September 15, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Knoc-turn'al - L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al (July 30, 2002)

For whatever reason, the release of Dr. Dre's Compton: A Soundtrack prompted me to revisit the other two solo albums in his catalog.  The Chronic is a classic, there will be no argument here, but his follow-up 2001 always felt a bit, well, off to me, because while half of that particular project knocked six ways from Sunday, the other half of 2001 pretty much sucks.  It's a strange balance, one which many hip hop heads claim to not hear, since a lot of my peers love that album as though it were a flawless masterpiece.  I like the album a lot, and I still listen to songs like "The Next Episode" (every other day, to be honest) and "Forgot About Dre" (significantly less so, as it is now remembered more as part of an in-joke between my wife and I than it is as a song I once liked, although Eminem still murders that track), but there's quite a bit of filler.  So, as a writing exercise, I decided to pluck one of the no-names from 2001's guest list to see if I could figure out what Andre Young saw in them, because I still for the life of me can't figure out the Anderson .Paak thing.

Knoc-Turn'al, ye of the dumbass rap name and horribly self-serious album cover, come on down!

Born Royal Harbor, which is honestly a much cooler nickname for a rap artist, Knoc-Turn'al hit the jackpit when he was discovered by Dr. Dre, who was in the market for hungry young artists after two out of his first three releases for his newly-minted vanity label, Aftermath Records, tanked either critically (remember The Firm: The Album?  I'm sure Nas and company would like that shit to vanish) or commercially (Dr. Dre Presents The Aftermath is a compilation-slash-label sampler that I plan on writing about eventually, but I honestly can't bring myself to start that post, and for good reason most likely).  Dre was only able to regain his confidence after releasing Eminem's The Slim Shady LP, which cemented Marshall Mathers as a pop sensation while lining Dre's coffers with gold and platinum.

Dre wanted to craft a follow-up to The Chronic, his hit solo debut that doubled as the first nationwide exposure for damn near every act on the project not named Bushwick Bill, which meant locking down a handful of no-names to fill the blank spots in between verses from actual name-brand artists.  Hittman was the unlucky son of a bitch that secured the most guest features, which all but guaranteed that he would be compared to Dre's other two apprentices, both of whom were pop culture zeitgeists in their own right (Eminem and Snoop Dogg), so he was bound to vanish after failing to reach the lofty expectations placed upon him.  But his is a story for another day.  Royal was next in line, with two cameos and a sing-songy flow that set him apart from the rest of his West Coast brethren (back in the day, at least), and his performances on 2001 were, well, nobody really trashed them, that's a good thing to say, right?

Knoc had the good Doctor in his corner, so a deal with Aftermath should have been a no-brainer, but instead, he chose to roll the dice with Elektra Records, who offered him his own vanity label, which he called L.A. Confidential because he really likes Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce maybe?, which was quite an extravagant offering for some dude who hadn't proven himself at all at that point.  He quickly set to work on a debut album, the cleverly-titled Knoc's Landing, which was, ultimately, never released, yet another victim of the Dr. Dre curse, probably.  He managed to get some other projects off of the ground, but as of today, he's just another barista in the Los Angeles area who boasts about knowing Dr. Dre, even though Andre stopped accepting his calls years ago.

L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al was originally intended to be a teaser for the main course that was Knoc's Landing, which is why it's merely an EP consisting of six tracks.  Of those six tracks, though, he managed to finagle two beats by Dre and a slew of cameos from Cali-based rappers, so at least he stayed true to his home state.  He even somehow snagged a Grammy nomination for a song on this very project.  So why have you two never heard of him, or in the case of my older heads, why have you completely forgotten this guy ever existed?  Hip hop is a very competitive sport, and the moment you lose your spark, it's difficult as fuck to get that fire going again. 

Anyway.

