Local rapper Kuf Knotz is an outcast among the contemporary hip-hop world, and he’s fine with that. Unlike Harlem come-up A$AP Rocky, he doesn’t spit about sipping syrup and blowing kush. And while Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator’s lyrics, Tweets and antics have offended almost everybody, Kuf offends nobody.
“I listen to it all to keep up with what’s going on, but I can’t wrap my head around it,” admits the former frontman of Philly’s the Hustle about today’s popular hip-hop. “The beats are great, but the lyrical content baffles me. The hip-hop I love is much more conscious. It has a completely different context and approach.”
Pulling from the party-vibe of DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, the Philly soul of songwriters/producers Gamble & Huff and the Roots’ emphasis on live instrumentation, Philadelphia’s written all over Kuf’s style.
“It’s such a soulful city,” he says, “and that plays a big part in my music. I keep it as positive and uplifting as possible, because the best songs are always the ones that keep people moving.”
Keeping people moving is exactly what Kuf did with his latest album, BoomBox Logic , released last year by Drexel University’s student-run MAD Dragon Records. The live band naturally shifts between soul, jazz, rock, classic hip-hop and funk. Lyrically, Kuf maintains the earnestness, wit and political edge of golden age hip-hop artists like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Erik B & Rakim.
“When I did interviews for Logic, one question everyone kept asking was, ‘Yo, you say there’s so much great hip-hop in Philly, but where can I go to see it?’ And I didn’t have a good answer,” Kuf says.
Kuf then realized the biggest problem with Philly’s scene: tons of talent, but too few venues to see it. He devised a solution, and, in January, started a monthly hip-hop night at World Cafe Live called The BoomBox Collective. With the 11th event scheduled for next Wed., Nov. 30, 8 p.m, its evolved into a spot where local visual artists, jewelry makers and craftspeople also share their work.
“The room’s been packed,” says Kuf about the all-ages events, which have showcased local rappers like Zilla Rocca and Mh the Verb. “There are many people under 21 who love hip-hop and wanna hear live music, but there aren’t many options. It’s a solid soundsystem and a good vibe.”
Kuf has big plans for BoomBox Collective in 2012. He’s bringing more national artists, and is currently organizing a February date for Shabazz Palaces (the new project led by Butterfly of Digable Planets). In the meantime, Kuf’s completing his sophomore album, Eclectic Rhetoric .
“It’s about not using the format of hip-hop people are familiar with, or they’re gonna hear on the radio,” he says. “It’s about speaking to the masses, but not in the way they’re used to.”
Kuf Knotz performs Fri., Nov. 25, 9:30pm. $5. Hard Rock Cafe, 113-31 Market St. 215.238.1000. hardrockcafe.com