Last December, Rappers I Know released a new instrumental project from members of the long feared disbanded Houston based band, The Foundation. For those of you that have been with us since the beginning, The Foundation’s first self-titled album was in fact, the beginning of Rappers I Know.
After the release of their Forever Behind The Music, their sophomore album, through the Rawkus Record’s Rawkus 50 initiative, each group member pursued separate projects. Chris “Daddy” Dave drumming with everyone from Glasper to Badu to D’Angelo as well as prepping his new project Drumhedz, Jon Jon racking up playing credits Beyonce and Rodney Jerkins, Pookie playing with and for D’Angelo as a member of his band The Vanguard, Luke touring with Mary J. Blige and Destiny’s Child, and Kay working and producing on solo projects with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Nicolay, The ARE, Donwill of Tanya Morgan and others.
All fire, but sometimes it’s been hard to see the smoke stack from a distance, resulting in Kay being nicknamed “The Unicorn”—that is, you’ll see him about as often as you’ll see any mythical creature.
When Kay re-emerged last fall with the idea for this project to, I had questions upon questions. I also hadn’t heard from Luke since Forever Behind The Music, The Foundation’s sophomore project, so now was the time to get those answers.
Please enjoy the second installment of Conversationalists.
FWMJ: You guys have been relatively quiet (as members of The Foundation) for the last few years, where have you been and what have you been up to?
Kay: I’m still in Houston. I had a son after the release of the Timeline album and decided I’d better finish up my degree. Then I decided to go to graduate school as well. I took that time to just enjoy music again. I was at the gym and overheard someone talking about Luke and I tracked them down and got his number. We started working on music a couple of weeks later.
Luke: After we took a break from the Foundation stuff, I moved to Atlanta and started working with Donnie Scantz on his State of Emergency production team. That’s when my production started to take off. Working there, I got placements with J. Holiday, Keith Sweat, Ron Isley and Bobby Valentino. I just moved to LA, and I played some on the new Drumhedz album that’s coming out along with working with Kay.
F: Luke, tell us about your background as a keyboardist and some of your influences. (Luke)
L: I started taking classes at 7. When I was fourteen I was able to play by ear and started playing at church. When I was 21 I started to tour doing gospel plays. In 1995 I moved to Houston and I started doing the big tours. I initially started touring with Mary J. Blige. In addition to the Mary tours, I also toured with Destiny’s Child and then Beyoncé. These were my main tours, but I also toured with P. Diddy, SWV and Blackstreet. As far as influences are concerned, when I was touring I always wanted to be like Greg Phillinganes. He played keys for Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton and Michael Jackson. As a producer and artist, I can say that Bill Evans and Dilla really influenced my style.
F: What made you decide to drop this instrumental project, and why base it off Laura Mvula’s orchestral album?
K: Luke and I started working on music again in March 2014. We did probably 50 tracks from March to June but we couldn’t get folks to record to them. I started to feel that much of this stemmed from the fact that people perceived me to be just an emcee. That’s when we realized that we needed to create a brand for our music by demonstrating our abilities. I like Flying Lotus and the fact that he can just release albums without the usual constraints. Same thing with Nicolay’s City Lights albums. Laura Mvula is one of my favorite artists out. I don’t think she gets the props she deserves here in the states. As soon as the orchestral album came out, I bought it and was overwhelmed by how lush it was. Then I started to hear all the different chord changes and I chopped the first song (Make Me Lovely) in Maschine, programmed some scratch drums and sent it to Luke. When he sent it back it was crazy! I did the same thing to Morning Dew and when he sent it back at was also really dope. That’s when we decided to try and flip the other ten songs and actually produce the album.
F: There’s a wealth of singers and musicians lending their voices and sounds to this project? Are they all local Houston artists?
L: Yes everyone is from Houston except me (Chicago).
Shawn Taylor and Tanika Keys are in a group called Six Minutes Til Sunrise. Shawn is actually Kay’s cousin.
