Origin stories are paramount to success in hip-hop (i.e., time on the corner, being shot, etc.), and the Knux have a doozy: Upon fleeing New Orleans after Katrina hit in 2005, the brothers Knux (Krispy Kream and Rah Almillio), fled to the relative comforts of L.A. They had been garnishing some major-label interest pre-hurricane, but after hitting the West, the Knux got signed to a cushy deal at Interscope that gave them extensive control over how their album was recorded, produced and promoted. (They ended up recording everything on their own sans producers or other musicians.) The Knux then proceeded to hole up in a house in the Hollywood Hills and record Remind Me in 3 Days, a genre-shattering album that is one of the year’s best hip-hop debuts.
First things first: Remind Me in 3 Days has a lot of guitars on it. In fact, probably more guitars than on most rock records these days. But before you start thinking of Korn or Limp Bizkit and your rap-rock diatribes, Remind Me is exactly how a “you got peanut butter in my jelly” rap-rock collision should go. The guitars are meant only as a way to beef up the muscle of the beats. Even when the guitars become the main force of the song (like on the bluesy “The Train,” the blaring “Hush” and the rollicking “Bang! Bang!”), they are restrained to the point where you have to remind yourself that the guitars aren’t just programmed bits dreamed up by a producer.
But make no doubts, Remind Me in 3 Days is a hip-hop record. It’s a hip-hop record about chicks who don’t put out (first single “Cappuccino”), those who do (“Hush”), and the guys who are chasing both (“Playboys”). But mostly, it’s about L.A.
L.A., as inhabited by the Knux, is a land of excess due to wealth and easy drug availability. The blaring “Powder Room” isn’t about makeup, and “Daddy’s Little Girl” takes on the girls who dominate L.A. social events who don’t work but can trust their dad to pay for their every whim.
But L.A. is also a land of poverty that leads to prostitution (“Roxxanne,” a song that takes a more delicate approach to the misogynistic tones of the similarly titled songs by the Police and UTFO), and crushing despair (the down-tempo “Shine Again”). How the Knux feel about their milieu is mixed. They seem to love the club life on “The List,” “Cappuccino,” and “Hush” but at the same time, the Knux have a hard time reconciling their lives in L.A. with their rough upbringing and violence paranoia (“Bang! Bang!”).
The reductive term “hipster rap” has been bandied out when people try to define the Knux, but generally this is a way of saying that it’s cool for detached aesthetes who don’t listen to “pop rap” to like an album by black guys who aren’t TV on the Radio (or as a veiled insult at the listening habits of the average hip-hop fan). Like their current tour mates the Cool Kids (and other lefty hip-hop groups like De La Soul, the Roots, and A Tribe Called Quest), the Knux may struggle to find hits in the traditional hip-hop market, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t as straight-up hip-hop as Lil Wayne, Jay-Z or N.W.A.
The reality of being a hip-hop group but not fitting within the current definition of hip-hop seems to weigh heavily on the Knux. On “The True” they sing, “It’s gotta be white/ It’s gotta be black/ You can’t be gray/ It’s a matter of fact,” and on their finest moment, “Life in a Cage (Electric),” Rah says, “I respect the game/ But expect a change.” The Knux might not get every rapper from Jim Jones to Mims to start name-checking Elvis Costello and the Pixies as an influence, but with Remind Me in 3 Days, they throw down a worthy challenge to hip-hop’s status quo.