Like his frequent collaborator Lil B, Keyboard Kid is a prolific and uniquely talented artist. He produces for folks across the board, has a pretty vast discography of instrumental albums, and he raps, too! And, Keyboard is also one of the most positive dudes ever. He’s super insightful, forward-thinking and well…Based. His newest release, the instrumental collection Based In The Rain 4 is out now (you can get it on cassette now from Candy Drips!) Recently Keyboard Kid and I chatted about his career in music, Limewire, what it means to be truly be “Based,” his hometown, videogame soundtracks, and much, much more…
Nick: The first thing I wanted to ask was how did you get your start in music? What made you wanna get into making beats?
Keyboard Kid: I always was into music growing up. I was very musical and kinda just did it as a hobby. I’d write songs. I went to church when I was younger, so I was in love with instruments. One of the first things I did as a kid when I was probably like 7 or so was I started playing the trumpet. I played that for about a year and I ended up breaking my hand playing football.
Nick: Oh damn.
Keyboard Kid: Yeah, and then I never picked the trumpet back up, but I always had the love for music. The next thing I wanted to learn how to play was the drums, but, I grew up in an apartment, a five kid household; so there wasn’t really no room for no drums. But (I) used to write songs. I used to download instrumentals by the time I got to be in highschool. I was probably like 15 or so. On Napster or Limewire. I forget which one. It was probably Limewire at the time. I would search for instrumentals. I was really into the Roc-A-Fella records sound, the soul sound, at the time. Like Just Blaze and Kanye. And I remember I downloaded some leaked Kanye. It was the “Through The Wire” instrumental. That was before I really had even heard the song. And, I fell in love with it.
I used to write my own rhymes to Kanye’s songs. Over the beat and shit. And, one day I was like “I wanna make my own beats. I wanna make something like Kanye. Something dope!” So, then I just started downloading software. And, I had some cheap ass “E-DJ” or something like that. Just a couple of break loops. But it was really by chance. I was trying to find something that I could make beats on. And my homeboy, one of my older friends, had Reason. I went to his house and he showed me Reason. It was real dope, but it looked a little complicated as someone that didn’t know music technically.
So, I was like “yo, I don’t know if that’s gonna work.” I went home and just tried to find out what was out there. I was fairly new to the software game. Because back then everybody was on MPCs. If you didn’t have have an MPC you wasn’t doing nothing. So, I was like “Do I wanna by a $2000 MPC or do I wanna buy this little car?” I was like 16, and I rather would’ve had the car. Luckily, I stumbled across FL Studio. I just downloaded it. I was kinda nerdy, you know what I mean? I was always good with computers. My mom worked with computers at Microsoft. I was just familiar with them. And, I actually figured out how to crack FL way back.
Keyboard Kid: It was FL one, man. I’m talking like the dinkiest sounds you could find. And, I would mess with it for hours. My friends would come over like “What the hell you doing?” So, my summer going into Junior year I spent teaching myself Fruity Loops. So, it got to the point where I could make a decent loop for me and my friends to rap on. And that’s kinda how it all began. And, I made a beat one day and people was like “Yo, this is actually dope! You should get somebody to rap on it.” I was like “Yeah, ok” I formed a small group with a mutual friend. He had access to a studio, so I would go in and make beats and rap on them. That kinda dissolved. It was around ’04 or ’05 I was just fresh out of highschool.
I didn’t have much going on with the music. I didn’t really know what to do. And nobody in my city in Seattle really understood my sound or my style of beats. It was real colorful and different. I gave some people some beats and they were like “Yo, these are dope as fuck. But, they’re just too different. They’re not really what we’re looking for.” I was kinda discouraged at the time.
But, also I was like “yo, what do I have to lose?” So, I just started hitting everybody up I could find doing music on Myspace. Back when Myspace was a thing.
