Review: Knucks, ‘Alpha Place’

Knucks brings a classy touch to UK hip hop on Alpha Place, a thirteen-track tape with plenty stories to tell.

A portion of UK rap fans have been looking for something different; artists that deviate from the regular trend of drill. What they’ve been looking for is traditional hip hop with a modern twist. Enter Knucks, the South Kilburn rapper who made noise with his breakout song, “Home”, and its accompanying project, NRG 105. It was followed up by 2020’s London Class, a highlight of the year. Knucks is one of the few UK rappers to embrace jazz rap, alongside a smooth use of samples and compelling storytelling. Alpha Place is the rapper’s third mixtape (he calls it an EP, however), executive-produced by frequent collaborator, Venna.

Alpha Place firmly establishes Knucks’s style, and may just be the project that wipes the mislabelling of traditional hip hop as ‘alternative’ hip hop.

Photography: Lucero

There are two elements to a successful Knucks song: jazz production, and reeling lyricism. His production choices are actually conventional in the grander scheme, but not for UK listeners due to the surfeit of trap and drill music. Alpha Place is largely self-produced alongside production from Venna, splitting the thirteen tracks between natural instruments, smooth samples, and hints of lo-fi drill. When Alpha Place brings the formula together, it’s met with some of his best songs to date.

The selling point of Alpha House is Knucks’ storytelling. On plenty tracks, he sets the scene from bar one, taking a linear path that makes it easy for the listener to follow. “Leon the Professional” dictates the psyche of a local gunman, a story that could be further explored in future songs if Knucks wishes so. “Hide & Seek” explores the respective sides of a policeman and a young drug dealer, backed up by soothing saxophones and an appropriate hook. “Three Musketeers” touches on postcode politics that affected Knucks and his two childhood friends. Tracks like these carry a personal angle and also put the project’s study of London life into perspective.

Production choices keep Knucks firmly in the hip hop realm. Lead single “Los Pollos Hermanos” is full of flavour with its 70s bossa nova sample and Breaking Bad reference. The sombre strings on “Leon the Professional” and piano on “Alpha House” brings life to the songs, never sounding synthetic. Subdued drill 808s turn up on “Bible” with Youngs Teflon and other tracks. Luckily they never go the whole way, and are instead a creative way of bringing two genres together.

It’s clear Knucks is still warming up for greater artistry and stories to come. Now his third project since his debut, Knucks is still on autopilot. Alpha Place gets immersed in familiarity that we’re all used to. He is still reserved, not delivering something spectacular that will blow the scene out of the waters. Despite this, Knucks is still a breath of fresh air, providing a necessary sound that will take UK rap to new heights.

Knucks is no longer the ‘alternative’ rapper. Alpha Place bins that label for good, showcasing a trajectory with unlimited possibilities on the cards.

7.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Los Pollos Hermanos”, “Leon the Professional”, “Alpha House”, “Hide & Seek”, “Die Hard”, “Nice & Good”