Shasta Knox sits, slightly leaned forward, with her hands squeezed between her knees and ideas are pouring out her mouth: one after another.
There’s ideas for collaborations, different types of live shows, new ways to reach people through her music. They all come from the world swirling around her. Her family, her early influences, her friends, the places she’s lived, and even ex-boyfriends are all starting to make large impacts on the way she makes music — and the way she thinks about it.
“My mood is completely determined on what I’m creating. If I’m creating a lot and I’m productive, then everything else might be fucked up but it’s OK,” Knox said. “It’s a space that people don’t want to be in but it’s a space we all get to at some point. Like, OK, I have to motivate myself.”
Knox — better known around the Champaign-Urbana music scene by her emcee name “Klevah” — has never been more motivated than now. Last year was a launching pad for her success, unexpectedly propelled by a collaboration with fellow Champaign emcee T.R.U.T.H (Tiereny Reed) as Mother Nature and anchored by the re-release of her 2014 GLDN EP in November.
It was a year that flipped Champaign-Urbana hip-hop on its head and put the two artists on the radars of everyone paying attention to the scene. Mother Nature: the next big thing. Or at least the new big thing in Central Illinois.
But Klevah’s current run at music took a bit of rediscovery. Despite being surrounded by hip-hop since the time she learned to walk, her debut didn’t come until 2013’s The W8. She stayed active in poetry programs in high school and college, but it wasn’t until a brief stint studying in New York City where she regained a burning interest in hip-hop – an art form her father, Mikell “M.O.” Knox, introduced her to at a young age.
On The W8, there’s a sample in the opening track of Shasta that was recorded when she was only 3 years old. “My name is Shasta, I’m 3 years old/Time to rock the microphone,” young Klevah trickles out. It was her first time recording, and her father was determined to make sure it wasn’t her last.
Mikell would take Shasta to the studio with him when he would record with his Central Illinois trio M.A.D., letting his daughter discover rhythm on the studio mics. After, he’d play her Common, KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, and anything else he could find to continue the lessons at home.
“My dad really made it his goal to put his energy into me,” Klevah said. “I don’t really think he expected it to turn out like it did, but it did. He said I’ve already done everything that he wants me to do. I kind of exceeded what he did, but at the same time he’s the main person that’s pushing me.”
And 2016 has a lot going for it already. Mother Nature’s debut EP is one of the most highly anticipated releases in Champaign-Urbana in years, and the clout surrounding the duo seems to grow every time they step foot on a stage. When their debut drops in the spring, Mother Nature holds a rare opportunity to stretch their reach far beyond the Central Illinois area – something most artists in the Champaign-Urbana area never have the chance to do, including M.O. Knox.
But that’s all background noise. No matter what happens in 2016, Klevah has become what her father had always dreamed for her, and beyond.
“He said I’ve already done everything that he wants me to do,” Shasta smiles, with a sense of pride. “Of course I have much bigger goals. I really want to peak in the industry and I really want to influence the industry, or at least influence the new generation. That’s the bigger goal. But as far as my artistry, I’m the artist that I want to be because of him.”
You can purchase a copy of Issue #2 for $3 here:
“Klevah’s Time” by Sean Neumann
“Year of the Ratboys” by Joe Plukarski
Skeletal Lightning Records
by label founder Sean Hermann
The Normal Years / Nervous Passenger – Split EP
The Please & Thank Yous – Split
Photography by Robert Prochaska