What’s up with the Quincy rap scene anyway?
I’ve been writing about hip-hop in the Greater Boston region for approximately 15 years. In that time, I have probably covered less shows in Quincy than I have in New Hampshire, which shouldn’t be the case. Nothing against acts from the Granite State—especially the namesake duo Granite State that I have long admired—but Quincy’s right beside the hub of New England hip-hop, and should at least have some fraction of the shows that come through Cambridge and Somerville.
Some have made attempts to bring rap music to the City of Presidents, while others have made quite a name for themselves—from battle rap champ Moroney, to Louis Bell, the Grammy-winning producer formerly known as Lu Balz who has since moved to LA to produce tracks for Post Malone and others. With what seems like more action on the Quincy front than ever before, I rode to the tail end of Red Line to meet up with one of the city’s chief up-and-comers, Knasty, and to learn more about his hustle and plans to help develop the scene south of Boston.
When people ask you where you’re from, what do you say?
I tell them it’s complicated. I grew up in Southie but I’ve lived in a whole lot of places. I moved to Quincy when I was like 10 years old, then I moved to South Carolina for a couple of years. With three months left in my senior year of high school, my mom moved down to Plymouth, so I was crashing on couches in Quincy for a while. I went to college eventually and moved to Boston for a little bit, then got my own place in Quincy, but I’m still bouncing around. I was just out in LA for a little bit, and that was just too much, so I’m back home for the time being.
Have your music making and consumption habits changed as you have moved around? What were you doing in LA?
Yeah, it’s all about the environment. I went out to LA and planned on being there for a long time, but really I was just getting my feet planted and working on this project. Right when I finished my project, some shit happened back here and I had to get home right away. I mastered all the songs out there—there was no AC in the studio, it was like 120 degrees—then I went back to my coffee shop job, then the next day woke up and went surfing, then everything fell apart and I had to come home.
From listening to your music, it seems like you’ve had a couple of setbacks over the years.
Yeah, when I came home my mom had gotten sick, so I had no choice. At first I was scrambling, but in the time since, I’ve done some of my most notable shit. I just kind of go where it takes me.
You’re 24 and you’ve been rapping for 10 years. I did the math and am assuming that some of the first shit you put out is cringe-worthy. Is that a pretty accurate statement?
Yeah, the lyrics were terrible. My beats were terrible, I was still going on SoundClick.
What other names have you rapped under?
I was Knockout for a long time, but I changed it to Knasty because I was Knasty Knockout. It’s kind of a tribute to [Nasty] Nas, but I always spelled it with a “K.” I dropped an album called Knasty, and after that [the change] happened in a second. I’ve done a lot of research and there’s only one Knasty with a “K.” A lot of people think it’s K-nasty, but it isn’t. It’s [silent], like [in the word] knife.
How far back do you go on the scene around here?
Back when I was 16 at Quincy High School I booked my first Middle East show. I sold a bunch of tickets but it cost me a whole bunch of money at the end of the day. It was set in stone, though, my name on the flyer, and that’s kind of when I said, I’m in. From there I really spent a lot of time experimenting to find where I fit in before I really gave it another push.
In my first year at Bay State College in Boston I made a project called School of Knock. When I was making this project my dad, who was in jail for two years, was released, and on the first day out he overdosed and died. It almost shut everything down. I was three songs from completion, and I told my homey there was no more reason to keep doing this shit, but he talked me out of it and convinced me to keep doing this shit. Then I got my first apartment and made an album about that shit—getting shitty weed, not being able to sell it, my landlord banging on the door all the time. It was very real, a storytelling project.
Any problems with your own personal drug use?
I never really had a problem with it. I learn from what I see around me. I grew up with some questionable folks and I knew that wasn’t for me. I’m no angel though—I’ve experimented a lot with psychedelics.
How about living on the South Shore and everything that’s happening around you? Has that influenced your work at all?
It’s very situational. There’s what you see every day. My favorite Nas line is, “Wipe the sweat off my dome, spit the phlegm on the streets / Suede Timbs on my feet makes my cipher complete.” You can apply that to anything—Monday morning going to work, Friday night hitting the club. I just try to put exactly what’s going on around me into my music.
Aren’t you a little bit young to be quoting Nas? Do you have contemporary influences too?
A little bit. I try to broaden my range a lot. When I was coming up I was against the tight pants and against the swag movement and all that, but I’ve definitely opened my ears a little bit. Now I try to incorporate more of those elements while still having integrity.
What’s the Quincy scene like now?
It’s tough. Like Boston, they suppress hip-hop. Even back at Quincy High School I was never allowed to do the talent show because I rapped. The last show we did with all Quincy artists on the bill, though, we sold out. Two tickets were sold the day of the show—everything else was sold beforehand. But I want to centralize the energy. Not just for my own benefit, but for everyone.
What’s happening now and next with you?
I spent all last year working on this. I went on two tours, one more successful than the other, and I went to [the hip-hop festival] A3C in Atlanta. I’ve been there three times. And I went to South by Southwest. I saw a lot, and it comforts me to know that I don’t fit into a lot of the categories that a lot of these other rappers fit in. Everybody has their Migos costume—it looks like they’re dressed for Halloween.
I’m trying to start my own independent label, and part of it is that I want the main studio to be out here in Quincy. There’s going to be music and videos between now and then—I have 20 new songs loaded up right now. My team is just getting everything together right now. It’s about bringing the people I work with together so we all make money. We’ll all be tied to [the label] but none of us will be tethered to it.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.