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Receiving a shout-out from the festival headline act in front of millions of viewers worldwide is one way to prove that your hard work as an artist is paying off. On the night of Stormzy’s seminal Glastonbury performance, among the names recognised as some of the UK’s best talents that evening was North West London rapper Knucks.
Originating from South Kilburn, Knucks cut his teeth penning grime tracks in his school’s recording studio, where he and his friends would utilise the free FL Studio software to make DIY cuts under their alias Y.O.R (Youngers On Road). Initially starting off as a bit of fun, Knucks’ relationship with music intensified when he began experimenting with production, opening up a world of possibilities where he could incorporate his love for grime with the other sounds and styles he was brought up listening to. “Growing up I was into a lot of jazz and soul music. Sade was my favourite but I listened to a lot of Anita Baker and Rachelle Ferrell and I feel I got a lot of my knowledge on music on the way they structured their songs and evoked certain feelings with them,” he says.
While studying an animation degree at university, Knucks released breakthrough video ‘21 Candles‘, seeing him emerge as an exciting new force in the music industry. He’s always had a clear eye for visuals (read about his all-time favourite Missy Elliot videos here). Since ’21 Candles’, Knucks’s smooth jazz-edged style can be heard coursing the veins of an expanding catalogue of releases, including the radio-themed debut EP ‘NRG 105’, which saw the 25-year-old prove that, away from his roster of snappy singles, he could produce a mature record with deeply-thought-out themes throughout. “I pride myself in making solid bodies of work with intention, opposed to grouping a bunch of singles together and putting it out as a project,” he affirms. “I’m not that kind of artist”.
Transitioning from relative obscurity to being recognised as one of the best upcoming talents was “always a good feeling,” he explains. “But it was all the more good for me because the type of music I’ve been making differs from a lot of the stuff thats been at the forefront”. ‘Home’, the powerful final track from his debut project, features an unorthodox blend of drill and jazz flavours, yet beyond the wandering saxophone and clean-cut flows, there is a purpose to his work. Focusing on the portrayal of knife crime in the media, Knucks provides a face and conscience to the statistics used against young people, showcasing an uncompromising desire to sow societal reflections into his soulful cuts.
Latest EP ‘London Class’ flexes some of his most lyrically-potent work to date. “I feel like with a lot of my music, I touch on things that affect me and the community I’m part of directly, such as class, the relationship between my community, and the police and the crime that’s caused by these factors,” he says. “I like to highlight these things in my music to give context to people who may just get their perspective from [the] media and not understand the harsh realities of what goes on.” Addressing the different social classes in the city, the EP draws a dichotomy between rich and poor, examining the consequential affects on mental health and future prospects.
Pop culture references in the form of short skits nestle within the tracklist, pulling the project together while laying down themes for the songs to expand on. ‘Your Loss’ sees the South Kilburn artist reflect on his lineage, drawing attention to the shocking manner of George Floyd’s death and the distrust felt towards the upper echelons of society. Knucks grew conscious of the issues he raps about after “experiencing them first hand, hearing stories of others who have experienced these things and watching a lot of the things that unfold in the media or online”. Seeing his music as an opportunity to convey important messages, his innate lyrical ability sets him apart from the hit-driven industry, which has become blind-sighted in the pursuit of scaling the charts. “There’s a lot that clearly isn’t right and I like to use my music and platform to highlight these things,” he adds.
“I refused to change my music despite it going against what’s popular now.”
The project is inspired by South Korean TV series Itaewon Class, in which the main character opens a cafe and “has to have a strong sense of integrity and morals to manoeuvre the business”. Recognising the underlying similarities between himself and the protagonist, Knucks saw the cafe as a metaphor for his career. “I refused to change my music despite it going against what’s popular now. Itaewon was the name of the city the cafe was in, hence ‘London Class’”.
Championed by artists in grime, drill and beyond, his sound refuses to be defined by any of those tags. Instead, Knucks bridges a gap in the rap scene with a bold hybrid sound, built to outlast the temporary trends that flutter in and out of popularity. Blending slices of drill, jazz, soul, grime, R&B, and more, his knack for holding a mirror up to society is able to transcend geographic and stylistic boundaries, resonating around the world instead of just in London or the UK.
“I think the scene in London is in a good place but it’s gradually getting to a better one where all the other types of music that are deemed ‘alternative’ are getting their time to shine also, which gives onlookers of our scene the true diverse spectrum of talent we have over here,” he states. Drafting in a host of local talent such as Sam Wise, kadiata and Loyle Carner for the new record, Knucks is taking his artistry to new heights.