Alpha Place is an album and space in which Knucks gathers scenes and ideas ever present in his adolescence growing up on the Alpha House estate in Kilburn.
Knuck’s curates a 13 track project that pays homage to his upbringing. It is a homely album, collecting the ambience like the compound of frolicking youth on the estate, sounds of sirens in the near distance which feels a norm, and conversations in ends spoken by those who live there.
These notions are triggered through skits over the songs, evolving into a verse or tune, which helps build the picture Knucks is capturing. It feels like a stream of consciousness extracted from a session of reminiscing, leading to refined and finely placed storytelling. The production is immersive, evoking ideas that intertwine with the lyrics and project’s stories.
The album is infused with a lot of cultural references and anecdotes that show the type of person Knucks is: an intriguing and relatable guy with a passion for piecing together good music. As a result, for me this is Knucks’ best and most complete project to date. One that shows he’s not only a great rapper, but should be considered in the limelight alongside other stars of the scene.
The album begins with ‘Alpha House’, featuring Venna, where Knucks swiftly denotes his early experiences of growing up on the estate. The truth behind his name, we learn, is that it’s shortened from Knuckles because of his propensity to throwing hands. There’s other mischievous moments, like bunning in the estate lifts, pondering on what ifs of love, and acknowledging a reality of home (“But even if I was down and out, I’d still come back to Alpha House”). It transitions from the low-toned, jazz-infused Hip Hop beat his fans would usually associate him with into a wiry eclectic sound in ‘Nice & Good’ featuring SL, one of the few singles from the project.
‘Hide & Seek’ is a track that encompasses the struggle of the street level hustlers against the street Police. Returning to a mellow beat, the song tells the story of Kevin, a man who’s stuck in a trap that Knucks likens to Tom & Jerry – with Kevin only leaving his house for the cheddar. Knucks created this song after being inspired by Bodie and McNulty’s relationship in The Wire. It ends with a skit that highlights the disbelief in the years behind sentencing, noting that “4 years” is a quarter of his life so far, rolling into the track ‘Bible’ featuring the legendary Youngs Teflon.
The song highlights the juxtaposition of religion and a life of crime that many find themselves in. This marks a full circle moment for Knucks, admittedly being inspired by Youngs Teflon’s remarkable rapping ability and résumé that almost stems back two decades. On the flipside, a younger rapper in Sainte features on the later track ‘Playa’. Sainte just so happens to be a big fan of Knucks, who first came to prominence with ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’ in 2016. Sainte listened to the rapper in school and is now a pretty big deal himself. The features are well spread, spanning generations, genre, and levels of artistry.
Knucks has a tenacity to work with great artists, evident by his ever-growing list of features. This may be most apparent on ‘Decisions’ featuring Millionz and Shae Universe. When Knucks produces a song, he has masterful placement. Shae sits between Knucks and Millionz, serenading us with her silky voice, while Millionz jumps on a beat that compliments his rigorous flow. With most of the album self-produced, including additional producers such as M1OnTheBeat, TSB, Venna, Ragz Originale, Finn Wigan and more, the album is scored to employ Knucks and the features at their best while holding together the concept of home.
A personal favourite is ‘Leon the Professional’, a song that shows Knucks’ brilliance in storytelling. Not only does it produce a terrific mental spectacle, but a great tune. It samples Toshifumi Hinata’s Reflections, a Japanese Jazz song from 1986. It sits alongside ‘From Rome With Love’, another early track of Knucks’ that got me invested in his career, which samples Mai Yamane’s Tasogare. On the back end of a skit, the all too familiar “have you heard of” template for a story, Knucks explains the infamous nature of Leon.
A typical mad man from the ends that has so many stories attached to his name they blend into legend like the Undertaker’s. His movie theme rolls into later tunes, like the other single ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’, named after the infamous fast food front from Breaking Bad.
My other favourite is ‘Die Hard’ featuring Stormzy, a soft beat that asks us to concentrate on the bars. It is nothing short of hard, a real rap song, where they flex wordplay on their ambitions as they intend to die great. This song epitomises the project in my eyes, as it shows where Knucks has come from, the realities he has endured, and the levels he has reached and intends to stay.