Kendall Tucker, better known as 14KT, is a beatmaker that was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan. For him, it all began in a church choir. From there, he joined forces with 6 other guys (Buff1, Grand Champ, Sunny Star, Texture, Vital, and DJ Haircut) to form the MI hip hop group, Athletic Mic League, in the early 90s. All while still attending high school. He started out as an emcee in the group, and eventually took it upon himself to flip jazz & soul records to make beats. Due to the artists of the group branching out with solo work (Buff1‘s “There’s Only One“, DJ Haircut aka Mayer Hawthorne‘s “A Strange Arrangement“, and of course 14KT’s doing his thing), many hip hop heads thought that they broke up (which is false).
In 2008, 14KT won the Detroit Red Bull Big Tune Beat Battle. Also that year, he released “The Golden Hour” soundtrack (with A-Side Worldwide), which is said to be the soundtrack to his life. And in 2009, he dropped “Nowalataz” for free download – which is a collection of Dilla-donuts inspired beats that he made in 2006. And if you were at SXSW last week, you might’ve seen KT drop beats between sets. I know he’s a busy guy, so I really appreciated him taking the time to do the interview with me. I think that 14KT is a real solid/consistant producer, and he shouldn’t be slept on. So check out the interview I had with him…
Tiffology: How did you first get turned onto hip hop?
14KT: I got into Hiphop around 88′..Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy, Special Ed, EPMD. At the time, if there were parental advisory stickers on tapes cause of artists like Ice-T and N.W.A, so I had to dub whatever tapes I could get my hands on cause I was too young to buy them. MC Lyte was the first tape I actually owned.
Tiffology: Who or what inspired you to start making beats? And when did that begin?
KT: Hip-hop inspired me to start making beats. I started experimenting with rhyming in 93-94 and I wanted to rap over instrumentals, but I was hard to get instrumentals so I would do the “pause/play/record” method to create the instrumentals on cassette tapes. I started doing that in like 95′, then I got a computer in the house in 96′ and got up on Cool Edit Pro and use that until this day.
Tiffology: I understand the reasoning behind the KT (initials of your name), but what’s the significance of the 14?
KT: The name is basically like my “street ball” name. I got it from playing basketball. My favorite number was 14. My friends started putting one and one together and it made sense. That became my emcee name as well.
Tiffology: If you can remember, what was the first record that you flipped or sampled from? If you can’t remember, what’s an album that you possess, maybe a favorite, that you think people should listen to?
KT: I can’t remember the first record I flipped, but a favorite album that I think people should listen to is Stevie Wonder “Songs in the Key of Life”. Changed my life.
Tiffology: RANDOM – Top 3 favorite places to eat in Michigan. And also describe the worst meal you ever had on tour.
KT: 1. Buffalo Wild Wings
2. Noodles N Company
3. Lafayette Coney Island
I actually haven’t had a worst meal on tour. I guess the worst meal would be not having a meal at all!
Tiffology: Where do you start when making a beat? Is there a specific formula that you begin with?
KT: As my brother Buff1 says, “The Formula is not having a formula”. Most of the time, it starts with listening to records and getting inspiration from them. Sometimes I start with the idea in my head, then I beatbox it and record it on the microphone. Then I recreate what I beatboxed. Other times, I might start with the drum pattern and then layer instruments or chop a sample to it. Endlessly possibilities.
Tiffology: You started out in Athletic Mic League over a decade ago. How’d you all get together?
KT: We all basically met and started hanging out at Huron High School. We were all friends that had a love for Hiphop music and playing sports. We started rhyming in my man Tres Styles basement for fun. Naturally it evolved into a Hip-Hop group.
Tiffology: Being that you all branched out with your solo projects, and the last group album was 2004’s “Jungle Gym Jungle”, people initially thought that the group broke up. I read that a new album is in the works. What can you tell us about that?
KT: Yep! NEW AML! ha! We NEVER broke up. NEVER will. We’re currently throwing around ideas for the new Athletic Mic League project. I have a few song ideas, but nothing etched in stone yet. I personally think we set the bar high for ourselves so it’s been kinda difficult to make tracks, but we at it though!
Tiffology: RANDOM – Aside from music, what else do you cherish?
KT: Aside from music, I cherish my family..friends..and my relationship with God. Playing with my little nephew and nieces. The simple things in my life I guess..ha
Tiffology: Before you released “The Golden Hour”, you thought about quitting. What made you come to that point and what made you stay?
KT: Up to the point of working on the project, I would always reflect back on my career. There were so many missed opportunities, mistakes, lost money, lost time, and struggles that I just felt like giving up being an artist on a serious platform. I prayed about it and then started working on “The Golden Hour”, which is basically like a diary of my thoughts and how I felt at the time. What made me stay is the impact that the project had on me after it was released. So many stories people shared with me about how the album related to their life and how it became a sense of therapy for me. I knew that I had to keep making music.
Tiffology: Speaking of “The Golden Hour”, you did a little singing on that, right? I know that you sang in a church choir when you were younger, but do you still generally enjoy singing now that you’re older? Or is it something you keep behind closed doors, but chose to sing on the album for the heck of it?
KT: (laughing) I am NO singer by way! Yeah, I did a little singing on a track called “Illustrious”. That song was dedicated to God so when I sung it, not only did I sing for the heck of it, but I wasn’t worried about criticism or anything cause that song wasn’t made for criticism. It was made to thank God for him blessing me so I wanted to sing! Besides singing in the church choir, which I still do today, I don’t really sing too often.
