Knucks delivers with triumphant and timeless album
Alpha Place is the South Kilburn native’s most personal project to date, blazing yet another trail of masterful, contemporary UK rap.
When Knucks burst onto the scene with his blends of smokey, jazz-tinged UK rap, everyone knew he was different. ‘Killmatic’, his first project, took inspiration from legendary mixtapes by Blade Brown and Youngs Teflon, of whom he’s now collaborated with, as he depicted tales of a South Kilburn upbringing over MF DOOM samples and intrinsically abrasive road rap beats. Few in the game could mould their debut full-length around a modern-day classic, but this is exactly what Knucks did when he laid down the tape in the vein of Nas’ venerable ‘Illmatic’.
‘NRG 105’ and ‘London Class’, the two proceeding projects, were less localised but still detailed London’s changing landscape with a musical dexterity we have come to expect of Knuckles. As well as rapping, he is the mastermind behind most of his productions: a trait that very few can champion, and over the years, has given him a level of diligence respected by so many in the scene. ‘Alpha Place’ sees the wordsmith return to the notion of ‘Killmatic’ but revamping the tales around a production style he has been perfecting since breakout songs like ‘Home’.
‘Alpha House’ is a deeply personal opener, referencing the tower block he grew up in with a lyrical finesse that paints his story so vividly. Venna’s saxophone breaks and the cinematic-808s help Knucks to ride the beat with his inherently wavey delivery and set the scene. Many of the proceeding songs, up until ‘Send Nudes’, graphically relay trials and tribulations he and many of his confidants experienced growing up. Previous single ‘Hide and Seek’ makes parallels between adolescent playground games and subsequent temptations of more deviant activities from his upbringing. The following two tracks, ‘Bible’ and ‘Decisions’, reinforce Knucks’ confident rap bravado and see him in the presence of acclaimed lyrical company. On the former, Teflon and Knucks draw comparisons between being on road and the bible: “I go hard in my life, that’s Bible, That’s why I jugg hard ‘til it’s dark // ‘cause the devil’s in charge of the mind that’s idle”, whilst on ‘Decisions’ M1llionz questions the authenticity of others in the game: “Yo, where’s your credentials? What have you done that’s influential?”. Shae Universe also provides a compelling hook over Finn Wigan and Knuckles’ chilling drill beat.
The vibe shifts dramatically after this. Listeners are exposed to the more promiscuous side of Knuckles and his inner conflicts. ‘Playa’ sees him wanting to maintain a Batchelor status “You can’t be fallin’ in L-O-V-E, or whatever you call it // Real talk, it could never be me”, whereas ‘Send Nudes’ narrates a classic tale of lockdown love “What’s a king meant to do when he thinkin’ of you // But he trapped in his palace and pinned to his room?”. Sainte, Ragz Originale, Stormzy and Lex Amor all feature on the record’s latter half, bodying the contemporary, British UK rap production the likes of Venna, M1ontheBeat and E-Whizz deliver.
Album closer ‘Three Muskateers’ is undeniably one of the highlights. Over a Baile funk-infused drill beat, Knucks expresses compassion through the camaraderie he’s found in his closest mates and their relationship. The track is also an ode to Knucks’ grime emceeing past; in previous interviews, the rapper has spoken fervently about his early days spraying bars with an imaginary mic in front of the mirror. The skit that plays out the record gives us a glimpse into this time.
Alpha Place feels both triumphant and timeless: a modern-day classic that propels his storytelling to dizzying new heights. A diligent, 10-year career in the game is about to fully take off and put his name next to the most elite figures in UK rap’s stratosphere.