A few years ago, when Anderson .Paak first sent the producer Knxwledge a batch of music he'd recorded—slightly sensual, elastic rhymes that wound up forming the foundation for "Suede," a track that would miraculously catch the ear of Dr. Dre and get .Paak signed to the icon's Aftermath Entertainment—he was admittedly intimidated by the notoriously direct and no-nonsense beatmaster. "I just wanted to be careful what I sent," says .Paak, who in the time since has gone on to become one of the most championed new artists in the hip-hop world thanks to both his heavy contribution to Dre's Compton and an expansive, genre-bending album in this year's Malibu. .Paak says he was unsure if Knxwledge, or for that matter audiences, would connect with the Blaxploitation-era soul and-gospel inflected flavor of what he was gravitating towards. "I'm used to being a control freak," he says of his panic in surrounding creative control when sending away his material for critique. "But right away Knxwledge said he loved my music. That was great."
Both musicians point to this simple exchange of ideas as the genesis of NxWorries, the collaborative duo, band, and creative partnership of the SoCal-raised rapper and producer. So amped were the two on their creative compatibility they released what they now consider to be unrefined demos in last year's Link Up & Suede EP. Even as .Paak's profile exploded with Malibu, headlining tours and an opening slot for Beyoncé, and Knxwledge landed a production credit on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly ("Momma") and began working with a who's-who of emcees, the pair continued to chip away at a batch of songs they'd been assembling since the earliest days.
"It's crazy because a lot of these songs were done way before [our careers exploded]," .Paak says of Yes Lawd!, the duo's debut full-length album released Friday via Stones Throw Records. "It was before everything. There was no pretentiousness. It was just raw. Knxwledge made it all cohesive. He made it an actual album."
Knxwledge will be the first to tell you that Yes Lawd! is a sonic collage of an album; a notoriously prolific creative, he often concocts hundreds of beats and digs up countless obscure samples in any given day. But both men agree the entire LP that plays like a dug-up mixtape glistens with gospel-tinged tones. Your grandpa's church service this is not: on "Suede," .Paak intones: "If I call you a bitch / It's cause you're my bitch / And as long as no one else call you a bitch / Then there won't be no problems." Moments later, on "Khadijah," however, he's a man keeping maturity at arm's length: "Baby, come see ya nieces' / Mother said, 'Baby, go get that Jesus' / Brother said, 'N**ga, you look a mess' / Back and forth rockin' on the ledge."
Speaking to Noisey on a recent afternoon, the pair have a palpable chemistry. Each seems to fulfill a specific role in what appears to be a well-honed friendship: .Paak is the more lively one, laughing at every turn, almost giddy. Knxwledge, by contrast, is soft-spoken, occasionally taciturn, uber-sarcastic. But as they'll tell me in a winding conversation touching on Yes Lawd!, how Knxledge feels he's often misunderstood, and how .Paak sees NxWorries as his "fresh start," it all comes back to their musical cohesion. "It's always come natural with us," .Paak says. "We can make music quick."
When did you start feeling like this album was coming together?
Anderson .Paak: When was it?
Knxwledge: I think after I sent him the first batch after I remixed the song—one of his performances he had online—I sent him a few beats and he sent them back fast enough for me to send him more. That's how it happened. That's kind of how I work: I make a bunch of ideas and put them together. It just kind of made itself to be honest with you. We had a bunch of different ideas, a bunch of different sounds. None of them really sound the same. They all have their own sounds.
.Paak: He did a lot of the album after we had a lot the songs done. I felt like he spent a lot of time making it make sense.
Knxwledge: That's what I do, baby!
.Paak: It all came together.
You guys just naturally clicked?
.Paak: I knew for sure. I was nervous at first because the joint I wrote was "Suede" and I sent it to him but he was fucking with it. And then I knew 'OK, there's nowhere I can't go. I can just do me." And that was it. I knew he was channeling the best in me and so when I would hear the songs I would just be like "Cool." We had a long time to just build on that. You see what works and what doesn't over time. All this stuff just stayed fresh. That was it for me.
Knxwledge, I imagine you're sending beats to a variety of artists?
.Paak: Do you do that Knxwledge?
Knxwledge: No! I'm actually not doing that.
.Paak: [laughs] Knxwledge is extremely picky. I was gonna say it wouldn't be like him to do that.
Knxwledge: It'd be a good look though to tell people I do that.
If you're selective then what is it about working with .Paak that you feels works so well?
Knxwledge:I liked the content. The lyrical content was just ridiculous. Just how his style is. Just ridiculous things. It came together very fast. He sent it back in a respectable timeframe, at my pace. I sent him more and it just worked.
A lot has changed in the past year. When you put out last year's NxWorries EP, both of you were arguably still up-and-coming artists. Now there's undoubtedly such much more attention being paid to this project. Does it feel different this go-round?
Knxwledge: I feel the same. I still need a house. Just being literal and honest. With me I guess it comes down to when you do things there's eras for things — like whenever this album should have come out, how it sounds etc. But I dunno. I don't even know what I'm talking about.
