Exclusive: In the studio with Kirk Knight and Billionaire Boys Club
The Pro-Era icon on his creative process.
[P]ushing knowledge of self before all else, rapper and producer Kirk Knight is an icon for a new generation. Together with the Pro-Era crew, the Brooklyn-born polymath has helped put New York rap back on the map, with a lyrical consciousness and production prowess beyond his years.
Starring in the latest Billionaire Boys Club zine, Kirk opens up to the brand’s European Creative Director, Ross Westland about his musical influences and creative process in his New York studio. In a wide-ranging conversation, Kirk speaks on his Caribbean roots, getting started early start as a producer and working with Joey Bada$$. From drumming Mos Def beats on the table in middle school, to touring the world in support of his own albums – it’s a candid insight into the Flatbush native’s unconventional journey in hip-hop, full of his trademark honesty, wisdom and wit.
Read an exclusive extract from the interview and preview the latest in Billionaire Boys Club’s ‘Boys of Tomorrow’ video series below.
The FW17 Billionaire Boys Club zine featuring Kirk Knight will be available exclusively in the London Flagship store on Marshall Street from 16th November along with the latest Fall collection drops
Hey Kirk, where did you grow up?
I grew up on Woodruff (Brooklyn, New York) that’s my actual block but I just say Parkside since Woodruff is a small block so people only know about it if they’re in Flatbush. I just be saying Parkside all day.
When did you start getting into music?
I started getting into music when I was like 14/15 but when I was like 12/13 I was beating on the table. My mum always had a vision for me. She was the one who bought a piano, before I was born, and a guitar, before I was born, but my father didn’t really want me to live that kind of lifestyle. My mum wanted my hair to grow, my father didn’t. He wanted to make me more ‘acceptable’ for society but my mum was more like NO! Do you, because society is supposed to accept you. So it was different. When my father left – seeing my mother believe in me so hard, and she was so hurt at the time, made all of the music that she’d manifested in me just flow through me. When I was young I didn’t play any instruments but she put those things around me, so I would pick them up and my mind was being musically trained to think of arrangements and the types of melodies I liked. So she was the one who kept those items around me and it kept me in that musical area.
Are your parents from New York as well?
My mother is from Antigua and my father is from Grenada. So you know I’m like hella Caribbean and shit [laughing]. Having Caribbean parents was like they’re not in today’s society, they’re still back home but they just live here. That’s it. That’s why I always call my mum a Flatbush Plant. She gon’ be there forever. I wanna move her… CRAZY! My mother doesn’t need much. That’s why I love my mother. She made something outta nothing and that’s what trained me to have that same ideology. So when I left my mother’s house when I was 16/17 it forced me to fend for myself and also be my own man and understand that all situations, bad or good… I remain the reason for it. Nobody can control my ideas, my thoughts, my actions. It has to be from you because then you’ll know who to blame when it fails. That is the realest shit. If I’m sitting here; “Yo it’s because of him etc” then I’m always blaming somebody else but myself. If I know I’m the one to blame then that’s gonna help me overcome the situation and never make the mistake again, you feel me? That’s why I love my Moms.
You were explaining that your mum put music in front of you. What type of music or artists inspired you?
The funniest thing is I didn’t get into hip hop the traditional way. Basically I would follow my older brother like in terms of anything he was be doing. I would listen to the same shit: Animal Collective, Hawthorne Heights, Yellowcard, Fall Out Boy, Green Day… mad rock shit at first! Panic at the Disco. But what that taught me was emotion. To really have emotion on the record. To really show that you’re able to be that vulnerable with your fans because you wanna show that side because you want them to be that close to you. And when I seen all of that it inspired me to do the screaming shit, like really express myself. Like tatts, all that weird crazy shit cause at the end of the day that’s expressing you. And then my brother I remember one time when I was sick or something, I wasn’t in school, and I was watching TV and shit and I see Ms. Fat Booty (Mos Def) which was the most firest joint at the time… BRO! That was the firest beat! The room fell silent… [starts singing lyrics] LIKE, YO! That was the first time seeing my heritage renewed and someone spitting on that reggae shit on the record but it’s hip hop – still rapping on some New York gritty Brooklyn shit. And even the beat itself because I used to knock on tables and make little rhythms but I didn’t know what it was. Like I didn’t know really what was up.
So from all of this different music that was influencing you at the time, like different sorts of genres and styles, what came first - producing or rapping?
Producing came first. Cause I was rapping but I was more like writing poetry – just expressing my feelings in a way that helped me get some thoughts off. It wasn’t until later, until I saw Steez and Joey rap, in my face, freestyling off the dome! No phone, no paper, nothing! But Imma get to that… But basically how I first started was when I was in middle school I was making beats and I was beating on the table for Joey for when he was rapping and shit and the funny thing is we clicked because he was the popular kid. I was the kid who didn’t care if people knew me or not. I just came to do I what I had to do and leave. I didn’t really give a fuck. And Joey didn’t really give a fuck either. People gravitated towards him. Like OD. People just gravitate to him and he’s always been that guy. That’s why I’m not surprised for any accomplishments Joey ever gets. Shout out my bro Joey one time! He’s gonna accomplish, and has accomplished, so many things. I already knew that was destined for him since Middle School.
