Every once in a while, a lone artist or group shines a hopeful ray through the gloomy, overcast skies of hip-hop. Piercing through the haze of Chingys, Nellys and Ja Rules, they bless hip-hoppers with a fresh blend of creativity and originality, and most importantly, a reminder that there is still something good we’ve yet to discover. This time around, that group is the CunninLynguists.
Consisting of Deacon The Villian, Mr. SOS and Kno, CunninLynguists released their critically acclaimed debut album, Will Rap For Food, in October 2001, which received praise in The Source, Urb, and Elemental magazines. With the additional success of their sophomore release, Southernunderground, in April 2003, the Lynguists have solidified a name for themselves as some of the best the underground has to offer.
Known for their distinctively witty tongue-in-cheek lyricism and near-flawless production, the trio has broken the cookie cutter trends of rap groups today, proving it’s all right to come original and deviate from the norm.
“Here’s what makes us different,” says Kno, who, as well as an emcee, is also the producer of the group. “We approach our music in a way that we are not trying to do anything but make quality music, rather than try to put together an album that has a club joint, and then a song for the girls, and this that and the other. I think people are too caught up in trying to make specific songs for specific niches.”
“What I feel sets them apart is that I’ve noticed nowadays, everybody is caught up in making the ‘banger,’ and every song has to have this ridiculously hard beat,” says friend and fellow emcee Tonedeff. “Everybody is just making the same song over and over. What CunninLynguists do is they make albums, and that’s an art I don’t think a lot of people know how to do, especially in a singles-driven market.”
And albums they do make. In Southernunderground, the group weaves together crisp, distinctive flows, meaningful subject matter, and an admirable sense of humility that reminds listeners that it’s okay to laugh at ourselves. All the while, Kno – who produced all but three of the 16 tracks on the album – consistently comes correct with polished production that can be called nothing less than masterful.
Of course, with success comes criticism, and of that the CunninLynguists have had their share. One internet critic went as far as to say Kno’s loved ones should be raped at gunpoint and his fans “gutted with rusty fishing knives.”
“It’s okay, because it doesn’t make me angry. I don’t really have a reaction to that,” says an apathetic Kno. “In like two years, we’ll see what’s happening. If in two years [he’s] writing for Rolling Stone and actually has some type of influence over my career, then I will cry about it, maybe. Probably not, still.”
“I don’t think he’d be saying the same shit in person,” says Deacon. “You can write stuff all day, but words on the internet don’t mean nothing to me at all.”
Despite that, the Lynguists have received praise where it counts the most. The group received an A- rating for their latest album in the acclaimed Spin magazine, Stealth said their music “succeeds on all levels,” and Urb called them “indie hip-hop royalty.” More importantly, the response from their fans has been so positive that Kno has called it “surreal.”
Telling of a show they recently did in Nelson, B.C., Kno says, “When the beat dropped and [Tonedeff] started rhyming over the horns in [our song] “Love Ain’t,” about half the crowd of 14-year-olds started screaming like we were about to perform [N’Sync’s] “Bye Bye Bye.”
In addition to Will Rap For Food and Southernunderground, Kno also recently released The White Albulum, a remix album of Jay-Z’s The Black Album.
“The bottom line is that Jay-Z and Roc-A-Fella [Records] obviously put out acapellas because they wanted this done. Jay-Z has been quoted as saying the same thing,” he explains. “I mainly did it for exposure… It’s not so much I listened to the album and thought it was wack and wanted to remix it; that’s not it at all. It was just an opportunity to showcase my talent.”
Undoubtedly, the project has been nothing but successful. In the month since it has been released, Kno’s innovative production has caught the attention of MTV, A&Rs at Sony and Elektra, staff at XXL and the Source magazines, and all the way to the Roc-A-Fella offices, where production legend Just Blaze personally requested a copy of the album.
AllHipHop.com has called Kno “one of the southern underground’s best kept secrets,” and GrooveOn.com has called him a “supremely talented DJ,” saying, “The White Albulum is either better than the original version, or at least as good.”
The CunninLynguists recently wrapped up their western Canada tour, which spanned the first half of February and brought them through Vancouver, Nanaimo, Victoria, Nelson and Calgary. They are tentatively scheduled to be touring Sweden in late March and eastern Canada in April.
Their latest album, Southernunderground, is set to be re-released on vinyl and CD in April through Caroline Distribution. Additional projects include Tonedeff and Kno’s Chico And The Man LP, the CunninLynguists’ 12” single “Dirtay,” featuring Wordsworth and Rise, the “Miss Lady” single featuring Rahzel and DJ JS-1, and the third CunninLynguists album due out late 2004.
Regardless of their budding success, the CunninLynguists still maintain a level-headed mentality that only contributes to their ever-contagious appeal. When asked what their ultimate goal is, Mr. SOS smiles and responds, “As CunninLynguists, we’re just trying to keep eating.”
All of their albums to date, as well as news updates and additional information, are available through their official website, CunninLynguists.com.