It’s the middle of the summer. This is the exact point at which the school year is the farthest possible distance from our current date. Even so, the Seattle hip-hop duo, KnowMads, have decided to remind everyone that school still exists with their new album. Knew School. It’s been four whole years since the KnowMads gave their fans a full-length project. Spending their time since then releasing solo projects and singles, Pepe and Cheef finally dropped their long-awaited fourth LP.
The KnowMads have always remained synonymous with independent hip-hop and the underground scene in the Pacific Northwest. Knew School continues this without debate. The album does, however, portray the duo expanding their horizons by successfully blending traditional hip-hop roots with a contemporary and progressive sound. By enlisting the help of Atlantic Records producer and instrumentalist, Peter Lee Johnson, Knew School contains the right amount of artistic experimentation while staying true to the KnowMads discography.
Knew School at it’s fullest is a lighthearted concept album. An overlying schoolyard theme surrounds the duo’s journey along the west coast that starts in a Seattle, Washington high-school and continues at their current residence within the arts district of Los Angeles, California. Emerging on tracks “101 (The Good Life)” and “Memories,” the former depicts their travels down the famous 101 highway met with positive vibrations while the latter contains a gorgeous, accurate string solo eliciting feelings of days past.
On others, the concept is more implicit. “Rivals” contains background audio from a sports game reminiscing on when Pepe and Cheef went to rival high schools, stating that “their infamous rap battles during football games were often more of a spectacle than the game itself.” “In The Hallway” is a sunny afternoon jam that’s in line with Pharcyde’s classic track “Passing Me By,” where Cheef writes a verse about a crush on his teacher. Keeping the theme running throughout, age is just a number on “Freshman Year” as the duo depict their abilities to impress the older crowd while only being wee freshman:
When you face your fears that’s when success begins.
The initial single “Smoker’s Corner” boasts Peter Lee Johnson’s underlying genius on Knew School. The standout instrumental employs smooth, distorted vocal samples and EDM-influenced drum warps as the rappers chronicle the after-school times of twisting and lighting up joints on the school rooftop.
As for means to build a larger fanbase, “Pass” is easily the most radio-friendly track. The atmospheric aura, catchy hook, and flows throughout their verses represent a move away from more traditional hip-hop into electro-dance hip-hop. A surprising, yet well-executed manner. The track is reminiscent of a newer “MolliE!” but otherwise, it’s nothing like they have ever created before. Along the same lines of following today’s trends in hip-hop, “Lessons” ends with Pepe testing his vocal range in a smooth, integrated mainstream change of pace.
Hip-hop purists ought to not flee. Classically influenced tracks? Check. Boom bap beats? They got’em. There are several references to Nas, Kendrick, and Pac, with one alluding to a lesser known song, “My Block Remix.” We see you KnowMad fam. Knowmads know how to appeal to both crowds, and the back and forth rhyming in “Schoolyard” and “Homecoming” meshes the duo’s chemistry, creating indisputable live hip-hop performance potential.
Sonically, Knew School thrills. The newfound marriage between The KnowMads and Peter Lee Johnson is by far the best aspect of the album. At times where the content lacked in direction or maturity, the sound prevailed. Nonetheless, Knew School approaches life’s travels with a youthful schoolyard perspective, one that many can, and will, relate to.
Listen to Knew School below and let us know what you think in the comment section below. For all things hip-hop, keep reading at True Too.