Knoc-Turn'Al Breaks Down Ghostwriting For Dr. Dre, Details "Knoc's Ville"
Exclusive: The west coast veteran explains how Dr. Dre-related royalties allowed his five-year hiatus, and why he did not appreciate Jay-Z using his song for the "Super Ugly" Nas diss.
In some ways, Knoc-Turn’Al’s early career embodies unfulfilled promise. Each chart rising single and Grammy nomination seemed to proceed an unfortunate upheaval completely out of his control. A potentially classic debut album, Knoc’s Landing, leaks before it’s ever released back when any leak forced every artist back to the recording board. Another highly anticipated album, The Way I Am, goes under-heard after his label is acquired and then subsequently fired it’s entire Rap department. It’s enough to make any artist take a moment of reflection. In Knoc’s case, a five year hiatus.
Now back with his first official release in half a decade, HipHopDX spoke with Knoc-Turn’Al about Knocs’ville, the advice he received from the late Nate Dogg, what he said to Nas and Jay-Z after Hov tossed the “Bad Intentions” beat into this century’s first great rap battle, his disappointment in today’s California Emcees and why his relationship with Dr. Dre is different from the rest.
HipHopDX: Let’s start this off with a quote from your track, “Sorry I Left You”: “Okay, I’ll admit I got lazy / 'Cause I ain’t like those other suckas / Dre paid me...” In some ways, Knoc-Turn’Al is synonymous with unfilled promise. Whether that’s because of label politics and all the things that happened with Elektra [Records]...
Knoc-Turn’Al: With Lyor [Cohen] and Elektra [Records] and all that stuff. I said that for a reason because I did get lazy because I had to pull back. I have two children now. I had to pull back and focus on them for a little while. I was missing their first steps and birthdays. I was working too much. I was probably only home for two months out of the year. I had to pull back for a minute and value what’s really important. I know my career is important as well, but I had to pull back for a minute. I felt like I could pull back for a second because [Dr.] Dre did pay me. He made sure I had my publishing and everything so I said, “Okay, let me step back and do what’s really important.” If you can’t keep your family together, then you’re just like a preacher preaching bullshit.
DX: That’s the truth. So, as you approach the release of Knocs’ville, how do you feel about your career where it is now? This is a rebirth in a sense.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yes indeed. I’m treating this like I’m a brand new artist. I haven’t been out in five years, so the way I’m approaching it is as if, you know, people [who know my music] went to high school and graduated and probably got one year of college by now. I’m approaching this as if I’m a brand new artist. I recreated myself, reinvented my style. You have to do that. That way I’m not looking at it like, “You’ve gotta respect me because I’m a G in this game.” I’m looking at it like I’m a brand new artist coming out after five years and trying to rebirth myself exactly like you said. The point being is people tend to forget so you have to recreate yourself and remind them.
DX: Tell us about Knocs’ville. I know you have Jayo Felony on there. You’ve got Yukmouth. You’ve got Sly Boogy.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, Sly Boogy, he’s a cool dude. Me and him, when he was with [King] Tech from [The Wake Up Show], we was out in New York and we both got stuck in a blizzard out there. It was funny. We were both like, “Man, this is some foolishness!” We couldn’t leave to go home. We were stuck in a blizzard! I was like, “This is some foolishness!” And as soon as I said that, he was like, “Bullshit!” [Laughs] Shit was funny as hell.
But with the Knocs’ville album, I really took my time on that. It’s not a mixtape. It’s really an album and then after that, I’m hitting them with The Book Of Knoc, then I’m hitting them with Knocs’ Life. So, I’ve got three different albums coming out real quick. In the digital age, you can’t just expect one album to last long.
DX: Who’s doing the production?
Knoc-Turn’Al: This guy named Komplex. I’ve got a couple from Warren [G], couple from Doc. Big Hollis and MG. It’s a conglomerate of people that are precisely putting themselves in the music business that knows what they’re doing. When you’re trying to elevate yourself, you’ve got to make sure you get the people that are elevating at the same time. And of course it’s always good to give back. I’ve got the Mathmadix on there. I’ve got my little brother Jaguar on there. I wouldn’t be me if Dr. Dre didn’t give me a chance. I’ve got to give people a chance too, and that’s what I learned from Dr. Dre.
