Hitmaker Kal Banx fuses Dallas sounds with West Coast hip-hop
Kal Banx celebrated his 30th birthday in his home town last October.
The date coincided with rapper Isaiah Rashad’s tour stop at the South Side Ballroom in Dallas. Banx handled the production of nearly every song on Rashad’s critically acclaimed 2021 album, The house is burningand the two bonded during the collaboration process.
“My best friend Kal Banx is from Dallas,” Rashad shouted into the microphone before presenting Banx with a birthday cake which the beatmaker eventually tossed into the raucous crowd.
Banx lives in Los Angeles, where he has made a name for himself as one of hip-hop’s most sought-after producers. He shared his childhood between Duncanville and Oak Cliff. And five years after being kicked out of Texas by West Coast rap label Top Dawg Entertainment (often referred to as TDE), home to Kendrick Lamar, he found he was starting to miss his home state.
“I just feel like I’m here, I’ve wasted a lot of time with my people, my friends and my family,” Banx says. “And now Dallas is growing and thriving. There’s a lot more cool stuff I’m into that’s out there.
But for all the nostalgia and excitement Dallas offers, Banx is expected to stay in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. With a Grammy nomination and a number of star collaborations already under his belt, he’s got talent and momentum on his side, and he’s not done bringing his Dallas-influenced sound to the mainstream. Western coast.
When Banx was at Duncanville High School and later at the University of North Texas, a cultural movement called “Boogie” or “Dallas Boogie” centered around hip-hop music in North Texas.
Overlapping New Orleans Bounce music and Houston’s Chopped-N-Screwed car music and culture, and symbiotically inspired by Atlanta’s hip-hop production, Dallas Boogie rose to national fame through the songs repetitive but catchy songs from a few Dallas rappers such as Lil’ Wil’s “My Dougie” (2007) and Dorrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job” (2009). Complete with its own dance moves and quite an extensive lexicon, it has evolved into a kind of local language. Fluidity meant Dallas credibility.
“It still influences my music now,” says Banx.
The beats Banx makes for rappers are known for seamlessly interweaving drum machine patterns with vocal samples or piano licks. But before getting interested in digital production techniques, he played real drums for Rock of Faith Baptist Church when he was only 7 years old.
His mother lived just off Wheatland Road, not far from Cedar Ridge Preserve in a neighborhood called The Woods, and he attended Duncanville High School. “In the woods, that’s where I really grew up,” says Banx. “That’s where I learned a lot. That’s where most of my friends come from.
His cousin Coco got him to make beats by accident. She had burned a number of CDs for him, and when he asked her how she did it, she said she was using audio software called Acid Pro. He hadn’t realized that putting actual songs on a CD required owning or downloading those songs, so he just created his own songs by assembling various drum loops already on the program. Eventually his father, who lived in Oak Cliff, heard him play these songs and put a label on his experiments.
“‘He said, ‘That’s the production,'” Banx recalled. “‘That’s what it’s called, it produces.'”
At UNT, Banx first studied journalism before switching to marketing. But his ability to mix music, whether recognizable songs or original beats, had only improved. He didn’t take it seriously until one night during his sophomore year when a friend named Rex picked up his phone and tweeted from Banx’s account that Banx was having a party at his apartment. By the time Banx saw the tweet, he had attracted enough attention to be engaged. People were heading towards his apartment.
“It was on,” Banx says, smiling about the party.
He threw more parties, DJed more events and made more beats until, years later, he found himself recruited by arguably the most important label in hip-hop.
“I was confident to go there”
Banx had tried to avoid the encounter that changed his life.
It was 2017, and the Maryland rapper IDK was in Los Angeles getting feedback from people he respected about his new mixtape, I was very bad. One of those people was Moosa, who did artist development for Top Dawg Entertainment.
Banx had produced a number of songs on the IDK project and was also in Los Angeles, so the rapper invited him to the reunion.
Blasted by encounters with dishonest industry figures, Banx tried to decline. He also had to return to Dallas.
“I didn’t even want to go,” he said. “I was dealing with a lot of personal things back then.”
