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  • Writer's pictureEvan

KNOWITALL: The Beating Heart of the New York Underground

New York is perhaps the most iconic city in hip hop. The birthplace of legends from Nas to Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls to Yasiin Bey, the city has been a hub for talented rappers since the genre’s conception. Given its esteemed reputation, it can be a challenge for newcomers to stand out in NYC, but that has never been a problem for KNOWITALL.

Representing the borough of Queens, KNOWITALL has been a formidable force in the New York underground for half a decade. With an eclectic ear for beats, the MC thrives over production grimy or soulful, having proven himself one of the most consistent and versatile artists in his lane.

While many underground rappers focus on quantity, pushing out as many projects as possible to spread their name, KNOWITALL has no interest in that. Instead, the rapper has found success in patience, carefully crafting full-length albums with select producers to show off his skills at their finest.

KNOWITALL NYC  Riddlin Riddles
Riddlin Riddles by KNOWITALL

Although he has been rapping for years, the MC’s catalogue only began to blossom at the start of the 2020s. After a few EPs such as BLACKLYRICISTSMATTER and the Skip the Kid collaboration Music Saved Me, KNOWITALL made a splash with the 2021 album, RIDDLIN RIDDLES.

A smooth blend of soul and funk bound together by a punch of hip hop, this project sees KNOWITALL flex all the skills that would become his brand. His flows are meticulous, seldom speeding up or slowing down, but instead remaining steady, compelling the listener to focus on every word uttered. His rhyme schemes are mesmerising, covering simple topics with a vocabulary and attention to detail that makes every verse uniquely complex.

As great as RIDDLIN RIDDLES is, it lacks the same cohesion of the rapper’s other material. For the album, KNOWITALL brought on a range of producers to provide beats, each putting their own spin on the lush and soulful soundscape. The end-result is a diverse record, but far from his most immersive and complete.

The machine by KNOWITALL & Owlkast

2022’s The machine, by contrast, is entirely produced by underground beatmaker Owlkast. This project sees KNOWITALL dive into more hard-hitting territory, taking a step back from the soulful sound of RIDDLIN RIDDLES to embrace a rawer style. The album has that classic New York grit, with fuzzy string samples and psychedelic swirls of synths supplied by Owlkast. On many tracks, the percussion is faint or non-existent, providing the rapper a challenge to keep the rhythm of the songs going with his rhymes alone. Highlights like “Mr. KNOWITALL”, “Einstein rhyming”, and “Life is crazy” are KNOWITALL essentials.

Continuing his run through 2022, Soul Surgery is the rapper’s collaboration with producer OGknownforsmokin. Unlike the psychedelic grime of The machine, Soul Surgery sees KNOWITALL embrace the soul of his older material, floating over lush waves of strings as well as jittery piano sections. The rapper’s aggressive, in-your-face bravado offers a compelling contrast against OG’s softer approach to production. With only two features across the entire album – GRIM MARCELLO and Patty Honcho – Soul Surgery is yet another testament to KNOWITALL’s ability to hook the listener with rhythm and poetry.

KNOWITALL NYC Music Saved Me 2
Music Saved Me 2 by KNOWITALL & Skip the KId

If I were to recommend any album for newcomers to KNOWITALL, it would be Music Saved Me 2. The album is a joint effort with sample-chopping wizard Skip the Kid, expanding on the ideas of their 2021 EP for a grand and cinematic listen. Unlike KNOWITALL who has become known for his steady and unrelenting presence, Skip the Kid’s brand consists of glitchy sample-work, sudden rearrangements, and uncompromisingly chaotic sounds. Music Saved Me 2 is a slick compromise between both styles, ranging from the high-pitched vocal loops of “Peaking” to the sinister piano backdrop of “Music Saved Us”. As sharp with the pen as ever, KNOWITALL masters every instrumental from Skip, making for a masterfully consistent collaboration.

Yet again, KNOWITALL outdoes himself with 2023’s Hand Painted Realities, a phenomenal crossover with Canadian producer Barto100. Perhaps his most acclaimed work to date, the album sees the rapper perfect his style in every regard. Every bar is meticulously written, with clever punchlines, witty wordplay, and overlapping rhyme schemes laced into every line. The beats from Barto complement the MC perfectly, with his use of grand horns and orchestral samples providing KNOWITALL with a symphonic backing that adds power to every verse.

KNOWITALL NYC Hand Painted Realities
Hand Painted Realities by KNOWITALL & Barto100

However, as brilliant as his catalogue is, the rapper’s albums are not the only reason he is so highly regarded. In collaboration with rapper/producer Happy Art, KNOWITALL set up the ‘Scaring the Hoes Hip Hop Showcase’, an exclusive event for underground rappers to gather and perform live. From a quaint venue to a full-blown mini festival, the showcase has evolved into a core facet of the New York underground. KNOWITALL’s contributions to live music culture, in tandem with his consistent output, have made his importance to the city undeniable.

More recently, the MC dropped 777, a victory lap of sorts celebrating the success of his career over a plethora of relentlessly grimy beats from Zilla900. 2024’s Caution: Laser In Use is the rapper’s latest release as of now – a joint album with jazz rap producer Filip Neuf. Perfecting the vibrant and ever-evolving soundscapes of Filip’s jazz, KNOWITALL once again proves his versatility with Laser In Use. Harbouring some of his most vulnerable and introspective verses to date, the project is proof that KNOWITALL is in no mood to settle; he will continue to evolve and improve on his sound until the city is tired of hearing his name.

KNOWITALL Logo. Credit: Instagram/@czarheel

KNOWITALL might not be as familiar a name as a Nas or a Pharaohe Monch, but his importance to New York hip hop is obvious. Beyond his efforts to bring the underground together through ‘Scaring the Hoes’, simply as a rapper, you would be hard pressed to find an MC on the same level as KNOWITALL. A master of flow with a witty sense of humour, a sharp sense of wordplay, and a natural charisma on the mic, he has earned his title as one of the best rappers this decade.


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