The story of Jamaican-born, Birmingham-raised singer-songwriter/producer Knox Brown is a true tale of adaption and perseverance. Developing a passion for music once he had reached these shores, Know Brown—particularly over the last three years—has built up a steady reputation within the industry, writing and producing for a long list of top-tier acts on both sides of the Atlantic. Recently popping up with a helping hand on Wretch 32's heartfelt new single, "All A Dream", other impressive names on his songwriting and production CV include such stars as Emeli Sandé, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige. Now poised to make the tricky step forward from playing the background and side for so long, Brown intends to be up front and centre stage. With his debut EP, Searching, set to land on August 5, Complex caught up with the 0121 producer for an open and frank discussion on identity and artistry.
You're always working on something by the sounds of it. With the EP coming, what else are you currently busy with?
The EP's out on August 5 and it's up for pre-order right now. Other than that, I'm just trying to finish the album and I've been working on other people's projects. But my stuff, that's currently at the forefront of my focus.
Slightly off-topic here, but, as an immigrant yourself who's now a British Citizen, what are your thoughts on Brexit and what does it mean to you?
It's weird because I only got citizenship last year and I only got my British passport this year, so the whole thing happening now is really weird timing. I'm from Jamaica, I was born there, and my mum and dad decided to come to England in 2000 because my mum wanted to study at university and give us a better life. She used up half of her savings and migrated over; she came in May and we followed in June. When I came here, it was a strange experience. What was tough for me was just the adjusting—identifying with people was difficult for me, but I eventually eased into it.
Music helped me to have conversations with people I'd never usually talk to.
Were you already interested in music when you came over?
Nah, not really. Music isn't really compulsory in Jamaica, as a subject. I didn't have a piano at home or any musical instruments, except for like toys. Some people can maybe afford a guitar if they're lucky, so when I came here and saw real pianos and drum kits, you can imagine I was like "Wow!"
What helped you adjust to living in the UK? There's quite a sizeable Jamaican community in Birmingham—did that help?
I think it was music you now. At school, I could be hanging around with the guys that played guitar and then with the man that spat bars to garage and grime. That's really why my style is so different to the people I'm around—even today. Music helped me to have conversations with people I'd never usually talk to.
What was your first entry into making music?
I used to rap. In year 9, we all started rapping [laughs]. There was a studio at my school where we used to sneak in, and I'd be in there messing around on Cubase and working out the mixing desk, so it was engineering at first then gradually moving into production.
You've built up quite an extensive CV in terms of production and songwriting, and in such a short space of time. How do you react when things pop up and it's a big deal?
A couple things are in the pipeline right now as well! I guess I do get really excited, but I find a way to hold it down. I try to think about the long term and how it could affect or help my career. That's how I look at it.
I remember seeing a while back when you popped up with Timbaland. We never did get the full story on how that all came about...
That was through my friend at Warner/Chappell in LA. I thought he was gonna take me to a strip club or something! [Laughs] It was mad: we just pulled up to the studio and, next thing I know, it was Timbaland. He had played Timbaland my beats previously, and Tim had wanted to meet me as well. We were just vibin', bro, playing beats back and forth. I don't really get star-struck like that, but I was at first. It took me a while to get calm. I was still confident, though, and I think you have to maintain that bit of confidence in this game.
There's been lot of inside-industry acclaim on your side early on and you've had to build a fanbase up from that, as opposed to the other way around. Do you prefer it this way?
I'm not entirely sure. Everyone's got a different path, man. I think, when the album's done, I'll feel like I can focus more on right now. I'm not even thinking about stuff that's not to do with the music. That stuff will come as well, and when it does, I'll forget that I didn't even have a following early on—it's really not that important to me now.
The features on your Searching EP look like they were carefully selected, with Kojey Radical, Anderson .Paak and BJ The Chicago Kid all making an appearance. You meet somewhere in the middle of their styles; I can imagine you made some great stuff with those guys.
Funny thing is that it was all organic. With Anderson .Paak, it happened before he blew up and jumped on the Compton album. My label were like, "Woah! How did you get this? You saw into the future with that one." But, really, I just saw him on YouTube and knew he was sick. I wanted him on the EP, so I spoke to him on the phone, explained the concept and, two days later, he laid a verse and sent it back.
Seeing the way Anderson has blown up in such a short space of time, what do you think he's done right and what do you think you can take from that?
I think he's just focused on the music and hasn't done anything that sounds forced. He's just giving the world a piece of himself, and that's the best thing you can do. When people pick up on you through the bullshit, that's when it can work. With me, I'm very versatile so I think I can work better internationally. But at the same time, I still think there's a place for me in the UK. Music is always changing.