Knucks is leading the new wave of British rap

To understand Knucks is to understand his admirable patience: timing his every move with the most skillful aplomb, no decision was wasted – rather, calculated. Each step of the staircase he climbed prepared him for what was to come. Every release — from his first musical forays in the first half of the 2010s to today — has served a purpose, peeling back all layers of Knucks the rapper, producer, and entertainer. “I don’t want people to think my style just became what it is now,” he explains. “That drill infused sound is something I try, but it’s just one of the sounds I make. I never want to put myself in a box where I only do one thing, whether it’s exercise or whatever. That’s why I thought it was important after ‘Home’ did what it did, not to drop ‘Alpha Place’ here and there. I didn’t want people to think that’s all I do. So with ‘Alpha Place’ now, it kind of solidified that sound.

Knucks is no stranger to transitioning. The man born Ashley Nwachukwu and brought up in South Kilburn, north-west London, was an avowed troublemaker. Never far from local scum, he earned the nickname “Knuckles” for his combative nature. In a 2017 interview, he reveals the extent of his bad behavior when he remembers throwing a table at a teacher at school. Fearing that their then 12-year-old son might fall off the rails, Nwachukwu’s parents made a decision that would soon change his outlook. He was sent to live in Nigeria, his parents’ country of origin, for a year with his extended family. Far from his antagonistic ends, his fiery characteristics soon softened as he gained perspective.

“Nigeria is slower than England,” he said in 2017. “In London everything is fast and when I got to Nigeria the fact that it was slow gave me more time to thinking about what I was doing with myself.When I came back, I was enlightened.On his return to England, although enlightened, the adaptation proved difficult, especially since the Nwachukwu’s family had by then left South Kilburn, fortunately the desire to pursue music was set in stone before he left.

Channeling his contagious energy and his deserved nickname of “Knuckles”, he would spit to grime beats from an early age. In the early 2010s, grime was considered “dead” in the mainstream consciousness, and Knuckles, then shortened to Knucks, refocused, creating beats inspired by Golden Age hip-hop, 80s soul, jazz and disco as he transitioned to rap. Self-christened “the laid-back” – just check out his Instagram bio – Knucks distinguished himself early on with an endearing calm and shrewd dexterity in his vocal delivery, delivering tracks that rarely seemed to sweat, a defining characteristic he carried in his present incarnation. He breaks down the first version of himself: “My sound generally reflects the sound I’m listening to at the time, incorporated into the jazzy soul sound I’m known for. The previous songs were full of soul but the sound at the time was trap, so I had trap drums, 808s, hi-hats but with that soul. This period is a reflection of what was going through my head at the time.

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