.Paak: It's just extremes gratitude. It's amazing to be able to build and take your time with stuff. Not just throwing it out there. Because I know I was anxious just wanting to put stuff out and I'm glad we got to build on this project and see how far the people can come and the people receiving it can have time with one thing and get ready for this. And getting new people and getting a chance to tour. All that stuff is great.
You guys have each released music on your own. But do you feel the vibe of this album — mainly soul and gospel flavors— is exclusively NxWorries territory? Do you differentiate between your solo work and NxWorries?
.Paak: Well whenever I'm working with Knxwledge that's always gonna be NxWorries. That's what NxWorries is. So whenever I'm working with him that's where I'm at with it. So that's the joy I had with it to even start a group. I felt like "This can be whatever we want it to be. We can dress however we want. We can write however we want. This is our own thing. This is our Ziggy Stardust. This is our alter ego. It's whatever we want it to be. This is our fresh start." It was also my first time working in a group so you gotta be mutual with everything. That's definitely the mind state I'm on when I'm working in NxWorries.
Knxwledge: I feel you. I see what you're getting at. For me I don't really use the term 'box things in' but I'd say sonically it's just some form of gospel. Like blank-gospel. Put your word there. Whatever you think fits.
Anderson, did you immediately respond to the flavor of the beats and samples Knxwledge was cooking up for you to rap over?
.Paak: Yah, working with Knxwledge writing comes natural, for sure. In the tone and my approach. I just feel like I feel comfortable doing what I do. When I started getting music from him that was just the zone I was in when I was writing this. It brought out the best in me and I was working with the same dude, getting the same critiques. I'd send him like three joints at a time and he'd pick the one he'd like and that would be the one that actually would go into the batch. Or maybe he liked two joints. But that's what we were doing: he'd send the music and I would cut it. Sometimes we would do stuff together and it would be even more on-point. It keeps the vibe. It doesn't get lost or overproduced.
Knxwledge, you mentioned how you're not about to be working with just any rapper.
Knxwledge: Listen. I've been called cantankerous. You know what that means? Look it up.
I do. It means you're irritable.
Knxwledge: Yup. I was called it maybe an hour or so ago.
I'd say you know who you are and aren't about to be fake.
Knxwledge: That's what I'm saying. I'm to the point with it.
You mentioned specifically connecting to .Paak's lyrics. Is that what you look for in collaboration? Or is it about the artist also understanding where you're coming from as a producer?
Knxwledge: To begin with and even work with somebody I feel like being in the same room with them helps. A lot of the instances where we made songs he went home with a bunch more beats because that's just how it is. I'll just play a bunch of shit. I can't listen to one thing for too long. Even if he's writing I don't care: if it's taking too long we probably feel the mutual feeling of "Let's go to the next one."
In an interview last year, Anderson, you mentioned how you were originally worried that a song like "Suede" wouldn't connect with most people. Obviously that wasn't the case. To that end, does success allow you to push the sonic envelope farther?
.Paak: Yah, I mean when I wrote a lot of these songs I was definitely going through different things personally. I just didn't who Knxwledge was; I had a lot of respect for what he did. So I'm sending him stuff and seeing if he even fucks with it and if so what he thinks. I still don't even know him so it's a process. When right away he said he loved my music that was great. But since that point I just wanted to make sure every track had the same potency and got better and better. When you work as a group you're always trying to show improvement and show that you can do something different. That's the great thing about being in a group: you can push for something. So you might start with something like "Suede" but by the end you get a "Best One" or "Scared Money." A lot of people don't even put their first demos out but we did and so we're out here growing in front of the audience.
What was the mindset then for this album?
.Paak: Knxwledge made it an actual album. We were kinda stuck. We had songs but how were we gonna connect them and put an album together? Thank god for Stones Throw. Everybody was real patient and not just pushing us to get it done.
What made you guys finally feel then it was a cohesive album?
Knxwledge: I don't know, man. We recorded a bunch together that was great. Even at the beginning. Like that's how "Wings" came together. It was fire. Just sitting on the couch. I like how that shit happens.
.Paak: It definitely helps. We got some of the best tunes that way.
Before I let you guys go: you toured a bit last year and are going to head out on the road shortly again. How has it been performing as a duo?
.Paak: I like it cause it's scaled down. I always go out with a group: even with my own shit I've got my group, the Free Nationals. But this is more-scaled down. It's just me and him. We've only gotten one opportunity to [tour] and that was with Earl [Sweatshirt] on his tour. When we got to the end of that tour we had a thing going. We had a set and it was cool and I can only imagine if we were able to do it again — with stage design that really brings home the whole church element — the sky's the limit. I think it's even better when it's just two people and they can really showcase what each one does. It also brings it back to that hip-hop element of just a DJ and an emcee.
You into the touring life, Knxwledge? Being cantankerous and all…
Knxwledge: We've been out here eating sandwiches in different countries, man. It's nothing. I don't feel no way. It's all good.
Lead artwork by Eric Coleman.
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