Keyboard Kid, born Greg Phillips, is perhaps best known for his work with Lil B, the 22 year old rapper/rap deconstructionist who’s back catalogue numbers at least 1400 songs. Keyboard Kid and Lil B have been working together since 2007, their partnership creating such modern classics as “Chasing the Rain”; “Lone Warrior”; and “I Hate Myself.” While Lil B has worked with many producers, it’s Keyboard Kid who best reflects the emotionally unguarded, anything-is-admissible tone of Lil B’s rhymes.
To my mind, there are three fundamental sounds inherent in each of Keyboard Kid’s beats. The first is the heart-stirring, triumphant marches found in video games and anime. As recontextualized by Keyboard Kid, the digital strings and slow fall of notes that makes even the most tedious stretches of Zelda feel epic create a rich, emotional canvas for each track. The second element is the longing and vulnerability of the singer-songwriter, reduced to a granular level of desperate croons and twinkling piano. The captivating pop of Imogen Heap features heavily, but most of the drifting voices are too abstract and ghostly to be identified. The final piece is almost unmentionable, its presence so key for hip hop that it seems weird to single it out, but Keyboard Kid’s use of bass externalizes the daydream and self-awareness of the other sounds, shifting his compositions to an intensely physical plane.
Critical reviews to his first few releases all detailed Keyboard Kid’s work with Lil B, with Soulja Boy, and with Main Attrakionz, highlighting the strength and seamlessness of his production. They also all mention how eager they are to hear rappers atop the beats. But the last couple months have shown a turn, with listeners embracing the instrumentals, allowing the complexity and warmth of Keyboard Kid’s arrangement to carry their interests. Perhaps the songs have seeped more completely into consciousness, or wintertime skies have tipped us towards their wordless introspection, but my sense is that it’s the unmitigated impact of the bass, groundling listeners into place and time, that inspires this contentment.
On Friday, March 23, 2012, Keyboard Kid will make his New York debut at the New Museum, further exploring the physical nature of his music. While the standard format for hearing his music tends towards the introversion of headphones, this performance promises an opportunity to bridge the community-minded/everyone is welcome spirit of the Based movement as championed by Lil B and Keyboard Kid with the unparalleled audio experience of hearing the bass in its intended glory.
To purchase tickets, or for more information, please visit the New Museum website.
Ethan Swan: What does “Based” mean to you?
Greg Phillips: I started out with Lil B when he was starting to put his own “Based World” movement together. I heard a song by Lil B that was called “I’m Okay, Stay Based” and it was like this trance-y, kind of electro sounding song and it had like a Lil Jon sample in it, very low quality, but I thought it was dope so it was like, I know we can make dope music. So I hit Lil B up, and got to know him a little bit, and I asked him, I wanted to know what “based” means. He told me it was a negative saying they used in the bay area to call people slow and stuff, and put people down. So he wanted to take something that was negative and flip it into a positive. Basically, for us it’s just kind of being the rebels, the outsiders in the rap but still doing what we want no matter what people think. It’s also just positive man, we want to promote positivity, we want to break down barriers and bring all kind of people together. It’s kind of a broad meaning, I think it’s great though because it welcomes all kind of people. It doesn’t matter who you are, just stay true to you and we don’t want to judge you for that. We want to accept you for who you are.
ES: How is this manifested in the music?
GP: It’s something I think about when I do it. For me, I make music based off of emotion, from my life experiences, or what I’m watching on TV, or watching on the news, or anime. I always try to convey a story. It could be like a triumphant story, where I want the beat to capture you and make you feel a certain way, other times I want it to be a moody downer where it might be a reflective type of song where you can sit and think about things. Almost like a sense of elevator music, I want the music to capture you but at the same time it can be so open to interpretation that you can just submerge yourself in the music. So when I think about music, it’s kind of like water, or like a texture. I want you to be inside the music if that makes sense.
ES: Where do you get samples from?
GP: There are days where I’ll say, I don’t have anything to sample right now so I’ll get on the internet for a few hours and just search hella youtubes and see what I can find. There’s other times where I’ll be hearing a commercial and there’ll be some crazy jingle in the back and I’ll think that sounds cool, so I’ll go find the original song or if I’m watching a cartoon or an anime movie there’s a theme song in there I’ll think, damn, that sounds fine, I think I could tweak a little vocals or something. Then there’s just from my aesthetics of my life, like my girlfriend, she’s funny. She sings hella random songs, like, she grew up watching TV so she has hella random songs in her head. She’ll just bust out with this old 80s joint, or like an early 90s joint, and it’s like, oh, that sounded tight, I should sample that. Man, sometimes I get samples from her, just her singing her random songs, doing her own silly thing.
ES: What’s your work process like?
GP: I have my computer right by my bed sometimes and I wake up in the middle of the night or super early in the morning and I’ll feel like making something and I’ll sit in my bed with my headphones on and make beats. But then when I go to add my bass and all that kind of stuff I like to be on the big monitor speakers. Truthfully, a majority of my earlier beats and a lot of things people heard, they were made on headphones. Because I didn’t have money to afford monitors. So I had just regular Sony headphones.
ES: What’s the difference between working on headphones and working with monitors?
GP: My music has a lot of undertones to it, a lot of extra shit underneath so when the low end’s brought into it there’s a lot of bass that people don’t hear in their headphones. I like bass, I grew up going back and forth to Texas and stuff. All my uncles, everybody they had the heavy bass. I grew up loving bass and I put bass in my music. At the same time I do try and keep the mind that people are listening on headphones. So what I’ll do is I’ll go back and forth truthfully, I’ll start off in the headphones, and then switch to the big speakers, and then when I’m done I’ll put it back into the headphones.
ES: So it can work in both contexts?
GP: What you have to keep in mind is, when I started out I didn’t have much. I just had my parents’ computer, threw fruity loops on there and I just had my headphones, you know? It was like that for a long time until recently I was able to invest in this music thing. I’m tired of working these mall jobs, these regular 9 to 5s, my feeling was just go for it, take a little time. What’s the worst that could happen? If it doesn’t work out, go find another job. I mean, that’s kind of how it always was. My one thing was always to keep in mind, I want to hear how this sounds when it’s played in someone’s car, or when it’s played in a club eventually. So I always tried to add a lot of bass into my music.
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// From our friends at the New Museum