I first heard KanKick on the classic DJ Babu (Beat Junkies, Dilated Peoples) “Comprehension” mixtape (dubbed Maxell cassette, photocopied j-card and handwritten labels.) After laying down one of the hardest sessions of beatjuggling and cutting ever documented, the turntablist Babu graciously opened up the full B-side for his LA underground friends to get on with some breezy, boombap hiphop. I was immediately struck by the strong melody and giant swing of the production, staples of the young Californian beatmaker KanKick’s work.
Excerpt from Side B of DJ Babu “Comprehension” mixtape (1994):
“Comprehension” came out in 1994, but i don’t think i copped it until ’95. Major labels, ready to declare HipHop dead (at their own hand), were trying to squeeze the last acidic droplets out of ‘gangsta rap,’ while independent hiphop was just gelling into a movement. Although he ran with the Alkaholiks, and with Madlib & The Lootpack, KanKick kept a low profile. Despite regular internet searches, I couldn’t find any more of his work. Time marched on, and I chalked KanKick up as a talented artist who never got his break.
Six long years later, in 2001, KanKick popped his head out of nowhere and released a double Lp solo album, “From Artz Unknown.” The appropriately titled record featured polished production from KanKick and a host of Californian indie MCs. It’s a great album, and one of the more complete, cohesive, and professional indie hiphop records of the time. Despite the quality and my fandom, the record didn’t make much of an impact. Released on fellow producer Mums The Word’s label Smoggy Days, and featuring largely unknown rappers (Planet Asia and Phil Da Agony were highest profiled at the time,) I suspect distribution was not strong. [shoutout to Pittsburgh DJ J.Malls for stocking it at record shop, Brave New World, at the time!] So back into obscurity KanKick went.
Kan Kick “Finer Things (Feat. Dr. Oop)” from From Artz Unknown (2001):
In 2002, Kankick resurfaced again as the producer for the group Mad Men, with MCs Declaime (Dudley Perkins) and Poppy. Their album “On Arrival” dropped on the excellent German label Hum Drums. The world at large was in love with Eminem, 50 Cent, and Jay-Z. The independent HipHop movement seemed fractured between the growing profile of Rhymesayers, Anticon, & “Nerdhop”, and the more orthodox “golden era” artists, tired of van-tours, increasingly hungry to score an R&B-hooked crossover hit. It was a desperate time, and everybody was cutthroat serious. By contrast, “On Arrival” was loose and silly, playful like early Pharcyde, or even Slick Rick & Biz Markie. Kankick’s production was lo-fi, with samples chopped in an almost improvisational style, and EQ’d to be sloppy. Declaime & Poppy piled on with their falsetto voices and stream of consciousness rhymes. Where “From Artz Unknown” was under-heard and under-appreciated, people I played “On Arrival” for seemed actively put-off. KanKick and crew were on their own trip, heads weren’t ready. so back into obscurity Kankick went.
Mad Men “Kanstructivist” from On Arrival (2002):
Another three year wait was rewarded with a pair of 12″ releases, 2004’s Acid Massive Musical on Up Above Records, a high profile west coast indie label. The music was proof that KanKick had never stepped away. The fully instrumental project featured some of his best beats yet. They lived as songs on their own, without the promise or threat of an MC. It was a cleaner, more precise sound which brought clarity and a new delicateness to his melodies, but still featured that deep swing and the aggressive snap of his snares. The project seemed to sell well too, and quickly went out of print. Still, KanKick’s name didn’t ring out like other producers. Madlib, J Dilla, and even 9th Wonder were being heralded in tones previously reserved for DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Dr. Dre, but, for whatever reason, maybe even by his own design, the hype machine let KanKick be.
Kan Kick “Always Groovin On The Ship In the Sea” from Acid Massive Musical Part 2 (2004)
This is how KanKick’s career has gone. While his friend and contemporary Madlib became a household name, spicing up Cartoon Network alongside the Stones Throw Records crew, KanKick remains a soft, persistent blip on the radar. He is driven, and he’ll probably never stop making music, but as much as that golden-era sound of dusty samples and ear-ringing drums sings to us, it’s a style of hiphop that is out of fashion, and slipping further into antiquity. As a result, his music is difficult to get a hold of. Even trying to actively follow his career for 20 years and working at a hiphop-centric record store, I usually haven’t known about a release until after-the-fact. KanKick quietly releases amazing collections of beats, sometimes pressing up CDs himself, and other times through appreciative fans at European labels, and he seems to time them for just after I’ve given up hope again.
Kan Kick “Dig The Tradition” from Traditional Heritage (2004):
Kan Kick “Serenade The Outdoor visitors” from Beautiful: Opus Of Love Deeper Than Flesh Vol. 2 (2009)
Fortunately, KanKick’s excellence and perseverance seem to be paying off in small dividends. Respect for his work steadily grows among the bedroom production/Soundcloud scene and, in the past few years, several of his mid-2000s albums have been reissued, some on vinyl for the first time. It’s still the realm of small independent labels, and exporting out of Germany, but it’s a testament to a man with a passion that KanKick is still making his brand of HipHop, and still converting lifelong fans.
[I edited this post after publishing it. I felt that i had simultaneously over-written and under-written the piece. I’m rusty, and i apologize. Above all else, I hope to turn some people onto KanKick, as he is one of my all-time favorite beatmakers. I got a little distracted by the notion of an underappreciated artist, whose output becomes difficult to keep tabs on, even for devout fans. Certainly, exposure and fame are not paramount measures of successful music, but they have an impact on the marketplace, which in turn effects access to the audience. I selfishly would like an endless stream of music from KanKick, and the more people who get on-board with that plan, the easier it will be.]