I’m waiting at a table at Papaya Vietnamese Café in Renton Landing when Keyboard Kid walks in carrying a Gucci diaper bag and wearing Yeezy Boosts, his wife Tasha and 9-month-old daughter Zara in tow. Before we can even talk, it’s clear he exudes the #based idea at all times.
What is based? To answer means diving into Keyboard Kid’s origins. The alias of South Seattle native Gregory Phillips, Jr., Keyboard Kid started making beats when he got out of high school in ’05. For that first year, he felt he was in that same limbo most kids feel around that time—not knowing what to do with himself. He’d spend a lot of time driving around, getting stoned, and listening to ambient music. Eventually he’d start making beats as a hobby.
“No one really knew that I even made beats. Me and Tasha, we’ve been together since high school. Back then she was like, ‘What are you doing? Get off the damn computer!’ ” he laughs. “I’d be at her house, on the computer all day, and she’d be like, ‘Why’d you even come over here?’ ”
“Glad he didn’t listen to me,” Tasha adds with a grin.
At one point Phillips tried to start a hip-hop crew called From the Depth of the Gifted, but his friend wanted to take it in a spoken-word direction while Phillips wanted to focus on production. Phillips eventually moved to Dallas to live with his dad for a bit while he figured out what to do. That’s when he heard “Vans” by The Pack. He loved the beat and thought he could make something like it. Impulsively, he messaged individual members of The Pack on Myspace, which included a young Lil B. To Phillips’ surprise, Lil B responded enthusiastically and asked for more beats. Phillips obliged and Lil B replied, “These are fucking incredible.”
The two talked on the phone for almost three hours, Phillips says, while Lil B outlined his thoughts on going solo and starting a movement called “based.” “At the time, I didn’t know what based was,” Phillips says. “I was like, ‘Yo, what’s based?’ [Lil B] said, ‘Basically it’s being positive and doing your own thing.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, I could rock with that. I’m all about that.’ ”
The two traded ideas on how to expand the Based World. Phillips threw out the idea of infusing ambient music with rap, which Lil B loved. While lots of hip-hop was hyped up at the time, they wanted to mellow it out. The idea caught on and Lil B, The Based God, became not just Internet famous but a national sensation, thanks to his prolific output and positive aesthetic. The sound grew as they connected with like-minded producers, like cloud rap icon Clams Casino. Clams just released his debut solo record, 32 Levels, last month and it went to the top of Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart. Phillips co-produced the single “Witness,” which also features Lil B. It was also one of the first times he and B recorded in the same studio, most of their work being done on the Internet. Still, Phillips and B have become close friends over the years, and B was even at Phillips’ wedding.
Lil B is far from the only artist to feature a Keyboard Kid production. He’s worked with rappers like Kool A.D., Slug Christ, Heems (formerly of Das Racist), and countless others. Phillips is constantly trying to push himself and support new talent, not giving into what’s hot or trending. “I’m trying to do something different,” he says. “What’s the point of me doing the same thing everyone else is doing? That makes no sense. There’s not gonna be another Jay Z, there’s not gonna be another Nas, why would I try to create one?”
While his first love is producing, he does rap on occasion. He says it’s engrained into who he is, and that many don’t know that he’s actually put out a few releases with himself on the mic, like his latest, DUALGODFLOW04’. It’s something he’s experimenting with now, to be fleshed out even more later. “I wanna be Kanye to Lil B,” he says. “Once Lil B’s gotten to his Jay Z status, then I’ll do more of my own rapping-type thing.”
Keyboard Kid’s two releases this past month give an idea of the spectrum he works in both as a producer and a solo artist with a singular vision.
Swag Toof x Keyboard Kid
Family Over Everything IV
The members of New York-based duo Swag Toof pride themselves on their eccentricities. Their flows on FOE IV are manic—they combine family values with the occult. On “HOLY WATER,” their boasts range from getting their nails painted by their daughters to drinking double cups of holy water. Keyboard Kid is an apt producer to match their unusual energy, not just because of his based philosophy, but for the adventurousness of his beats. The snare snaps offer an entry point for trap fans, but his airy synthesizer textures open space for Swag Toof to take their melodic raps anywhere they want. It’s a classic mixtape affair with a booming voice straight out of a horror-movie trailer hyping up the duo at the top of every track.
In this tape’s description on Bandcamp, Keyboard Kid says he made it for “the people” so they can keep from feeling numb and “stay vigilant and stay positive and most of all stay together.” It’s a celebration of music—celebration being something that’s hard to think about in these tumultuous times. Six of the eight tracks are freestyles, Keyboard Kid at his truest and purest. On “I Heart Music” he repeats, “I love this shit, I wake up in the morning and I make these hits.” It’s a simple sentiment, yet impactful. Likewise, the beats feel impulsive and triumphant. They hit the hazy high marks of his back catalog and productions he’s done for Lil B with mid-tempo rhythms and ever-changing riffs.
“When you’re chasing your dreams, it comes with a cost,” he warns on “Now I Know.” Being based doesn’t mean never having to cope with dark thoughts. He meditates on losing friends and trying to maintain honor in an industry that he paints as filled with trash-talking, but that’s not where it ends. He’s always looking for a greater lesson; something to hold on to. That’s an important idea, not just for understanding Keyboard Kid or the based movement, but for getting through every day.