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California Donuts: On Knxwledge’s Best Solo Album “1988”

An encapsulation of the Californian’s prowess behind the boards

Knxwledge empties his hard drives about as regularly as Rick Ross empties his wallet at the jewellery store. Every beat that rolls off his mixing desk seemingly finds its way to Bandcamp, where the producer presides over a vast collection of albums featuring titles you might see in your computer’s System folder—HX.PRT_13.8, WrapTaypes.Prt.6, etc. Approaching such a huge body of work can be daunting. Thankfully, we have 1988, released last year on Stones Throw Records. His most carefully thought-out solo project to date, the record is a truncated encapsulation of the Californian’s prowess behind the boards, the destination where potential new disciples should be pointed to first.

Mostly adhering to the ethos of a classic beat tape, 1988 is built out of 90-seconds-or-less donuts that comfortably fit into Madlib and J Dilla’s end of the hip-hop spectrum as the chop-up-the-soul virtuoso fillets old records for thick soul and funk loops. Take “learn”: a steamy cut with a bassline so fat, it could tempt the ghost of Isaac Hayes to make himself visible.

learn, by Knxwledge.
from the album 1988

1990s R&B is also a significant influence. Opener “dont be afraid” heavily samples Kut Klose’s oily sex jam “Surrender,” while the piano chords and cool vibrations of “do you” sound tailored for era stars such as Ginuwine and Montell Jordan. Far from a one-trick crate digger, Knxwledge casts his sonic net widely. It’s easy to envision a certain MF DOOM on the smooth jazz of “be safe,” while the identifiably Japanese-flavoured “[Bc] Tm­_s Not Promised” finds an unlikely sample from two decade-old video game Resident Evil: Code Veronica.

There’s room for guest vocalists among the instrumental cuts. Knxwledge revives his partnership with Anderson .Paak on “itkanbe[sonice]” (the pair’s NxWorries project is also signed to Stones Throw) with the Oxnard vocalist battling a prominent soul vocal loop for centre stage. The track is better than almost anything on .Paak’s last couple of solo albums and acts as a reminder that nobody gets more out of him than Knxwledge. Closer “minding_my business” features Durand Bernarr and RoseGold lending lead vocals to a soulful pop ballad. Both songs offer something different to keep the album moving, but this is Knxwledge’s showcase. Over the course of 22-cut packed into 37-minutes, 1988 does what the best beat tapes do: gives us a sense of the producer’s musical spirit that should inspire any rapper in the same headspace to pick up the phone.