Knightowl - The Knightowl
"A straight venomous rapper but I carry no rattle, I'm tagged down stamped down like some muthafuckin' cattle!" The Knightowl came busting down your doors back in 1994 with his aggressive and confrontational demeanor complimented with some mean production from both The Madman and The Sandman. This is where the debate about what Chicano Rap is and where it started has its origins. There was a handful of Chicanos rocking the mic whether solo or in a group before Knightowl, however this was (at least in my honest opinion) the critical defining point of Chicano Rap. This wasn't Latino Rap, in fact there's no mention of being Latino in the entire full length album. Knightowl doesn't write himself into the Hispanic emcee category. This was dedicated to the barrio, the underground, to the "Chicanos fucking up the program". Everything before and after became Chicano Rap by default.
I want to thank Funk for his "CalifaRap Interview Classics - Knightowl 01" YouTube upload from several years ago, it actually provided me with some insight on this album. Around the 8:45 mark, Funk asks what Knightowl's relationship is with Familia Records, the label that put this classic on the streets. El Tecolote breaks it down, siting that he originally was making raps for his neighborhood (Westside Amici Park Locos/ Wop Town Krazies/ 2320 etc etc) over instrumental beats before he got serious and reached out to Murry Brumfield. The album was supposed to be put thru a label from Miami called Pandisc (the compilation "Brown & Proud Vol. 1" was released by them as well), long story short: they sat on it and didn't want to return the masters to Knightowl, but as the Chicano Rap gods would have it, El Tecolote had a tape copy of the album and was able to rescue the project. So they managed to take the tape and master it, soon after Murry moved 50K-60K units out of his trunk alone along with some sound-scans, ripping off Knightowl all along (surprise!).
The first track also serves as the titular name of the album and is probably placed there as the introduction of The Knightowl to the world. What better way to kick off your own album than by rapping over a classic oldie not just bearing your name but holding a significant spot in the culture of lowriding? The Tony Allen sample sounds a bit dated even by 1994 standards but Knightowl's flow and appeal turned this into an underground classic.
The art of sampling is a Hip Hop's essence and Chicano Rap's soul. Returning with another classic loop, Knightowl produced his own song and composes an instrumental (sampling Young-Holt Unlimited) to which he gets down to in our beloved calo slang. Ascending to a more upbeat instro, Knightowl recites those classic rhymes like "on the way to the Varrio drinking brew/ the veteranos rollin deep and dressed in blue .... then talk about the days I used to trip/ el crazy Wolfy with the homies lighting up a dip/ tambien el happy, simon, the vato was down/ camarada from the Crazy Wop Town H-Double O-D/ but I guess we all have to die/ as a tear rolls down my eye". The song writes off the everyday situations as just "parte de la routine" (smiles, frowns, ups and downs, it's all just a part of living in the barrio).
El Reggie, aka Madman, drops a ghetto track making it rock to Knightowl's vocal rampage. I particularly like the way K.O's voice was recorded, it sounds a little muffled but it just adds a bit of ruggedness to the rhymes, "puto get off the bandwagon/ I'm the baddest around and I'm not bragging". The energy simmering from the track is insane, it reminds me of those LL Cool J raps from way back in the day. "Thought you can hang with the man, the O-W-L/ I'm gonna roc the microphone and send them straight to hell/ a vato rapping for the hood when it all began/ hit up and stayed to battle many yo' I never ran/ dope like the smoke, take a puff say you wanna choke/ I'm the one you wanna battle better go for broke/ soy locochon un cyclone when I'm in the zone/ the type vato that'll blast when I wanna roam/ city to city and all around I'm throwing down/ menace of the hood, man I'm brought up in the Wop Town!" He takes no prisoners on this rap.
The fourth track, "Get Ready", dwells more into the shit talking that he is known for. Who can forget classic insults like "stick with the putos you live with/ the Knightowl is a man you can't get with". These are the rhymes that inspired your local homeboy to pick up the mic, "try to battle me and that'll be your first mistake, son/ you better run 'cause Knightowl is packing a gun".
