Knox Fortune has been hovering around the margins of the Chicago music scene for a minute now.
He has produced for Vic Mensa, produced all of Joey Purp’s iiiDrops, and sang the chorus on Chance the Rapper’s “All Night.”
His hip-hop production is soulful and instrumental, drawing from all the genres on offer and Knox Fortune’s beats helped make Joey Purp’s iiiDrops one of the best indie hip-hop releases of 2016.
Now Knox Fortune, real name Kevin Rhomberg, has stepped out of the shadows of hip-hop production and released his own solo album Paradise.
Anyone who has paid attention to Chicago’s indie hip-hop scene will undoubtedly know Knox Fortune the producer, but Paradise is much more rooted in hazy synth-pop and indie rock than hip-hop, at least on the surface.
From the opening track “No Dancing” it’s clear that Paradise is somewhat of a departure from Rhomberg’s hip-hop production.
There’s this quality that runs throughout Paradise, a lightness to the music and lyrics, that feels like one big musical embrace. Although it came out at the end of September, Paradise is one of those nostalgic summer records, recalling the good times while recognizing we still may be living in them.
“No Dancing” is a track about a break up where Rhomberg bemoans the loss of someone he cared about, singing,
“Will I ever see you again?
Was this our last dance at our last dance?
Sometimes I wish I could see you again
But I know, I know you don’t”
And despite the subject matter and song title, you’re probably going to want to dance to “No Dancing.”
Rhomberg is really fucking good at making irresistibly pleasant, emotive music. Exemplified most by the lead single off the album “Lil Thing,” which sort of crystalizes his entire sound.
“Lil Thing” is a prototypical summer track that goes hard for the nostalgia points,
“We were just 19, alive and new
My heart can’t keep from beating
It does it for you, it does it for you”
Rhomberg is one of those musicians that is clearly able to do whatever he wants instrumentally, but keeps the music from getting overly complex.
It makes for super fun listening as he goes from the bouncy indie R&B number “24 Hours” to the pop punky “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It.”
The end of “I Don’t Wanna Talk About it” ends with a Black Flag-esque guitar riff then fades out into the haze of “Strange Days.”
This transition exemplifies Rhomberg’s diversity as an artist as he can basically do whatever the hell he wants.
His influences are clearly legion, everything from Animal Collective, Beck, Toro y Moi, and indie hip-hop can be found on this record, but he combines these influences in a way that doesn’t feel overbearing or complicated.
And for all the different sounds on Paradise, it’s an incredibly cohesive record.
Rhomberg told Rolling Stone last week about being able to make his own music outside the hip-hop producer’s studio,
“With me there’s no compromise. I can do whatever the fuck I want. It was so freeing after doing all this crazy production work for other people just to be like, ‘That’s what I like and that’s what’s going to do.'”
This freedom allows Rhomberg to drift around through different genres and styles and he relishes the opportunity to do whatever the hell he wants and make his own music. Rhomberg told Rolling Stone,
“People would be like, ‘Your solo stuff is really gonna be the thing for you. I’m telling you’ and I’d always be like, ‘Yah. Maybe.’ But then after ‘All Night’ it was like I’ve been given this crazy opportunity. I have a Grammy. I have the ability to contact people I like if I need their help now. If I weren’t to take full advantage of it I’d be tweaking on myself. I was trying to step away from that dude who is locked in the studio producing all day.”
For a dude that’s made his name off hip-hop production, besides some drum mixing and bass lines, there’s very little hip-hop on this album.
So when Joey Purp comes on in “Stun,” which otherwise sounds like it could have made the most recent Toro y Moi record, it provides a pretty cool contrast in styles between Rhomberg’s indie-pop (yes this is a term now) and Purp’s monotone delivery.
The ability to bring worlds together makes Rhomberg an impressive and interesting hip-hop producer and also what makes Paradise such a compelling record.
For as grounded and straightforward as most of the album is, Rhomberg clearly let it go a little bit for the ultimate track “Spill,” a slow-rolling number with bubbling drums that calls Animal Collective to mind.
For someone who just wanted to diversify his sound a little bit and make his own music, Knox Fortune has made a remarkably polished first album in Paradise.
Surely he’ll keep cranking out bangers for the Chicago hip-hop scene, but his solo work deserves all of our attention.