I always liked The Pack’s music. And, something just spoke to me. Almost like a voice spoke to me to tell me to contact Brandon, Lil B. I was like “What do I got to lose?” I messaged everybody in The Pack at the time. And, Brandon hit me back. I actually didn’t even send him a beat! On Myspace I was like “Hey, I would love to send you some music. I don’t want nothing from you. I just wanna make some dope music!” And, you know how Lil B is. A super cool, open nice person. He gave me an email. Some random email. I sent a couple beats, and he was like “Yo, these are fire! Send me some more!” He gave me a different email address I sent him some more to that one. He was like “Yo, this is so crazy I fuck with you!” Then he gave me his real email and his number. I called him, and we ended up talking for like 2 hours on the phone about music, about everything. He was like “Yo, my group situation just started to dissolve. I’m looking into doing solo music. Would you like to be a part of what I’m doing?” I was like “Yeah, I don’t got much going.” But, I was like “What’s Based?”
He was saying it was gonna be called “Based World” and it was about living with love, kinda being a rebel but living with love and positivity. And, that was something I could get behind. I was like “I’m down with Based World. I’ll help!” And our relationship just grew from there. We would send music back and forth and talk about music. Discuss ideas. He would ask me like, “where do you see music going?”
I was a young cat and I was smoking weed. Me and my homies we would listen to ambient music on Youtube and shit. And I was like “Yo, what if we rapped on ambient music?” I wanted to switch up the genre. Something calming, but still on hard-hitting ambient beats. And that was kinda the birth of Cloud Rap, really. I started experimenting with more atmospheric sounds. I would treat the sample like an atmosphere or a pad. Just trying to play it, and make it make sense. That was kinda what made me feel like I really could take music serious. I was probably like 19 at the time.
Nick: Wow. That’s awesome. And, you really addressed a lot of the shit I wanted to talk about right there! Something I’ve always felt about Cloud Rap is that there is a lot of emotion in it. And, you kinda just touched on that about how that sound came from ambient music. For me the idea of “Cloud Rap” is very emotional. When I listen to your music and also Clams Casino it feels deeply sad to me, but also hopeful. When you’re making a beat, do you feel like you are really in the zone and emotionally connected to it kinda?
Keyboard Kid: Totally, man! Not being a musician that’s technically trained it’s all emotion, all feeling. Especially growing up here in the Northwest. I spend a lot of time inside because of the rain. “Cloud” really came from Seattle, man. People really credit Clams a lot, but he told me the beats he made were inspired by my music. Because he saw me out there working with Lil B and he got inspired. So, it came through me and it filtered through Oakland with Squadda B and Main Attrakionz. They were all in North Oakland like where Oakland and Berkeley meet. Like the Turf out there. Where all the young cats would kick it.
I was using the internet and getting the beats out there. They would play each other the music. They were like “Who is this? This is crazy!” I was actually in The Bay with Squadda not too long ago. And he told me “A lot of your earlier music inspired me.” It’s just crazy because where I’m at there isn’t really a market. So, It really got picked up and commercialized. But, it all started from me.
Nick: Yeah, I feel like you are kind of a touchstone for so much music in the last like 7 years. You’ve produced for SO MANY people. You mentioned Squadda, and there have been a lot of other people on the come up that you’ve worked with. A lot of folks might be like “Oh, Keyboard Kid that’s Lil B’s producer” Which is true, but you’ve been a producer for so many other artists, too. What makes you wanna work with someone? Is there like a quality that certain rappers have? Is there something you see in the folks you’ve collaborated with?
Keyboard Kid: Yeah, I’ve always felt kinda eccentric. Like an individual. A little bit ahead of my time as far as what’s going on. I’m always looking to push culture forward. It’s just in my nature. I’m always questioning. If someone tells me something I gotta ask why. I don’t just take things at face value. I always felt like rap could always go further. It could evolve. And, when the big money gets involved people just start chasing trends. When I came in I just wanted to say “fuck all the trends.” I was like “Why isn’t my my music hip hop? I grew up listening to hip hop.”