Tiffology: In 2009, you dropped “Nowalataz” for free. What was the difference between the two albums? And what was the concept behind “Nowalataz”?
KT: Yeah, “Nowalataz” was like my tribute album to my favorite producer, J Dilla. I actually had much of the work done in 06′, around the time Dilla passed. I was inspired by his work on “Donuts” so I just messed around a made beats influenced by that style. I never intended on putting the project out because I didnt want people thinking I was biting Dilla or capitalizing off his style. 3 years later, I stumbled upon the project on my hard drive and realized that those beats I made actually captured a time in my life that I wanted to document as an artist and person. So I decided to put it out. I made it free just cause I just wanted people to hear it and enjoy it. No strings attached. I named it “Nowalataz” because “Now or Laters” was always a favorite fun candy of mine when I was a kid and around 06′ I started eating them again alot so it was only right to name the album that.
Tiffology: RANDOM – Is there a specific bible verse(s) that you try to live by?
KT: Yeah definitely, I actually have a few for different reasons, but
II Corinthians 12: 9-10
I’ll stop there.. (laughing)
Tiffology: As far as equipment and software, what do you use?
KT: Adobe Audition. Fantom. a bunch of VST’s. Turntables. Record. Bass guitar. Percussion instruments.
Tiffology: Describe what your studio, or where you make beats at, looks like…
KT: Well, im about to move my studio, but its a place called “The IS”. That stands for the “Inspiration Source”. Its a room full of records and thousands of pictures that covers each wall in the room.
Tiffology: During my interview with Dibia$e in November, we briefly mentioned the album that you two are collaborating on. What’s the status of that now?
KT: Yeaaah! Its still in the works, but we’ve collaborated on at least 7-8 tracks. Not sure how many we’re aiming for, we’re just vibing off each other right now. No release date or anything.
Tiffology: In 2008, you won the Red Bull beat battle in Detroit. How was that whole experience?
KT: It was a great experience. That was my first official beat battle, so to win it and be representing a city known for crazy beat makers was a blessing! I learned alot from building with the other producers in the battle and thats where me and producer Dibiase actually made our first joint “Going Fine”. He was teaching me how to use a software program called Reason and we made that. That was the joint that started us working on a project together so it was a wild experience.
Tiffology: Tell us about Iamabeenie and “The Opposite of Pink”.
KT: Iamabeenie is a group consisting of three brothers who love music and love family and want to teach stories through their music. “The Opposite of Pink” is one of a series of albums that they finished. This project captures the brothers really just vibing out as musicians learning to make music together. Its very melodic and jazz influenced with a touch of Hip-hop.
Tiffology: RANDOM – This might be a little hard, but if you can, describe your sound as if it were a scenery. Basically, give us a mental picture to put to the sound.
KT: Thats really hard to do cause there’s different sounds that I have! I guess I would say my sound is scenery! Based on “The Golden Hour” and “Nowalataz”, they basically sound like opening up a photo album full of snippets of pictures of different moments..moments of love..sex..tears..giggles..feeling like a King..Sunsets..purple spaceships..women..etc.. (laughing)
Tiffology: Is there anything else that you’re working on that we should know about?
KT: I’m working on an album with an emcee named Othello. He is a GREAT brother and I think that he has the energy to make change. I’m also working on a New Wave album with Mayer Hawthorne. Also, another 14KT solo album that you mentioned earlier entitled “Iamabeenie: The Opposite of Pink”. There’s various projects in between as well.
Tiffology: If you could make a beat album for any artist or group, who would it/they be and why?
KT: Aiming high, probably Stevie Wonder, Andre 3000, Madlib, J Dilla, Jay Electronica, Coultrain, AB, or Black Thought because they are amazing artists that would turn the album into a monumental work of art!
Tiffology: When you go on tour, is there anything in specific that you always bring with you from home?
KT: My Athletic Mic League t-shirt. 98% of the time that’s with me.
Tiffology: RANDOM – Can you play any instruments? Are there any instruments you’d like to learn?
KT: I’m not a master of any instrument, but I can keys and bass a little bit. I dream of playing Trumpet, but I don’t think ill get to that, lol.
Tiffology: As far as hip hop now, what do you feel is missing?
KT: I feel like Hip-hop is missing more postiveness and knowledge. I think cats are getting more creative with the sounds, flows, and styles, but there’s not a lot of emcees and art that’s educating others like there used to. Of course, its hard to form an opinion of Hip-hop as a whole because I can only speak on what I know, but I used to learn alot of from Hip-hop and Hip-Hop records about life, but I haven’t heard anything that really challenged me to learn in a minute..you know?
Tiffology: Before we end this, what do you want the world to know about 14KT?
KT: God is good and I’m out here making music to show you all what I mean.
Tiffology: Shoutouts, advice, or last words?
KT: Shouts to you for taking time to interview me. Shouts to my whole A-Side Worldwide family.
Shouts to everybody in Michigan hustling from day to day. Keep going cause you’re breakthrough is almost here. Celebrate life!
14KT – “Nowalataz” LP
14KT & Rhettmatic – “Damm U” mix (beats by 14kt, mixed by Rhett)
14KT – “The Golden Hour” (Soundtrack) (iTunes)