I read that Todd Williams, aka Louie Knuxx, believes he’s now making the finest music of his career, which goes against the commonly held view that, with time, comes the general drying up of artistic ideas. In a few months, this hip hop star plans to release his second album of the year (the first being Tiny Warm Hearts), not a bad tally for someone who’d fairly recently considered quitting music for good.
I ask Todd, 36, how he accounts for his bountiful creative burst and he says he’s not entirely sure, but probably puts it down to age and maturity. There’s certainly a wisdom to both his verse and his vibe, somewhat of a tearaway in his youth (we’ll get to that later), Todd’s life and lyrics now veer more towards love than loathe.
“I’m not afraid of change,” he says. “My approach has always been healthy. I don’t place restrictions on myself or try to pander to my audience. I just enjoy it. My enjoyment of the process is paramount, and what happens afterwards doesn’t matter. I still treat it like a hobby. I’m not in it to make money.”
He’s not kidding about that — the rapper famously releases his recordings for free, which is, I say, a very noble approach.
“Well, I download all my music for free! It’s hilarious when you see artists moaning about people not paying for music when everyone downloads TV shows, movies and music. Also, people I know don’t have the means to purchase music online – for a long time, I didn’t have a credit card either. I remember what that’s like. I would rather my work be accessible to everybody, and if they have the means they have the option to pay. Then it’s up to them.”
There are tasters of what to expect via links on the Louie Knuxx Facebook page, but as of yet, there’s no set date for the next album’s release. For now, Todd’s busy with another project in his birthplace of New Plymouth, working at a Taranaki youth offenders home where he once did a stretch. I ask if it’s changed much since he was last there.
“Yeah, heaps — we just used to chop wood all day!”
Now, the boys enrol in programs which see them learn bush skills, the haka and wood carving, followed by a meeting with loved ones at a marae so their families “can see them in a new light”.
The hip hop artist has previously also served as the youth development manager at Nga Rangatahi Toa, a creative arts institute in south Auckland for troubled kids. Todd’s turbulent past certainly puts him in the perfect position to positively influence misguided youth, but, I wonder, is he learning anything from the boys?
“Absolutely. It’s hard to remember all of my experiences, it’s foggy. I was doing a lot of drugs so that didn’t help, but seeing their experiences up close, it’s visceral. It makes me reflect upon my own past. It’s strange. I feel very deeply for them and it’s emotional for me to see what they’re going through. They are all trapped in the system. They are repeatedly being sent to juvenile lock-ups. I see them and I know they don’t want to be where they are, but they don’t have any idea how not to be. And I imagine that is how I was.”
Does it bring some form of closure?
“No, I think I had closure on all that stuff ages ago. I’ve left it behind me. My life is pretty easy. It’s comfortable and safe and I guess that’s what’s those boys need. It’s what we offer them in this period of their lives.”
There’s a music studio at the home, and while working in south Auckland, Todd also embarked upon a range of creative projects with his charges. Troubled souls are often the most talented.
“Many kids that are kicked out of school don’t fit into the system for many reasons. They are adventurous, creative, and they think differently. I’m often drawn to that. The mischief. You meet them, often identifying their skills and talents within 30 seconds, but no one has ever told them that they are good at something. We interviewed a boy recently before he enrolled in the program, and he was so articulate. We asked him what he wanted to do it and he said that he will probably be a roadworker. We told him he was an academic — not that there is anything wrong with being a roadworker — but this kid had something, yet no one had ever taken the time to identify what it is.”
Why is that?
“Because the system is broken. In this boy’s case there were way deeper issues which hadn’t been addressed. There was deep-seated hurt and once in the system there wasn’t any care taken to nurture or foster any talent that he had. These boys need an escape and that is usually found in building self-worth. Letting them know that they have something to contribute. I think the best approach is to let them know that they matter.”