DX: You did an interview with DubCNN.com a couple years back where you were talking specifically about that. You were saying how it’s more important to build a team of people that you can help lift up than it is to always try to be around the people that are already at the top.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Exactly. First of all, they’ll never forget it. Second of all, where would you be is someone didn’t give you a chance? I always hate cats that make it and then turn their nose up. I was a block baby. I was born on the block, raised on the block between the streets of Long Beach and Wilmington, [California]. I went to the [penitentiary]. Got out the pen, got shot. I ain’t proud of that. I did some stupid shit when I was growing up. But the whole point is: where would I be if Dr. Dre didn’t give me a chance? So why would I not try to give back, know what I mean?
DX: Yeah. Integrity is what you’re talking about.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah. I don’t like people that get something then all of a sudden they like to turn their nose. It’s like somebody all of a sudden get a managerial position at a grocery store then they want to turn their nose up and start talking shit to everybody. That’s some foolishness. That’s bullshit. Remain who you are, know what I mean?
DX: My earliest memories of Knoc-Turn’Al the artist always included, “Yo, this cat could really blow up. This cat is mad talented,” because you really are one of few diverse talents in the sense that you can actually rhyme and have an emphasis with being clever with your words. But you also capture melody so well and your hooks are always crazy.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Thank you. That’s actually my father’s doing because music runs in our family. That’s why my little brother [Jaguar] he’s on the Knocs’ville album and he’s on The Prequel mixtape which is available for download all over the place. When I was growing up, my father had a band. He had a chance to be on Motown [Records]. but they didn’t want the whole band, they just wanted him. He always told me that if he could do it over again he would’ve just signed and came back and got the band after he made it. He always tells me, “Don’t miss your opportunity.” I had a group too, at first, but Elektra didn’t want the whole group. I had to sign me. We still prospered off of it. That’s when we came up with that L.A. Confidential. We had a conglomerate of people [nationwide]. The only person we was missing is somebody from New York. We built the studio. We did everything that we had to do but, like my dad told me, “Don’t make the same mistake I made,” because I talked him about it before I [signed].
DX: What happened with L.A. Confidential?
Knoc-Turn’Al: What happened with L.A. Confidential is that Lyor Cohen took over Elektra and bought it from Time Warner. Then he fired the whole Rap department. [Laughs] He fired 400 people that worked in the offices and started letting people go debt and obligation-free. Which I wasn’t mad about because, at the time I still owed them a couple albums so that gave me the chance to go relax and go home and try to be with my family for a little bit. He had a lot of people there that still owed [the label] money but he just let everybody go debt and obligation free. He didn’t ask for no money back or nothing. He was just like, “Okay, y’all can go.” We was like, “Okay, no problem.” How can you be mad at that?
DX: Your debut project, Knocs Landing, was bootlegged so heavy that you had to release it as an EP and this was back when it was difficult to bootleg something. Not difficult -- but more difficult than it is now.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Exactly. The thing is it got bootlegged more than cable in the hood. [Laughs] I was rolling down the street and everywhere I looked, everywhere I turned they were bumping my shit. I go to Compton they bumping my shit. I go to m’fuckin Long Beach, they bumping my shit. I go to San Pedro, they bumping my shit. I go to L.A., they bumping my shit. I’m like, “Wait a minute, my shit ain’t even out yet!” [Laughs] I had to call the label. I’ll never forget, I called Jay Brown from the label that was in California. I called Jay Brown and said, “Man, something ain’t right because I keep hearing my shit everywhere I go.” He’s like, “I know. It got leaked.” I’m like, “Y’all m’fuckas must’ve did that.” I was mad as hell. He was like, “Nah we wouldn’t do that, dog. We wouldn’t do that. Why would we mess up our money?” I was like, “I don’t know. Something ain’t right. I’ll call you back.” [Laughs] Jay Brown started laughing. He was like, “Something’s wrong with you.” I’m like, “Ain’t nothing wrong with me. I’m trying to figure out how the hell this happened.” Then I had to go back in and do five more songs -- of course with Xzibit, Too Short and few other people with Dr. Dre and put out an EP real quick because everybody was expecting my album to come out. But I appreciate all them people coming together as fast as they did so I could at least put something out.
DX: Do you think the leak helped you at all; helped your reputation?
Knoc-Turn’Al: I think probably helped but it hurt too. It helped me in the sense that people got to know me. But it hurt me in the sense that I had to just give them five songs instead of giving them a full LP. I had to give them an EP instead. So that kind of had people upset. The true fans that went to go buy it were like, “What do you mean it’s only five songs?” They were expecting a whole album. A lot of people still bumped it anyway. That album ended up being platinum in the long run but it took a while. It wasn’t until The Way I Am came out until it finally went platinum and that was like three years down the line. Then “Bad Intentions” helped me a lot with more record sales and that came out like a year after Knocs Landing.
