Since his teenage years, Rockwell Knuckles from the North side of St. Louis has been expanding his brand and perfecting his craft. Recently, he graciously shared a few minutes of his time with me to discuss his unique fusion of Hip Hop, electronica and soul. Additionally, Rocky also spoke on how to make it as a rapper in a smaller market and the proper method of dealing with unpleasant characters.
Will: May I call you Rockwell?
Rockwell Knuckles: Yeah, or Rocky. That’s what everybody calls me.
Will: I’ve always been curious, how did you get that name?
Rocky: Well, that started in high school. I was out at the bus stop, you know, going to Catholic school, and some kid tried to bully me and I fucked him up right to the face. So my friend just started saying, “Oh look, it’s Rocky Knuckles,” and it stuck. As I grew up and matured it became Rockwell. [Laughs]
Will: How did you come up in the game and start rapping?
Rocky: I just started going to Hip Hop spots in St. Louis, freestyling and just getting my name up. But that’s just cute politricks as opposed to writing songs, so I stepped my game up and started actually writing full songs.
Will: As a rapper from North St. Louis, which is admittedly not a bastion of rap renown, how do you deal with the challenges of being in a smaller market, compared to a rapper from Chicago, New York, or Detroit?
Rocky: You do what you can. Only thing was, I didn’t want to have some cheesy gimmicks and I didn’t want to do any bullshit politricks. As a rapper, I wanted to offer something intriguing. If I can be the best Rocky I can be, the best songwriter and performer that I can be, then that will garner me enough respect and get me where I needed to be. I started doing shows in town, went out of state, always building the brand up. It’s a really organic, soulful, grassroots movement.
Will: Who are some of the local legends that inspire you?
Rocky: Black Spade’s my guy. Midwest Avengers always had shows. St. Lunatics, even though some people have negative things to say about them, but they made it. They made millions of dollars and toured the world and I respect that.
Will: What are you trying to do with your music? What’s the purpose?
Rocky: My message is power. Everyone has power and free will but not everyone knows what to do with it, so they just end up sitting still and doing nothing. I’m not trying to preach, because no one likes a douchebag preachy guy. I just want to express my power and my message, which is to be the best you can.
Will: One of the first releases that I heard from you was “The Glow.” How do you feel you’ve changed as an artist since then?
Rocky: I have a better sense of song structure and melody/harmony. I put more of a focus on orchestrating and producing a quality project and I’ve gotten better at expressing a story.
Will: Your most recent release was You’re Fucking Out, I’m Fucking In. Can you explain how you picked that as your title?
Rocky: Paying homage to Kenny Powers from Eastbound and Down basically. Dude had everything and because of his ignorance and not realizing how to use what he had, he blew his wad. [Laughs] He put out an audio book during the show that was called “You’re Fucking Out. I’m Fucking In” and I thought… that was a good expression for me. I related to that. I feel like I have something useful to bring to the table. I want to show all my capabilities as far as songwriting, you know, showing my versatility.
Will: Can you name some of your inspirations? Not to compare you to Nelly or anything but you have a way of fusing rapping and singing.
Rocky: Well, I am a rapper, that’s what I do, I rap. I pretty much do what I feel like. I grew up on Journey, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Prince isn’t the greatest singer of all time but he makes his voice work. In my case, I can’t “saaang”, but I can croon [Laughs] and I just make that work.
Will: What’s next for you? I know that you’ve got your power working for you right now, so what’s going in the short-term and the long-term?
Rocky: Right now, I’m working on my new project, Take Me to Your Leader, and that’s coming out in May. We’ll start dropping songs for that in March… I’m working on 2-4 EPs with various producers. My own producer Trifecta, Ryan McNeely [AKA Adult Fur], who produced “Every Angle” and “Play Catch” [from “YFO, IFI”] Different producers from St. Louis and abroad [and] just trying to expand myself and my music.
Will: Now I’m speaking to you as a fan: I appreciate what you’re doing for St. Louis, because every time I listen to one of your songs it makes me proud.
Rocky: That means so much to me, man. I make it for guys like me and you. It’s all about the moment. Tomorrow’s awesome, but how are we looking today, you know? Are we comfortable, are we relaxed?
Follow Rockwell Knuckles on Twitter @RockyKnuckles
Like Rocky on Facebook at Facebook.com/RockwellKnuckles
Download his latest project You’re Fucking Out, I’m Fucking In here