1.  THE KNOC (FEAT. DR. DRE & MISSY ELLIOTT)
The first (and only, if I'm not mistaken) single from L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al, notable for featuring the goofy combination of Dr. Dre and Missy Elliott on the guest list (although this wasn't the only time those two would appear on the same song, as they also both popped up on Timbaland's Justin Timberlake-featured "Bounce" off of Shock Value).  Andre only really contributes during the first verse, passing the microphone back and forth with Knoc over his own accordion-heavy instrumental that definitely sounds like something the good Doctor would have prescribed back in 2002, while Missy handles a terrible hook that she doesn't even sound convincing during.  The host rightfully hogs the spotlight, although whether or not you like this track will greatly depend on how much you can look past his awkward on-and-off-beat flow.  I thought it was alright, for the most part.  Also, I just learned that this was the song that was nominated for a Grammy, so yay?

2.  MUZIK (FEAT. SAMUEL CHRISTIAN)
The beat, which is actually quite decent, comes courtesy of, of all fucking people, Kanye West, who gives our host what sounds like a blueprint of his work on The Blueprint's "The Takeover" (I see what I did there), which was released the year prior.  He doesn't make them like this anymore: this instrumental comes from the era when Yeezy wasn't yet that popular, so he worked his ass off on his music to prove himself, selling them to anyone who would have them.  So "Muzik" is interesting for that reason, if nothing else.  Speaking of "else", Knoc's verses are okay, nothing special, but the vocals from Samuel Christian are pretty terrible, pitched much higher than a human ear should be able to register.  Anyway, the music was good.

3.  STR8 WESTCOAST (REMIX) (FEAT. XZIBIT, SHADE SHIEST, WARREN G., & NATE DOGG)
A remix of Knoc's solo contribution to the soundtrack for The Wash, affixing several high-profile guests and Shade Shiest to the same Dr. Dre prescription as before.  At least our host stuck with the West Coast theme, even if he probably should have secured other bids instead: Xzibit's verse is alright, but aggressively and nonsensically homophobic (at this point in his career, he really should have been able to craft alternative threats).  Dre's half-brother Warren G. sounded okay, though, and Shade Shiest, utilizing the most expensive beat he'll probably ever be connected with (and I'm counting Timbaland's production on the only other Shade Shiest song I'm aware of, "Money Owners"), turns in the best performance with a cold, calculated verse.  Also, Knoc shows up at the end.  Should have been better, but the beat was pretty good, as it is as low-key as Dr. Dre gets.

4.  LET'S ALL ROLL (FEAT. BUTCH CASSIDY, SLIP CAPONE, JAYO FELONY, & TIMEBOMB)
Another West Coast posse cut, albeit one with a bunch of lesser-known artists Knoc seemingly included in an effort to appeal to the underground heads and those who hilariously still listened to Jayo Felony back in 2002.  Fredwreck's instrumental is actually pretty catchy, but, as is the nature of posse cuts thrown together haphazardly, "Let's All Roll" is a mixed bag.  Slip Capone and Timebomb (who I only kind-of remember from his own cameo on 2001) sounded okay, and the chorus was decent enough, but Jayo was predictably terrible, and our host successfully fits in with his guests, which, while admirable, isn't helpful when he's supposed to be the star attraction on his own goddamn song.  Sigh.

5.  L.A. NITE-N-DAY
It's a six-song EP, but Knoc only goes it alone on two tracks, including "L.A. Nite-N-Day", a self-produced trifle that is bland enough to be inoffensive, but also boring as shit.  Knoc uses a good chunk of the first verse to make it sound like he's attacking the late Notorious B.I.G. (who was murdered in Los Angeles, so that was tacky as fuck) before admitting that he was a fan of his shit, and the second verse could, italicize could here, be seen as a precursor to E-40's recent hit "Choices (Yup)", which was strange.  Completely ineffective, though.  Heads just won't give a shit one way or the other about this song, so let's get on to the last one already.

6.  CASH SNIFFIN' NOSES (FEAT. TOO $HORT & SLIP CAPONE)
Knoc mentioned on "L.A. Nite-N-Day" that he had recorded a song with Cali stalwart Too $hort: I assume "Cash Sniffin' Noses" is that very track.  An ode to promiscuous women who seek out men of means (I guess calling them "golddiggers" wasn't clever enough for our host), Slip Capone, $hort, and Knoc all spit a single verse apiece over Bud'da's production.  The end result was alright: nothing fancy, but you can drive around to it pleasantly enough.  It helps if you switch your misogyny radar off for the duration: these guys aren't talking about the suffragette movement here.  Hell, Capone lets loose a joke about "Eskimo pussy" that makes no biological sense, but you just know everyone in the studio that night laughed.  (For the record, it's not that funny.)  $hort's verse works better if you add more information into the provided timeline: for example, hooking up with a sixteen-year-old chick when you are also sixteen years old is passable, but $hort isn't kind enough to let the listener in on what his age actually was during the cocktales he presents, making himself sound like Jared Fogle.  Knoc also appears.

