Personal, conceptual album from jazz and soul-heavy hip-hop producer
“What’s the deal, baby? This Knxwledge right here,” a vocal snippet from the album, easily sums up 1988, one of several 2020 releases by LA-based producer and songwriter Knxwledge. It’s true, of course; Knxwledge produced or co-produced every track on the album. But in another sense, this is Knxwledge like people have never seen before. Of his hundreds of releases, 1988 is one of Knxwledge’s most personal projects to date, a jazz and soul-infused tapestry of scenes and moods from his childhood and upbringing.
Check his Bandcamp page and people will find endless beats, remixes and Meek Mill freestyles. But on 1988, it’s all about Knxwledge himself. The record is glued together by its various conversational snippets, which he surrounds with beats in the vein of his typical fusion of jazz, soul and hip-hop. Some of the tracks feel like they’re overdone or unfinished, but each song is warm and organic, owed to Knxwledge’s heavy use of vocal sampling and colorful instrumentation.
Many tracks feel like they’re being lived rather than listened to. Take, as an ironic example, the track “listen,” on which a pitched down voice informs the listener, “It’s a Sunday, y’all don’t go to church/ So we gon’ take you to church.” Sure enough, choral vocals soon enter and some guitar and keyboard accompaniments fill out the nostalgic, soulful mix that sounds like fond memories of sitting in a pew with family, friends and neighbors.
Or take the tracks “solivelife” and “watchwhoukallyourhomie,” both of which have a spoken word feel. On the former, a pitched up Anderson Paak reminisces on his upbringing over a jazzy trumpet and keyboard-based beat. On the latter, a young Meek Mill freestyles about trust and loyalty over a sultry synth riff and groovy bass line.
The music itself often feels organic too. The track “besafe” is reminiscent of a jazz jam session with a fluid sounding keyboard melody playing over thick synthesizers and muted percussion. Similarly, “gangstallthetime” features more improvised keyboard and Knxwledge takes pains to isolate various instruments in the mix, mimicking jazz soloists riffing.
Some of 1988’s offerings have a warm and relaxed feel to them, as if Knxwledge is fondly remembering scenes from his early life. On tracks like “do you,” “learn” and “uonlygetone,” he intentionally moves parts of the mix slightly behind the beat and it almost sounds as though certain instruments are stuck in molasses, trying to catch up to the rest of the beat like hazy parts of a memory. But there are also plenty of songs on here that are full of life. Opener “dont be afraid” is a good example, with its punchy kicks and energetic bassline. Those kicks resurface throughout the album, like on “theykome&go” or “makeuseofthetime,” breathing energy into the mix.
While each track or scene on the project sounds distinct and organic, they occasionally run too long or too short. Plenty of songs, like “thats allwekando.” with its acapella chic, play around with ideas and sounds that could have been given more play. And conversely, tracks like “don_tgottabe,” with its bright guitar riffs and gorgeous vocals, feel like they’re stuck on a loop, repeating the same chords and rhythms until exhaustion.
At its core though, 1988 hints at a compelling message over its duration. Vocal snippets and lyrics on tracks like “believeme” and “minding_my business” seem to point to the importance of introspection and hard work. “Through the man’s mind, God/ He see his elevation, God” are the first words of the former track and others hint at this idea more subtly. Even the song titles (like “don_tgottabe” and “gangstallthetime”) reflect Knxwledge’s insights when read in order.
All in all, 1988 is food for the heart, the soul and the mind. It’s sometimes emotional, sometimes philosophical and always warm and welcoming, as Knxwledge simply invites the listener to walk in his shoes and hear the world the way he does. The result is like a sonic picture finder, flipping through nostalgia-laced scenes of the LA producer’s upbringing. And while some of the tracks on the project feel a bit curtailed or overdone, it’s a conceptually and musically compelling fusion of jazz, soul and hip-hop that’s bolstered further by its personal touch.