Exclusive: Oakland Rap Artist Street Knowledge Talks Jacka, Mac Dre, Rappin’ Ron & More
“Street Knowledge is one of the best rappers out there. He is in the top five for sure.” These are the words of late Bay Area rap icon The Jacka.
Arguably Northern California’s most impactful artist since Mac Dre, Jacka made the undoubtedly bold statement during an interview his Artist Records roster did with Murder Dog several years ago.
Street Knowledge represents the East Side of Oakland. But judging from his style, raw and intricate, it’s evident he’s influenced by spitters hailing from all over the map. Furthermore, he holds a passion for punchlines, which makes his wordplay reminiscent of the early 2000s, a time when mixtapes were still revered and rap wasn’t deluged with farfetched trap tales.
Street Knowledge recently delivered his latest album Kill Yaself, a relatively upbeat and trendy effort that’s dedicated to The Jacka and inspired by his popular phrase. The album comes after Street Knowledge’s nearly two-year musical hiatus, largely due to his comrade’s death.
I had the opportunity to chop it up with Street Knowledge via phone for about an hour. During the conversation, Street Knowledge talked about the inspiration and creative influence Jacka had on Kill Yaself, as well as some of the album’s cuts and dope artwork.
He also opened up about Oakland, his loyalty to ‘the real mob’, who’s in his top five, upcoming projects, and a lot more.
Ahumblesoul.com: You recently dropped your latest album Kill Yaself. Take me back to your mind-frame when you were creating the project.
It was just Jack. I just had Jack on my mind the whole time. I still got him on my mind right now. That helped my whole creative process, just thinking about brodie and all the shit he taught me, all the shit he used to tell me, all the shit he did, and all the shit he showed and proved. Big bruh motivated me. That nigga carried me through that because I didn’t really want to do no shit, but I was like, ‘I got to rock for brodie. I got to rock for big bruh.’ I put my heart into that shit, like, seriously, because of Jack. I rap good and shit, but at first I ain’t really give a fuck about no rapping shit like that. Bruh made me serious. When I lost him, I was like, ‘Shit, all I got is what bruh gave me. I’m fin’ to go in.’ I was really by myself. I didn’t record that shit with nobody like that. I was kind of recording myself. I was in a state-of-the-art lab, but I was damn near by myself, doing that shit on my own. It wasn’t no big ass party up in there.
What is your goal with the album?
I want that mufucka to be a classic. When niggas listen to the album, I want them to say, ‘That’s Jack nigga. He Jack lil’ nigga, and he always gone be Jack young nig. That’s Street Knowledge. If you don’t know Street Knowledge, kill yaself.’ That’s my goal for that project. I want it to be a classic. I don’t know about a Bay Area classic. I don’t know nothing about the regional areas. I just want it to be a classic hands down. If it’s classic to the niggas that relate to me, that’s good with me. I want niggas to be like, ‘That nigga did that for the Jack.’ The Jack put a lot of niggas on, but he didn’t put them on like he did me, Dubb  and [Joe] Blow. He put us on in a different way. He hand-picked us and stayed glued on. He said, ‘I’m going to keep these ones.’ My goal is to let niggas know he still got his young nigs. We’re still fuckin’ wit him.
What are some of your personal favorites off Kill Yaself?
I like “Grandma,” “On God,” [and] “The Streets on Fire” with Jack and Free. That song’s just got a lot of star quality on it, and I’m showing my talent on that one. I like that one a lot. I like “Check Dat Trap.” Dubb 20 is one of my favorite people, not just rappers. He’s one of my favorite people to be around. Dubb 20, he’s the closest you’re going to get to being with the Jack. Dubb 20, all the songs with him are close to my heart. I don’t know if I’ve got a favorite. That shit go crazy.
The album’s cover art is ill. How did you develop the concept? It looks like you’re sitting in front of a mural.
That’s Jack. If you look at it, that’s Jack’s shirt. If you see the first project, the Artist Records album, I’ve got that exact shirt on. He’s got a black one on, on the cover. Those were the first shirts we had. They covered that mural with a whole ‘nother one. They did that shit like three times on 94th and Mac. The police came across the mufucka and blasted over bruh’s face and shit, blasted over his name on the other side, and threw some ‘Stop the Violence’ shit over ‘Rest in Peace, King Jack’ with the crown over it. Across the street, they had his whole fuckin’ face with the Artist Records shirt on. I was the first nigga there to get real pictures. I wasn’t really trying to get pictures. I was out there one day, and my nig pulled up on me from L.A. He was in photo school or something. He had a photo booklet he was creating, and he told me he wanted to take some pictures of me. He’s my nig that I knew from Sac[remento] from school, but he been in L.A. for a while. The nigga snapped some pictures and sent them back to me. I saw that one, and I was like, ‘Ooooh, this the one for the album cover. I’m keeping this one.’
