Author: Adam Bernard
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
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
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."
Visit CunninLynguists' website at QN5.com.
Originally posted: December 13, 2005