From pre-law student to global independent event producer, multifaceted visionary, Kim Knox is a woman on a mission. She talks about her humble beginnings and her fearless creative ideas with her company Ubiquita Worldwide.
You can always tell a powerful creative when you see one because their fashion style acts as their protective armor. Kim Knox is no different as a veteran event producer in the industry, rocking her signature shaved fade of locs as we met at the super cool and cozy lifestyle lounge bar Ode to Babel. Engulfed amongst the calming space of curated artwork by local independent Brooklyn artist with dim lights, handmade furniture, and a beautiful teak bar with brass fixtures, it was clear Kim knew the perfect backdrop local venue for our exclusive interview. If you were lucky enough to be a young creative on the New York scene during the mid-90's you experienced the free-spirited magic of the thriving underground art and soul music scene. This was a subculture that emerged from local favorites spots like Brooklyn Moon, Nkiru Books, Sunday Tea Party and Nuyorican Cafe where art, music, and fashion, formed an incredible mix that is still identifiable today.
It made perfect sense to feature Kim Knox as our latest LADIES FIRST entrepreneur because she has been the creative collaborator behind so many prolific artists including Alice Smith, Somi, Dannis Winston, Alicia Keys, Goapele, Raye 6, Imani Azuri, Tamar-kali and a host of other emerging artists of the soul music genre. 'Starting out as a volunteer event producer with a crew of artists called "The Sunday Tea Party" in Brooklyn was the best boot camp ever. It was the best for me learning how to create a full experience for people.' Knox says reminiscing enthusiastically. 'People were artistically fed and physically fed at our events. For starving artists and the everyday folks that $5 dollars of an open mic, dance party, and food on Sunday's was everything.'
"We influence the influencer at Ubiquita Worldwide. That's what we do."
Over the past 18 years, Kim Knox has produced, developed, and created a diverse catalog of entertainment events and marketing campaigns for creatives of the world of film, music, art, and fashion. With the fickle entertainment and media landscape constantly changing throughout wave periods of major layoffs and power positions becoming scarce, you had to be more than just creative to survive. To be a respected tastemaker of the dopest event you not only had to be clever and smart with your finger on the pulse of the underground trends, but you also had to be multifarious and ready to feed demands of the people. The artistic street cultivators shaping the art and music scene.
Versatile is an understatement for the former pre-law student who stumbled across a dope night of poetry that would ignite a new passion for her career nowhere near a court room, but instead under the lights, camera, and action of live audiences. She has handled her career changes with graceful aplomb and we got a chance to sit down with Kim and get the inside scoop on her entrepreneurial beginnings and the influences responsible for her creative unit at her company Ubiquita Worldwide.
Ladies First: Let's begin at the awakening moment. How did you figure out that your career path was not going to be pre-law?
Kim Knox: "I didn't figure it out. I showed up at a 'Sunday Tea Party' event and never left." (Laughs) I first began producing events with a company called "Sunday Tea Party" in Brooklyn who created these weekly open mics with dancing and food on Sundays. Starting out as a volunteer event producer for them was the best boot camp ever. It was the best for me learning how to create a full experience for people."
Ladies First: So, your after college experience is what really exposed you to a new scene of cool creative people doing these art based things you had never seen before?
Kim Knox: "Yes. I took a job at a major jazz recording studio after college where I met all these great legendary musicians and I think that is what started the curiosity bug in me a bit. I loved the behind the scenes of watching the album happen. At the same time, I was throwing these parties with 'Sunday Tea Party'. I came into this new world as a spectator really, and then 6 months later I was a performer."
Ladies First: Performer?
Kim Knox: "Yes, I always wrote in college. I let a friend of mine who I went to college with, Tai Allen read a little something I was working on and he was like, 'Kim this is dope, you gotta perform this.' Tai was into all the activities on campus, I mean he was in everything, but that really wasn't me. I wasn't a performer per se. I was not trying to hear his antics of trying to convince me to perform and then he ripped the page out of my notebook and said either I was going to perform it or he was. (Laughs) And I always remember that moment of me walking into that poetry space packed wall to wall with people sitting on the floor all stacked all on top of each other and seeing this other female poet, Sydnee Stewart perform her piece live with a violinist, and I became completely transfixed within that world after that show. I was done. I was like this is where I belong. At 20, 21 years old I had never experienced this level of people so connected to art and I was extremely drawn to it. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew I liked it and I liked it a lot."
Ladies First: Talk to me about staying true to your inner voice during this new experience and being open to exploring this new path which was completely different from your academic background.
Kim Knox: "Actually, I had no intention of going into the arts. I was pre-law. And it wasn't even like I wanted to do something related to the field, like entertainment law. No, I wanted to be a divorce attorney and I was serious. (Laughs) My momma is still mad. She is still mad until this day at me. (Loud, Loud, Laughs) But I will say this. I am an only child and I grew up in a Caribbean single parent household. I am Jamaican and Nigerian but my Jamaican family raised me. With that being said, as much as you have the inclination to be the good girl and do what the family wants, being an only child you almost have to listen to your own voice cause ain't nobody else around. (Laughs) And so, I have always felt like I am very much my mother's daughter. My mom is an extremely strong woman and is definitely very self-assured and focused around what she wants to do and I think I am the same way, it's just that we are different as people and what we value is very different.
