In a city of eternally under-appreciated artists, Knox Fortune might be Chicago’s best kept secret. If you search his name on Google, you’d struggle to find much more than his collaborative work with SaveMoney; specifically Leather Corduroys’ Joey Purp and Kami. One spin of last year’s Season, a mixtape by the two talented emcees that was executive-produced by Knox, will have you grasping for a genre to put it in. Paired with Joey & Kami’s diverse lyrical capabilities, Knox’s myriad influences leave the project feeling more like a sampler platter of sounds than a ‘rap album’. Lodged in the middle of the release is a song called “Remember Me”; the pounding track closes with a 30 second melodic breakdown by Knox, which is among the lone traces of his voice on the web.
Needless to say, his upbeat, melodic contribution left me wanting more after I heard it. I wondered how, in the face of possible expectations from SaveMoney’s hip-hop-focused fanbase, someone could head into uncharted territory and come out with such an accessible sound. In explaining how he got to this point, Knox says: “I wasn’t intending to be a rap producer, so when I started working with rappers, they appreciated how I was putting in a unique perspective that they weren’t getting from their other producer friends.” If you told him 5 years ago he’d be on the frontlines of Chicago’s hip-hop scene, I’m sure he would’ve doubted you.
“We were at Shangri-La one night and I made a beat on Rick (Rubin)’s 808 machine-the same one they made Ill Communication on, the same one they were making Jay-Z’s shit on, it was so crazy. It was like catching a ghost…"
Listening to his catalog of unreleased solo work, the context helps clarify his musical perspective. While rap may be the realm he made the most noise in first, he certainly isn’t confined by that categorization. The range of styles he can take on is only trumped by his ability to deliver on each--you’re seemingly immersing in a unique facet of his musical mind with every song. “It might be a little bit confusing how I can make a Pharrell sounding song for Joey and then make something for myself that sounds like Beck. People might think that that’s kind of weird (laughs). But at the end of the day, I’m just a person in a studio making art every single day. I don’t go in there with the idea of ‘Oh, I’m gonna reference this particular influence today.’ I just go and do what I feel like doing.”
While it’s clear that he has raw creativity and a great work ethic, he says his position at LPZ Studios helped mature his process. With producers like Smoko Ono, Papi Beatz, & Peter Cottontale frequently working there, Knox says he appreciates watching others’ techniques: “What I’m learning from a lot of these people is the editing side. Pure artists can come up with so many ideas, that then the real art comes from knowing which ones to put where. Otherwise the listener can just be overloaded with ideas. Refining everything; making sure each idea is important to you--those things are super important.” He mentions that the group effort plays to each contributor’s strengths and ultimately leads to a better final product.
“Dude, I should make a weed song-that’s honestly an investment.”
The mutual trust with his peers is what allows him the space to tackle different influences/genres. A major contributor to this creative confidence is his genuine and personal connection with friends & collaborators. On a conversational level, he’s extremely present, focusing on his immediate surroundings and little else. There’s no rush in his step, choosing to instead succumb to whatever situation life has thrown at him. His ceaseless-appreciation seems to be absorbed and reflected by those around him; the eternal smile on his face brings out a sort of communal optimism.
To get some material for this article we set up a “Day with Knox” scenario. Starting in Wicker, we knocked out a couple homie pit stops, like STA & Nini’s, before heading downtown for a free stroll around the Art Institute. Next thing you know we’re lurking through the vacant top floors of Macy’s and hanging out on the roofs of parking garages. At this point, we were craving coffee and discounted socks so we b-lined it to Uniqlo. Fighting hat-removing wind, we warily made our way to Salvation Army before finally landing at LPZ. There, Towkio showed us some unreleased gems before heading into a session for Purp’s project.
If there was one take away from seeing how he moves through the world, it was that this aura of enthusiasm is very palpable. I can’t imagine Macy’s employees start their shift with hopes that some skaters come in to charge their phone, but how are you gonna tell a smiling Knox no? We received little more than passive glances and understanding nods from security guards at the Art Institute when our convo surpassed standard museum volume. Knox’s conviction seems to entice others to his “It ain’t that serious” mentality.
From a broader perspective, this hunger to relate shows in how he wants his music to connect with people. While others may brag about the niche nature of their music, Knox seeks a holistic accessibility with his work--he mentions that he knows he made a good song when his Dad likes it. His writing resonates with listeners because of its focus on shared feelings and experiences. From pride to doubt, anxiety to joy; press play on one of his records in any era and the ideas discussed will still be relevant.
The last three years have been a whirlwind of attention for Chicago, and more specifically, SaveMoney. With a national audience patiently waiting on Joey Purp & Kami’s solo projects (titled iiiDrops & Just Like The Movies respectively), it seems the task of executive-producing them has pushed Knox’s personal work on the back burner. That is until I actually heard his unreleased songs and forced him to put something out with this piece. Without further adieu, enjoy his first solo single, “Seaglass”.