A Little Knowledge: Memphis sounds inspire local rapper's evolution

Ashley Smith
Local rapper Knowledge Nick will debut his third album, "Memphis: The Soul of Hip-Hop," with a release party Saturday at Newby's.

Ashley Smith Local rapper Knowledge Nick will debut his third album, "Memphis: The Soul of Hip-Hop," with a release party Saturday at Newby's.

Knowledge Nick's CD Release, with Tom Skeemask and c’beyohn

Saturday, 9 p.m. at Newby’s, 539 S. Highland. Tickets: $7. For more information, go to newbysmemphis.com or call 901-452-8408.

Knowledge Nick Hicks doesn't rest easy. Just a week after the release of his sophomore album last summer, the 24-year-old Memphis rapper was back in the studio working on a new record.

On Saturday, Hicks will mark the release of his latest project, the full-length LP Memphis: The Soul of Hip-Hop, with a show at Newby's (the $7 cover charge also gets you a copy of the disc). "It's a Memphis album," says Hicks of the project, "but Memphis in different settings.

"Growing up, I listened to so much Memphis music; crunk, blues and soul. When I was doing this album, I wanted to touch on all that. I didn't want to represent just one segment of Memphis, but combine all those elements into what I was doing."

Working with producers Max Ptah and EMPEE, and DJ Hush, Hicks approached the record from a more musical standpoint. "I would listen to what the producers were coming up with and I'd go home and write to the tracks," he says. "It wasn't that I had prewritten songs. I was listening to the beats and being inspired by that. It really helped the flow. It was just a vibe; it was just chemistry, man."

For Hicks, a focus on the beat marks an evolution from his earlier work, which was generally focused on his words. "I started out on the poetry scene and my music was kind of reflective of that as far as how I would approach things and carry myself on the tracks," he says. "With me getting deeper into (the music) side, my energy is coming from more of a hip-hop realm now."

Like his first two albums, Hicks is putting out Memphis himself. He's been working independently since he self-financed and released his debut album, The Enlightenment, as a college freshman in 2009. Last year, while completing his studies at University of Memphis, he again pulled together his resources to release Transcribed Sentiment. And in September, Hicks put out a self-titled teaser EP, as a prelude to Memphis.

Hicks notes that the independent model has served him, as well as numerous other local rappers, well. "We don't have to go chasing for the labels. If you have a project that's presented properly you can make money for yourself and make a name for yourself rather than wait for a label to find you."

Hicks' CD release show on Saturday will find him splitting up his set: He'll be backed for part of the performance by DJ Hush, and the rest by a live band, the Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. The bill will also include a mix of local rappers, both new generation MCs like c'beyohn and old school legends like Tom Skeemask.

While Hicks is part of the city's new wave of MCs, he's quick to acknowledge the debt owed to his hip-hop forebears, noting that the tent is big enough for the whole spectrum of rappers the city produces.

"Memphis has to feel very blessed that there are not only the 8Ball and MJGs and the Yo Gottis, but there's also the Cities Aviv, Royal'T and Knowledge Nicks — its just different flavors. Memphis rap has a reputation as being crunk, and that's a big element. But there are other styles here, and they're all part of Memphis."

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