You can hear the creativity in the instrumental of "Funky Rhyme" (track 5), specially on the chorus. Knightowl was a lyrical contender in his prime, I mean his rhymes were hilarious "I don't play around/ I beat them down like a pimp does a bitch, try to battle then it'll be on like a light switch". The Raza in San Diego loved every moment of it cause he was "down with the city of the 619, rocking mothafuckas with another funky rhyme". When I first heard "Come Get Some Of This" I instantly clicked with it. It was my favorite Knightowl jam from the get-go. His voice pitch was different, just a versatile vocalist rough to bone shooting raps like a sniper. His rhymes were comedy, "better get moving I'm comin' like semen, Knightowl the muthafucking revel rap demon, I've been convicted/ your bitch I be licking and still a mothafucka has never disrespected" followed by turntables scratching (courtesy of Deejay King) and a whiny synth laced over it. Classic.
Reverting back to his deep and rugged rhyming "Kicking Ass" starts off with a bang, "criminales from the big San Diego, estoy tomando liquor/ el crazy Knightowl bustin raps for the 1904". The whole entire song can be used in endless quotes "riddle my name/ the vato Knightowl is insane/ so imma shoot all my lyrics like a bullet in the brain". The mad love for the southernmost county of California is devotion "the big San Diego is my territory/ perrones battle in the middle of a bloody story/ take on the black, the white, punk cause imma get down/ straight Sureño from the big ese De Town". Currently my favorite song on the album. It's majestically crafted by the Madman himself and with a clever scratch from Deejay King mixing in vocals from Run DMC yelling "Kiiiiiiing".
With an ominous start, "Ripping Up Shit", has a dope intro slowly fading into a funky beat. What's not to like about this song? The chorus is crazy ("Ch-Ch-Chicano... fucking up the program") and the LL Cool J-like rapping is on point. Advancing to the middle of the album, I felt like the album started to get weak. I wasn't feeling "Who's The Man", practically falls apart due to an inconsistent tempo and off point rapping with a less than stellar chorus. The album redeems itself with the Led Zeppelin sample on "Kill Me Ah Witness" especially with the chorus. Beautifully crafted tune.
Many times I have said, "what Chicano Rap album is complete without a Zapp and Roger sample?" and I will ask it again. The vocoder is what makes this "Sick In The Mind" so damn catchy. The classic sample of the ever popular "More Bounce To The Ounce" is so crisp that it sounds like a current song of this era. This could easily be played in a club and the audience would never guess this was a Knightowl tune. The final 3 songs are credited to the Sandman's production skills. "Brown To The Bone" was probably recorded earlier than the 1994 date this was released in. I actually like the chorus with its sampling and scratching, but the instrumental turns me off the song as a whole.
Though I can appreciate the tribute to the late and great Mary Wells, the song is just not in my taste. It just did not fit into the album. I really liked how the album ended, the first song was an introduction to the world and the final track was a friendly reminder that "You Can't Fuck With The Knightowl". All around funky track with with the hardcore rhymes that established Knightowl as a heavyweight lyrical contender in the Chicano underground. Hyped up and thumping bass line.
This album was as much an effort by Knightowl as it was by the team that put this together (Madman, Sandman and Deejay King). One of the homies in here hooked it up with an interview from a different time where Knightowl explains how he hooked up with Reggie Valenzuela (the Madman) and their musical chemistry leading to the Aztec Tribe becoming envious of their relationship and of the beats Madman was laying down. Personally I think Mr. Lil One was given the best beats on his debut. Regardless, this masterpiece heralded the Chicano Rap scene in San Diego. It also influenced an entire generation of vatos to pic up the mic. I bet your favorite Chicano emcee has this in their collection; a gem nearing a quarter century in age.
01. Here Comes The Knightowl
02. Parte De La Routine
03. Get 'Em Up
04. Get Ready
05. Funky Rhyme
06. Come Get Some Of This
07. Kickin Ass
08. Rippin' Up Shit
09. Who's The Man
10. Kill Me Ah Witness
11. Sick In The Mind
12. Brown To The Bone
13. A Tribute To Mary Wells
14. You Can't Fuck With The Knightowl