In his home studio in Raleigh, flanked by keyboards and turntables, the music producer and recording engineer Khrysis is shaking his head in disbelief.
“This is dope. This is really dope… like…” he trails off, taking a long pause. “I had a hard time imagining that I’d get something like this.”
We’re nearing the end of our second conversation in as many weeks, and a new EP from the Raleigh-based rap group Kooley High, mixed entirely by him, has just been released. A song by Buffalo, NY, rapper Conway The Machine, titled “Jesus Khrysis” (a nod to its producer) is also nearing two million hits on YouTube. And, most important, The Hour of Khrysis, the artist’s fifth album—chock full of guest features from Busta Rhymes to De La Soul and inspired by the albums of old-school, soul-chopping masters like J Dilla and Pete Rock—is just two weeks old.
But by “this,” Khrysis doesn’t mean any of that. He means this. As in, this article.
It’s hard to blame him. For casual hip-hop listeners over the past 20 years, Khrysis, 39, hasn’t been a name you’ve seen, so much as a sound you’ve heard—the unheralded jack-of-all-trades behind the boards for everyone from Little Brother and Rapsody to Black Thought and Talib Kweli. But if being one of the most perennially slept-on producers in hip-hop is weighing on him, it doesn’t show.
“My name might not be in the marquee, but it’s in the credits,” he says. It’s a fitting analogy for a career defined by the relationships below the surface, and by the twists of fate that have kept one opportunity leading to the next for nearly two decades.
He has his own word for those twists of fate.
“We all move at our own frequencies,” he says. “A lot of times, frequencies match. [When you do the work], eventually, somebody’s gonna notice.”
For Khrysis, the frequencies started matching in the fall of 2001. Back home and living with his parents in Durham, after dropping out of Winston-Salem State University, he was listening to Duke’s student radio station, WXDU 88.7, when the DJ’s voice caught his attention.
It was Patrick Douthit, a former North Carolina Central University student he’d bumped into years before and exchanged music production tips with. Tyson called the station and said he was back in Durham and making beats. Douthit invited him to come by Missie Anne, the studio he was working out of at the time.
What Douthit (or 9th Wonder) was working on—an album with the rappers Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh under the group name Little Brother—would eventually release in 2003 as The Listening. The album would become an early-internet, underground hip-hop sensation, launching not only the careers of its core members, but also of the entire Justus League collective that surrounded it. Before long, Khrysis was officially voted into the crew’s sprawling ranks.
“I had blinders on,” says Khrysis, who was soon producing not only for Justus League acts but also underground veterans like Brooklyn emcees Sean Price and Masta Ace. “I had a lot to do.”
When the Justus League splintered just a few years later, he became a staple of 9th Wonder’s Jamla Records—handling much of the in-house recording, mixing, and engineering at the nascent label—a place where he would find community, and help catapult careers.
“We just clicked,” says Raleigh rapper/producer Mez, who in 2010, as a teenager, spent countless nights in the Jamla studio. The following year, the pair released a six-track EP, The King’s Khrysis, creating some of the young rapper’s earliest buzz.
“That was the first time I had record labels reaching out to me,” says Mez, who has since gone on to work with J. Cole, Dr. Dre, and Kanye West.
Within Jamla, Khrysis would play a similarly invaluable role in the ascent of the label’s flagship artist, Rapsody, contributing to every one of her releases. The Snow Hill native has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim in recent years, including a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album in 2017.
“For me, it’s not about business, it’s not about the money, it’s about finding like-minded individuals,” says Khrysis. “That goes for Jamla and beyond.”
It’s thanks to that spirit of collaboration that he describes his first release as a true headliner, The Hour of Khrysis, as an album 12 years in the making—a project delayed by, but also indebted to, his years of nurturing those individual relationships.
The album has been well-received by fans, including Pete Rock, one of the legendary producers who inspired it.
“He loves it,” Khrysis says, laughing. “He was hitting me up, talking about the interludes on my album.”
What sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime, dream conversation with an idol is, in Khrysis World, just another well-maintained community relationship: the two keep up a regular correspondence, and have for years, about music, superhero movies, and more.
And the frequencies continue to align.
Khrysis recently produced for the hit Netflix film, The 40-Year-Old Version, and his eclectic mix of collaborators, from old school (Del The Funky Homosapien) to new school (BJ the Chicago Kid), and from down home (Durham’s Young Bull) to far out (LA-based Evidence), continues to grow.
After a career spent living in the liner notes, he seems to be enjoying—at least momentarily—seeing his name in the marquee. As he enters his third decade in the music industry, he isn’t taking the moment for granted.
“I feel,” he says, “like I’ve finally arrived.”
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