Born and raised in South Kilburn, rapper and producer Knucks has been writing music since the young age of twelve. His first mixtape Killmatic told the first-hand experiences of the North West London area, capturing an honest perspective from the UK youth as he was growing up. Ever since the mixtape went out on Soundcloud the demand has been building and in the past year Knucks has dropped a series of singles that continue to feature impeccably suave productions, lyricism and visuals. Causing a big stir on SBTV and Soundcloud, Knucks has brought something fresh to London, his Anglo-American sound is carved out of his stateside influences, a focused talent and self-belief that holds the keys to his ambition. As we spoke to Knucks on an autumnal Sunday afternoon, what quickly became clear is that when it comes to music he’s got the right ear for inspiration, a calm composure and concentrated vision.
First I want to speak a bit about Killmatic. It’s been 2 years since the mixtape dropped on your Soundcloud and listening to your latest releases the music's come a long way. A lot of people say they find it hard to emcee over their own beats, clearly there’s a natural bond between your productions and your writing process. Have you always tended to lean towards making your own beats to go with your raps?
Well at first before my beats were at a high enough standard that I felt I was able to go on them. I used to do what a lot of people do which was to go on YouTube and look for beats myself, but then, when my productions started to get better with practice when I was around fourteen or fifteen, I realised that I could start rapping on my own beats and I just went for it.
You sampled a load of old jazz and blues, where does the interest in that kind of music come from?
I think it’s my dad you know. My dad and the people around me, it brings a nostalgic kind of feel, like old school Sade and even like reggae and stuff as well.
You mention Sade a lot, what’s the interest there?
I’m just a mad fan of her voice man, I feel like you can mistake a lot of singers for other singers, but Sade to me, is a singer that when you hear Sade’s voice, there’s no other.
What do you take more pride in, producing or rapping?
I’ve never heard this question before you know, I think my rapping.
Where did it start out, were you producing first or was it like a collective process happening at the same time?
I started when I was around twelve doing grime with my friends, but this was before I ever made any beats. I always loved the grime beats that used jazz or old school samples with the high pitched singers voice on it but I couldn’t really find them, and when I would try to talk to producers online they like wouldn’t take me serious. So I started to play around with the demo version of FL Studio and eventually I learnt how to make beats I could rap to.
You can hear lot of stateside influence on the Killmatic mixtape, as you were saying you were pretty gripped by the grime scene we had at the time here in the UK, but were you listening to much of US rap and hip-hop when you were younger?
Not really. I think I only started to listen to the old school hip-hop when I was, I’d say, fifteen or sixteen. So while I was making Killmatic that was a period of time while I was doing my research and that’s when I went back and listened to like the Nas and the old Jay-Z albums. Before that I was just listening to Grime.
And how do those two cultures merge from your perspective now?
I feel like a lot of things are just the same with both cultures, it’s just subtle differences like obviously with the language barrier, the slang and whatnot but other than that there’s so many similarities. I think that’s what the beauty of Killmatic is, because I’m literally trying to paint the same picture that Nas was painting in Illmatic but just from the perspective of a young UK youth.
What’s so strong about Killmatic is its honesty and its storytelling, how you document the experiences you were having as you came of age? Why do you think you choose music as the medium to do that?
Music is what I love and I’m good at it, it’s one thing that I know I’m good at. I’m not the type of person that would do something that everyone else is doing - I wouldn’t do Rap just because everyone else is doing it - but I just feel like it’s me. I can’t not do it, I feel like I’d be wasting a talent.
On the After interlude on the mixtape, you wrote about a guy - Jamil Allen - who advised you to stick with music. Can you tell me more about that experience?
It’s actually a real person but obviously I changed the name, with a lot of my music I don’t put the real person's names in the scenario. It didn’t even happen exactly like that, the majority of it is like a metaphor, it’s like my older self almost telling my younger self to just stay out of trouble and stick to music.
So at twelve years old you were getting into grime, starting to write your own music and it was around about that time you acquired the name Knuckles, then you were sent away to a boarding school in Nigeria for a year. What did you take from that experience?
I feel the experience completely changed the trajectory of where my life was going man, honestly. It was needed, and it made me more in-tune with myself like when you’re out there. When I came back I felt like I went to prison, like I was under a rock for a year. So I had a lot of time to think. I think From that experience I gained the ability to just think in myself whereas before I wasn’t really a thinker, like I would just do things erratically which is what caused me to go there.
Since Killmatic, in the past year you’ve unveiled 21 Candles, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and most recently the Big Kahuna freestyle. There’s a real sense you’ve grown, discovering your purpose and direction within music. What in the past two years has affected the way the music’s heading?
I feel like it’s just influence. So from Killmatic times I was listening to a different type of music, I was listening to a lot of old school, a lot of Nas, a lot of MF Doom - I like MF Doom. So even though it kind of sounds a bit updated because I added the trap drum patterns in Killmatic, the flow and everything else is pretty old school. Whereas now I’m listening to more recent artists that are prominent at the moment; I listen to Currency and Quentin Miller. People like that have changed my perception of music and it makes me approach it differently. So that’s what has made me kind of adapt to recent times rather than still sticking with the old school kind of flow.