When Joey Bada$$ dropped his Summer Knights mixtape four years ago, I was quick to earmark “Amethyst Rockstar” as my favorite track, largely because of a wickedly delivered guest verse from an unfamiliar rapper named Kirk Knight. (“I think with my dick, I know you wanna blow my mind” will forever be an unforgettable bar.)
While I longed for more of his raps, though, there were scarcely any to be found. As a member of the Brooklyn rap collective Pro Era, Kirk was insofar used primarily as a producer.
“I played him raps, but he wasn’t feeling my raps. He was feelin’ my beats though,” Kirk explained to me over the phone, remembering the first time he met Capital STEEZ, Pro Era’s co-founder. Kirk was only 15 at the time, and in the coming years, his neo-boom-bap production would help Pro Era earn its reverence as the protector of classic New York rap.
After Capital STEEZ’s passing in 2012, Joey Bada$$ became the de facto face of the group and its breakout superstar. Kirk remained in the background, along with Nyck Caution and the rest of Pro Era, but he was overshadowed by Joey’s success story.
Then, in 2015, Kirk Knight—the rapper—returned with the hardest single I’d heard in a while.
“Brokeland” would make its way onto Kirk’s debut solo album, Late Knight Special, which was met with favorable reviews later that year. At times, it’s easy to forget that Kirk is just 21 years old; he certainly raps like a veteran emcee with plenty of life experience in tow.
“I be feeling like I’m older than I am,” Kirk explained to me. “The same things that excite people don’t excite you because you done did so much shit, and you’re younger than them. I traveled the whole world by 18, 19, and for some people, it’s 34 and [they] haven’t even left Long Island.”
His second album, the completely instrumental Black Noise, was also met with praise upon its release in 2016, but it’s clear that Kirk has a penchant for lyricism. “I can’t express myself just through a beat,” he confirmed. “I have to express myself as an artist in any way possible. The more that I rap, the more you know about me. And you might never know the whole story, but at least you know what I’m thinking. I wanna see who else thinks like me.”
In his search for a like mind, he needn’t look further than fellow Pro Era member Nyck Caution. Over the years, Nyck has established himself as one of the most talented rappers in a group full of them, and his compatibility with Kirk is evident; on Disguise the Limit, Nyck’s long-awaited debut from last year, Kirk produced six of the album’s 14 tracks.
While their musical styles blend phenomenally, Nyck and Kirk have very different personalities. There’s hardly any background information to be found about either of them online, but when we spoke, Kirk was eager to fill in the gaps. Nyck, conversely, is stoic and skeptical and was happy to let Kirk do most of the talking. Still, within moments of speaking with them, I could sense their friendship was genuine, untainted by industry pressures.
Now, capitalizing on that chemistry, Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution are preparing for the release of their new collaborative project, Nyck @ Knight.
“We both dropped our [solo] projects and they both got a good reception,” Nyck told me. “Since we talked about it in the past, it just made sense for our next thing to be something together.”
The first single, “Off The Wall,” is a guarantee that they’ll be delivering their strongest efforts yet, with both rappers rhyming at their sharpest over a signature Kirk beat.
For Nyck fans, it’s immediately apparent that Nyck @ Knight will have a different feel from Disguise the Limit. “I was a teenager when I was writing [Disguise the Limit]. So it’s kind of just that phase of my life. And I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to that same vibe or that same sound.”
Whereas Disguise took three years, Nyck @ Knight was recorded in under two months, with four of its eight tracks taking shape on their first day in the studio. “We just work well together,” Nyck explained. “I know how to respect his space and let him create, and I know how to get a good product out of the session.”
But even with such a quick turnaround, the album’s scope shouldn’t be underestimated. The song “Headlights” sounds like a disciple of Dark Fantasy-era Kanye, whereas crowd-pleaser “Audiopium” competes with the best A$AP Mob banger. “We been doing that '90s resurgence shit for mad long. So we was just showing the other shit that we could do,” Kirk said. All told, it’s unlikely that Nyck @ Knight won’t find an enthusiastic listenership; no two songs are alike, and no verse is a throwaway.
On Friday, July 7, the Third Annual STEEZ Day Festival, which apparently sold out in one minute, showcased the first taste of the album. Despite some early controversy, the festival was Pro Era’s biggest showing to date, which meant a great deal to Kirk and Nyck as close friends of the honoree, Capital STEEZ.
“We’re not friends with STEEZ, we’re brothers,” Kirk corrected me. “[STEEZ Day] means everything, ‘cause that’s the man who started this whole shit. If this man did not exist, none of us would be here. When you in the tunnel, and niggas is trying to see the light, he was the first nigga with the ax.”
Undoubtedly, STEEZ’s influence permeates Pro Era’s movement to this day, pushing members to find unsung sounds and ideas and dig us all out of the tunnel. To Kirk, Nyck @ Knight is “just a sound that needs to be heard,” noting that the popular trend in modern hip-hop is a regression towards similarity: “I hear the same tempos and the same shit. It sounds all the same. Even if the DJs mixing it. It’s all 808s, all that same Young Chop snare.”
For two young artists, Nyck and Kirk have little in common with their contemporaries seeking stardom and riches. Kirk admits that, when he was a teenager, he too dabbled in the vices that rap’s fastest-rising stars are keen to glorify. “The whole Xan[ax], Perc[ocet] thing—I was open to all of that shit when I was young,” he said. “I remember when we used to keep that on the low. That wasn’t a popular thing, to pop pills. Like, niggas would think you was some crackhead or some shit. Now everybody does it, and it’s fucking wavy, and it’s cool. And it’s acceptable.”
Kirk’s priorities have since changed, though. “I just want to create and inspire. It don’t really matter how famous I get, it don’t really matter how much money I get. I just want to inspire and spark creativity for somebody else.”
On his current trajectory, Kirk is set to be the inspiration that he dreams to be. Personally, I’m already jealous of the new fans that will discover Nyck @ Knight and have plenty of Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution solo material to explore—a luxury I didn’t get back in 2013.
As for future collaborative joints, only time will tell. “We’re both solo artists,” Nyck stated. “I see a big future in this, especially with Kirk, but I don’t think too far ahead. I just take it day by day.”
And there’s plenty of space to grow. So far, Kirk hasn’t even lent his production to artists outside of Pro Era, except in the rare case where Joey Bada$$ is attached (Mick Jenkin’s “Jerome”). Now, he’s “open to whatever,” having taken the time to better his craft. (When I asked whom he wants to work with most, Nyck jumped in to answer for him: “Frank Ocean.”)
By the end of our hour-long conversation, I couldn’t help but share their optimism for their future. Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution are true to the uncompromising, honest, and confident culture of Pro Era, and Nyck @ Knight is true to the artists who created it.
When I asked Kirk to describe the album in his own words, I felt like he described their movement instead: “Even if you don’t like it, you'll respect it.”
Nyck @ Knight is scheduled for release on Friday, July 21. Listen to the project's second single, "Dial Up," below.