DX: Then The Way I Am sold out, but there was no one to reorder at Elektra.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Exactly because Lyor fired the whole Rap department. That one took off and sold out real quick. It sold out the first day nationwide but the whole point being is that there was no one there to resend them shit, know what I mean? I mean it’s like, who do they call to send them more copies if the whole rap department is gone? It’s the luck of the draw sometimes. I understand and appreciate the fans who want more and more and more so I’m going to make sure that when I hit them this time I’ma hit them with three good albums real fast. That’s why I’ve been sitting in my "bat cave" getting it together for real, working.
DX: I spoke to Glasses Malone recently and he’s gone through a lot of delays with Beach Cruiser. He’s remade that album like three times with a specific emphasis on lyricism. Is lyricism at the forefront of everything you’re doing?
Knoc-Turn’Al: Of course. Of course. That’s where you build it from. But then you know, I got the jingles. Nate Dogg, you know -- rest in peace -- he told me a long time ago that, “You need to be a self maintained artist because you can do jingles and also sing hooks and do little melodies as well as good lyrics.” He said, “Not to be funny, but I kind of envy you a little bit because all I got is one niche. I can rap a little bit but it never comes out right. You need to focus on both at the same time.” And I love him for telling me that. Rest in peace.
DX: You guys worked a lot together.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, we did. Nate Dogg is funny. He was at Elektra with me. He was a good dude, though. He was a comedian. He was a sarcastic comedian. He really don’t talk much if you really don’t know him. He just handle his business and shake it. But if he knew you, he’d be cutting jokes. But you got to know him to know when he’s joking because he’ll just keep a straight face. He don’t even laugh at his own jokes when he told one. He would’ve slid a joke in on you and you didn’t even know it. Fuck around and figure it out an hour later like, “Was that nigga being funny?” [Laughs] God bless his soul, though. Rest in peace. He was a good dude. He was always a good dude.
DX: When was the last time you saw or spoke to him?
Knoc-Turn’Al: The last time I saw him was after he had the second stroke. He wasn’t good. The fact that he couldn’t talk kind of hurt him. Ultimately that’s stressful.
DX: That was a tremendous loss.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, it’s a tremendous loss. It makes me sad.
DX: It’s interesting that Nate Dogg said that to you because I always felt that you had the ability to connect through hooks and melodies in a way similar to Nate Dogg. “Bad Intentions” is the perfect example, I think.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Exactly. He always told me to make sure that I focus on that because I be having melodies and different stuff stuck in my head. And the funny thing is, I was having sinus and allergy problems that day. That’s why my voice sounded like that when I was like “All I really know is...” [sings “Bad Intentions” hook] And Dr. Dre said, “Keep it!” [Laughs] I was having allergy and sinus problems that day. That shit is hilarious. And Dr. Dre kept it. He was like, “Fuck that. Keep that shit!” [Laughs] Then he told me to do another track of that right there. [Laughs] Dr. Dre ass is crazy. You never knew what he was gonna hear. You never knew what was on his mind. When he heard that he was like, “Fuck that, keep that shit right there. Give me another track like that, Knoc Knoc.” The shit came out right, though.
DX: How much fun was it shooting that video? When I look at that video, I’m like, “Man, those cats are having fun.”
Knoc-Turn’Al: Oh yeah, Me, Dr. Dre, the film crew and 50 bitches -- that was fun. [Laughs] It wasn’t nobody else. Just me, Dr. Dre, the film crew and 50 bitches. That shit was hilarious.
DX: You know, style-wise -- away from the hooks and your melodies -- but style-wise, the way you approached “Bang Bang” [on 2001], to me, was just amazing. That off-kilter kind of conversational flow.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, Dre says it’s like an off-beat on-beat flow -- like I’m a street narrator, like I’m talking but I’m rapping. He says, “As soon as I think you’re not going to rhyme right or land on the beat, you land there.”
DX: How did you land on that style? Is that you naturally or do you actually have to work on that?