But IDK insisted, and it was a good thing they did. At the reunion, every song he played elicited the same reaction from Moosa: “Who produced this one?” The answer was “Kal”.
Moosa expressed interest in working with Banx, who doubted her sincerity but gave her her phone number before leaving for Dallas. Back in Texas, Banx checked his inbox and discovered a flight confirmation for Los Angeles. Moosa was for real.
A collection of TDE’s most popular and respected rappers quickly put Banx’s skills to the test. A few hours after getting off the flight home that Mossa bought him, he had a studio session with Schoolboy Q. The next day it was Kendrick Lamar. A few days later, it was Jay Rock. The next day he meets Ab-Soul. Shortly after, he took part in the Black Panther soundtrack.
Nearly five years later, Banx admits he was nervous about working with Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar, but he didn’t show up empty-handed. “I was confident to go there,” he says. “I knew I had stuff they were going to like.”
He’s been living in Los Angeles full-time since Moosa, now his manager, booked him on that flight. Since then, his talents have slowly been recognized in the industry. The tipping point was an invitation to J Cole’s intentionally collaborative and competitive program Revenge of the Dreamers III recording sessions. Banx landed four songs on the finished project, which was nominated for a Grammy in 2020.
But it wasn’t until months after proving himself to Lamar and his label mates that TDE recognized Banx as one of their own with an official title. Banx was working out of a studio in Long Beach with Moosa and others when a call came in for the executive. It was Moosa’s father, Anthony Tiffith, the founder of TDE and the titular “Top Dawg”.
When Moosa hung up, he had a simple instruction. “The wizard has spoken,” he said. “Take the papers.”
Banx was named in-house producer at TDE that night. Unbeknownst to the others in the studio, it was his birthday.
When Isaiah Rashad came out The house is burning last July, it had been five years since his last album. His 2016 record, The tirade of the sun, was a haunting portrait of an artist struggling with depression and drug addiction. This earned him a loyal fan base and propelled him to recognition as one of the genre’s most vivacious lyricists. But those same struggles soon led him to a hiatus and rehab.
After resolving his mental health issues, he was ready to record music again. How was he able to find the dynamics of his last album after having evolved so much? The answer was Banx. Rashad slept on the producer’s couch while doing The house is burning.
Raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Rashad shares a decidedly different set of influences and idiosyncrasies with Banx than their West Coast label mates.
“We just had a cultural understanding of each other, because we were from the South,” Banx recalled. “We just bonded with each other on a lot of different levels, like food, education, church, music.”
Rather than forcing a creative genius narrative, the two joked and had fun making the album. Banx’s occasional experimentation with beats, samples and vocals might have seemed like a goof to Rashad, or a way to get started in the album process. But it was actually a pretty hands-on approach to production. Banx speaks the chorus of the single “Wat U Sed”. At one point on the album, he takes freestyles that Rashad had recorded aimlessly and deconstructs them, splicing the lyrics into a song called “Hey Mista” that the rapper hadn’t planned.
The result shows the skills of the two artists. Rashad tackles deeply personal subject matter, but Banx’s production tones down the heaviness of the project, making it more of a celebration of Rashad’s return to the spotlight than a diary entry. The rapper and producer performed songs from the album for thousands of fans at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April.
With a cache of some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums of the past decade, TDE has a grip on the musical zeitgeist in a way that no rap label on the coast West hasn’t since Dr. Dre, Tupac and Snoop Dogg carried Death Row Records in the 1990s. He doesn’t seem likely to be slowing down anytime soon. On May 13, Kendrick Lamar is set to release Mr. Morale and Big Steps, his first album in five years and his first since Banx has been with the label. Details of the album were kept under wraps until release, but it’s likely that the entire label, including Banx, was called upon to participate in the project.
If you’re listening to hip-hop in 2022, Banx will likely have a production credit on a song you put on loop at some point. But production work and the pandemic have taken DJing away from him, and he wants to get back into DJing parties, maybe even in Dallas, he says. At the end of 2021, he released a digital project called FAMILYCARE+.
On his Soundcloud page, where the project lives, the words “Dallas, TX” are prominently displayed. It’s built on the kind of southern-inspired beats that Banx thinks are perfect for a West Coast rapper.