I felt like my career path wasn't a plan, it kind of chose me. I went through school and did really really well, but I ended up graduating early at 20 and I was like, 'now what?' I knew what my mom wanted me to do, but I still didn't know what I wanted to do. Things didn't awaken in me until my twenties. Experiencing these new people and this new world and they thought I was talented. I don't even think I thought I was talented. All of these things kind of happened and I didn't make a conscious choice to do it. It chose me and I was like, 'I am here.'
"Partying with a purpose"
Ladies First: Now having this experience under your belt and discovering this new passion within the arts, when did you decide it was time for your own ideas to become your own company?
Kim Knox: "'Sunday Tea Party' was very Brooklyn, but my business partner who I founded Ubiquita with, Deshawn Maxwell was a Brooklyn-based party promoter working the LES scene in the city. He was the guy doing the Baby Phat parties back when Kimora and Russell ran everything. He also did a really important party called 'Low Profile' with DJ Qool Marv on Monday's at Ludlow Bar. And what happened was the Brooklyn kids met the Lower East Side kids and fell in love and Ubiquita was born."
Ladies First: Ok, so you merged the two worlds together.
Kim Knox: "Yea, because we were both on the spoken word scene together. DeShawn was in a group called, 'Social Outcast" and I was in 'Black Lotus'. Everybody went to 'Sunday Tea Party' and it was all of these little crews and cultural factions. We were families that interacted with each other and partied with a purpose."
Because I was about 5 years younger than the 'Tea Party' staff I was kind of the bridge person for the cool trends. I would go to the city and be like, ' let me see what's going on,' which is how I found out about Qool Marv's parties. I partied at his spot on Monday nights and really connected with DeShawn."
Ladies First: I see, and it was during this time that you guys figured out your talents and connections?
Kim Knox: "Exactly. My day job and I what I started out in the business doing was being a talent agent. I used to work for at the time Innovative Artists. and I was one of the only people of color there. I helped people like Saul Williams get signed and it was during that time when 'Slam' (the poetry film) had just came out and I became the Negro ambassador (Loud Loud, Laughs) at that time."
Ladies First: Ha! You were the liaison for the urban side of things... (Laughs)
Kim Knox: "Working at this agency in this legit department was great. I mean, it was an amazing learning experience. So I always felt like I have owned my career working on both sides of things.
I think my experience as a performer while it was good, I realized personally that I didn't love performing. It's like sometimes you are told you are good at something and you should just want to do it. Right? But I for me it was more like, I knew I was good at it and I like writing but I didn't like being on stage like that... And so, I felt like I understood performing enough to know what an artist needs. I have always felt that I have a gift for presenting artist as well. So that's when I decided that I wanted to go into artist representation. Now, artist representation had always been a part of what I did and productions was a part of that as well. Those two things always went hand in hand. I started Ubiquita in 2000 after approx 4 years of working with 'Sunday Tea Party'"
Ladies First: I understand. This was the first opportunity to merge those skills together and be apart of artists development directly under your very own platform.
Kim Knox: "Absolutely. The artists' management thing I fought against doing kicking and screaming because it's a lot of work. It's a lot of hand holding and it is very personal. But initially, when we were just doing Ubiquita as an event, the things that made us stand out were that fact that we were the first all female DJ residency in the city and we were also a party that always had live performances. During the golden era of Ubiquita around 2003 2004 when it was really popular, my business partner, DeShawn and I were doing 3 shows a week on top of our full-time jobs and we worked at the same gig...! It was a fun, hilarious, and amazing time for us. The company evolved but you can't keep up that pace forever. So we branched off into doing these special one-off reunion parties during different times around the holidays of the years. Because we were in a bunch of different creatives spaces we decided to take the leap into event producing for cultural institutions.
We evolved and grew to a certain point and DeShawn and I realized we wanted different things. So he gave me his blessing to continue on with Ubiquita the way I wanted. And it was time for me to figure out my personal evolution within Ubiquita as well."
"I don't believe artists need to starve. That should not be the norm"
Ladies First: How were you able to stay resilient throughout the ever-changing entertainment biz while evolving the brand and staying true Ubiquita's authentic signature?
Kim Knox: "Well, working on the agency side of thing helped me understand how to handle artists. I also understood the ABC's of the business itself and I don't believe artists need to starve. That should not be the norm.... Trust me it has been a struggle. I definitely feel like I am not quite where I want to be fully yet, but I am proud of my career. I am proud of the things I have been able to do. I am proud of the firsts we have had with Ubiquita. We had the first female DJ crew to be on the cover of the Village Voice..."
But I think there are two things that have kept me resilient over the years. I think reinvention is key number one. I believe the main reason I have always been able to reinvent with Ubiquita is because I work from a place of a collective mentality. Even if I am driving the car, the car is only as good as the sum of its parts. You know what I mean? I feel I've been blessed to work with so many diverse artists that I have honed different skill sets and become multidisciplinary along the way. I switch up the mediums I use whether it's is theater, a live band, a tv pilot or a multimedia installation. The key is I try to push myself to do things that I've never done before and I have always been a visionary. I see things way past what I am currently doing..."
In my mind, I want the urban alternative Ibiza and call the 'Isle of Ubiquita'. Like literally off the coast of Africa. That is the long-term goal straight up. I think it's important to be someone that is about continuing to proliferate positive images from ourselves. The fact that we are everywhere. We are omnipresent. We are ubiquitous. That is what Ubiquita Worldwide means. It is about pushing yourself and making the world better than the way you found it. And try not to phony it. If you are feeling complacent, it's time to do something else.
Ladies First: Kim that was excellent. It's 8:01 pm and that is a wrap. Thank you so much!
Check out a snippet of our interview below!