Knoc-Turn’Al: Nah, that’s just the way that I like to rap. Everybody got their own style. Busta Rhymes, can’t nobody do that. Ludacris, can’t nobody do that. You can try. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, can’t nobody do that. You can try to imitate somebody but that’s just the way I felt like the raps should go. When I start writing raps and saying them in my brain, that’s the way I felt they needed to go. I don’t what it is, but it’s my style. Dre got his style when people write for him and when he writes for himself he knows what he wants. I ghost wrote for Dre before, but I didn’t write my style for him. I wrote who I thought he should sound like as the pioneer to the west coast. Remembering him from N.W.A. and everything else, I thought this is the way he should sound. My style in particular was totally different.
DX: Did you ghost write “Bad Intentions?”
DX: “Super Ugly!”
Knoc-Turn’Al: “Super Ugly!” You know what “Super Ugly” means, right?
DX: Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s you talking about smoking weed and drinking and it’s not pretty. It’s “Super Ugly.”
Knoc-Turn’Al: Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. “Super Ugly” means -- you know that face that you get when you see a bad ass bitch and you get that “Super Ugly” face like, “Damn!” [Laughs] That’s why when we walk by bad bitches, we be like, “Super Ugly!” That’s the face you make when you see a bad ass bitch, like “Got damn! That bitch bad!” Me and Dre laughed about that for a long time. Women would be wondering why we’re walking around just saying, “Super Ugly.”
DX: That’s classic now. Jay-Z got that from you.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah I know. Yeah, Jay-Z cool, too. Jay-Z’s a cool dude. I ain’t like how he put me in that Nas beef. [Laughs] I ain’t appreciate that, but he’s still cool.
DX: Did you ever talk to him about that?
Knoc-Turn’Al: I just told him, “I don’t know why you did that, but it’s all good.” [Laughs] It was at a Grammy Awards after-party and I was like, “Why you have to put me in that Nas beef? Did you not realize that one week after you did that I had to do a couple of shows with Nas?” [Laughs] Why he just bust out laughing though?
DX: That’s what he did? [Laughs]
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, he started laughing like, “My bad, Knoc.” He was funny though because right after “Bad Intentions” came out he was talking about “Busting a nut on his baby seat,” and I was like, “Oh, that’s disrespectful.” A week or two later, I think I was in Boston or something, and had to do a show and Nas was the headliner and I had to tell Nas, “Hey, you know I ain’t have shit to do with that song, you know that right?” He was like, “It’s all good, fam. You wanna hit this blunt?” [Laughs] He said, “I’ma get that muthafucker back.” [Laughs] They crazy. Them New York muthafuckers, they be beefing for real.
DX: I don’t know if they beef like west coast cats, though.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Nah, I’m just saying they be beefing with intelligence. I’m talking about like, when they start talking about you they just start saying some outlandish shit. Niggas on the west coast, if you say the wrong thing, muthafuckers try to come hunt you down and ring your doorbell. M’fuckers try to come get you for real. “Where that nigga live at? I know that nigga didn’t just say that. Where that nigga live at? Ding Dong. You better answer the door, nigga. You been talking all that shit.” [Laughs] I say that in one of my lyrics. I say, “These niggas internet bang. / I ring your doorbell.” [Laughs]
DX: That’s on Knocs’ville?
Knoc-Turn’Al: That’s on “Been Here For Years” with Crooked I. Yeah, [Knocs’ville].
DX: Are you working on Detox? Are you going to be on there?
Knoc-Turn’Al: I did a couple songs for it. It just depends on what Dre picks. You never know the direction he’s going to go with it. He’s a perfectionist so if something’s just a little bit out of line, he’s not going to release it, he’s going to do something different with it. He’s scientific with the shit, that’s why he calls himself the Doctor. I remember I was in the studio with him one time and he had bought some new machine or whatever and he was messing with it for two days over a drum beat. I was like, “What is he doing?” And once he finally got that one sound right, it was on from there because he just kept doing it over the drum beat that he had. He just kept messing with the sounds and shit, but he was doing it for like two days. Then he was like, “I found it!” and put it inside the drum beat. But when his shit comes out, it’s always dope.
DX: Do you listen to the new artists coming out of California?
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah. I listen to them sometimes.
DX: Are you feeling anybody?
Knoc-Turn’Al: I’m kind of disappointed.
DX: Are you really?
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, they need to step it up.
DX: There’s some cats, though. Kendrick Lamar is really spitting. Odd Future is everywhere right now. Do you think about cats like that?
