“Put me on the cover of OffBeat!”
It’s Kintrell “Krispy Kream” Lindsey’s final request at the end of our conversation, and even though he’s not there, it’s time people in New Orleans get to know him and his brother Al “Rah Almillo” as the Knux. The brothers grew up in New Orleans East before moving to Los Angeles, where they recorded one of last year’s buzz albums Remind Me in 3 Days …. They played the Voodoo Music Festival and have been booked for Essence Music Festival. They’ll play South by Southwest and before it, a show at Tulane March 12 with Lupe Fiasco. During Jazz Fest, they’re scheduled to play a show May 1 with Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave.
When the Knux mention Cafe Du Monde, beignets and “Laissez les bon temps roule” in “Cappuccino,” you’re not certain they’re a New Orleans band. They could be, but they could also be pretenders dropping easy tourist bureau references. When Krispy asks, “Y’earrrdme?” at the end of a line in “The Train,” all doubt vanishes. They’re from here.
The Lindseys are part of the Katrina Diaspora—musicians from the region who relocated after the storm, in their case from New Orleans East to Los Angeles. They didn’t evacuate for Katrina, though. They were already out of town, but when they encountered contraflow on the road home after a trip to Dallas, they turned around and ended up in Houston, where they lived in their 2001 Saturn Ion for a period of time.
While there, the hip-hop act they started as the Knuckleheads began to attract attention, most prominently from Beyoncé and Solange Knowles’ Houston-based manager/father Matthew. The relationship fell apart—Krispy gets vague talking about it—but by the time they were back on the market, the work they had done going back and forth between Houston and recording industry center Los Angeles had paid off. Managers were interested, labels were paying attention, and they signed with the high profile Interscope Records, maintaining creative control of their music and owning their publishing and masters.
Before Remind Me in 3 Days … was released, they appeared on the cover of the L.A. Weekly. In the piece, they take issue with being referred to as “hipster rap,” a name that has stuck, anyway. It only makes sense, though, if you assume that the only people who know what cappuccino is are hipsters. But the Knux are doing something different with hip-hop, something closer to rock ’n’ roll with their song structures, sung choruses, instrumentation—guitars figure prominently—and eclectic, borrowing nature. Or, perhaps Remind Me in 3 Days … is a sign of hip-hop maturing beyond its regional schools and developing the ability to speak to the breadth of not just low income African-American life but American life.
Unfortunately, this interview suffered from technical challenges. For some reason, an electrical storm-like noise obscured much of my recording of my interview with Krispy and Al—perhaps the product of too many cell phones for one conference call to handle, or maybe the domestic eavesdropping program produces feedback. Whatever the case, Krispy and I spoke again two days later, but there are some thoughts he didn’t return to. I’ve inserted paraphrases of some of those thoughts where appropriate.
Where are you from in the East?
All over. I spent most of my time in the Checkboard or by my grandmother’s in The Gap.
Where was the Checkerboard?
Off of Dwyer at Dowman.
In interviews, you’ve talked about growing up with Lil Wayne, B.G. and many of the biggest names in New Orleans hip-hop. I thought they were from Hollygrove, the Calliope, Magnolia Projects and the like.
I’m not going to expose those guys in a magazine, but basically, they moved to the East while they were still teenagers. I remember when I was 13 seeing Wayne out there, and we’re the same age. He moved from Hollygrove to the East; we moved from the Seventh Ward to the East.
Everybody out there knew each other; everybody’s like family out there. But I’m not going to call dudes out—they’re from where they say they’re from. It’s all good. That’s what they say. [chuckles]
This hasn’t been talked about much, so help me understand how the scene worked. Was it a scene? What brought you together?
We all rap, and we listened to East Coast rap—Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z. [This marked more of a change than it sounds; No Limit Records was heavily influenced by West Coast rap because of Master P’s time in Oakland.] My homie John was one of the first people I know listening to Jay-Z back after Reasonable Doubt, back in ’96. We were wearing Timberlands before anyone else, wearing Wallabees. We brought Wallabees to New Orleans. They weren’t wearing that in New Orleans. We were some of the first New Orleans dudes not to dress like New Orleans dudes, wearing hip-hop gear.
Were there clubs you played?
