The knife edge between underground and commercial has never been thinner than now in current music trends – one song, catchy hook, or even just a throwaway lyric is enough to propel an artist to the next height in their career (look at YBN Nahmir, JPEGMAFIA, or many others), but sometimes things aren’t as serendipitous as “right place, right time” – once trends are spotted, there is the temptation to fashion something viral-ready, but usually this falls away as another dispensable project that just melds into the current sound without standing out.
Kirk Knight has done exactly that.
The NY prodigy, rapping mate of Joey Badass and Capital Steez has had a slew of fan-favourite projects in the last few years, showcasing a beautiful command of balancing old-school influences, with more cutting edge production styles to create unique sounds and songs that have garnered acclaim, and helped propel the notoriety of other artists as well (‘Dead Friends’ from Late Night Special, a career standout, steered many fans to the rising talent that is Noname, now a huge figure in Chicago rap). Despite this obvious set of proven skills, IIWII (‘It is what it is’) falls into the trap of attempting to break new ground by grafting current musical styles onto one’s own work – a tragedy, as the jittering and creaking uniqueness of Kirk’s sound is merely an occasional quirk on this album, despite being previously much more integral to his sound.
Kirk’s instrumental work has especially suffered – he is proficient at taking musical cues from a number of sources, and combining them into quirky and hazy beats that are not only textured, but catchy and test his ability to then rap over them. IIWII has gone for slicker drums, more compressed percussion, and whatever other instrumental cues thousands of Metro Boomin cloned beats would feature, completely sapping a previous source of character. As a result, focus shifts more so towards writing, which shouldn’t be an issue for Kirk Knight, as he can rap on an incredible level – but it was the synchronicity between the instrumentals and lyrics that gave his prior work so much character as opposed to now, where although the writing is good, it is insufficient to propel a whole project in the same way it used to.
This inability to establish momentum is shown by the first few tracks, as M.O and Different Day are strong starts, but fail to make any of the subsequent tracks of the album any more memorable – as across 12 songs, there is insufficient variety showcased, which Kirk used to be able to do across a single song, let alone what should be his breakout album. In the last third of the album, finishing the project is almost a chore – as the struggle raps of ‘about to make it’ and ‘look at how far I’ve come’ gets very old over the same 12 instrumentals.
This review itself may feel tinged by nostalgia or attempting to not allow an artist to develop – but there has been an explicit reduction in the quality of art showcased by Kirk, as any uniqueness and character is completely nonexistent, and despite the potential always imbued within his craft, there has been little done to capitalise upon that and actually put out a memorable project, instead it is clear he has steered himself in the more explicitly commercial direction, and that cannot be seen as commendable from an artistic or musical standpoint.
Overall this album is underwhelming, and an almost melancholy example of what happens when chasing the top is attempted through taking an easy way out – overly digestible music choices. As a result, this album may glide through the background of an event, or have a few alright head-nod ready tracks, but as an album the only cohesion or theme is the fact that ultimately this album is in fact what it is, an average attempt at what the industry is already churning out in excess.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
IIWII is out now.