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Accelerating his ascent through the ranks of UK rap with his formidable debut album, Alpha Place, Knucks takes a moment to ground himself and his story.

Alpha Place is the sonic rendezvous that fans of UK rap’s newest sound have been waiting for — it’s daring and it’s personal.

 

With his debut album, released on 6th May, the sharp-penned artist behind the indelible No Days Off tag drops a pin on South Kilburn, mapping the estate and community that raised Knuckles into Knucks. Drawing from a personal archive of rhyme schemes, samples, intimate audio snippets and anecdotes from around the way, he delivers a true work of art that solidifies his unique sound.

 

Peering from the top of the Alpha House estate down to kicking back with the “Three Musketeers”, not a single second was spared for fluff in the multihyphenate’s “origin story”. Each track on the 13-title album adds colour to Knucks’ home life, flashing the skills that have earned him rapper, producer and now co-director stripes.

 

Carefully weighing in a selection of feature artists, including Stormzy, M1llionz, Lex Amor and SL among others, Knucks has become a musical mixologist, stirring seemingly disparate styles of rap into perfect harmony. “Hide & Seek” is no doubt his most potent concoction; between the storytelling rapper, platinum-producing heavyweight TSB and Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Venna, listeners are left with an unfathomable fold in the pit of their stomachs — the question of what happened to little old Kevin

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Knucks
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What we do know is that the tempo holding the album’s form is consistent, while the strings and saxophone weave seamlessly in and out of the tracklist like stitches gathering fabric. The No Days Off producer expertly blends soulful whispers with his resolute — and somehow understated — delivery. Enveloping Knucks’ unabashed bars, ‘Understand I’m a bandit / I’m takin’ they lamb and I’m makin’ a banquet’, the jazzy instrumentation echoes like a voice of reason.

 

The original album title, Drillmatic, eventually got scrapped, but some core drill elements remain in production. Drill only makes up a tiny piece of the rapper, whose work is an ode to home. “I feel like the album is almost an origin story for me. Alpha Place is the name of the road where I grew up and Alpha House is the name of our block, so every song kind of has a bit of that in it, whether that’s the subject or places we used to go to,” he says.

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“Being authentic is important because it allows people who can relate to my reality to know that they’re not alone.” 

“Coming back and seeing it from the new perspective that I have now, I can understand how someone else can see it as this scary jungle,” he continues. In truth, what everyone else thinks doesn’t matter when it comes down to defining a community. As Knucks says, “It’s the people in the area that make it what it is. Without the people it’s just blocks.”

 

At first glance, “Hide & Seek” sounds like fun and games, but in the ‘concrete jungle’, stakes are as real as the hook states: ‘If you lot end up losin’ your lives / Then it’s fine by me’. The stunning black and white portraits of young Black men against the estate backdrop in the video contrast with flickers of little old Kevin’s police officer encounter. Inspired by Bodie’s story in The Wire, Knucks sheds light on the grey area among the adversaries who are supposed to exist on either side of the law.

 

“Even though they’re doing this cat and mouse thing, they’re still looking out for each other. So it’s like hide and seek, where the mandem are doing what they’re doing and then there’s the guys whose duty it is to catch them all day […] They almost wouldn’t exist without one another. What would the police do if there was no one to arrest?” he supposes.

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Of course, an upbringing in northwest London doesn’t just consist of blocks and police altercations. Alpha Place unravels a multitude of layers that amounts to a sense of belonging. Even after spending time in Nigeria and moving out of the area, “The feeling of home didn’t go away,” he says. The African dance rehearsals in Kilburn run as part of his dad’s business were the perfect excuse to come back and chill with friends.

 

The artist’s personality is as playful and creative as the pockets within his rap flow. ‘Coach said ‘Come down to trials’ / Cause I could have got scouted, but I was at home’, he raps. He could have gone pro if he hadn’t injured his Achilles, he promises with a laugh. Singing the hook on one of his personal favourites, “Far”, Knucks jovially tells the tale of late-night drives. His back-to-back with Ragz results in a moment of pure bliss:

 

‘I’m like ‘Where should I hit this evenin’?’
Might hit this broad that lives in Neasden
She take pride on a side of beans
With the rice and peas with a bit more seasonin’
So I lied and I said ‘I’m vegan’
Cah I don’t wanna hurt them feelings’

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“THE ALBUM IS ALMOST AN ORIGIN STORY FOR ME” 

feelings’Added to a comedic introduction by No Signal’s very own Scully (Jason Kavuma), “Far” brings out a cheekiness that the online world is rarely privy to — other than the one tweet of concern about the rising price of white Air Force 1s, which he agreed shows the rock bottom state of society. “It’s in the gutter”, specifies Knucks. He doesn’t talk much on social media. “I like to let people know who I am just through the music,” he explains.

 

Whether it’s the Breaking Bad sample in “Los Pollos Hermanos”, “Big Kahuna” from the early days or “Leon the Professional”, there’s evidently a big place in the artist’s heart for TV and film. Alpha House is both the location and perspective from which Knucks directs his own movie about the unwritten rules of life.

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Through detailed accounts of the ‘highs and lows of the street’ and the “Playa” pitfalls of falling in ‘L-O-V-E’, the rapper offers an opening into his world. Without being his “authentic self” and sticking to his sound, Knucks says his motivation to create would have gone away. “It’s just not worth it if I have to change or be something that I’m not.”

 

He continues, “Being authentic is important because it allows people who can relate to my reality to know that they’re not alone.” While growing up, the artist had as much time for mischief on the blocks as he did for ‘Young kickabouts on Albert Road’, but nowadays, things are different. It’s bigger than himself.

 

Holding nothing back, he raps: ‘Knucks is headin’ the rebellion like I’m Nat Turner / Mans word, I can never be a mans worker’, making his intentions crystal clear. He’s building No Days Off as an all-encompassing creative collective, a recognisable brand and the label through which he has released this debut album. By polishing an already distinct sound with an impeccable body of work and mesmerising set of visuals, Knucks has reset the parameters of UK rap. Alpha Place is a reminder that this is just the start for the homegrown virtuoso.

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