Lee Hawthorn

Interview: Kirk Knight talks New York's generation gap, gaining motivation from Joey Bada$$ & wanting to work with Little Simz

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Kirk Knight

After he joined Joey Bada$$ in a phenomenal performance at Newcastle’s Riverside, Kirk Knight and I sat down for an interview to discuss all things hip-hop. For those of you who aren’t aware of the up and coming rapper/producer, he is a member of the Pro Era collective and one of the top production forces behind Bada$$, including board work for Big Dusty and the 1999 tape’s opener Alowha.

Since the Summer Knights mixtape, where Kirk stole the spotlight in his Amethyst Rockstar verse, the 19-year-old has started building a name for himself as an emcee and producer. Coming from Brooklyn, the rising star is expected to join the ranks of legends that have hailed from the state regarded as the home of hip-hop.

Despite New York being widely regarded as the birthplace of the beloved genre, it has been noted in recent years that the city that never sleeps has ironically become something of a sleeping giant, with no real competition for the crown of the state. While southern states have become the biggest influences to the soundscape of rap music, and west coast spitter Kendrick Lamar claimed the King of New York title with his infamous track, Control.

I asked Kirk his opinion on who, of the current generation, owns the crown of New York’s hip-hop scene, to which he noted a lack of any one person who stood head and shoulders above the rest, but more an inclining amount of emcee’s who were each equally worthy of mention. After I excluded Pro Era rhymers from the discussion, the top names that truly stood out to me were A$AP Rocky, Action Bronson and Smoke DZA. While the latter namedrop hasn’t quite struck a chord with me, I do feel like the A$AP mob figure head dropped the last great album from the state. Meanwhile Bronsolino continues to impress. I am a particular fan of the Saaab Stories collaborative EP with Harry Fraud – and of the current generation. I concur with what I believe Kirk was implying that Rocky and Action are both better representations than the ever-mentioned Troy Ave.

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Following the release of Detroit vs Everybody posse cut, produced by the on-looking Statik Selektah and featuring some of the biggest names from the Motor City, there have been a plethora of fan-made proposals of other key hip-hop areas, compiling a roster of their top-tier rappers. With Snoop Dogg reportedly trying to organise a Los Angeles incarnation, I asked Kirk if he knew of a New York vs Everybody. His initial response was “I imagine there’s something in the works”, which was followed up by a reassurance that there was nothing definitive to his knowledge, only that he believed there would be. I for one, cannot see a NY vs Everybody without the Pro Era, so either the Brooklyn native was lying or it’s not being organised as of yet.

It begs the question however, who should organise it? If we’re talking rappers, there’s an ever-rising divide from the outside looking in. Would it be some of the new stars mentioned previously, or JAY Z? Nas? The Lox? Wu-Tang? 50 Cent? It almost seems like this is a case of too many architects and not enough blueprints. So many possible legends that could easily reach out to one another, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. But who knows, maybe it’s coming, and they’re just keeping it a secret.

Speaking on the generation gap in New York’s hip-hop scene that divides the new era and the old heads previously mentioned, and what I noted as a seemingly lack of help from the preceding phenoms of rap as an outsider-looking-in. Kirk justified this by acknowledging that JAY Z has transcended rap music and become something even bigger than the genre itself, in a humble statement of “why would he” reach out to someone significantly smaller in stature. It was obvious that the Pro Era producer/rapper had enormous respect for the legends that paved the way as “they’ve already gone through” the grind Kirk is currently challenging, but did concede that he’d like to think, if he was JAY Z, he would encourage up-and-comers more and tell them to “come get the crown”. On whether the lack of direct support from the O.G’s gave him an incentive to try harder, or if it were a confidence blow and influenced more negative thoughts, Kirk confirmed that he was comfortable to prove himself on his own merits, not needing to have everything handed to him.

We also chatted about the double-edged sword of being apart of a movement that was spearheaded by somebody else. He almost completely dismissed my thought of being in the shadows of Joey Bada$$, the more famous name of the Pro Era collective, and preferred to call it a “pedestal”, getting the follow-through traffic from Joey’s substantial success. He further stated that being of the same crew as Bada$$ gave him an added motivation, expressing that he, and the other members “can’t be whack…after B4.DA.$$” because all of the spotlight is going to be on them, to come with a similar standard of music. With Nyck Caution releasing one of my favourite remixes of Drake’s 0-100, and Kirk himself able to hold his own on the mic, I don’t think there’s much danger of the supporting Pro Era cast disappointing, as much as there is a possibility of them surpassing the success of Bada$$.

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In relation to being behind Bada$$ from a rap perspective, I pressed Kirk on his thoughts regarding my assumption that being a producer, and such a respected one at that, meant that fans might overlook his mic talents because of his terrific talent as sculpting instrumentals. To my surprise, Kirk disagreed. He believes that his production work gave him more exposure as a rapper, indicating that he’s always working “whether it’s a beat or a verse”, he never stops creating music in some form. He then went on to remind me that some of the biggest names in hip-hop are producers name dropping Statik, J Dilla and going on to give very high praise to his “good friend” Alchemist – best known for his work with Eminem. His admiration for Alchemist was immediately apparent, noting that he felt a lot of the best music of the last few years have been linked to the super-producer, who released the Lord Steppington collaborative project with Evidence earlier this year.

In a question I expect to be posed to the Pro Era crew continuously during the UK leg of the #B4DaMoney tour, I asked Kirk if he was a fan of any British musicians. Little Simz was the only name mentioned, expressing a desire to work with the MOBO Awards performer. Having given the female emcee a listen, I’d definitely like to hear what the pair could cook up, and with the tour stopping off near Simz’ hometown of Islington, it’s entirely possible they might meet up during Kirk’s stay in the capital.

If you’re not wised up on Kirk Knight yet, I feel like it’s only a matter of time until you have no choice. The 19-year-old shows little sign of his youthfulness, having the confidence to answer questions with a depth and understanding that supersedes, most spitters I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with in the past. With a multitude of talents at his disposal, this humble hip-hop upstart, could undoubtedly become the genre’s next household name and hopefully next time we speak, he’ll be headlining his own show in Newcastle.

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