So I’m sitting there beating on the table, you know? And then transitioning into high school, cause I went to a different high school, Joey hit me. We were playing Call of Duty and he hit me on the chat and he told me like “Yo, why don’t you take it to an actual program you get what I’m saying?” So I thought about it, and my mum tried to push it, and then I was like this is my mans and he’s saying I’m actually dope at rhythm so fuck it. That’s when he was working on New Kid on the Block that was his first jump off man! [laughing] Shout out to New Kid on the Block!
How well do you remember making those early beats?
So when I was making beats at first I was listening to rock beats and my beats were just melodic. I was just trying to find mad shit to play over cause I know that the guitar wasn’t gonna sound good on hip hop shit. Until, of course, my mind was opened – like super opened to it. So I’m sitting there playing shit and I’m like doing that little [beat boxing] I’m trying to do a different beat and I’m getting 9th Wonder, J Dilla, Madlib. I’m just trying to start it off. I remember I told Joey “I need a tag man”. So my first producer name was K. Star beats, man. K. Star was my name if you knew about K. Star you were a real one! [Laughing with DJ Rell Knox] Shout out my broski Rello one time! Damn that brought me back, that was like a fuckin time warp yo. God damn.
How did you get to be Kirk Knight?
Every morning I used to get ready to Curren$y – Michael Knight. That’s literally how I got my name dog. People on my block called me Kirk because my actual name is Kirlane. Back then at the time it was just like “Yo Kirk”, “Young Kirk”. Then in my head every morning was “Michael Knight, Michael Knight”… I used to get ready to that shit every morning and it really stuck with me… It just resonated with me and I didn’t even know what Michael Knight was! So I just put Kirk and Knight together because that sounded solid. I didn’t like K Star. I needed something solid like Kirk. Knight. So that’s how that shit came dead ass. Shout to Curren$y that’s big bro. That’s really the story behind my name (laughs).
And you’ve been self taught the whole way through?
Yeah… I never went to school for this shit. It was more or less like Imma sit down and figure it out. I remember I used to go home everyday from school early! Ear-ly. To get to the crib bro. Just to work on music. There was a time in my life when, I was outside for a hot minute and I was experiencing a lot of things where I realised if I keep doing this ride, it’s not gonna get me far. It was probably gonna get me far in terms of the luxuries in life but it’s not gonna get me far in terms of the inspiration that I can give a man that’s on his last knee. That’s how I be feeling. I wanna be that guy. It doesn’t even matter about the money. Like nothing, I don’t care. I just wanna inspire so many people that you could literally do multiple things and win. You can do anything you want. You can DJ, you can model, you can do all that shit. Cause at the end of the day you have to learn. My whole motto is to do with adaptation… I adapt and that’s why I wanna show people – how easy it is to adapt to any situation. A jack of all trades. That’s my motto, you know what I’m saying?
So do you have any advice? Your vision of the future perhaps? As you were saying in 2017 you can’t stand still and ‘just be a rapper’ you wanna be the rapper/producer - how do you see the future?
When I think of the ‘boys of tomorrow’ – I see the future as finding anywhere possible where you fit that motivates and inspires for the greater good. Not for just you but it’s for people to look back in history, for those generations to come, to look back and be inspired and to learn from and repeat those same styles in a different form so that they can create a new idea. I’m trying to birth a new generation. I’ve never had a job… ever in my life. Never had a job. When I was in high school, the funny thing is chemistry was one of my favourite subjects. Shouts out to chemistry. If I wasn’t doing music I’d probably be a scientist or something – I’d be chemist actually [laughs] most likely. That’s what we’re here to do. I’m not here to fantasise or live in facades to enjoy the luxuries.
I wanna make sure that I create a space where people can look back at this time period and be fully inspired, when they’re on their last leg, and be like “Yo, I don’t know what to do next?” I’ve been in those situations… writer’s block. I don’t even know if there’s something called producer’s block, when you can’t make beats or you can’t make the right sounds… stuff doesn’t connect right. I want to be able to show that through my music. It’s fine to have those situations but just remember the reason why people love you. At the end of the day if I’m somebody else what are people paying to see? [Laughs] Like what have they come to this show to see? That doesn’t even make any sense. They’re trying to see Kirk Knight. So be you! I’ve never put myself in a situation where I’ve had to work for anybody. I’ve literally just sat here and created a landscape for all of my brothers to thrive on and that’s what everybody should strive to do… facts.