Album review: Knxwledge, ‘Hud Dreems’

So, Knxwledge is a 26-year-old New Jersey born, Los Angeles based producer who has started releasing beats under the legendary Stones Throw label. His name is pronounced Knowledge, but his real name is Glen Boothe. Although crafting a rep as one of the most exciting producers in hip hop, you’ve probably never heard of him – although you might recognise his work from Joey Bada$$’ 1999, or Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp A Butterfly, where he produced the track Momma. Every day, more and more artists are infusing heady hip hop beats with jazz, blues and soulful sampling – and it’s people like Knxwledge who are really playing it to perfection.

Hud Dreems is his debut record on Stones Throw, following on from previous independent releases – there’s more than 60 releases on his Bandcamp. It’s not a record in the traditional sense – not one track feels completed or finished. Rather, it seems to be a compilation of ideas and thoughts, of notes and imaginings. It almost feels like a demo, the kind of place where you pen a bunch of ideas, that you’ll later come back to complete. And for all we know, that could well be what Hud Dreems is about. The track names themselves look like they’ve been quickly blotted down, something to put more thought into later. From the funky opening track kometostai.aintreallynootherwayto to the saucy jstowee, which blends a marching-band-snare with sultry vocals, to the smooth and seductive stilluhme… yeah, it’s probably best not to dwell on the track names too much.

Don’t be put off by the lengthy 26-track catalogue: they’re mostly disjointed and short. The sounds, samples and beats feel half-finished, and most of them are less than two, or even one minute long.

As a result, Hud Dreems is endlessly unsatisfying.

The fundamental problem with it is that I really, really want to hear the full version of every track on the album

Hud Dreems is that awful guy at the party who destroys your meticulously well-crafted party playlist, skipping to the next track at random intervals, not letting the music play out.

Tkekareofit has a sleazy, droopy trumpet melody that evokes an image of stepping off a gloomy street into a dark velvet-lined jazz bar. The rap samples and off-beat rhythm only add to that old school vibe – it’s remarkable.

Tracks like Shuremng not only show us the talent, but the quirk that is Knxwledge. What starts on a traditional vocal sample and an icy cool hip hop beat, spindles down into experimental weirdness over the last 20 seconds – before diving into a sexy flute-led loop on noflowrs. With vague vocal effects and a reverberating beat, this is one of the greatest minute-longs on the record. Dntfall is simple and smooth, and right before the end it traipses up to an almost psychedelic brightness, reminiscent of Avalanches-style sampling.

Bodies [TOTW] is a fucking stunner. That beat is brimming with organised chaos, full and coloured in right to the lines. Not one single bubble of oxygen is left between those creepy whispers and the occasional brass loops. I actually feel claustrophobic listening to it.

Trsh has a warbled lounge-jazz vibe, complete with distant vocal samples that really end up sounding like a crowd in the background. The tampered trumpet and flute have an air of freedom about them; they really allow you to float away. Thank god this track is over three minutes long. Complete with a breathtaking, possibly fretless bass, and that sunny, dreamy melody, the production at play here in unparalleled.

Nvrending features a really familiar oboe line with those staccato strings. Where do I know that sample from?! (Seriously anyone reading this, get in touch, I’m so frustrated right now.) The strings are so eerie and those flitting rim-hits have a crazy anxiety-inducing feel to them. Wow.  Demskreets.fekts has a gorgeous, classic vibe to it – I could easily picture it backing a Tupac track.

From seductive jazz to choppy, experimental chaos, one thing is clear: Knxwledge knows how to produce the fuck out of a cool instrumental. Jazz reigns supreme, and we get to indulge in everything from coquettish flute samples to saxophones, to bluesy bass-lines and brass breakdowns. Of course, jazz and hip hop have both  historical and musical ties – we’re certainly seeing a resurgence of it now. But the beauty of instrumental hip hop is that we don’t have to struggle between focusing on the music or the lyrics.

That being said, the tracks which do include rap samples are even more of a tease than for me. You immediately start piecing a track together in your head, but before you’re allowed to let your imagination run wild, it disappears off.

This album is frustrating in the worst kind of way – it gives you something so good, puts all kinds of thoughts into your head, and then cruelly rips it away before you’ve had a chance to finish.

As the sample at the end of 58-second faraway professes, he’s “too smart for his own good… A shiesty-ass n*gga.” Whatever that means.

I’m blown away by the diversity, emotion and raw talent on this album. It’s a difficult listen, mostly because of how unsatisfying these snippets are, but there’s plenty of room left for imagination.

I can’t wait to hear what’s next for Knxwledge.

Head to his Soundcloud for more beats, and purchase the album here.