Since the 2001 release of their debut LP, “Will Rap For Food,” CunninLynguists have been making a name for themselves in the Hip-Hop world. The duo of Deacon and Kno followed up “Will Rap For Food” with “Southernunderground” in 2003, but it’s their latest release, “A Piece of Strange,” that’s looking to take them in a completely new direction.
Kno explains “our first two albums some songs were just so different from other songs on the album we ended up with some fans who will really like the emotional songs, some will really like the battle rap stuff,” “some will like the comedic songs, or the ignorant, silly songs,” adds Deacon. “We got to this record,” continued Kno, “and felt we just wanted to do us. What are our influences? How do we want to be perceived? I really felt we didn’t have an identity. Hopefully the music is so good nobody will be able to say that it’s bad, it’s just not what some of our fans will expect. It’s more soulful, it has a loose concept from front to back, there are no skits so you really have to listen to the lyrics to know what’s going on.”
“A Piece of Strange” is also, the group hopes, the last time CunninLynguists will be flying low enough to get away with a lot of their sampling. “We did talk to a lot of labels but no majors because we kind of felt like this was our swan song maybe when it comes to flying under the radar and not clear every sample and be on some 1989 Bomb Squad shit and layer the hell out of the songs.” While not having major label backing can be a pain, the groups gains a significant amount of artistic freedom, something Kno describes as “a cool trade.” He notes “I’d like to be in a position where I could clear every sample, the artist, if possible, deserves to be paid for the sample, but at the same time we don’t have a budget and if we had to do that the album wouldn’t be made. If we go on to bigger and better things we’ll have to pay attention to it.” “Ultimately,” Kno continued “I like to make money, don’t get me wrong, I like clothes and pancakes and a roof, but at the same time at the very least if it was going to eventually happen that we were going to get large I wanted to at least have complete and utter freedom on one.” For Kno and Deacon “A Piece Of Strange” comes no chains attached.
The trade of not being on a major but having artistic freedom was huge for the creation of their latest album, but, as Kno mentioned, money can be an issue. With Kno hailing from Georgia and Deacon from Kentucky the duo were a lot closer to the devastation of hurricane Katrina than most. Unfortunately, the same thing that gave them so much artistic freedom is handcuffing them a bit when it comes to being able to help those affected by the massive hurricane. “It’s not like we have horribly excess funds,” Kno laments “but we’ve been runnin a couple auctions on eBay with some out of print stuff.” Though the duo might not be able to do as much as they would like, Deacon’s father, a pastor, has found a way to step up to the plate. “My pops brought up 35 evacuees and got ’em relocated here,” Deacon says proudly “it affects your spirit to see what other people are going through. It’s really the beginning of a new life. They came up on a bus with nothing, just the clothes on their back.”
While they haven’t gone through something as harsh as hurricane Katrina, Kno and Deacon have been through a lot together, and through it all they remain steadfast in their belief that people can be both friends and business partners. “A lot of people think they can’t mix business with friendship so much,” notes Kno “but I think you can if you realize ultimately the business isn’t that serious. Ultimately if you know that business cannot break you as a person, as long as you know that and you feel that you’re still going to be friends with the person. I’ll always be friends with Deac even if we quit tomorrow.” He paused for a second then joked “plus I wash his car once a week so he won’t beat me.”
How Deacon, a black man from Georgia, met Kno, a white man from Kentucky, is an interesting one. Deacon remembers “when I met Kno I was in an all black college surrounded by three other all black colleges. I was going to Moorehouse. In an all black city.” “Atlanta is kinda odd like that,” Kno interjected “when you really get into the social dynamic of Atlanta and Georgia you realize shit is still really segregated. It’s not imposed it’s just social, it comes down to like little things in politics, it’s really interesting if you pay attention to it. They’ll rezone certain districts so certain voting areas will be all white.” Kno continued, explaining he was in Deacon’s neck of the woods because “I used to work with an artist named J-Bully who did an open mic night Underground Live at Moorehouse campus.” Kno and Deacon have been working together ever since.
Being part of hte ever growing population of white folks in Hip-Hop, Kno has some definite feelings regarding some of the current crop of white kids he sees looking to be a part of the community. “I feel like a lot of white kids are into Hip-Hop nowadays come off like they’re owed something, ‘you gotta respect me, Hip-Hop’s for everybody.’ I can feel that but when I first started doing Hip-Hop you had to earn respect, you couldn’t just say you were here to rap. Rap is ultimately a black and minority art form. 92, 93, 94 when I first started making beats you weren’t owed anything, but you kinda had to prove yourself. That’s one thing that’s lacking now. You might go somewhere and there are a bunch of angry white guys making an issue of their whiteness which is a change in the game that I’ve seen over the past ten years. I never thought I’d see the day where I’d see a white guy feel that he’s owed something.”
With a group of white guys in one corner feeling they’re owed something, in another corner you have a lot of followers who only want to do what’s hot on the radio. CunninLynguists isn’t that type of rap group, if they were, the southern influences would have them doing crunk music by now. Deacon points out that crunk isn’t the only thing the south has to offer and “if other artists did truly did them you might hear more variety coming out of the south, but a lot of people copy.” Kno continued “it’s just like anywhere, if you get a Hip-Hop record that’s huge, you get a sound that’s huge, just in general, whatever is happening in Hip-Hop at a time there are people in every area of the country that will try to follow that sound and try to emulate that sound. I know people in the south in 95 that were wearing camouflage, and in 98 those same people were looking for a Lauryn Hill for their groups. Longevity is for those who will do whatever it is they feel like doing. We’re not doing anything different for the sake of being different we’re just this way.”
It sounds strange, but being one’s self can be, in a way, restricting. Kno notes “you can’t really just make Hip-Hop anymore or else you’re going to be labeled as a backpacker. In 94 everybody I knew liked Snoop Dogg but also listened to The Pharcyde. People aren’t like that anymore.” There is a saving grace for Kno, however, as he feels “as long as you can go to the club and skeet skeet to the windows to the wall then come home and listen to Little Brother, or us, as long as you have the option to do those things then Hip-Hop is alive and well.”
Along with their own work as CunninLynguists, Kno and Deacon are also branching out and starting to do production work for other artists under the name A Piece Of Strange. Their hope is to get the production company aspect of their lives in full swing in 2006 and start getting A Piece of Strange in the liner notes of some bigger name artists.
Some may find it odd that they know a lot about Kno and Deacon’s work, but not very much about them as people. Kno likes it this way, though, pointing out “who I am is as a person really shouldn’t matter, how you feel when you listen to the records is what’s important.” He continued, adding “people are too caught up in stars and figureheads. That shit does not need to be at the forefront of our music. If you don’t know who I am you should still be able to listen to the music and like us as musical entities.” It’s a different way of thinking of things, but the CunninLynguists are all about giving their listeners “A Piece of Strange.”