THE LAST WORD:  L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al is an extremely mixed bag.  On one hand, it proves that even just six tracks are too much for the average listener to take Knoc-Turn'al's awkward flow, which has since been mastered by entirely different artists (Kendrick Lamar one of them, and, surprise surprise, he's yet another of Dre's young charges, so I guess the man has a type).  Surrounding himself with tons of guests results in L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al sounding like one massive posse cut, which certainly doesn't help someone who is trying to introduce themselves to the masses.  The flip side of that coin is that the music on L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al actually is pretty entertaining, for the most part: Dre turns in some good work, and anyone with a fascination with a pre-The College Dropout Kanye West won't be disappointed.  This EP is West Coast to its very core, and yes, I realize I'm saying that even though Kanye West produces one of the songs.  A handful of the cameos are fairly inspired, as well: I bet you never thought you'd see me saying good things about Shade Shiest on this here blog.  So, in short, L.A. Confidential Presents: Knoc-Turn'al isn't worth the amount Amazon appears to be asking for, but it's available to stream on Spotify, it's short enough to listen to in a single car ride, and while Knoc himself isn't anything special and there's probably no reason to keep diving into his backstory, this EP won't cause your ears to bleed or anything.  Some recommendation, huh?

-Max



13 comments:

  1. Speaking of West Coast rap...... I doubt you will review Jay Rock's 90059, but I was curious if you have listened to it at all. I really, really like most of it.

    Anyway, Knoc'Turnal was on the half the Chronic 2001 that I never listen to, so I have no idea what he even sounds like. Will definitely check this out though

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    1. I've only heard "Vice City" (I think that's what it's called), and I'm kind of sad that "Pay For It" didn't make the final cut, but I haven't actually heard the album yet. I won't review it NOW, since I never reviewed Follow Me Home, but you never know.

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    2. Pay For It not making the album did make me sad, as it was a great leading single IMO. But "Fly on the Wall" has the best Busta Rhymes cameo in a decade probably, and most of the other songs are terrific. Very varied production too: some dark, some banging, and a little funk (Gumbo).

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  2. This seems as good an opportunity as any: why do you dislike Jayo Felony that much? Surely the guy is at least a very good vocalist?
    I sometimes, and this is such an instance as it implies to Knoc-turn'al as well, get the impression that fans of Westcoast rap are, in general, far more accommodating to unusual voices and flows than fans of Eastcoast rap are.

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    1. In response to your second point, I think you're absolutely right. I'm sure the slower, more meandering nature of some West Coast hip hop allows for more experimentation with the vocals, which might be why it's generally more accepted out that way. Knoc-Turn'al wouldn't be able to pull off a DJ Premier beat, though.

      In response to your first point, I just don't like Jayo Felony. Never have.

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  3. Max,
    Quick question: Does this West Coast mission of yours have a set final date? Because, my man, I'm fiending for your take on Eric B & Rakim's Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em.

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    1. Undetermined as of right now, but I'm also fiending for my own take on Let The Rhythm Hit 'Em, so at least that will pop up on here eventually.

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    2. So many mysteries surrounding that particular album. And Eric B & Rakim's entire career together, for that matter.

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  4. listen to Anderson.Paak's track Suede with producer Knxwledge and maybe you'll get it :)

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    1. I did, and I still don't. It's okay, though: I'm not going to like every single artist out there.

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  5. Fantastic work, as usual! The review, not the EP.

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  6. Max would really like to hear your thoughts on J Rocks new album as it is very well put together IMO and is definitely one of the better TDE releases (better than Oxymoron - yeah I said it.) With regards to Knoc'Turnal, I always viewed him as a rather bad imitation of Snoop however, I will give this EP a quick spin.

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  7. Oh yeah Jayo Felony has ALWAYS been a sub-par rapper.

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