily-made remixes often have surprisingly good results, just listen to this charming rendition of Drake’s “God’s Plan”). He’s truly a master of what he does, expertly and deftly placing every drum kick and sample burst. Each beat is fresh, even when his source material is anything but. He isn’t some reclusive artist who releases every once in a blue moon, either. He’s prolific. In fact, he’s released a total of I-can’t-even-count-how-many albums since 2009. His work has even landed him some impressive placements. He’s featured prominently on Kendrick Lamar’s “Momma” and has collaborated with superstars like Anderson .Paak and underground headscratchers like Mach-Hommy, Roc Marciano and Tha God Fahim.

With friends like this, you’d expect his most recent major release to be a star-studded affair. Instead, Knxwledge places himself, a hermetic stoner with an affinity for Carhartt and sweatbands, at center stage on 1988, his follow-up to 2015’s outstanding Hud Dreems. He lets his off-kilter beats do the talking. He doesn’t need high-profile features to prove his talent to the world. All he needs is himself, and 1988 is proof of that. 

With only five of the 22 songs clocking in at over two minutes in length, 1988 is a brief affair, but it’s a deep one with plenty to dive into. Though the songs have few words, the tracklist itself tells a story and acts as a ciphered guide for listening. When decrypted, it roughly expresses: “Don’t be afraid because tomorrow’s not promised. Do you; that’s all we can do. Listen and learn how to cope with reality. You only get one, so live life. Be safe and watch who you call your homie; they come and they go. You don’t have to 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 life is love. Keep on minding my business.” Each sentence is composed of one to three songs that are somehow related, whether it’s in the tone of the track or the style of the sample; they all culminate to form a reassuring, comforting collection of smudgy, crackling vignettes.

Each segment of the album is absolutely stunning, but 1998 is truly at its best when ingested in its entirety. That’s not to say there aren’t highlights. Early standout “Do You” is a bouncy yet subdued tromp featuring countless layers of twinkling pianos, shimmering chimes and oscillating synthesizers, with a concluding sample that proclaims, “You creative like a broke bitch, man. That’s what it is, bro,” as if Knxwledge knows that he just cooked up something special and is giving it his seal of approval. On “Be Safe,” he starts with a brilliantly implemented sample that says, “Word up, you know what I’m sayin. I ain’t frontin with nobody else. You know what, Smitty gave me the word, you know what I mean, I gotta let Knxwledge be heard” and then pushes into a gorgeous, reinvigorating instrumental driven by warped strings and a trunk-rattling bassline. He fills the track with the occasional “Yo, wassup?” or “What’s the deal, baby? It’s Knxwledge right here,” seemingly from Knxwledge himself. 1988 is littered with little gems like these, and thanks to their fleeting runtimes, you’ll want to listen to them again and again. 

Despite how wonderful Knxwledge’s brief works are, he shines brightest on full-length tracks. Take “Itkanbe[Sonice],” for example. It is the only song with a big-name feature on it, and it still doesn’t break the two-minute mark, even though the featured artist is none other than Anderson .Paak. Despite the limited time, .Paak delivers a slick and boastful verse detailing his expensive lifestyle centered around the line “I don’t even know how it feels [to be broke] anymore.” Where “Itkanbe[Sonice]” is celebration of wealth, “Amanslifeislove_Keepon” is both a celebration of life and a reminder to stay true to yourself even when it’s difficult, delivered by an instrumental that would be right at home on a ’90s RnB album. Closing song “Minding_MyBusiness” ends 1988 with a pacifying message to listeners: “Why stress myself out about my life / My n*****, what for? / What good is it gon’ do me / Ignore the sunshine / I know it can get ugly but you can find the beauty in life.”

So yeah, Knxwledge is an oldhead, but that doesn’t mean that he resists the modern world. With 1988, he forged 22 outstanding beats and arranged them in such a way that the project as a whole is far greater than its already-great pieces. The project proves that Knxwledge, despite his music’s throwback nature, can still be an innovator in the game’s ultra-modern landscape. Oldheads can still be on the cutting edge of music; they don’t have to be dismissive, heckling cranks. Knxwledge is proof of that.