I noticed you dedicated Kill Yaself to Jacka.
He created that album. He created Kill Yaself. I never said that. He said, ‘If you don’t know Street Knowledge, kill yaself.’ And he’s the only one with power enough to say that and a fan go, ‘Well, I don’t know that nigga, but let me know that nigga.’ Jack is like a Pac to me because of the timeline. A lot of the lil’ niggas that’s around right now, they don’t even know about Tupac, but they know the Jacka. They know big bro. All them niggas had they time, and big bro had his. Right now, he’s the king.
You came up in East Oakland. Where exactly in East Oakland are you from?
I’m from 82nd and Bancroft. I’m a STI boy. I’m a part of something that…niggas really don’t be knowing that about me because I’m not one of them niggas who be yelling. I don’t be doing all that rah rah shit. I’m from East Oakland, 8200, Burn Out Family, Smoke Mob. It’s Deep East Oakland. STI Boys. Mob, the real fuckin’ mob.
You’re very vocal about your loyalty to the mob in your music.
Now, it’s like a fashion for niggas to be in the mob. I remember when I was a little nigga playing baseball in the village. I played at Greenman Field. I played for Oakland Babe Ruth, where niggas was getting shot and flipped in the dumpster in the ’90s. I grew up with the real mob niggas, so when I say it, it’s attached to that, plus Jack. Before I ever met Jack, I was already from the mob. I was already a mob figga. I’m from Oakland, and I grew up with all of the real nigs that you think niggas know. I really know them by their first and last names, they mommas and grandmamas and shit. So when I say, ‘If I don’t know that nigga, he aint really in the mob,’ he’s not. I come from where niggas was outside all the time. I wasn’t one of the niggas that was in the house, brand new outside like, ‘Yeah, look at me now.’ Some of these niggas be like that, and then niggas like me appear sometimes. I’m a whole other caliber of nigga when it come to the mob. I’m that young bull that got a chip on his shoulder about the mob. And then, too, I hold that shit close to my heart because that’s Jack. Jack built a lot of that shit. We don’t got him, so everything that he built, I hold sacred to my heart. I don’t want to hear no niggas yellin’ mob if you ain’t mobbin’.
How would you define mobbin’?
It ain’t no definition to it. It’s the way you live. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a rap style. It’s not a dressing style. Niggas is mobbin’. And you’ve got to remember, the word mob comes from the Italians. The Italian mob, the way they move. It goes back to the village. This shit is structured in a whole different way. Don’t nobody move like us. That’s why we got Jackas and C-Bos and Joe Blows and Husalahs and Yukmouths and Ampichinos and Dru Downs and E-40s, the list goes hella long. All of them niggas is mob niggas. Mac Dre. I could keep going. It’s a million niggas I could name that’s mob niggas. And then the new niggas. Niggas just move different. And everybody want to fuck with the mob. Niggas made it cool to fuck with the mob. It’s just a fashion now to where it’s confusing because these niggas be nerds.
What sparked your passion for music?
I think it was just my moms, the music she was playing. But I’m from Oakland, you gotta think about it, I grew up in the dope era, so guess what type of niggas I liked in the beginning? MC Hammer. Like, you’re not no real nigga to me if you’re from Oakland and you say you were a kid at that time and didn’t like MC Hammer. I come from a different era. I like hella shit. I got various favorites and various styles because I remember all of that shit. My upbringing in Oakland, it was dope. It was just a different place. A lot of niggas say they from there, but they don’t be from there. I moved to Sac after a few years because some personal shit happened in the Bay with my niggas and me, so I had to do some other shit. My moms had me slither up outta there. And I doubled back and ended up going to jail. She was trying to keep me up outta jail. But Oakland is a different type of place. You know if a nigga really from there. Niggas be saying they from there. Hella niggas got dreadlocks and gold teeth and gucci belts and guns and shit, but they aint really from there.
When did you first start writing rhymes?
