If you’re tuned in to the Milwaukee music scene, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen or heard Rob Knapp. He’s the soulful featuring voice on Mic Kellogg’s ‘Moon N’ Back’ and Rahn Harper’s ‘My Oh My’. He’s the absolute conveyor of energy performing alongside Mic Kellogg. More than anything, he’s something very special in his own right. He’s been easy to miss with a lack of releases (none). Today, he is finally changing that with his first single, ‘Paradise’, a self-produced cut perfect for the end of summer.
I sat down with Rob in order to get to know a promised-to-be star just as he gets his start.
What was your musical upbringing like?
My upbringing was old school. I look at myself as an old soul. I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, The Temptations. My parents would always play it. That’s the kind of music they liked. I actually didn’t start listening to rap until I was 16 or 17, just because it wasn’t really around. The first rap album I ever owned was 'Graduation' by Kanye West. I had heard some rap before but that was the first time I owned a physical copy and knew all of the lyrics to all of the songs. After I started listening to Kanye, I did my homework. I have two older sisters, they would always play Destiny’s Child, and I don’t know, just vocalists, more or less. My upbringing was all musical. My dad was in the church band. He was the drummer. My mom was in the church choir; that’s how they met. Music’s just always been a part of my family for as long as I can remember.
As far as more modern inspirations, I like Chance the Rapper a lot. One thing I like about him is he doesn’t have a fear of being corny sometimes, and that’s the kind of person that I am. I respect him for being open about his faith in his music. That’s something that I’m trying to be as well. He changed the game as far as independent music, and as far as content... and just everything.
But, to be honest, I haven’t been listening a lot of mainstream music, because I’ve been so focused on listening to my music and making music with other artists here in Milwaukee. I’m more plugged in to the Milwaukee music scene than I am to the broader music scene. I love Pizzle’s album that just came out. Mike Regal’s album that just came out was super cold. Lucien Parker from Minneapolis just dropped Black Sheep, which I love. And so that’s kind of the music that I’ve been into recently, and I’m more so getting inspiration from my peers than I am from my idols in a way.
Beyond that, I just graduated from UWM as an acting major. From that, I was able to go to one of the original and best Shakespearean companies in America. It’s founded by Tina Packer and it’s in Lenox, Massachusetts. They came to UWM to do a weekend sort of thing and I liked it so much that I wanted to spend the summer doing it. Me and 9 or 10 of my other UWM classmates went to Massachusetts and studied Shakespeare with them. I wasn’t really familiar with Shakespeare before that. After I went there, it really opened my eyes to how many different things I could do. I went there and I learned a lot and I feel like I did pretty well.
Shakespeare is just something that previously wasn’t a part of my repertoire. Now having that and the experience it’s given me as far as acting is concerned… they really say ‘“if you can do Shakespeare, you can do anything”... and it’s so true. I’m finally realizing how much it helps you grasp a character.
You just started producing, from what I understand.
Yes. I was in a bit of a stand still for a while. I had all these ideas; I felt like I was a talented enough writer, performer, songwriter, etc., but I didn’t have any music, because I didn’t have any beats. I was realizing how difficult it is to find and get producers to work with you, or get good beats that are yours, that aren’t someone else's. For the longest time when I was growing up, I would just take instrumentals and rap over them, but it came to a time that I wanted something of my own. I realized that if I wanted to be fed, I had to start feeding myself.
Carson (Mic Kellogg) has been huge and instrumental in helping me learn. I use the same program as him, Maschine. He’s helped speed up my learning curve on that quite a bit. My first beat was February but I didn’t really start making any sort of beats worth anything until March or April and it’s actually picked up pretty quickly. A lot of the stuff I’m working on now is leaps and bounds above what I was doing like 2 months ago. I’m excited to see where that can take me, even though I was never planning to be a producer by trade, it just kind of came out of necessity.
Do you think your technical training in music helps you as far as producing?
It definitely helps me with constructing music, because I understand what you need for a verse as opposed to what you need for a chorus, and I understand what its supposed to feel like, more than anything else. When that chorus hits, I understand how that’s supposed to hit you in your soul, if that makes any sense. You have to get a certain feeling from it. Until it feels right, I’ll either keep adding or keep subtracting. I’ve just been around music for so long and I feel like I’ve heard everything. Obviously there’s more to learn and more to do, but it’s just different variations of other things.
It’s all a learning process, I’m brand new at this. It’s a lot harder process - going from making the beat, writing the song, putting it all together. I’ve written many songs and I’ve made some beats, but putting those together and composing a composition that has levels, dynamics… that’s something I’m still very much learning to do. Mic Kellogg is really a visionary when it comes to that. He’s given me a lot of tips and pointers on how to make a full composition of music, which is what I want. I don’t want to make tracks, I want to make songs.
Just starting your solo career, how do you see your approach to the business side of music? There’s so much more that goes into it than just making music.
To be honest, that’s probably been one of the biggest struggling for me: figuring out the business aspect of it. I just love music, I love performance. That’s what gets me up and that’s what I eat, breathe and sleep. Moving forward, this first project or at least these first couple of songs I’m going to drop are just going to be an introduction to me. I really feel like music is a gateway to the person that’s performing it. I just want people to learn about me, my environment, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that I have. I want to voice things that other people might believe in, might think, might learn from, but they might not want to voice it themselves.
I have no problem sending in the fire, being exposed, being vulnerable. From vulnerability you find strength, and that’s the message that I want to send to everybody. I don’t care if people find me soft. If Drake sings and raps, people think it’s soft or whatever; I couldn’t care less. Call me soft, call me whatever, but I’m a living breathing human being that goes through a gamut of emotions on an everyday basis, and everyone else does too. I want people to know that it’s okay to be angry, to be sad, to be happy, to turn up. It’s okay to do all of those things and realize that they’re all a part of you, and to accept all of those things whether they’re positive or negative.
Sometimes my music is me learning from experience and being like, “I’m gonna let them know about the things I’ve learned lately, the things I’m seeing, the ideas that I’m having lately". Because they’re always different from the previous month, the previous year, the experience, everything is constantly changing.
I think that’s what cool about music now is that you can put out music a lot faster if you’re an independent. If I have an idea and I make it and put it together, I can put it out and people can hear it. I want people to be in on the process, in on who I am. When they listen to my music, I want them to get a greater understanding of me as a human.
What expectations or goals do you have for yourself within the next year or so?
I haven’t released anything, ever. So honestly my only expectation and goal is to release something. To get something to the point where I like it enough to release it, because it’s been such a long time coming and I’ve been trying to wait until I’ve gotten my sound exactly where I want it before I release anything.
If I can release a couple singles and like a small EP this year, I would be extremely excited. I don’t have any expectations as far as shows or numbers or anything like that. I just want to get my music out there and let people listen to it. I’m looking forward to getting feedback to gauge where I’m at.
The words that Knapp speaks are highlighted by a bit of a glow, lots of smiles and laughs, and a real tangible positive aroma; he is truthfully walking the walk, his positive attitude accentuated by his positive energy. Catch him tomorrow night at Company Brewing for ‘MOONWALKER’, a tribute to Michael Jackson. Each artist is going to do some of their own songs and then an MJ tribute afterwards.
Michael Jackson is my biggest inspiration. If there’s one person I want to be, it’s MJ. For the simple fact that his music reaches lots of people, even with all the allegations and things that have gone wrong in his life, his music still sends a positive message. He was really about bringing people together and spreading positive thoughts and attitudes to a world that is constantly dark. For 3 minutes and 30 seconds (or however long the song is) - if you can go to a happy place and feel a bit better about your day, I’m glad to do that. That’s what music does for me.