Kuf Knotz | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN
The High Key Portrait Series: Kuf Knotz
“High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.
It’s hard to try to classify the music of Kuf Knotz, to describe or dismiss it with labels. There’s a little bit of everything here, in Kuf’s work, from pop samples and sensibility to hip hop hooks. There’s a little soul, a little jazz and reggae. There’s a little Philly (where he’s from), a little Brooklyn (where he lives), and a little Netherlands, where he spends a lot of his time recording. As soon as you think you know what he’s all about, this former high school athlete and self-proclaimed jock will politely push on that envelope.
The closest he’ll get to a cohesive theme, though, is the pervasive positivity in his messaging, a spirit of transcendence offered up on everything from 2011’s “Sunny Philadelphia,” to the title track of his last LP “Positive Light,” to “Unstoppable,” the anthem he put together with G. Love and Chuck Treece for the 2008 hometown-hero Phillies team.
Kuf just got home from Holland and Jamaica, where he was at work putting the finishing touches on his newest record, expected to be out early this summer. This one’s more of a “throwback,” as he describes it, “very current, with a heavy 90’s feel,” and will come with a supporting tour.
The Key: You’re originally from Philly?
Kuf Knotz: Yeah, originally from Philly, moved to New York in 2012.
TK: Where did you go to high school?
KK: Harriton, it’s by Villanova, out that way.
TK: What do you remember from high school?
KK: Sports. I was a jock in high school. Football, basketball, lacrosse. Yeah, yeah. [laughs].. That’s what I remember from high school. Sports.
TK: Seems like you’re talking about it now like it was a different world..
KK: Yeah yeah, it was a lifetime ago! Once I went to college, and my focus shifted to music, that was it. I couldn’t tell you one player on the Sixers right now, you know what I mean? [laughs]
TK: I’m wondering if it was a culture shift, or just interest in the arts that took up your time, or what?
KK: I think for me, also, just my personality, I’m always all or nothing. There’s no, like, mid-ground. So if I was so into sports, that’s what consumed all my thoughts. I was into that. Once I shifted to doing music, I just put myself completely into that.
TK: Which Philly artist influenced you most, or who’s your favorite Philly artist?
KK: I think who influenced me most as a Philly artist would be Black Thought from The Roots. Him or Cee Knowledge from Digable Planets. Those two. With Black Thought, the way he put words together, his delivery sound effortless, like, you know, second breath to him. Just the way the songs didn’t sound like hip hop I was used to hearing. That really influenced and inspired me. With Cee Know, same thing the huge jazz influence and element to it, and also their delivery too was smooth, you know?
TK: Where did you play your first show in Philly, and what do you remember it feeling like to be up there on stage in front of your peers?
KK: I believe my first show in Philly was at The Fire [laughs], I think that’s everyone’s first show in Philly. I just remember loving the feeling of being up there, and all eyes on me — as nervous as I was, I was nervous as shit. I was very nervous. But I just remember being a good vibe. See Philly crowds — it’s funny ‘cause some Philly crowds are hard man, like Philly’s a rough town! But, I just remember it being all love. It was of course a lotta friends, your first show and all. So it was just very warm, welcome feeling. It made me wanna continue doin’ it doin’ it doin’ it..
TK: Which Philly venue is your favorite to play at, and why?
KK: Ohh.. so, one that I did really like playing was The Khyber. It’s not around anymore. Loved The Khyber, the vibe in there. It wasn’t the biggest room, but it was somethin’ special about the vibe in there. That was one of the past ones. Now I really like playin’ The World Cafe. [That] and Johnny Brenda’s, probably my two favorite in Philly.
TK: What do you love most about the arts scene in Philly?
KK: Well, I will say it’s changed a lot. Like I moved in 2012, now coming back it’s changed a lot. But what I did love about it when I was here a lot was the community of artists and musicians here, and everyone knew each other, collaborated, worked together. It’s cool.
TK: What do you find most frustrating about being an artist in Philly?
KK: I’d say outlets. As far as industry outlets, I feel like there’s certain places you wanna play, you know, bigger venues. But as soon as you play them a few times, you know, you gotta bounce.
TK: Which neighborhoods have you lived in here, and which made you want to stick around or bail?
KK: I lived in South Philly, I lived in Fairmount, I lived in Queen Village, I lived in North. I’d say the one I liked the most is probably Fairmount. The place I liked the least probably was I’d say South Philly.
TK: How come?
KK: [laughs] Well, I was living with an ex and it was a bad time. [laughs] I love South Philly! Don’t get me wrong. It’s just that time period, yeah.
TK: What’s your preferred way of getting around the city?
KK: Bike. I like the exercise and I’ve always loved bikes, since I was a kid. I used to build bikes, I’ve always been into bikes.
TK: How have you seen the city change, in your time here, and has it been for the better?
KK: Well, I think change is always good. What I’ve noticed is a lotta the venues have closed down. Some of them that were staple venues, like The Five Spot — some epic shows in there, man!
TK: Black Lily..
KK: Yeah! That’s the first time I saw India Arie, before she blew up, she just played an acoustic set in there. Seeing Jill [Scott] in there..
TK: Jaguar Wright..
KK: Jaguar, Kindred [the Family Soul], got their start in there…I mean, you could go on and on. But yeah, I see that a lot of venues have shut down. I feel like there’s more of a mash-up now. I feel like then, there was an indie scene, this scene, this scene. And now I feel like there’s somewhat more of a cross-over mash-up of genres and styles and shows of people playing together. Which is cool.
TK: So you were a sports guy. But you’re no longer a sports guy. I had some Philly sports questions, but..
KK: [laughs] Well I did.. So, for the 2008 Phillies, when they won, I did do the song for that, me and G. Love and Chuck Treece. So that’s some sports. But, other than that. [laughs]