A Lesson From the Professor of Memphis Rap, Knowledge Nick
Memphis rapper/hip-hip artist/emcee Knowledge Nick is on a roll. He's released four projects in three years, including his most recent album, "The New Memphis". Don't stereotype him for his genre or his age, though, because you won't hear "krunk" or "turnt up" on any of his albums. Not that he's against it – "everything has its lane" is something he likes to say – but a more message-based music is his personal style. I sat down with Knowledge Nick a few weeks ago to get schooled on him, his music, and methodology behind "The New Memphis."
What's your background? I went to Millington High School, graduated in 2007, and started going to The University of Memphis. I got my finance degree in May of 2012 and got a job a couple months after that. So I'm an emcee with a degree (laughs). I started emceeing around 2008.
How did you get started in music? I started going to different open mic nights and bumped into some people, then bumped into some more people. I met Jason Da Hater…he put shows together. And that was the kickoff.
What inspires you? Everything with me is about a soul connection, and I guess starting out on open mics, I gained a respect and an appreciation for that soul connection. So many times I hear so many artists in their diva modes, but I like hearing the genuineness and sincerity in people's work. Last night I went to Mot and Ed's and I recited there, but just hearing the other poets recite, that inspires me. They talk about life stuff, or stuff that's going on in the community, that inspires me as an emcee to want to create stuff like that.
What's an open mic in Memphis like? You will definitely hear people's souls. You'll definitely hear people's stories. An open mic to me has always been a place where you can really unleash your soul and people will gravitate to it. I always go to open mic nights just to hear people speak without the shine.
What do you rap about? People tend to call me the professor of Memphis rap. The lyrical content does vary from life stuff to community stuff to community awareness. I want to challenge us as a people to do better. It's refreshing to listen to.
Why is your music different? I'm considered an old soul, and so that kind of infiltrates my music and it's very progressive and very alternative. And it's kid-friendly. I want to bridge the gap between the elders and the kids.
Personal Influences? Penny Hardaway. He's someone that's from Memphis, made it to the NBA, but still gives back to the community, and that's what the New Memphis is about. I hear of a lot of rappers that once they make it, they don't always give back. I always say that if I was the one to make it, I'd be the one that would give back.
What is the "New Memphis"? The New Memphis is a philosophy of mine. It's really about change. When I choose to represent my city, I choose to do it in the most positive way that I know how to do. New Memphis is a look at the art scene as a whole – it's a renaissance. Dance, theater, all this is a renaissance. And once that's reinforced over and over again, then that's when people will be able to see the New Memphis.
How can music and the "New Memphis" concept make change? Hip- hop is a very powerful genre. I remember growing up and people used to wear their pants legs one up and one down, because they saw [hip hop artists doing that] on TV. And if you emulate that, that's power. It's all about taking that power and using that for the greater good to impact the people within our community. I'm a believer that there's a New Memphis out here, from what I've seen in my 25 years. When I started looking at Memphis in a different light, it sort of changed my perception. I know if it does it for me, it can do it for anybody else.
Knowledge Nick will open for Al Kapone and a slew of other Memphis rappers at the "Memphis As F***" show at the Hi-Tone on Friday, July 18. Doors at 9 p.m. More info here.