[An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.]
The Knux were the most misunderstood rap group of the late 2000s. When the Lindsey brothers first toasted to “Cappuccino” over loud guitars in leather jackets, tight pants and oversized glasses, most rappers remained stuck in size 40 jeans and gangsta tropes.
Signed to Interscope and boasting the same management as Eminem, the New Orleans–raised duo copped rebel poses and claimed the Hollywood Hills as new home turf. They were branded “hipster rap,” but the truth was far more complex. With a history that includes slanging drugs and stealing cars, the erstwhile Hurricane Katrina refugees focused on their music’s innate fusion, rather than on the vices of their past.
They rapped, produced and played neon synthesizers and Hendrix guitar riffs over dirty drum breaks. This was well before the jerkin’ movement, Odd Future and Childish Gambino. They might have given Russell Westbrook sartorial flair to run with but never fit within the narrow strictures of radio rap. Despite natural crossover potential, neither of their two Interscope LPs yielded a major domestic hit.
After parting amicably with the label, The Knux quietly released an EP and then went on hiatus for three years. Out next week, Eleven marks the return of Krispy and Joey, né Kentrell and Alvin Lindsey.
“We toured for a year, had children, and both took time off to be parents. When you have a kid, it consumes you,” Joey explains, dressed in black at his Koreatown apartment, amid exposed brick, a mounted flat-screen TV and stacks of vinyl.
“Krispy did stuff on his own and so did I,” Joey continues. “But the moment we actually sat together to come up with some music, we knocked out an entire album in 11 days.”
“I chilled out and took nine months off music,” Krispy says. “It was an introspective time where I had to figure out if I really wanted to do this or not. But I’ve never found a high that’s better than being onstage. No drug can match it and I’ve searched.”
The Knux are polar opposites, rap’s closest analogue to Oasis’ Gallagher brothers. Joey is mellow and slanted toward the psychedelic side, the languid guitarist prone to watching This Is Spinal Tap and studying Stooges documentaries. Krispy is built like an NFL fullback and speaks faster than one can run. He’s extroverted, restless and an adrenaline junkie.
“I’m just hyped up,” Krispy says. “What you see is what you get. It isn’t a façade. I didn’t need money to make me ‘on one.’ I was born ‘on one.’ I was in the hood ‘on one.’?”
Sometimes the brothers get along, sometimes they don’t. Either way, they remain among the most unusual hip-hop groups in recent memory. They see Eleven not as a masterpiece but more a necessary stepping stone to rebuild momentum. At its best, it recalls the genre-warping rawness and chemistry that first earned them Outkast comparisons in 2008.
“I feel like we’re in the rediscovery phase — like how Common was between Resurrection and Like Water for Chocolate,” Krispy says. “We need that [one big] record to break through, but it feels like it’s close.”
Joey maintains that the most important thing is to keep releasing music. While industry politics thwarted them somewhat, their reluctance to release mixtapes also made them lag behind their more prolific peers. But both brothers insist that this is the second start.
“It feels like this is the bridge for the next couple of things. We didn’t want to put too much thought into it, more just get back in the swing,” Joey says. “We’re fucking back. Expect more content, more material, more craziness. Just more.”
The Knux's Eleven, out April 28, is available for pre-order via iTunes.