“I Make Dim, Dark Music”: An Interview with [email protected]

Donna-Claire speaks with Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution about their project, [email protected], Madlib, and the origins of Pro Era.
By    August 10, 2017

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[email protected] is one of those perfect pairings, right up there with PB&Js, salt and vinegar chips, and rum and cokes. The brainchild of Pro Era emcees Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight, this tape is a love letter to late-night ’90s programming. A letter delivered via gritty New York bars, Caribbean inspired melodies, and stylized by the dim lighting of Kirk’s ‘maneuvering music.’ The duo’s endearing friendship and chemistry drives the project, explaining why it only took two months to come together. Considering the ricochet of bars on “All Night,” it’s no surprise that Nyck describes their studio vibes as easy and organic.

Inspired by Madlib, Kanye, 50 Cent, and Gang Starr, Nyck and Kirk have been bringing their Brooklyn experiences to life long before their joint tape. Nyck’s Disguise the Limit tape was his way of battling against the dead-end, pill popping lifestyle that surrounded him in Mill Basin. Kirk’s Late Knight Special was partly an homage to “the bigger homies on the block,” who moved in silence.

The [email protected] story is incomplete without considering the Pro Era story. Nyck recalls their youthful nights spent in the city, indulging in each other’s company and making grandiose plans for the future. In that same vein, Kirk’s earliest Pro Era memory is playing beats for Joey and Capital STEEZ. His excitement is palpable as he remembers being asked to join Pro Era as a producer.

The Pros are bonded by the spirit and vision of Capital STEEZ. We can thank STEEZ for everything from bringing Pro Era to life to inspiring Kirk to rap. On [email protected] you can even catch an old STEEZ staircase freestyle to sign off the raging posse cut, “Audiopium.”

The three of us spoke on the phone about Pro Era, growing up in their respective parts of Brooklyn, the ease of going from solo acts to a duo, and the making of [email protected]Donna-Claire


Starting with some quick background, what were your earliest experiences with rap music?


Kirk Knight: “Ms. Fat Booty” was the first hip-hop song that I really heard. I was like, ‘oh shit!’ That was right around when I was fourteen. From there I listened to Madlib, Kanye, Black Star, and Gang Starr.

Nyck Caution: For me, it was Eminem, 50 Cent, and Lloyd Banks. That was the stuff that made me want to listen to even more rap music.


Nyck, you’re from Mill Basin and Kirk, you grew up on Parkside Avenue. How did your early Brooklyn experiences shape the way you make music?


Kirk Knight: When I was young, it was seeing how the bigger homies on the block were moving: being super fly, best dressed, knowing how to be a chameleon in their everyday. That really influenced me to make this ‘low music,’ you know? I make this dim, dark music. It’s nobody can see you, maneuvering music. Then, in terms of the things that I’ve seen: one of my friends getting stabbed in the ear. The things I’ve seen have made my music have an edge and this emotion. Also the fact that my mother is from the Caribbean, there’s that reggae essence and groove in my music.

Nyck Caution: I grew up in Mill Basin, which is not your typical Brooklyn. My whole life, that’s what I thought Brooklyn was. There were a lot of kids that were fucked up on pills. I saw that at a young age and it was something I didn’t want to be. A lot of the music on Disguise The Limit is about me trying to escape that situation. So being from Mill Basin gave me a mature understanding of addiction at a young age.


What are your earliest memories of being in Pro Era?


Nyck Caution: Being with the crew outside at the park, the Chinese restaurant, or just going to the city. Everyone meeting up at the city, and everyone was on skateboards. “Survival Tactics” had come out already. Those days were mostly about the feeling of being young, and the feeling that this group was really going to be something. We’d hang out all night and get McDonald’s, it was so simple. There wasn’t much to a night. As long as we were all together, it was a good time.

Kirk Knight: The day that I played beats for STEEZ will forever be one of those days I hold up in my head. I impressed STEEZ! Joey kept telling me how good of a rapper he was, but I never met him. I didn’t think anybody could rap better than Joey, but I saw it with my own eyes. It was astonishing and it made me want to rap. I remember that day, too, because I went right after school. I let the corner store hold my laptop, and then I went after school to Joey’s to play them beats. A few days later he’s like, ‘Don’t tell anybody, but we’ve got this thing called Pro Era, and we want you to be one of our producers.’


Could either one of you imagine making music without having been in Pro Era?


Nyck Caution: When I was younger, before I was in Pro Era, I was doing music. Before high school, I didn’t really have thoughts of making music. Once I got into high school, I started doing music, so I would have pursued it either way.