My feeling is I don’t care what you’re doing. If you’re making dope music and doing something different then I wanna help you. I like taking risks. So, a lot of times people be asking me “Why’d you work with them?” And it’s because I wanna do something different. I don’t want my music to sound like everybody else’s. I wanna take risks on these young kids because I remember when I didn’t have the same opportunities. Nobody really wanted to give me a shot. So, I feel like why not just help them and carve new lanes and new paths. That’s kinda what helps me make my decisions as far as who to work with. And, also personal interaction. I feel like I can kinda tell from how people approach you when they message you. It’s almost like I’ve learned a language through the internet. Like I can see who’s sincere.
Nick: Hell yeah. I actually feel kinda the same way about getting a feel from how people approach or talk with you online. I mean, in setting up this interview or the times we have talked on Twitter or whatever before you have always been very real and very positive. And, I do think that’s rare. And it’s important. It seems like you and Lil B are definitely similar when it comes to positivity. I think the Based movement inspired a lot of folks to be more open and more positive, but it has been a while. Do you think things have changed over the years at all?
Keyboard Kid: I feel like it definitely has changed, perverted a bit from what it used to be. There’s a lot more troll culture now. I mean we were kinda pioneers of that with “Based,” but I feel like there’s a lot more now. Here’s the thing: we were trolling, but with Based it was always a foundation of love, you feel me? It’s about love and understanding and trying to do something positive. I feel like a lot of people now do unnecessary things to get seen. It’s like a lot of things when money gets involved and people see you can make a lot of money. And, everybody is trying to innovate and do their thing, but let’s keep positivity first.
Let’s keep love first. I make hip hop, man. No matter how it sounds, and hip hop is about uplifting the people. As long as these young guys and these new acts are coming in with positivity and trying to help people and help music then I got no beef with what they’re doing.
And, you know a lot of the time you gotta meet people in person. That’s why I don’t really wanna point the finger and judge. And, you know times have changed. Young people have a lot more stuff to deal with these days. It’s crazy times, man. But, as long as you keep love and positivity and fun first then it’s all good. It’s just art people gotta express themselves, but people also gotta know if you’re making art you got a responsibility to push culture forward. That’s how I look at music and at art. It really is a universal language. It is saying things and speaking to people in different ways. So, lay the foundation with love. And stay true to you! Be original. I understand there’s trends. But, influence is one thing, and to emulate is another thing.
Nick: What you just said is exactly what I see as being Based. Being true to yourself, being real. It’s interesting that you called Based sort of a “positive trolling.” And I think it definitely was especially at first. Some of the things Lil B was doing like calling himself a “Bitch” and the way he dressed was like shit people never would have done in mainstream rap before. And, that is totally a troll move to me. It shook things up a lot. Have you heard about these fucking Alt Right guys who have kind of taken Based and co-opted it, trying to make it some hateful thing?
Keyboard Kid: Man, I’m on the internet all the time, so I’ve been seeing it. We’re seeing it emerge now it started on 4 Chan and the chatrooms. They definitely perverted the use of based. Using it for the opposite. Those people are strange, man. They have nothing to do with Based. They’re just complete trolls. They’re just using something that is widely accepted by a lot of people, especially young people, as a way to be impressionable on the young people. We got a lot of new, coming-of-age, spongey minds out there.
I really feel like that is some weirdo shit, man. There’s some things in the works, though. You know Lil B is aware of it, and we were having a conversation about it over the weekend. And then Fader came out with the article about it. People are noticing that. True Based people. All of that will be addressed soon. This stuff’s copywritten. So, if need be there could be some steps taken.
Nick: Yeah I mean Lil B was calling out folks for being Fake Based years ago and these guys are absolutely the definition of Fake Based.
Keyboard Kid: The truest form. Real talk.
