STORY/ ERICA HAWKINS
PHOTOS / CHRISTIAN COLEMAN
Kevin Rhomberg, a.k.a. Knox Fortune, is humble and creative to a fault. He is somehow both a Grammy award-winning artist and a down-home kid from Chicago who makes soup and cracks jokes during our interview.
“There’s a humbleness to coming from the Midwest. I’ll go to LA and New York and I’ll enjoy them for a little bit, but Chicago is definitely always home and the people here treat each other differently. I think through the music it kind of comes out in a sense of being genuine and some of it’s almost a little more Americana and sloppy sounding. That’s something I definitely attribute to the Chicago music scene as opposed to the LA music scene, with its clean and pristine and warm and sunny. I think that the people of Chicago are what make it really special because the weather is not great a lot of the year.”
Those months inside avoiding inclement weather have paid off, most notably in the release of his debut album Paradise, producing Joey Purp’s mixtape iiiDrops, and taking home the “Best Rap Album” Grammy for his vocal contribution on Chance the Rapper’s “All Night”. So how has winning a Grammy impacted Knox Fortune’s career? “I think it maybe caused a little pressure because I never had even considered the potential of winning a Grammy, that was just not why I got into music. It wasn’t like ‘I’m going to get Grammy and have a no.1 song’– it was just like, I’m enjoying making this stuff, so getting the Grammy was almost like opening my eyes to a [different] level of possibility. That was really exciting. Actually, it’s been a huge motivation because now I definitely do hear things in the way of like– this is a Grammy award-winning song or this is not Grammy award-winning song.”
When we spoke I asked his predictions for the 2018 Grammy nominees. He nailed it, proving that he is not just an artist/singer-songwriter/producer, but also a psychic.
“CTRL probably for a lot of stuff, 444 by Jay-Z is probably going to get nominated for a lot of stuff. You can definitely hear it. You just know, this is what they look for…The Grammys were never any indicator of talent to me growing up. It wasn’t something where I was like this is the most excellent taste in the whole world. It’s super cool to get an award from them, it’s just not why I do it. So it wasn’t too much pressure. Initially, it was a little bit because now my parents think I’m just going to be winning Grammys all the time. My parents are like, ‘I saw Chance was on Ellen, you should go on Ellen.’ I’m like ‘Well, that’s a little different. Ellen [Degeneres] doesn’t really let people do that shit’. Although she did dance to “All Night” on the show.”
I joked that dancing with Ellen is the real notoriety worth chasing. “That’s totally it though, that’s what I’m saying. It’s like those sort of things are maybe not cooler, because the Grammy night was one of the coolest nights in my life, but it’s just you realize with stuff like Ellen dancing to it or Coldplay covering it in Chicago when they came here, just singing the hook part– I was like, this is kind of strange how full circle these things come.”
His sound, unlike the artists he’s known for working with, is poppy–literally–not just in the sounds-like-pop sense. Paradise is flowery, colorful, is occasionally sedate, and is full of perennial influences: David Bowie, André 3000, Kanye West, The Beach Boys, The Beatles. At first glance, this list seems like a grab bag of artists with little in common, but he clarifies their draw/overlap, specifically in their common ability to reinvent themselves and have people take them seriously while still maintaining a certain playfulness/sense of humor. And the result? “They’ve [all] been able to age nicely and create a career out of their insanity”.
“For this project specifically [Paradise], because it was my introduction essentially, I wanted it to be about a character. A lot of the initial editing of the album was looking at about 150 songs or so and saying like, ‘What’s more genuine?’ I make a lot of different songs from different perspectives and for this, I just wanted to make this my own perspective and not another person’s story that I thought was interesting. So, that was a big thing for me in the editing process, just picking out what was truly genuine to me. I thought that “Keep You Close” “Help Myself,” and “Lil Thing” all were songs that had kind of the style I’ve been wanting to do forever and I was getting there but I was also not fully finalizing it for myself. For other artists, I have no problem just going in and being like ‘Do your parts’ if I’m producing it and being like ‘It’s finished let’s push it out’. For myself, it was no one helping me with them necessarily so sometimes they just fall by the wayside… those were three [songs] that I was pretty proud of, they kind of matched what I had in my head perfectly.”
Since his recent storm of success accompanies his collaborations, I was curious to know if he initially hesitated when going solo. “I was ready, I think I had a couple moments while I was looking at a playlist of hundreds of songs that I made where I was like ‘What am I doing? Why am I doing this? This makes no sense, I’m either going to release these, or I’m just a weird art hoarder, whose just creating things for personal consumption and not sharing it with the world’. I’d play it for Joey [Perp] or Vic [Mensa] or somebody and they’d be like, ‘When is this coming out, bro what are you planning right now ’cause you keep showing us songs, and we don’t know if you have a plan?’ That’s around the time when iiiDrops by Joey came out and “All Night” came out so there was just more of a demand, I think, for some sort of solo thing and it seemed like the time was just right.”
“Working for myself is limitless in that I’m the only one who can tell me no. When I work with other artists there is a lot more of a give and take which is really good for some creative situations, but sometimes you just want to be the boss of the situation. That’s the perk of producing for yourself instead of other people.”
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