With Brooklyn’s Pro Era music group in good health and the whole borough and city of NY in high hip-hop spirits for that matter, it only seems right that producer/rapper Kirk Knight (Kirlan Labarrie) release a solo album, especially considering the facts that headman Joey Bada$$ just issued his at the beginning of the year, member CJ Fly is still eating off of his Thee Way Eye See It mixtape and the fans could use a mood-changer to put some closure on the untimely death of Capital STEEZ. And as expected, Knight has delivered with Late Knight Special (Oct. 30) on none other than the Pro Era-friendly hip-hop label Cinematic Music Group. Knight embodies the positive vibes that the collective stands for here, and he roughly divides his time between mentally conditioning himself, pondering love and sending us ballasted messages to think about, all to his blended, complicated art-beats.
Around bangers like “Brokeland,” “5 Minutes” and “Knight Time,” Knight sends out a good deal of positivity and alternative thought that listeners can use and that also serve as motivational self-help mantras for Knight himself. He raps, “don’t trust no one” and “I hit the ground and start running” in “Start Running,” and he exudes a good attitude for a better life in “Heaven Is For Real.” It makes sense then that his next track of hope, “Down,” puts some solid ground beneath his feet, some much needed foundation. The final four songs return to the ghetto for hood politics as we soon shall see.
“I Know” with Chi emcee Mick Jenkins discusses how poor slum entertainers can really never be felt and empathized with by their more well to do, middle class and wealthier fans so it’s a new spin on the established maxim ‘my life, your entertainment.’ Relatedly, “Dead Friends” with LA musician/singer Thundercat and Noname Gypsy, another Chicago rhyme-crafter, deals with the difficulty in getting over the loss of loved ones, an all too common ghetto malady of course. “The Future” featuring The Mind begins to leave a legacy for Knight, and in “All For Nothing,” he expresses a little bit of general nihilism, a much too predictable demeanor for a man of Knight’s background and a dark, hopeless tangent/conclusion that differs a lot from the beginning’s enlivened optimism.
As the most recognized beat maker in the extensive Pro Era team, Kirk Knight has designed his productions to perfectly match his bipolar emotions. Mostly dark, these ‘cloud meets NY drill’ compositions are stacked, warped and slightly distorted with cheerful notes when and if Knight feels like getting amped. If he has used sampled material, he has dissected, picked them apart and blended them in so well that it’s a task by itself just to identify them. Some of the time, he just goes straight for the synth route, combining sounds, tones and textures that may not naturally go well with one another. Overall, the music is a welcome addition to the growing genre of trap and drill mixed with flowing psychedelia, but it may be hard to distinguish from the work of other producers who are oriented in the same way as Knight artistically.
Through and through, Knight is real. He has a fighting spirit, he wants to connect with us through his music and verses, and he is capable and in search of love (see the flirty “One Knight”) even if he is trying not to get too attached in the process (“Scorpio”). He warmly embraces Pro Era’s renegade, alternative mission and their propitious, onward life-outlook. He is thought-provoking and emotionally generative, but because he is a vague, prototypical figure here who chooses not to go into the more specific details of his personal life or some current social/world affairs, he has become one of many in the hip-hop/rap business, a model rather than an exception. He seems to be a replica of Vince Staples, Mick Jenkins or even Joey Bada$$ if one were so inclined as to go that far, but on the bright side, Late Knight Special is a rich, solid affair that doesn’t skimp on the essentials of the music.