Nick: Earlier you mentioned samples, and how you were using ambient music in your production and that helped you kinda find your sound. I wanted to ask you about what leads you to a sample? And what makes you wanna choose the samples you use? One of my favorite tracks on the new project is “Tokyo Ghoul Music” which has this awesome guitar sample on it. I feel like you really have a knack for finding beautiful samples.
Keyboard Kid: It’s just life, you know? Life experience. Everything that makes me “me” is what I put into my music. Genres I stumbled across when I was younger and pop culture. I’ve always been into animation. And, a lot of my samples come from that realm. I’ve always been into cinematography and movies. I’m all about the feel and the textures of the music I create. It’s like water, you know? Water is metaphorical for me. Say, music was water. If you could submerge yourself in the water, that’s how I feel about music. I want it to fill the room you’re in. I feel it in the air. The viscosity. Is it a thick texture? Is it smooth? Is it floaty? To me music comes out like a 3D space. It’s kinda weird to explain.
Nick: I totally get it. And anybody who has heard your music will understand that I think. That makes a ton of sense, and I think perfectly describes your beats.
Keyboard Kid: It’s like watching a movie. I want you to feel that whole vibe. Like the song “Kush In The Beamer” I want you to feel like you’re smoking kush in a Beamer.
Nick: You’ve made so many beats! I feel like you’ve done so many instrumentals and you are always producing for rappers. Do you ever feel like you get “writer’s block?” like do you ever hit a wall where you just don’t have ideas, or can’t create?
Keyboard Kid: Yeah more so that I’ve gotten older. Not so much a “writer’s block,” but more like a time thing. I got a daughter now. And I got a family. It’s a blessing, you know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s been a balancing act with work and personal life as of recently. Sometimes I feel like I might have to go digging for new sounds. But, it’s never like I can’t make a beat. Honestly, if I had nothing else to do I’d make beats all day every day.
I’m never uninspired it’s kinda crazy. I can find inspiration in many things. Just life. Some of the things that help me if I do get in a place that’s kinda slow is I’ll play videogames. And I’ll think in my head like, “what would I make for the soundtrack for this game?” I’ll play games for like 30 minutes, and then I’ll hop back on the beats. I keep my playstation and my beats right next to each other.
Nick: That makes a lot of sense. I feel like a lot of your production does remind me of video game soundtracks in a lot of ways. That’s something you have in common with Lil B, I think. He’s a huge fan of videogames, of course. And also he’s ALWAYS working. He has put out so much music.
Keyboard Kid: I always felt like I’m the producer version of Lil B. We’re definitely kindred spirits in the creative sense.
Nick: And you’re not just a producer, of course. Earlier you were talking about rapping over instrumentals. And, it’s a bit rare to hear you rap, but I’ve definitely heard you spit on a couple things. I think you did an album with Pepperboy?
Keyboard Kid: Yeah! We did the whole Endangered project.
Nick: Oh! And I remember there’s a Mishka song, too. One of those posse cuts. I think I was on that song, actually.
Keyboard Kid: Hell yeah.
Nick: Is rapping something you wanna purse more? Or do you feel like it is more of a “here and there” thing for you?
Keyboard Kid: It’s one of those things where I get to a certain point and I feel like I’ve expressed myself as much as I can through the beats, but I have more stuff I need to get out. That’s what leads me to make rap projects. I got a few projects on my bandcamp page. Mostly freestyle shit. I’ve never really sat down and wrote except for one little mixtape I did called Under The Sea under my alias Namor. I didn’t even write all the songs on there, but I did write a few. Most of the songs that I do write I never record.
But, I do have a passion for rapping in general. I freestyle all the time. My homies are like, “just go in the booth and record the shit!” So, I think when the time is right I definitely wanna make an album. I just wanna do it right. There’s legit people in the industry I wanna tap in with and make it happen. We got a lot of work to do this year with Based World Records starting up. Getting things really popping. I think after we do this, I’ll have time to really go in on a real album. With me rapping and writing my songs and telling my stories. But, the story hasn’t even been finished yet, and I can’t even make the album I wanna make. You know what I’m saying?