I remember seeing Nyck’s first headlining show at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. What was that night like for you?


Nyck Caution: That was amazing for me! It was my first time being able to do something for myself, and it sold out. Before the show, I had this public basketball game. There were over 200 people there. It was one of the most motivating days of my life, just to see what could happen if you put in the effort instead of waiting around. Something might seem little in your head, but it could mean the world to someone else. There were a bunch of kids I’d seen at concerts that I never got to interact with, but then they came to the game and the show. I was talking to them and signing their shirts. It was really inspirational for me.


With you two being so close, what’s the vibe like in the studio when you’re recording?


Nyck Caution: The vibe is easy. Kirk and I have a similar taste in music, and we both work quickly. I think we both respect each other’s opinions. We don’t have an ego in the studio, we both know that there’s a greater purpose. When we give criticism, it’s not in a malicious way, trying to fuck up your part so my part is better. We both know that the goal is to make a good song, and to make a good song with two people there needs to be balance. Once the product is finished, we listen back mad times and leave with a good record, every time.

Kirk Knight: The problem with certain artists is that they think only about the bars as opposed to making a good song. With Nyck, we’re thinking about the overall song. With an album, once you’ve got the beats, that’s half the battle. It was so organic with Nyck, it happened like it never happened! Next thing you know, we’ve got eight songs.


For Kirk specifically, how easy is it for you to go from the producer mindset to the rapper mindset?


Kirk Knight: It’s easy if I’m feeling the vibe for it. If I want to create, if I want to structure or arrange something, it’s hard for me to move from one mindset to the other. I want to write freely, but my logical mind is my producer mind. So if I’m writing a feeling, my logical mind will try to make sense of it, but feelings don’t have to make sense. Sometimes the two minds clash because the feeling doesn’t go with the structure of the song. At a level, you’re supposed to have the two become one. But since I’m constantly learning new things in both fields, that constant back and forth can get difficult.


I know Kirk’s mentioned before that he writes hooks to songs first, was that true on Nyck@Knight, or were things more fluid?


Nyck Caution: There’s a couple songs that were like that. “Off The Wall,” “Dial Up,” and “Wake Up” all had a hook first. “Audiopium,” too.

Kirk Knight: That’s just how I like to do my shit. I care about bars, but as a kid always listening to rock music, that music was so focused on the chorus. Once you get the hook, that’s the whole topic of the song.


Did you guys influence each other’s solo tracks?


Nyck Caution: We did those by ourselves, then came back together. I was in the session when Kirk did his track, and I watched him do the whole thing. He has a hook coming into the session, then he just raps it. We wanted to give people [email protected], but also a taste of each other’s stuff.


Nyck, your rapping on this project is more sharp and aggressive than it was on Disguise, and even your feature on Joey’s latest work. What was the catalyst for that shift in delivery?


Nyck Caution: I’m getting hungrier and getting better, and learning more and more. The more I make music, the more I get comfortable with it, I feel like I’m free. Disguise The Limit was a project that was made in three years, so there was me at 18 and 19 on the project. Now I’m 23, and I have this ability to channel different energies. So for this project, I could bring that aggression.


I can hear a lot of Madlib influence in Kirk’s beats, how else does he influence you?


Kirk Knight: Madlib influences me a lot because he was the using samples as bass lines. He’s the only person I know that chops up a sample in a way that’s so original, and he makes a lot of beats just from records. He doesn’t need a kit.


How did you two decide to put that stripped down STEEZ verse from “Killuminati” at the end of “Audiopium?”


Nyck Caution: We had “Audiopium” for a while. The song was just sitting in the stash and wasn’t going anywhere. There was only a verse on it, so I did my best to get the song done. “Audiopium” was a word that STEEZ said in the “Killuminati” verse, which is where the song derives from. After the song was finished, I found this old freestyle of STEEZ doing the verse in a staircase. It just made sense to me to add it. All of the Pros loved it. I always try to see where I can fit in STEEZ, wherever it makes sense, because he’s the whole reason why Pro Era exists.


How did you two decide to put that stripped down STEEZ verse from “Killuminati” at the end of “Audiopium?”


Kirk Knight: No comment! [Laughs]


I’m sure you two have more solo songs in the vault, so any insights on future releases?


Nyck Caution: We don’t have any dates, but we’re definitely working.

Kirk Knight: We’re working extremely hard. My solo joint. Nyck’s solo joint. [Laughs] No comment.