Chicago has made a name for itself in recent years as being the hotbed for brighter, optimistic hip-hop. In the past year alone, we have had projects from acts like Joey Purp, KAMI, Vic Mensa and of course the stadium-filling, festival-headlining titan Chance the Rapper as its ringleader. One thing all these artists have in common is that they’ve collaborated with one Knox Fortune.
On a project like ‘Coloring Book’ that involved collaborations with some of the biggest names in the industry (Kanye West, Jay Electronica, Justin Bieber), Knox Fortune‘s voice stood out at a pivotal moment on the funky banger ‘All Night’. A relatively unknown name at the time, the Chicago native has since established his name as one of the most in-demand players in his hometown. Whether it is applying his distinct scruff-funk production on Joey Purp‘s latest record or singing on KAMI‘s new project, Knox Fortune may not be a household name but he is the guy those household names turn to when they need a groove.
It has taken some time but with ‘Paradise’, Knox Fortune has stepped out of the singles game with an eleven track album. For the most part, it lays out the rule book that Knox abides by and follows it with fascinating (if slightly inconsistent) results.
‘Paradise’ is an album that sets Knox Fortune apart from any other Chicagoan with an exciting blend of obscure funk that would fit effortlessly on a Kaytranada album and the melodies of 1990s alt-pop. Over the course of its thirty-seven minute run time, Fortune is characteristically playful but in truth this album is disappointingly forgettable.
Opening with the entertaining ‘No Dancing’ in which a pitched vocal informs us of how they “don’t feel like dancing“, a lyric one can only dream is a reference to the Scissor Sisters, the project starts off in an unusual manner. The track doesn’t go anywhere despite its Madvillain-like instrumentals and a completely undeserved rapid drum climax, instead when it ends you can’t help but feel a little perplexed towards what you just heard. Was that the introduction? Was it just a tease to warm us up? What just happened? What the song did do was prepare the listener for what was to follow sonically with its creative use of sampling and ambitious electronic palette.
It is hard to fully enjoy an album that draws influences from some of the most exciting names in the industry when the record is so stop-start. ‘Stars’, for example, contains the groove of a Kaytranada song but the charisma of a recluse. It aims for the stars but ends up crashing in the atmosphere. Knox Fortune’s vocal stylings simply don’t suit the track and an extended guitar solo outro with strings isn’t warranted as what preceded it was so drab.
That’s not to say ‘Paradise’ is a bad album, far from it. Lead singles ‘Lil Thing’ and ’24 Hours’ are fantastic singles and show an incredible amount of potential. The latter contains a gritty groove chord progression as it’s lead melody; it slaps hard and if the album consisted of eleven ’24 Hours’, we could’ve been looking at one of this year’s stand-outs.
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Instead we have an album in a bit of denial. In all it’s summery imagery, it is mid-September and it’s really, really cold (at least it is here in the UK). Even on the gem ‘Lil Thing’, the chorus states, “it’s the summer, and I’m at it again”. It isn’t summer, why release it now then? Perhaps if Knox slept on this album for maybe five or six months, the album would fit more appropriately in the context of warmer months and sunnier days. Also, maybe the album might sound a bit better by then but that’s irrelevant.
Lyrically this album is incredibly problematic. Most of the eleven tracks at one point contain repeated lines, either on the hook or even to fill underdeveloped verses. While repetitive lyrics aren’t particularly bad, when they don’t have any depth the lyrics instead feel like they’re being shoved down your throat and throughout ‘Paradise’, there is too much filler preventing anyone from forming a personal connection to the album. If there was one exception to the repetition rule, it is on the Jeff Rosenstock-like ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ which snarls with a punk attitude. Here the kinetic drums and punk energy gives off a strong Thee Oh Sees vibe which is a welcomed break.
Apart from the Beck-esque ‘Help Myself’ where a funky bass-line is mixed with an elegant, gentle guitar lead or the penultimate track ‘Keep You Close’, a warm piano-centred single in the vein of Kevin Abstract or even Stormzy, Paradise just doesn’t try hard enough to make you want more of it. At least two-thirds of these songs aren’t fully realised, instead sounding like ideas of songs that you’d want to listen to. The lyrics offer very little substance and however much the production and instrumentation is owed to fellow Chicagoan Kanye West, the album doesn’t come anywhere near ‘The College Dropout’.
There is a lot of personality (and entertainment) in what is being said; Knox Fortune‘s vocal performance is different and there aren’t that many singers doing similar things to him but just because you are the only one doing something, that doesn’t mean that you are automatically great at it. Give it some time and Knox Fortune could easily be one of the most popular names coming out of Illinois but for now we’ll just have to wait.