It might seem obvious, but Pro Era rapper/producer Kirk Knight says he’d be a chemist if he weren’t rapping.
“I was into chemistry really hard when I was in high school. I got an 85 or a 90 on the Regents Exam when I was younger. I was in a chemistry class a year or two before that — I can’t even really remember — but I was taking advanced chemistry as a sophomore.”
Staying ahead of his grade has always come naturally to Knight, who first began accruing production credits at the age of 15. As a producer, Knight’s sample-heavy beats feel perfectly reflective of the Pro Era collective’s larger ethos — soulful and straightforward, potent and without frills, and delightfully void of the increasingly unavoidable fist-pump-sub-bass.
Knight’s flow is aggressive — more like an impassioned rant than an OG Maco–style tantrum — with each verse competently assembled with plenty of room for embellishment. He even slightly channels ODB with playful vowel refrains and loosey-goosey melodies. It’s all totally impressive, especially given Knight’s persistence at remaining “under the radar.”
I recently caught up with Knight in anticipation of his February 26 show at Velvet Jones with Mick Jenkins. For tickets and info, call (805) 965-8676 or visit velvet-jones.com.
This is a weird question, but what would it be like to hear one of your tracks as someone’s ringtone? I’d actually be complimented. I remember when I was out in Cali, a friend turned on their CD player in the car and the first song that played was my song “Dreams” from when I was 16. We tried to change it — that song “Dreams” is my favorite song, and it’s really kind of personal, so I was like, “Ahhh, I don’t wanna hear this right now,” and then the next song was “Extortion” [another early Knight track]. That was ill, especially because it was on a CD. She had to burn that shit on her computer just to play it in her car.
It seems like there’s something about Pro Era that really resonates with people. Do you think it’s because of your vibe, or because you’re being put on blast? That junk just feels good man. It all feels good, because everything we talk about as a group isn’t of non-substance, you know what I’m saying? The fact that there are people like Malia Obama wearing our shirts — it shows that we speak for a younger generation. And, honestly, I feel like the younger generation is more interested in what we had to do to break through the musical grid. You look at people like Willow Smith, her whole energy. I know in time, she’s gonna become an amazing artist. Same thing with Raury, that “Indigo Child” is hard, too. Just the fact that people are more comfortable with being conscience is better. That’s basically it.
Pro Era’s sound is unique in that it sounds geographically specific without being limited by that legacy. Do you think it’s possible for a group like Pro Era to grow out of a community void of that same hip-hop or cultural legacy? What’s imbedded in you is always going to be there — it can only be weakened by your environment. If I go to Cali right now, and I start living in Cali, I’d still be making that aggressive music. But due to the fact that my everyday life in Cali, and me living in the now, the grittiness and the New York that’s in me will be weakened, in terms of music. So when I start making beats, I start with an 88 [BPM] instead of a 96. That’s the only way I can explain it. It’s a faster pace; it’s different.
In Flatbush, I can only talk about my side of Flatbush. I lived all in Parkside and that, and there’s two types of Flatbush: There’s the whole Flatbush money-violence-drug shit, and then the Flatbush where we have those aesthetics, but we bring something totally different. People look at me and think, “Oh, he’s about to rob me,” and I really do get that because people do say I look like that, but in all actuality, I’m one of the nicest guys, and I’m one of the most knowledgeable guys, at least in terms of just thinking, because I think a lot. People judge a book by its cover. I might look like a hood dude, but my mental is totally different.