There is something refreshingly inviting about Sarratt Auditorium. When I first stepped into the space, the warm lights, red-brown brick walls lined with dark gray panels, and soft sound-dampening carpet immediately called to me. It was within this space that I first heard the talent that is Knowledge Xavier Brown. The night he was performing, I, then a naive and hopelessly eager freshman, happened to be in the audience. My friends had dragged me out to yet another on-campus showcase, and I was pleasantly surprised by the musical talent I had heard thus far. Knowledge stood out to me immediately because he was one of the few black artists performing that night.
From the first note that flowed freely from the saxophone he held in his hands, I knew I was witnessing something special. Every note seemed to emanate effortlessly from the instrument, guided by hands that must have spent hours perfecting every position. The cohesiveness of the group was undeniable, and the saxophone added more than just flair. It was the not-so-simple thread essential in forming the fabric that was the group's sound. Distinctive, yet wonderfully harmonious.
Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing Knowledge about his work as a musical artist, and his unique experience as a black artist on campus. Here's what he had to say.
Princess: I know whenever I perform, which is not often, there are a lot of feelings running through me. For one, you know, there's that feeling of vulnerability I always get. It's like you're about to share a piece of yourself with a group of strangers, and you have no idea how they'll react to that. Can you describe the emotions that run through you before each performance?
Knowledge: So everytime that I start to play, the first feeling for sure is fear. I'm always afraid, and it's never anxiety afraid, it's more of, what if they figure out that I'm not as good as I seem? Musicians can pick it out, that's like always the biggest fear, and then, while I'm playing and after I'm playing, it's like, the top three happiest moments that I get throughout the year.
You're really putting your energy into the universe, at its essence, that's what making music is. You're putting energy vibrations into a space, and other people are receiving them.
Princess: When you first realized that you liked playing the saxophone, and wanted to go out and perform for people, describe the practicing, and all the work you put in as an artist to perfect your craft.
Knowledge: A lot of people don't know this, but I started with the clarinet first. Well, I had played drums before that, in first and second grade, but I wasn't really serious about it.
In sixth grade, I actually got serious. It was the first time I got a clarinet. I had this teacher, her name was Ms. Vincent-Friend, and she was one of the best people I've ever met in my life. She basically would bully us into playing well. She was like, "Ya'll suck huh? Ya'll just not gonna get good?" And I just remember that she would support us, yet push us to be better.
The specific day, I came back home, we rented a clarinet at the time because we couldn't afford to buy it. And, I went to my mom like, "Mom, mom, mom look what I got!" and she was like "Go 'head, let me see you play something!" And the worst sound came out of that clarinet, it was like disgusting, and of course, my mom said, "It's alright!" I was like, "No, I'mma do this, I'mma do this." and just kept on going.
I ended up inadvertently practicing for about two and a half hours. That day, I didn't get the note that I wanted, my mom eventually was like "Alright, shut up, you've been squeaking for two and a half hours." But that was the sign, and once I started, ever since then, even when I wasn't playing in front of people, I just enjoyed the sound.
Playing instruments, that when it began, but, the affair with music- we used to be in cars on road trips singing, and just making noises. So, it's always been there.
Princess: You talk about being on road trips with your family and singing, and your mom. What hand do you feel, has your family played in shaping you as an artist?
Knowledge: One of the things that I can't do well, easily, is sing. It took a long time for me to be able to sing, whereas, everybody in my family can sing, like very well.
My aunt did some of the early vocal work for Common's album. And, before we found out the horrible stuff, my mother was looking to- it turns out R. Kelly is a distant cousin of ours, so they were trying to put us on.
Everyone in my family is really good. When I would try to sing, it just wouldn't come out the same, so I ended up having to figure out other ways that I could participate. Because I couldn't just be in the back like *insert weird gurgling noise* it's not cute. Beyond that, every single performance, even if my brother and sister weren't there, my mom was there. Throughout middle school, she dropped me off at every rehearsal. Once I got to high school, she was like "Nah, take the bus and the train." But my family was always very supportive of what I did.
Princess: My last question is, how do you feel Vanderbilt has given you a platform through which you can perform and put your music out there? Also, can you also describe the process of meeting the members of your group and the group getting together?
Knowledge: I'mma stir up the pot a little bit. I don't think Vanderbilt itself really gives a large platform to us as musicians. I think a lot of hard work is done by the students themselves to show what they can do. Yes, Vanderbilt gives us access to a studio, and they do allow for "Battle of the Bands," but really giving us venues to go out and perform- it's not as much support as I would like.
And then, even from the students. Especially, you would expect that Black Vandy would show up to more stuff, and be more supportive. Funny enough, they aren't. It's a lot of white students and mostly arts students, and like the rock climber students, you know, they love us.
But in general, I think we have to pull ourselves together. And that, in itself, is what makes the music community what it is. Not to say that Vanderbilt doesn't put in some effort, but it definitely can put in more.
As far as the group goes, we don't have any official names, but we have one or two. "Lackhoney and the Poo Bears," and "Lackhoney Honey and the Number Nine." Basically, I met Ali in Mosaic and after like an hour discussion about Kendrick Lamar and one of the classes that we had taken together he was like, "Ey bruh do you want to be my roommate?" That was a wrap.
Emmet, I had met Emmet on the bus to a jam session like the second or third week that I got here. He was like, this real skinny kid- a white dude that was like "Yeah no, I love jazz!" and I was like, that's crazy, a white guy who loves jazz! And, he got up and played, and it was some of the best music I've heard from somebody my age. It was wild.
Noah I had met through Emmet and Ali. I remember seeing him around and being like wow, that dude always has good style. He dresses very fashionably. I love it. And then Ben, "Beep," we call him Beep, I met him through Noah and Emmet. They all played together in the big band. And that's the homie, we're often disrupting rehearsals.
And then, of course, I can't forget the best Charlie...
I enjoyed hearing about Knowledge's creative processes, and the inspirations behind his artistry. What really stuck out to me was the need for more black students to go out and support black artists. I know it's easy to get caught up in the bubble that is our academic lives, searching for jobs, and whatever may be going on in our respective families, but I think it’s essential for us to make more of an effort to show out for our artists on campus. The type of talent that we have within BVU is truly phenomenal, and Knowledge is a shining example of that.