We heard each other at school. Most of the dudes back then used to dance, twerkin’ and stuff like that; everybody started rapping over the years. There were only two middle schools—Livingston and Fannie C. [Williams]—and there were only two high schools, Reed and Abramson. Me, I went to Livingston but I didn’t want to go to Abramson, so I went to Reed for band. We all knew each other because the same dudes would play park football or park basketball. We all knew each other through the years. Lil Wayne can tell you my whole background. The Chopper City Boys can tell you my whole background. That’s the way it was out there. We knew each others’ mamas.
Out there, it was about battling each other. We didn’t perform in clubs; we did talent shows. The first group that came out of there was the Goose Boys—Lil’ Carl, Dodo and Buzz, Cash. Then you had the Rangers. Other than that, you didn’t have too much out there.
What did you play in band?
I played trumpet, I played baritone, I played trombone. I can pretty much play anything brass because I started band in the sixth grade when I was 11, and from there I’d jump off into other instruments. I played baritone for three years, and in the marching band I played trumpet. I met Shamarr Allen when I was about 13 and he was about 15. We became really good friends and we’ve been friends ever since then. When I got to high school, I played in the concert band and I got back on the baritone. I wanted to master the craft of the instrument because it’s such a beautiful instrument. I had a band director show me how beautiful the instrument could be. His name was Wilbert Rawlins. [Rawlins was OffBeat’s 2007 honoree for Lifetime Achievement in Music Education.]
Being that I could read music really well, it was easy for me to pick up different instruments. I had theory down. That’s one of my greater talents as a musician is that I know music theory really well. I can write music, arrange, sight-read like you read a book. My brother, on the other hand, was a really good musician. Just natural musician. Like pick up any instrument and be good at it. He taught himself how to play piano. He would play my baritone. Taught himself how to play guitar. Taught himself how to play bass.
Why didn’t you stay with the baritone or with a horn? It seems like New Orleans is one of the cities where you could see a musical future with a horn.
I started doing a lot of street shit, started making a lot of money fast. Doing a lot of dumb shit and I got sidetracked from my talents.
Were Master P and Cash Money good for New Orleans hip-hop?
Good, man. Good. Master P was good because he showed people how to really make real money from music. Real money from music, not show money. He showed people how to make millions from music, and have control of it. Do it from doing what you want to do, and showing people how to be independent.
Cash Money was good because they exposed the real New Orleans. Not to say P wasn’t, but P was catering to the West Coast style and beats. Cash Money—that was what we were listening to in New Orleans. It was like the rebirth of jazz, that’s how I felt about it; the rebirth of New Orleans when Cash Money came out. They had a serious impact on the outside world. They changed the vocabulary of the hip-hop industry: “bling-bling,” “get ya shine on,” “playboy.” The kind of shit people say in penitentiaries in Louisiana, people all over the world are saying that shit now.
When I asked that question, what I was wondering about is what a limited picture of life in New Orleans many of those records present. It was all gangsta. Is that all there is? Your record suggests more is possible.
Yeah, but they’re rapping about life in New Orleans; we’re rapping about life as human beings. [laughs] The human experience, and what we dealt with in the nine months that we wrote the record. They were rapping about Uptown New Orleans. They weren’t rapping about the whole experience of New Orleans; if they thought they were, they weren’t. [In our first conversation, Krispy pointed out that the culturally uplifting message of “Golden Age” artists such as De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Jungle Brothers is as limiting and unreal as gangsta raps.]
I understand you’re working on some local projects.
We’re doing a record with Galactic, and we’re doing some recording with Shamarr. He sent me the ProTools file and I’ve got to finish that shit.
Did something happen in Los Angeles to change your sound or make you think about rap a little differently? Because your sound is nothing like any local hip-hop.
It was like this, the whole East side scene in L.A. All these people from other places mixed with L.A. artists that were already here that wanted to do something different but they didn’t have any guidance. [The scene involved musicians from different musical schools of thought, including hip-hop, indie rock and electronic dance music. In an interview he gave to the L.A. Weekly’s Jeff Weiss—available online—Krispy describes a pretty wild time]. Basically, we guided each other to the point where we are now.
I was the way I am now in New Orleans, the only difference was it didn’t have a great direction. It was all over the place. When I got out here and got around other creative people that came from other places, we basically fed off each other’s energy. All our underground parties, all the crazy shit we used to do, it helped to develop a whole sound. All I ever wanted was to make a garage rock record but mix it with boom-bap hip-hop. I didn’t know how to do it without making it sound corny, without making it sound lame. When I got out here, I just let it happen