I think the first rap that I wrote was a C-Bo rap. I knew all his raps, but I didn’t write them down. It was one of the raps that he had, I had to write it down because he was sayin’ hella shit. It was that “Deadly Game of Baseball.” That’s like the first rap I can remember I wrote. I had raps that I had, but they were garbage, though. That nigga was the model dope nigga. Bo, he’s the dopest. Period. Especially then. I had to get that rap down. I used to rap that mufucka all the time, play it back and shit. That just made me doper. I started writing my own shit. That naturally made me write easier. You know these niggas be like, ‘I got my own style. I learned like this. I don’t write raps.’ Yeah right, nigga. These niggas be talking bout they don’t write raps. I only know two or three niggas that really don’t write raps: Jack, Dubb 20, and my nigga Z.O.
Your latest album comes nearly two years after your last release Trillafornia. Why the delay in releasing music?
Shit, life just got personal. I ended up catching a lil’ case, some lil’ bullshit. And then Jack died. That shit was hella much. I was like, ‘Fuck that shit.’ I still rapped and shit, but I was like, ‘Fuck it. Niggas done killed the brodie. Niggas is nerds. Fuck rap, I’m ready to kill something. It ain’t no rapping to do.’ But I had to get back to it. Everybody was saying, ‘Jack would’ve wanted you to do it.’ He would’ve. He would’ve wanted a nigga to keep it lit, see it through, that’s what he said it for. But that long ass break, it wasn’t because I couldn’t rap or nothing, it was just my personal life. Sometimes a nigga gotta get his life right before he starts rapping and jumping around in front of a camera.
On the album cover of Trillafornia, you have Mac Dre on one side and Pimp C on the other. I assume they influenced you significantly.
The two trillest niggas in the world. I actually knew Mac Dre. The reason I put them on their is because they’re the trillest. You can’t say trill without mentioning the Pimp, and then you can’t say trill without mentioning the Mac. It wasn’t no rocket science to it. It’s just, these niggas is legends of this trill shit. I’m from California. I’m on this trill shit, so these is the niggas I’m doing this for. All my shit be represented to a certain time, a certain era, and a certain type of vibe. There’s always a method to my madness.
You knew Mac Dre?
Hell yeah. Like, the niggas I’m wit right now, they used to do hella shows wit Mac Dre. I wasn’t Street Knowledge, I was just that young nigga in the back looking. I would get my little verses in wit niggas and shit. I know hella Thizz niggas. But you’ve got to remember, I moved to Sac; that nigga Dre was in Sac. I was there when all that shit started popping. Everything he had popping, he did it from Sac. Mac Dre was the nigga. He blew this mufucka up. He got it popping. He started putting on and spreading that love. Mac Dre was a boy!
How did you connect with The Jacka and end up joining Artist Records?
It was really through Blow. I grew up with that nigga Blow. I know his whole family. He know my whole family. He ended up moving to Pittsburgh [California]. When he was out there, he ended up connecting with my big cousin Montana. He’s actually on the management team with PK. He was the real main connection, but Blow was my childhood friend. Me and him didn’t see each other for a while, and then I ran back into brodie. When we were young, he was like my best friend. When he moved away, I was like the only lil’ nig that used to go way out and fuck with him. Later down the line, when he was fuckin’ with them, I would naturally be around. I used to be around the Jack all the time and didn’t even rap. Jack didn’t know I rapped probably for the first four years I was around him. It was just organic. It was a natural connection.
Your style is punchline-driven and witty. Who influenced your lyrical approach?
That’s funny you asked that. Have you ever heard of Bad-N-Fluenz?
Yeah, Rappin’ Ron.
And Ant Diddley Dog. Them was the niggas where my style came from. My style came from Rappin’ Ron and Ant Diddley Dog. Them is the niggas I was listening to the most. When I was young, them was the niggas my cousins were listening to, before C-Bo and all the shit. I already knew how to be a dope nigga because I had already heard Rappin’ Ron and Ant Diddley. These niggas are the most incredible lyricists in the world. There’s never been nobody doper than them til this day. Nobody. You can name anybody. Them is the only niggas that can get with Eminem on some lyrical shit. You know, they try to put Eminem at the lyrical top, so I’ma say I think them niggas is doper than bruh.
That’s a bold statement.
I mean, I think them niggas is doper than bruh. I’m serious as fuck. Them niggas is incredible, and they were saying that shit in the ’90s. They never got to see a day of this new technology. Them niggas was unrealistically dope as fuck. Them niggas was amazing. That’s where my intricate shit come from. Later down the line I fucked with niggas like Big L, Big Pun — I like the dope niggas. I like the niggas with the styles that when you hear them, you’re like, ‘Oooh, that’s scary.’
