Don't let the tight jeans and thick-rimmed glasses fool you. The brothers who make up The Knux were raised about as far away from the suburbs as you can get: New Orleans' Ninth Ward. Still, Krispy Kream and Rah Almillio (aka Kentrell and Alvin Lindsey) found their sound by listening to just as much pop as hip-hop, and they are savvy enough to know that their cross-genre music plays better with the college kids than the hardcore rap fanatics. So they don't fight it. They fill their music with melody and keep the commentary relatively subtle. They like playing instruments, they like rapping and they like producing, so they do all three, which gives their music its distinctive character in a world where a handful of lookalike producers work with a crowded field of lookalike rappers.
Krispy Kream, older of the two, spoke with us before the duo's stop in Denver as part of the Rock the Bells tour. He's endlessly interesting in conversation, just as comfortable talking about the bumbling record industry as he is about his insatiable curiosity as a child. Krispy also has a healthy appetite for all kinds of music, and in the course of our interview he manages to sing the praises of both Black Sheep and Ace of Base, with time in between to give props to the Black Keys and the Wu-Tang Clan. His words are after the jump.
Westword (Kiernan Maletsky): Have you ever done a tour like Rock the Bells?
Krispy Kream: No, not really. It's weird because it's only on weekends. I gotta fly in and out.
WW: Have you had a chance to hang out with some of the other people on the tour?
KK: You know what's so funny about the real hip-hop scene? Wink wink, with the two fingers up, whatever. I've pretty much toured with all these people before. In some way or form I've been on tour with these people. This is the best Rock the Bells. It's like one big summer camp. For adult rappers... that's the fun part about it. Everyone knows each other.
WW: I know you guys are a big fan of the Wu-Tang clan. Several of them are on the tour. Did you know those guys before?
KK: I met them all on different occasions. U-God expressed that he was a big fan of us, every time we perform in New York he comes down. I met Raekwon at a House of Blues at one of our shows in LA, met RZA a few times. I know GZA, know what I mean? Like I talk to him on email.
WW: I know you guys are trying to go in a different direction.
KK: Aww, we ain't trying, we doing it now dog. I'm saying like we gonna get this Grammy nod and shit.
WW: Are you kind of surprised about who your fan base is?
KK: Nah, nah. I'm a trained and open-minded dude. I'm a dude who read a lot and shit, I was like, "Ma, what's the sun?" So I knew those people wouldn't accept it. But I also knew that kids in college would accept this shit. Festivals would accept this shit. Really open minded indie people would accept this shit. I knew people that listened to really fucking pop music would like our shit. We do stuff that other hip-hop artists can't do because they're either too hard, too fake serious, or their music is too boxed in.
WW: How were you able to stay so in control of your creative vision?
KK: We were able to get a decent deal when we got signed, where Interscope was like a distributor, and we basically just do everything we want to do. We try to come to them with a lot of things and listen to their ideas, but a lot of times they don't have any. They didn't understand how you could get big on the internet but not be big on the radio. They had no idea. No fucking idea. You want to know the real insight to the music industry, I'm the fucking dude to talk to. They are fucking clueless.
With this new album, we're going in the same direction, but our target is totally different. We're going with the people who actually like our shit. Who want the revolution. We felt like hip-hop could be bigger. It could be way bigger. In the sense that we could be doing bigger things with our music. With our records. They could be recorded better, they could be produced better, they could be more musical, they could be more creative, they could more human. I feel like there's so much more that could be touched on.
WW: On Rock the Bells, do you just MC, or do you have a band behind you?
KK: You're lucky because this will only be the second Rock the Bells show that we've played with instruments. When we play with the band it's like this: we either, me and my bro, Rah Almillio, playing guitar, DJ and me rapping and him rapping or whatever. There's another setup where it's just me, him and DJ, just rhyming, old school hip-hop style. There's another setup where it's me him and our band. What we're doing at Red Rocks is we are the band because I play keyboard and he plays lead guitar. So you're lucky because you're actually going to see us both playing instruments onstage and rapping and rhyming and shit like that. That's if you get there early enough because we go on early as fuck because we're playing Lollapalooza the next day.
WW: In the studio you guys do it all, is that correct?
KK: That's a big misconception. We do do it all, but if we feel like something could be added by someone else, we'll have someone else come in and play some shit - a solo or whatever. We're definitely producers. We understand our limitations. I'm not going to fuckin' play oboe in the studio, obviously. Sometimes you gotta understand, just because you can doesn't mean you should.
WW: I think that's rare, to know when to hand off the reins to someone else.
KK: That just comes from being the producer and not being egocentric. Honestly, us playing all our stuff on the album is not a big thing to me because I grew up with kids who could play all kinds of instruments, gangsters and shit. In New Orleans everyone plays music and it's not a big fuckin' thing. I knew kids that would crack you in the back of the fuckin' head who could run circles around you on the clarinet.
WW: You know your limitations, but what are you strengths? What do you do better than anyone else does?
KK: When it comes to hip-hop, who the fuck do you know who can actually play instruments and rap at the same time? Nobody. And not play them like we play them, we fuckin' play them shits. And rapping the way we rap? Usually motherfuckers are pretty corny if they can play instruments. Nobody knows how to mix rock and rap like we do. Nobody. It's been done but it's never been as good as we do it. Because we rap extremely well, we hip-hop dudes. We hip-hop dudes and we play instruments and we produce our own records.
WW: You sometimes liken yourselves to The Strokes in terms of the attitude you have or the way you approach music. You don't just see your influences as rappers and hip-hop groups, but as also pop groups.
KK: Yes, influences come from everywhere. I listen to fuckin' Ace of Base dog. Oh, Swedish music. Let me say something about Swedish music: people might clown Swedish music; it's some of the most melodic fuckin' music ever. I'm into so many Swedish indie bands. Man, that shits some of the most melodic music ever. I find my influences coming from everywhere. My favorite band of the last ten years, with the exception of The Strokes, would be the Black Keys. They wasn't a new group to me that made me feel blues and Southern bar rock like I know that I heard my grandparents listening to when I was younger, there hasn't been a new group like that. That has done that and done it well. They were going to work with Ike Turner before he died. Even he knew! That shit's amazing. Sonically and everything. That shit's fuckin' crazy.
WW: One of the interesting things about you and the Black Keys is that they've been able to do what they do by abandoning what's happened really recently and going back to the roots of their genre and sort of simplifying things and I think you guys do a similar thing. Would you say that's accurate?
KK: Yes. This is the thing about the rawness of the beginnings of any genre, anything that you start. You find the actual reason why the person started that thing. You get back to the raw essence of it. Even the way we rap. Our favorite rappers are Dres from Black Sheep, Souls of Mischief and shit. Not like, Jay-Z. There's nothing wrong with Jay, he's an amazing rapper. I feel rappers from the early nineties and shit. To me, those styles... Dres's flow is still astonishing to me today, and I heard Andre 3000 say the same thing about Dres, I feel the same way about him that he feels about him, like that motherfucker was one of the illest rhymers ever, and he's one of the most overlooked motherfuckers ever.
WW: Is there anything else you'd like to say?
KK: Denver's fucking amazing, dog. That's one of the cities we play more than any other city. Every time. Denver fucking rocks.
The Knux perform this Thursday, August 6 at Red Rocks as part of the Rock the Bells tour.