Nick: You mean you feel like you wanna have more experiences, do more shit to be able to write about it?
Keyboard Kid: Yeah I wanna live a little more. There’s things going on in my career right now that I wanna talk about, but in retrospect probably. I wanna be able to close the chapter. I feel like I’m still writing chapters, getting things going. Even me and Lil B just working and trying new things. Black Ken’s really the start of a second life for Based World. After me and him knock a few more tapes out we’ll start working on my project.
I also wanna make like a Neptunes style compilation album like Clones where I produce for various artists.
Nick: You have so many connections with different artists I feel like that would be dope.
Keyboard Kid: Yeah I just wanna tap in with all the cats across the region even folks overseas. Get em all on the album. Put together some cool collaborations of underground people you haven’t heard work together. I think that’d be my goal. I’d want that album released on a major label. To shine light on people I’ve always listened to and respected.
Nick: That really speaks to how you’ve been you’re whole career in music. You’ve always lifted people up like you were saying earlier. I definitely wanna hear that project! Looking forward to it.
Keyboard Kid: It’ll be dope. And I’ve been working on my business side of things. I’ve been working with a young artist from Seattle named Misunderstood. I’m gonna be cultivating her sound. I really got my hands in a bunch of things. Just staying busy, man.
Nick: What do you think about the local scene in Seattle? I talked with AJ Suede a few weeks ago and he was mentioning that the music scene is pretty dope. Do you feel like you are really a part of the local scene?
Keyboard Kid: I feel like I’m one of the artists that helped cultivate the underground sound and scene. Just from being in touch with the Based aspect of it. And with my sound getting bigger. I’ve inspired a lot and got some shit popping out of here. A lot of people see me, and were inspired to do their own thing. GBC started up here and Thraxxhouse. I gave them the green light to use that name. Those are my little homies. Like Key Nyata, that’s my bro.
I feel like I definitely carved a scene. I think it could be more organized and more orchestrated. I’m from here so I feel like it gets redundant. The type of bills and lineups they have. But, you know I feel like I’ve done what I can do in Seattle I’m just trying to go global now. Seattle is cool. It’s a cool little scene and there’s a lot of people dedicated to the craft and the art. It’s definitely an artists’ scene like AJ was saying. AJ’s real cool. The weather really does make people wanna stay inside. It’s a producer’s place. A lot more producers and musicians came out of Washington than people know about. But, that’s because we have to go other places to get noticed. You can’t get plugged in here. There’s no real hub.
Nick: Like you gotta go to LA or to San Francisco or to like NYC?
Keyboard Kid: Yeah you eventually gotta move. Maybe just for a little bit. I feel like I was kinda in my utilization of the internet. I was getting seen. And, like I was saying when I was coming up no one really understood my shit. They weren’t really fucking with it. My first show as Keyboard Kid wasn’t in Seattle. I got booked in New York and Vegas and Portland and shit before here. Seattle can be kind of elitist and they need to stop doing that. They got their own little closed circle like a who’s. I think they should be a little more open. There’s a lot of young talent out here. There’s just not the platform. We don’t have the radio stations and shit like that.
Nick: That’s pretty much all I wanted to talk to you about. I feel like we’ve covered a lot of stuff! Is there anything else you wanna say?
Keyboard Kid: Shout out Candy Drips. Shout out Based World records. Everybody go grab that Based In The Rain 4. And look out for Millennium Thraxx it’s gonna be a very high energy, colorful project I’m dropping soon. And look out for all the music me and Lil B are gonna be dropping.
Nick: Hell yeah I really feel like Lil B is back and this is, like you said, a kind of second coming. I’m psyched to hear you guys working together on new shit.
Keyboard Kid: He’s definitely fired up. He’s got that fire in him. A lot’s happened and a lot of it happened very quickly. And we worked so hard. We had to take a little breather. But, now we back, we fresh, and going crazy.