Knoc-Turn’Al: Yeah, they’re cool but I just feel like, when you dedicate yourself to something, you’re supposed to make sure it’s flawless. You always gonna have some haters out there. I’m not saying that they’re not doing a pretty good job. I’m just saying from what I’ve heard and what I’ve been seeing, you know like with Glasses [Malone] and a few other people, I think that they need to really focus because when we do this shit, we’ve got to take this shit over and that ain’t easy to do. So we’ve got to stay focused as a unit on the west coast is all I’m saying. I’m focused on what I need to be doing, but we need to be focused on the mission that we’re trying to accomplish which is take this shit over -- not individually but as a collective, you know what I mean?
DX: I want to take this back to that original quote that I started with: “Okay, I’ll admit I got lazy. / Cause I ain’t like those other suckas, / Dre paid me. / The reason why you know my name is cause Dre made me.” D.O.C. recently did an interview with HipHopDX and he was talking about how he’s not working with Dre or ghostwriting for Dre anymore and he’s basically saying the exact opposite of what you say in that line -- that he never got his royalties the way he felt like he should have for ghostwriting so much.
Knoc-Turn’Al: I don’t know why. I ain’t never have no problems.
DX: Right. Well, that’s the question: what made your relationship or your situation with Dre so different? I know you were introduced to him through a mutual friend and he was just on board the whole time. And throughout your career, you’ve never had a problem getting Dre beats, whereas you hear that story quite often. A lot of people had difficulty at least getting Dre in the studio because he was working on Detox. That never seemed to be the case with you.
Knoc-Turn’Al: Well maybe it’s because a lot of times when we were in the studio I wasn’t necessarily looking for a handout. I had money in my pocket. When he was ordering food, I wasn’t ordering food just because he was ordering food. I ordered food because I wanted to eat and I paid for it. If you’re sitting there ordering something every time he’s ordering something and he’s got to pay for everything...When we go out, I’ll go to the bar and get me a drink. He’ll go and get a bottle or whatever, but I’ll still go get me a drink at the bar. I guess it’s kind of like, when you have a lot of people around you that ain’t trying to pay their way and he sees somebody that’s trying to pay their way even though they ain’t got it like that, I guess he leaned a little bit towards me more. I don’t know. I can’t explain it but I know that I tried as least as possible to make him have to pay for anything. I wanted to show him I wasn’t there just because he’s got some money. I was there because I respected him and I respected him for the pioneer that he is for the west coast and I was glad to be there.
One time he got aggravated with me because I was working on my birthday in the studio with him for like 12 hours and somebody told him the next day, “You know it was Knoc’s birthday yesterday.” He was like, “What?! Nigga, why ain’t you tell me it was your birthday, Knoc Knoc?” I was like, “Nigga, what else could I be doing except writing songs with Dr. Dre on my birthday? What the fuck you talking about?” I think it was simple shit like that that made him say, “Okay, this nigga can roll.” Fuck my birthday. Shit, I’m writing songs with Dr. Dre! [Laughs] Shit. You know what I’m saying? This nigga crazy, talking about why I ain’t tell him it was my birthday. Nigga, I’m working! Fuck my birthday.
DX: I have one last question for you. Honestly, Knoc, I really appreciate this. I was looking forward to this interview just off the strength of how talented you are and how curious I’ve been about where you went. I think more than anything else, in order to really compete right now in a flooded music environment, you’ve got to be a talented person. Talent is always going to rise. You’ve never had that problem. You never had any gimmicks. You never had any stray little I’ma-pimp-this-one-thing-too-far. You were always a well rounded artist. But after nine years, almost ten years with exposure and being in music and all of this stuff -- what still surprises you about Hip Hop?
Knoc-Turn’Al: [Laughs] What always surprises me about Hip Hop is the songs that people listen to because you never expect that song to be a hit. But this is how it is in Hip Hop. You never know what’s going to be a hit until you put it out there. That’s what always surprises me. Like, who would think [DJ Webstar & Young B's] “Chicken noodle soup with a soda on a side” [song] would’ve been at the top of the charts? If you’re eating chicken noodle soup you ain’t eating it with a soda. You’re drinking water. If times are that bad, you ain’t got no damn soda. You’re drinking water. Might be tap water, not even bottled water, you never know. Or tap water with some ice, nigga, with your chicken noodle soup. [Laughs] It never ceases to amaze me how you never know what’s going to end up being a hit. So for all those people that think that they can’t do it and people tell you that you’re song ain’t [hot], just think about how that song was a hit.