We chat to the Kilburn born MC about his latest track, hidden meanings and being a wayward kid.
Knucks, whose name derives from the game ‘Knuckles’ that he used to play in secondary school, is a rising star in the UK music scene. Stormzy shouted him out at Glastonbury, and Wretch 32 describes his flow as ‘smoother than butter’.
Lockdown life has been good for Knucks, a self-confessed introvert. He says: “Mainly it’s been the same thing. It’s been kind of productive for me, been able to do a lot of music stuff. Whether it’s trying to write new songs or production. I’ve just been trying to stay busy.”
After parting ways with his label to gain ‘creative flexibility’, he’s been pouring out a steady stream of single releases this year. They include Jubilee, 7 Days and his latest instalment ‘FXCKED UP’ – the first release from his forthcoming EP.
“It’s a song that represents the frustration of the troubling fucked up times we’re currently facing,” Knucks says. The accompanying video shows distorted clips of Boris Johnson from the COVID briefings.
The lyrics point out systemic racism: “They ain’t pull the trigger/then they give us the rope/fell into the river when they said rock the boat.”
Knucks has a penchant for portraying the Black British experience. In ‘Rice + Stew’, we see Nigerian food inside ice cream containers, a familiar sight for any kid in the UK with African parents. He admits it’s a by-product of his identity rather than an active choice. But he appreciates that it means something to people.
Knucks produces and raps over his own tracks, as one commenter on YouTube says, “He produces his beats and proceeds to kill them afterwards.” Knucks keeps up with the comments he receives online. He says they are reassuring:
“Art is subjective. When I read them, it lets me know how other people are seeing the art I’m putting out. ‘Home’ is a good example, as there are certain things that I intend for people to pick up in that track. There’s a way I want the story to be felt, and when I read the comments, I’m like, OK, it worked.”
In Knucks’ standout track, ‘Home’, his well-timed flow glides over minor piano chords, weaving a narrative about young male pride, ignoring his parents and knife crime. When he talks of home and coming of age in North London, it’s with much fondness, however:
“The crime was the worst thing about Kilburn. I shouldn’t have experienced certain things at that age. But the best thing was the sense of community. A lot of the estates are run the same way. We think we’re all in this thing together. There was real solidarity when we were growing up between me and my friends.”
“The track Home is based on experiences that I’ve heard from people around me and things that I’ve seen. With a lot of my music, it’s rarely just one thing. I’ll get something that happened when I was 12 and something I saw when I was 17 and then mix it up and make a story out of it,” he says.
He has mixed feelings about his early years. He was rebellious, the apex of his unmanageable behaviour was throwing a table at a teacher. It caused friction with his parents. And when his secondary school asked him to leave voluntarily, this was the last straw for his parents. Under the guise of a holiday, they took him to Nigeria.
“I went there with my dad and brother, but then they just bounced, and I was there. They sent me to a boarding school. The kids were fascinated with me at first, innit. I still had my accent, and they’d always call me ‘London boy’. But after that wears off, they treat you like anyone else.”
It’s not unheard of for kids of West African parents to be sent back home. What might be considered as a rebellious phase by Western parents can be considered as unacceptable for African parents. It has mixed impacts on these children, but Knucks doesn’t feel resentful about it at all. He thinks of it as an experience that he’s gained from.
“It was tough when I came back, but the experience matured me quick innit. It was 100 per cent a positive thing for me. If I didn’t go when I did, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I don’t think I would have gone to uni. That experience pushed me in a good way.”
We’re glad it did. The UK music scene is richer for it. Knucks’s EP is scheduled to drop later this year.