Kirk Knight Shines on Summer Knights: A UK Perspective

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Not long after Joey Bada$$ dropped his 2nd solo project – Summer Knights — he tweeted out to his fans:

https://twitter.com/joeyBADASS_/statuses/351793643385929730

A tough call to make with 17 tracks to listen to, with plenty of them up to the same high standards set by his debut 1999. A couple days later, Joey seemed a little concerned that reviewers hadn’t left it long enough before offering their views on the tape:

https://twitter.com/joeyBADASS_/statuses/352368918901424130

After a few thorough listens and some time to evaluate, the Kirk Knight produced tracks — “Alowha,” “Right on Time,” and “#LongLiveSteelo” — stand out to me. This is not to dismiss the other beats on the album, but I find that the more chill, uplifting production compliments Bada$$’s raps the most. One can almost imagine Nas or Biggie spittin’ over the beats, with the old school Illmatic style sounds transitioning over from 1999 to Summer Knights seamlessly. The difference this time around appears to be a slightly stronger focus and tighter level of production, as well as Joey’s decision to play around with his voice, noticeable in his latest release “95’ Til Infinity.”

“Alowha”

The project kicks off with an announcement on “Alowha.” The easy-listening horns and happy, melodic trumpet soothes listeners into the summer season. Once the introduction fades out, we witness shattering cymbals and a slightly darker and more sadistic beat. Joey’s raps sound more mature and less clean-cut than his 1st project, and the minor notes in the beat sound somewhat sinister. The mysterious sound becomes slightly unnerving and the contrast to the beginning is bold. This fits perfectly with Joey’s opening bars:

Yo, with not a damn ting on my mind
But this rhyme, and a matter of time

To make this whole shit align
Like I planned out

It’s a switched-on start to the tape which draws the listener in immediately. The track makes effective use of imperfect vocal samples and there are many lines which refer back to his older material. For me, a particularly stand-out line is the Pokémon reference:

Young scorcher trying to evolve like Charmeleon

It’s not surprising that this well-suited lyric is echoed, due to Joey’s age (officially part of the nineties Pokémon generation), his level of intensity, and his willingness to evolve and progress (who doesn’t want to have/be Charizard?). At the same time, I can’t help but relate back to the late great Capital STEEZ’s Pokémon reference on “Survival Tactics”:

And Pokémon wasn’t gettin' recognized at Comic-Con

“Right on Time”

Kirk’s next track for Joey is one I’m near certain they performed together at Manchester’s Parklife festival, testing the waters with some new material. The gentle piano chords perfectly accompany the theme of the song, which is of course love. The bass is soft and adds further depth to the hip-hop beat.

This is another easy listening jam from Knight, which emphasises the smooth flow of Bada$$, firmly established on 1999. The drums are not perfectly quantized, which helps make for a lazy, natural swing — something which is relevant in a lot of rap music. This track contains (arguably) the strongest lyric on Summer Knights:

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, no
One man’s clever, one knows no better

The lyric plays on the traditional saying, but Joey’s teenage wisdom turns it on its head claiming that love is all down to the intelligence of those involved.

T’Nah Apex mustn’t be looked over in this track either, as she supplies her soft, feminine vocals which accompany Joey’s raps and the overall message about the conflicts of relationships.

“LongLiveSteelo”

As we get to Knight’s third and final production on Summer Knights, it has become evident that he chose to adopt the “less is more” approach. The tribute to Capital STEEZ is both crisp and poignant, powerful and provoking. The soft, angelic echoes are heavenly and hollow, metaphorical for such a great loss in the new wave of hip-hop.

Knight makes use of a dry, cracking snare which is harsh on the ears compared to the lightly reverberated drums. Lyrically, Joey’s got this one spot-on, as we get a personal insight into STEEZ’s character:

But you taught me a life lesson, the fight within

We learn that it was Steez who also taught Joey the importance of reading books, as Joey uses clever wordplay in the lyric:

You used to tell me read books, niggas bookin’ me now

“LongLiveSteelo” isn’t Joey’s way of benefiting from the loss of his brother, as some fans have shockingly suggested, but is instead a sombre track, loaded with emotion and empathy. Joey opens up to his fans, admitting:

I feel guilty walking around outside with false pride

It’s almost as if Joey and Kirk have collaborated on this tune as a form of cathartic cleansing, resulting in a tribute track that I’m sure that King Capital will be proud of.

It ends with a direct reference to Steez’s track, “Negus,” and also Biggie’s hit with 112, “Sky’s the Limit.” It’s an optimistic ending, as we learn that Joey’s ambition has strengthened:

The sky’s the limit
That’s what they told the fuckin’ fool
I disguised the limit
Now I’m aiming for the Sun and Moon

I must re-enforce the fact that I’m not disregarding the other songs on Summer Knights. I’m merely giving Kirk Knight his due for these 3 tracks. But don’t take this as gospel — music is, of course, entirely subjective and down to individual opinion.

It’s safe to say that despite major releases from Kanye West, Jay-Z, J. Cole, Mac Miller, and Wale, Joey BADA$$ and the Pro Era crew have provided a fresh new soundtrack to summer 2013.