Hip hop used to be feeling, not form—A boom-bap rush that could, and would, be interpreted and articulated differently by it’s various creators. It was this loose constitution, open to infinite amendments that bred the broad crop of creative, innovative rap in late ‘80s and early ‘90s. However, things changed. When the financial stakes is high, that which makes dollars makes sense, and consequently a more polished and rigid vision of hip hop emerged in the mid-‘90s, and it catapulted the genre to new heights.
Hip hop continued to progress into the new millennium and brought even newer formulas that bridge the gap between all musical genres, reaching wider audiences and combining styles in order to grow, adapt, stay alive and thrive. Consider The Knux, and their genius, genre-bending debut, Remind Me In 3 Days…, the sledge hammer that’s going to save the music.
“It’s funny,” says Al Millio, the younger Knux brother (yes, they’re blood kin separated by 2 years), “Because people make such a big deal about the fact that we produce and play our own music, and that it sounds ‘different’ or whatever, but to us that’s more hip hop than making lame shit that sounds like everybody else.” For those of you who like to put things in boxes, it’s like this: The Knux are a self-produced group comprised of two brothers from New Orleans.
They play all their own instrumentation and fight like The Kinks. Their debut album sounds like Outkast, Juvenile, Tha Pharcyde, and The Strokes concurrently blasting, out of a drop-top Jag on Sunset Blvd. on a Saturday night in the summer. Wrap your head around that.
“When we made the album we refused to give the album to the label one song at a time,” says Krispy, who at 25 is the elder Knux brother. “We knew that they wouldn’t get it, they’d think we were buggin’ and they’d try to make us change things.” Instead, the two, who signed to Interscope in 2006 thanks to an incredible demo and manager Paul Rosenberg holed up in a mini-mansion in the Hollywood Hills and quietly chefed up Remind Me In 3 Days…. “We played it for all the executives at once,” remembers Al, “And you could see in their faces they were all shocked to hear something like this from some new artists that they barely even knew were on the label.”
Indeed, The Knux seemingly came out of nowhere. Raised by their single mother in the New Orleans East neighborhood the two brothers were initially not even particularly close. “I was like the nerd, into video games and stuff like that,” says Al, “And Krispy was more like, popular and into hanging out and girls.” True to their often cantankerous relationship, Krispy begs to differ. “Ah man, that’s just how Al likes to say it, but that ain’t how it was,” he says. “Al was always a cool mu’fucka, it’s just that we didn’t fuck with each other like that.” In fact, though they shared the same roof, and the same interest in marching band (where they honed their playing prowess), the two ran in different circles in high school. “Nas’s second album was the first rap album that I really, really listened to,” says Al, “But the album that brought us together was the second Gravediggaz album. I bought that tape and we’d just sit around after school listening to it all afternoon.”
Within a year of hanging out the two, who’d both been quietly writing rhymes, hooked up with an uncle who was a local producer and started making songs together. “We started off calling ourselves The Knuckle Heads and we’d go over to his studio to make beats and songs,” says Krispy.
Just as their recording came to a standstill the Knux were met with great misfortune: Hurricane Katrina. “We never evacuated when the hurricanes hit,” says Krispy, “But for whatever reason when Katrina hit we left with our mom to go to Dallas for the weekend. When we were driving back to New Orleans on the Monday all the cars were going the other direction. The radio wasn’t working, so we had no idea about the flood ‘til someone flagged us down and told us that we weren’t gonna’ be allowed into the city.” After a week of the entire family sleeping in their car, they relocated to Houston and found an apartment. “Man, we lost everything, our whole apartment building burned to the ground, says Krispy. “So we were grateful that everyone was okay, but we weren’t happy to be in Houston.”
Fortunately things looked up for the group when their demo fell into the hands of Paul Rosenberg’s A&R man Dart Parker, who brought the group to his attention. Over the next months Rosenberg signed on as their manager. “We weren’t doing anything in Houston,” says Krispy. “Because of Katrina and how unhappy we were in that city we weren’t inspired to make anything new. So the whole thing with Paul was blessing.”
By the fall of 2006 the brothers had moved to the Hollywood Hills and begun the recording process. “Once we got out to L.A. there was just such a different vibe,” explains Al, “And we were going to all the downtown clubs with fuckin’ socialite girls and, like, the so-called hipsters, and guys like Steve Aoki. It was a totally different scene from what we were used to in New Orleans and the music we started making just reflected that.” The two wrapped the album during the summer of ’07 and hit the road hard. “We started by just inviting people over for house parties and performing the album on top of our couch,” says Al, “That’s how we knew what worked and what didn’t.” After a string of successful events at L.A. cool-guy emporiums the two got added as the opening act of Common’s Finding Forever tour.
With shows booked through the end of the year, and press clippings stacking up left and right—all without a single song available commercially—the ground swell is evident, and The Knux impact in 2008 is imminent. Act like you know. And if you forget, don’t worry, The Knux will Remind You In 3 Days…