Toby Hill is in a group called Soul Fruit. He has been on pretty much every album that we’ve done as The Foundation. He also worked with S1 on the Strange Fruit Project Healing album. He is just the coolest dude.
Nicole Hurst worked with us on the original Foundation record and she did some stuff with Nicolay as well. She had been on tour with Justin Timberlake and Kelly Clarkson. We were lucky to catch her while she was in town.
Marium Echo was introduced to us by Kay’s cousin Shawn. Never knew of her but Kay let me listen and I was blown away. She is a part of the “City’s Elite 6” in Houston. They host monthly events in the city and she has a big following.
Ronnie Mason aka King Mason works with King Coz. D-Rose introduced Kay to him.
Kay met David Gallego in working on the Six Minutes album. He heard the Mvula project and Kay heard him play. Kay then proceeded to beg him to be on the project. We’ll be working on more stuff in the future as well.
DJ Akshun Kid is Kay’s homie as well.
F: New Jersey and New York producer Illmind has been promoting his Blap Kits packs for the last few years, what made you decide to use his kits exclusively on this project over the many kits on the market.
K: Well I’ve known Illmind for about 12 years. I met him through Slop and S1 when I was working on my solo project on Ali Shaheed’s label. At that time I was almost done with the project and was in New York when they were working on the Art of Onemind project. I was lucky to be involved with that project and they are just genuinely good dudes. Illmind and S1 sent me a bunch of tracks back then and I would just listen over and over again. Fast forward to the present and I was producing and Slop calls me and tells me I have to use Illmind’s drums if I want my tracks to bang. So I started using the kits and I could definitely hear the difference. When I sent the first two Mvula tracks to Luke they were done using the Blap Kits. I thought it would be cool to use his kits as the foundation for all the songs. I would add other elements but it would start from a Blap kit. By the way, Blap kits are more than just drums, he has piano, strings, pads, etc… I really like the grunt kits. It makes it easy to add character to a track without having to wrack your brain for dialogue. It’s all there.
F: Kay, most people know you as an Emcee, working with The ARE on Together Brothers, Nicolay on Time:Line, and many others on your first solo project The Talk Show. Is production a new thing for you?
K: No, I actually started making beats in the late 90’s. When I joined the Foundation in 2003, I actually learned how to produce. Chris Dave and I were both ASR-heads. I would go to his house with a bunch of records and start chopping away. When I started programming the drums he would stop me and say “let me do it”. Most beat makers would not allow that. He always said “why would you program drums when I can do it?” “Why play keys when you can get Luke to play?” I took this concept and did some of the same stuff with the Together Brothers, Dem Damb Jacksons and the Time:Line record to name a few. I wouldn’t say I produced on those records, I just facilitated some of the sound. Working with Nicolay, I think I learned about “polish”. That is the production part. That dude does all the little things to make a track sound great. Now working with Luke, we follow that same formula. I take a track as far as I can take it and pass it. Once everything comes back, I arrange everything in a “hip-hop” perspective and Luke spot checks to make sure all the notes and timing are right from a musician’s perspective. We seem to get better with each track as we build our chemistry.
F: What else are you listening to, and can we get hints of what you might be working on next?
K: Laura Mvula of course and I still listen to Toro Y Moi thanks to you. All Beat Fanatic stuff is really dope. Anything from Oddisee, Eric Lau, Tall Black Guy, The Hue and Nicolay. I am especially looking forward to listening to Chris Dave’s new Drumhedz project. I wanted to be on it but my brain wasn’t in the right place as far as rapping was concerned. Chris is one of the best producers out there, and I’m happy that the world will finally get to hear him in the proper light. As far as future projects are concerned, I am going to do a couple of projects with other producer’s kits. I’ll let the kits and the flips be a surprise.
L: Lately, I just listen to what we are working on. I guess you can include mostly underground stuff as well. Lately I have been working on gospel projects with Jacky Clark-Chisholm of the Clark Sisters and Tisha Campbell. I’ve also been working on music for Amber Sauer. She is a new artist. I’ve also been working on possible Network TV stuff with Kay. We will see how it goes.