Knowledge the Pirate counts himself as a member of the rapper Roc Marciano’s inner circle. Alongside KA, who we recently nominated as recording the best New York City rap album of the year, Knowledge appeared on Marci’s acclaimed Reloaded project and was also around during the recording of that project’s predecessor, Marcberg. But it turns out Knowledge’s story goes back long before the recent rise of Roc Marci — as he tells us here with a personal history that involves bouts with Teddy Riley, Biggie’s girl, and Will Smith’s old bodyguard Charlie Mack.
So when does the story of Knowledge the Pirate begin?
As far as professional music wise, I first got my start in the ’90s. That’s when I came into the music business.
How did that come about?
Just from being young and in those streets, and my son was ready to be born, so I figured I have to do something other than running these streets to provide for my child. I decided to start battling everybody in New York and Philly and I got discovered from battle rapping by a guy named Charlie Mack.
The Charlie Mack who used to be Will Smith’s body-guard?
Yeah, that’s him. He had ran into me and heard me spit and he put me in front of Queen Latifah and Shakim and they flew me to L.A. immediately. It kinda took off fast, really. I was kinda big back then. I don’t want to get too much into it, but I was kinda a big guy back then. I went to Hollywood, I went to some Jack the Rapper shit, and then Teddy Riley stole me from them. I rapped in front of Teddy and he was like, “Fuck that, I don’t care who likes you, you’re mine now.”
But they fucked up a million dollar deal, like when he was signed to Capital, and he fucked up some money and some folks got fired. Charlie didn’t want to make the deal, I was a young guy coming from the streets like, “Hey, let’s get this million dollars.” When Charlie made that move it put a bitter taste in my mouth and I decided I had to move a little different. I met Teddy down at Jack the Rapper and he told me he was ready to move me to Virginia and work with me. I ended up doing some things with Teddy Riley. I was a star down there. I’m actually the only guy he signed other than his brothers — I used to tour with Wreckx-n-Effect back then.
What happened next?
Teddy really taught me the game and I had a real promising deal; I was signed with Interscope and I sat down with Jimmy Iovine and I got a lot of money up front. I was happy. But some stuff happened and I decided I couldn’t keep sitting around not doing what I’m here for and I left the game, went back to Jersey and New York.
But I’m a real street dude. I’m not really bullshitting. I took Biggie Smalls’s girl — Biggie had to come get his bitch from my home before. I’m a real street dude and a legend like that; I got money in them streets, my brother just caught 30 years, I almost lost my life, and I just lost over a million dollars like a year and a half ago. I never tried to get back into rap, I left shit alone, and Roc Marciano became my best friend. We decided fuck trying to get beats from people and we started making beats and he put out Marcberg. He kept beating me in the head, telling me I’m as dope as the other dudes and got me rapping again. Thank God for Roc Marci who got Knowledge the Pirate rapping again. He gave me an opportunity.
When did you first meet Roc Marciano then?
Me and Roc have like a decade of history, we’ve been friends for years. I was doing my own thing and he was always doing his thing. So like during Marcberg, even though I’m not on there, I was still there. It wasn’t no rap friends, we are artists that respect each other. I’m a star, and most people in rap don’t want stars around them, but Roc is a guy who is a star and he doesn’t mind bringing other stars around him. Thanks to that, I’m back rapping. Right now I have a family team I’m fuckin’ with — I’m only rapping on Roc Marci beats, Alchemist, Arch Druids and Six July. Not just anybody can get me on their songs. It’s my team. I just gave Kanye West that beat “Blood On The Leaves,” my producer did it, and I gave it back. We got a nice family, it’s a family thing, and that’s what it is now.
Were you surprised by the reception Roc Marci’s Marcberg got?
Not really, ’cause I’m a fan of music. I felt like we always had something that people didn’t have, that hardcore New York sound that was missing and it was really missing after the Mobb Deep and the Wu-Tang started to do a lot of things that wasn’t cutting-edge like it used to be. I think Marcberg brought that back.
So did Roc Marci have to really persuade you to start rhyming again?
Nah, I’ve always been rhyming, I’m that dude that was always rhyming. I had my own deal with the same label Fat Joe was on, I’ve always been in situations, and I’ve been ghost-writing for people to get my money right, like I’ve wrote four or five songs on Will Smith’s albums, you know? I had a publishing deal with Warner Brothers, and I was kinda ghost-writing in the background. The industry is full of weirdos and I’m not a dick-sucker so I don’t fit in these circles ’cause they want you to be confined but I’m really rebellious ’cause I’m a pirate, you know, so it took somebody of my cloth to get me interested in doing it again. So if it wasn’t for Roc, I’d still always be rhyming, but I was kinda done with this shit — I ain’t with the please listen to my demo shit — but I don’t really give a fuck about the fame.
What are you working on for 2014? Is there going to be a Knowledge the Pirate solo album soon?
Oh definitely, definitely, that’s coming in 2014, you’re gonna get that.
Will your album sound similar to Roc Marci’s albums then?
Oh yeah, that style is our sound. I was with him when he first sat down and started to fuck with records, so that’s our sound and I’m never gonna stray from that. But I’m definitely gonna have Six July come in and he’s gonna add another element to what I’m doing. How did you hook up with Six July?
Shit, I think it was on a video set, maybe a Wu-Tang video, and I was writing for these two fat kids that were on this label, and they flew me out to write for them and Six July was doing production. He’s the only one doing my beats since Roc Marci.
On your Twitter bio you mention being the first gangster to rap over Neptunes beats.
Yeah, I’m that original G-dude the Neptunes came around. When I met them — and Pharrell’s always my man — it was Pharrell was rapping and Chad Hugo was making the beats. Pharrell would be in the room with me and one day he was like, “Yo, you’re too crazy, Knowledge, I’m gonna just make beats. You make a motherfucker not wanna rap!” He had a Q-Tip style back then. He and Chad would always ask to do my tracks and I told them you have to make the music hard, you have to make hard music for me. The Clipse, they was like little kids, Pusha T and them was little dudes to me ’cause I’m the OG of that when it comes to rhyming on Neptunes beats. There wasn’t no Noreaga yet — that might be their first hit record but when Pharrell and Chad did showcases, it was me.
They had an authentic sound — their production was large and I really liked what they was doing — and I was the big dude on campus with them. I never acted like I was bigger than people though and I would run with them and go to Chad’s mom’s house upstairs in the attic where they made the beats. I would show them how to make that shit hard. So that’s why I say that on Twitter — I was the first real street dude to be around them. I love them dudes — I don’t have nothing mad to say about them ever.
Do you have a title in mind for your solo album yet?
Nah, no I don’t. Me and Roc was talking the other day and it was like I might just call it Knowledge the Pirate!
Where does the name Knowledge the Pirate come from?
Well my name is Knowledge, has been ever since I had knowledge of self since I was about 12-years-old, and the pirate shit came ’cause when I started to learn about who I was. I was a wild one when I was young, I was on the street corner early, like a nigga gave me a pack of crack when I was 13 and I was out there. My mom was on drugs and I didn’t know my father so I felt like I had no family. So the pirate shit comes form my lifestyle, not having no family and growing up in the street and working out how to survive. That pirate shit is a lifestyle and to that I’m a knowledgable person and I like to read and study, so it’s like my ying and my yang. I mean I’m still a wild dude, and you can either meet Knowledge or you can meet the Pirate, you know?