Considering he’s only released a handful of songs over the past 12 months, 22-year-old rapper and producer Knucks has garnered incredible buzz. His soulful brand of hip-hop is capturing the imagination of early adopters and fellow musicians alike, who share their knowledge of the burgeoning talent in the way they’d rock a rare sneaker. Crafted over a ten-year period, Knucks intends for his authentic sound to take him from the streets of South Kilburn to stages worldwide.
Right now Knucks is trying to find a quiet room to talk to us in. He’s at University where he currently studies Animation & Computer Arts - after having the ambition of creating the UK’s answer to the Boondocks - and ducks into an unoccupied space to discuss his promising music career after a full day of study. “I have to make up for all the shows I’ve been doing,” he admits. “I should have really graduated this year. We planned to really start going hard with music once I graduated, but I made ’21 Candles’ and it took on a life of its own.”
Released at the end of last year on Soundcloud, ’21 Candles’ really put his name on the map when the video dropped in March this year. The self-produced track incorporates the bleakness of London’s Winter months but adds colourful jazz saxophones and rattling snare drums as Knucks delivers an autobiographical tale, celebrating his coming of age as he toasts his 21st birthday. In the video he walks the streets of North London, dressed in jeans and sneakers - OK, he is rocking a fur coat at one point - and drinking with his friends on the block. It’s relatable but aspirational at the same time; Knucks portrays a successful lifestyle that doesn’t require a lottery win to buy into.
The response he really felt was to the follow up track ’Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ which he released during his Summer break in June. “I had introduced that at one of the shows I got off the back of ’21 Candles’,” he explains. “And there were people anticipating that song from the show. When it came out that was a whole other level, because now a lot of different artists are hitting me up to collab. I think when the ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ video came out that was one of the biggest turning points.” Over a jazzy piano sample, he spits about listening to Sade and smoking weed while he shouts out his ends: “Born in North West like I’m the kid of Kim and Kanye.”
Listening to the chilled out, jazz-laced instrumental, it’s difficult to believe that his sonic journey began at 140 bpm. As a teenage grime MC, Knucks was always drawn to instrumentals that sampled female R&B vocals, but he couldn’t get his hands on them from producers at the time, so he learned to make them himself on Fruity Loops. But following a year spent at a boarding school in Nigeria aged 12 he returned home to discover that the tempo of London had slowed down. “Around the time that Giggs came out a lot of people started to jump on rap,” he recalls. “People weren’t on the same grime wave before. I started to ease myself into it, and even though I kept some of those grime elements I’d attained, I purely went into making rap music.”
While he makes beats on his laptop whenever he gets the chance, his latest strike of inspiration came when he took his first holiday without his parents a few months ago. Heading out to Rome for a friend’s birthday, he took some time out of the trip to shoot a video for his track ‘The Turnover’, and he ended up penning an entirely new one called ‘From Rome With Love’. “It shows me what I could potentially be doing on the regular,” he reflects on the trip. “It was a wake up call. I can actually be doing this for the rest of my life. I wrote a song based on that experience.”
While he continues to hustle both as a degree student and rising musician, it’s a feeling of authenticity that Knucks wants to shine through his creative endeavours. “I want people to realise that to be a UK rapper you don’t have to be talking about drugs or violence. When I was doing grime that’s what my lyrics were. I felt like if we were talking about anything else nobody would listen,” he admits. “I made a pact to myself that everything I say now has to be real. That’s the message I want to push, you don’t have to lie about what you do to get attention as a rapper. Just be yourself and you’ll flourish.”
Words: Grant Brydon
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