Kool Khatt: 21-year-old unleashes his creative talents on the world
WORTHINGTON -- He's a sharp dresser, big talker and at just 21 years of age, Benjamin Khatt knows what he wants to be someday.
"I either want to be known for my paintings, my graphic art or my music," he said.
It's a desire that's been with Ben since he was just a young tyke. Born in Oklahoma, he moved with his Southeast Asian-born parents, Outh and Roth Khatt, and younger sister Alicia, to Worthington. His father attended college in Oklahoma for technology and is currently employed at Rosenboom Manufacturing in Sheldon, Iowa.
An interest in music was sparked in the school band, in which Ben played the clarinet.
"No one believed that," he recalled. "One day, the band kids got to get out of school early, and they made the announcement over the loudspeaker and I got up and started to leave. My Spanish teacher says, 'Where are you going? Sit back down.' 'But I'm in band,' and my friends all say, 'Yeah, he's in band.' She started to let me go, then asked, 'What do you play?' 'The clarinet.' 'Sit back down.' She didn't believe me."
The creative gene was likely passed down from his dad, who at one time played guitar and did musical covers, Ben added.
But he found his own musical niche in the hip-hop/R&B genre.
"It started with talent shows," he explained. "My friend did music first, and I was browsing web underground music, like asianavenue.com. I got inspired when I broke out of a relationship, the whole boyfriend-girlfriend thing, and I made a song with my friends. We called ourselves Outta Control Talent -- OCT. It was like a love song, called 'Goodbye.' And ever since that, we made a hit and started pursuing our career. That was probably eighth grade through freshman year of high school.
"Back then, we had a computer mic, a Windows computer with like ripped speakers. It was ghetto -- the lowest quality equipment you can kick out. But it turned out pretty great. I bought a program, and we burned the song onto a CD. Now it's all MP3. We performed it at a talent show and won second place."
As a hip-hop artist, Ben then went by the name Twinkiez, derived from a nickname a female friend had given him.
"I sounded like a little boy back then, like a chipmunk," he said with a laugh.
For his 16th birthday, Ben's present from his parents was a recording studio his father built into his bedroom.
"It's a mini studio, with all the equipment," Ben described. "He even made a booth for me to record in."
Ben also discovered a wealth of online services that offer support to musical wannabes.
"They create for you the business cards, make it free to upload music onto web pages, and you get your own personal page," he explained about one Internet service he joined. "You get your own manager, and they email you who listens to your stuff."
Through the online contacts he made, Ben secured a recording contract while still in high school. Using the Twinkiez moniker, his first mixed-tape album, "I'm Waiting," was produced in 2004-2005, and in 2005-2006 he released "Murdasoda," featuring tracks such as "How You Work It (Boom)," "507 Murda" and "If I Ever."
"The reason why I didn't keep going with it was I focused on school. It's more of a hobby to me. Now I want to focus on what I want do as a career," he said
Ben found a secondary musical niche as a DJ, performing first at an event at Worthington High School.
"I was on student council, and the winter formal was coming up, and they just wanted dinner and a boombox," he recalled about the evening's lineup of entertainment. "We were discussing that formal equals a dance, and dance means music, and somebody asked if someone had the equipment to do it. 'Don't you have a studio?' So that's how it all started. I set up and performed, too."
Throughout high school, Ben worked at local fast-food restaurants and continued to crank out his music. But he envisioned a career in computer technology or business, until WHS teacher Gail Holinka talked him into taking her graphic arts class.
"She said, 'You do music. You can do fliers for yourself. So I started getting more into the music because I could promote myself, didn't have to pay anybody else to go do it."
But Ben discovered a whole new creative outlet in graphic arts and soon resolved to pursue a career in that field instead. This fall, he will be a senior art student at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
"I would like to work at a graphics design firm, any that would accept me," Ben reflected about his career goals. "Then I met someone who works for Kellogg's, for Schwan's, and I think I would like to work for a company like that as a graphic designer. But mainly I want to work for a magazine. I want to work for Vogue. That would be my dream job, to design pages for a magazine."
Currently interning in the advertising department of the Daily Globe to expand his graphic design horizons, most days Ben looks like he stepped right off the pages of a men's fashion magazine. He sports a faux-hawk hairdo and an extensive wardrobe of brightly colored shirt and ties. He takes great care with his appearance whenever he steps out the door.
"My signature look is probably a vest, tie, shirt," he said, referencing items that he picks up at favorite shopping haunts such as Macy's, Express and The Buckle. "When I go out, I always, always have to dress nice."
This fall, he hopes to continue to work on a part-time basis at the Daily Globe while finishing up his college career. At Mankato, his artistic endeavors have expanded to include painting and ceramics and he has entered some work in Mankato-area exhibits.
"For my paintings, it's usually acrylic and gel medium on canvas," he said. "Some are abstract, some are inspired by the monumental and spontaneous -- landscape types. I like Zen Buddhism, art history. I think my second concentration is going to be ceramics. I haven't entered any of those in shows yet. I'm still acquiring new methods of creating my vessels and creature-looking pots. I know I want to do ceramics, but the paintbrush and paint, gosh, I fell in love with it, too. I like to paint stuff just for fun."
While music is no longer a major focus for Ben, it's still a sideline that he enjoys. He continues to write music and record in his own studio and recently performed with friends at the Long Branch Saloon in Worthington. He has also begun to post videos on YouTube and has a Facebook fan page.
"I'm starting to get back into it," he said. "A lot of my friends and fans ask me what happened, 'Do you have any new songs out yet?' Not yet. I wrote a lot of songs, but I haven't gotten into the studio. They say, 'We want to hear stuff,' and I'm going to do that for them. A lot of my songs are personal, I guess, in regard to things I do. That's where my music comes from.
"I just get the lyrics in my head. Sometimes I'll just write down words, then I have to find a beat producer that has a rhythm that goes with the way I have it written. If it does, then you pay to lease that beat"
The hip-hop beats are found through Ben's online resources, and can vary in price from being free up to $500, Ben explained, adding that he doesn't have the equipment to create his own beats.
"Me and a buddy of mine, I helped him produce his song, and he's supposed to open up a show in Mississippi for Chris Brown," said Ben, referencing a well-known R&B singer. "So I'm going to go with him and help out with that over the Labor Day weekend."
With so many diverse creative ventures, Ben isn't sure exactly in which one he will make his mark on the world, but he's determined to do so.
"I guess when I was little, when we first moved here, every night after elementary school my dad and I would be sitting on the living room floor because we didn't have any couches yet, and we watched TV and talked about music," Ben remembered. "Even when I was little, I always wanted to become known, well known. I want to be famous."
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