Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze onto KnowMads, a hip hop duo from Seattle that’s about to release their highly anticipated studio effort, ‘Knew School.’ Pepe and Wilson, the two KnowMads, have been long-time collaborators for nearly a decade. Their hip hop is ‘brutally honest’ and ‘exposes your innermost thoughts.’ The new album is a lengthy one, clocking in at thirteen tracks. Thus, let’s explore its highlights and determine whether or not it’s something to have on your radar.
As with any musical duo, chemistry is vital. Fortunately, Pepe and Wilson have it in spades. The opening tracks, ‘Elementary’ and ‘Schoolyard,’ are perfect introductory excursions to their talent. They bounce off one another with complete tact. It’s seamless. The album is a trip through nostalgia, which these early tracks also make clear. The two muse about their high school years throughout to surprisingly original effect.
Tunes like ‘Smoker’s Corner’ have productional hints of Kanye West influence, which is, of course, echoed by the conceptual nature of a record about school. (West’s original trilogy of records had a similar theme.) The true highlights of the album, however, come later in its experience. ‘Homecoming,’ for example, is a stellar track. From its violin introduction and sampling to its sheer lyrical intensity, it’s a fantastic song - a hidden gem amidst the middle of a dauntingly large album.
One of the best parts of ‘Knew School’ is the duo’s wit. Tracks like ‘Freshman Year’ are absolutely infectious as the lyrics toy with candid musings - like being too young to drive, but also being unavoidably talented beyond their years. Each of these tracks embraces a level of instrumental brevity in their compositions. ‘Freshman Year’ is centered around a simplistic piano riff. It works excellent, and puts the two at the forefront of their sound unadulterated by any pretentious production.
The anthemic ‘Pass’ is a turning point for the record as KnowMads wind down their high school musings. I love the soulful nature of the tune. The guest vocalist who sings the interludes defines the track. ‘Memories,’ however, may be the pinnacle effort of the collection. It’s the ballad of the starving artist who’ll go to the ends of the world for their craft, even if they’re dirt poor in the process.
‘Reunion’ finalizes the journey in a fitting fashion, even shooting out nods to inspirational figures that aided KnowMads along the way. (Like when the two reminisce about the first time they heard Kendrick Lamar. I remember the first time I did. It blew my mind, too.) The track gets deep, contemplating the ‘fatal flaws’ of humanity and society. It’s an elegant finale.
‘Knew School’ is an incredibly good album - plain and simple. Fans of Pepe and Wilson will not be disappointed when this drops in July. Their chemistry is undeniable and the collection of songs is superbly executed.