I hear a little Jadakiss in you, too.
Hell yeah. That’s my nigga. That’s one of my favorites. That’s one of my top five.
Who are the other four?
Uh, shit. Beanie Sigel, C-Bo, Pac, and Jack.
Who are some of the artists you have in rotation right now?
I ain’t gone lie, I listen to everybody, but right now I don’t be listening to shit but Jack. I don’t listen to nothing but Jack. Ain’t nobody making me feel no message. I ain’t trying to down nobody bars or nothing, but a lot of niggas is trapped out, but big bruh had a message in that shit and it was dope. That What Happened to the World, that shit was real. When he was alive, I told him, ‘Big bruh, this shit go crazy.’ He looked at me and told me, ‘That ain’t shit, bro. I’m about to put the Murder Weapon out. That’s the real one.’
That’s Chet. Chester Jackson. [He was from] from Sobrante Park. East Oakland. He was my brother. That nigga was like my twin. We reacted just the same. The only nigga I see close to him is Hus, the way he acts. That nigga was a wild nigga. That nigga was a boy. He was the king of the earth. I ended up losing him. He got into it with some niggas and shit, a little scuffle. You know how that go. Them niggas did that bullshit. I ended up losing brodie. He was like my everyday nig. He was my brother. I mention a couple niggas on my project, I be wanting niggas to hear. That’s one of them, Jack is one of them, and Jacari is one of them. Jacari, that’s my little brother. That nigga in prison right now. I ran the streets with this nigga for years. He one of a kind. He fixing to come home. He got like a little less than a year left. He’s the nigga.
What’s up with Nu Munnie? Is that your personal label?Yeah. When I was telling you earlier about the niggas I know that freestyle, Jack, Dubb and Zoe. I was in a whole other rap group when I was younger. It was called Real Life. One of the niggas in it, one of the dopest niggas I’ve ever heard, his name was Zoe. He used to always call hisself new money in his raps. This was like 2006 or 2007. This was hella long ago. He from G-Parkway in Sac — G-Parkway Mob. The nigga Z.O., he went to prison. He got like 50-something years. He was my nig. I ain’t gonna lie, that was the only nigga I think could match me. He didn’t even know how dope he was. He was special, like really special. He was crazy than a mufucka, but he could rap his ass off. And he didn’t write none of that shit. I named my shit after him. Nu Munnie, that’s just my record label. That’s where the chicken gonna go to. It’s A.R., though. That shit is tatted in blood. It’s Artist Records for life.
Keeping up with you over the years, I have noticed you have a dope fashion sense.
Yeah, I’m one of the flyest niggas. That’s why Jack loved me, too. I’m one of the niggas that’s dope. I’m one of the niggas that if you see me, I’ll have some of the dope kicks on and the dope jacket or something, feel me? I’m one of the niggas that be doing shit like that. I grew up in the dope era. My dad and my uncles and the niggas who I looked up to wore jewelry to match their whip. I’m really from that dope era. A lot of the young niggas now, they’re just dope heads. Naw, Street Knowledge is really from the dope era. If you meet a person that know me, they’re going to tell you, ‘Oh, yeah, that nigga Street, he’s old school. He got old school ways.’ I got an old soul.
Any upcoming projects?
Yeah, I got that Vonsway coming. I know y’all be hearing that nigga Mozzy say, ‘The vonsway on oohs.’ I made up vonsway. I be hearing hella rappers say vonsway. Niggas better start paying homage to the bull.
Break down vonsway.
It’s a different level of ism. It’s dope. It’s the highest level of dope you’re gonna get. You can’t get a higher level than vonsway. There’s no other level above it, big bruh. Once you vonsway, you through the roof. If you say swag, you’re gonna sound like a nerd. Swag is for nerds. I ain’t never had swagger. I always had real nigga vonsway. I got the Vonsway mixtape. That mufucka got like 31 songs on it. I’m thinking about turning that mufucka into a street album or something. I been gone for hella long. I got clips to shoot off on niggas. I’m ready to go. I’m gonna break down the work and put it out. That’s gonna come next. I’ll probably put that shit out on Soundcloud or something for like a dollar or something. And then I’ma drop the Checkin’ Ain’t Cheatin’, that’s damn near Kill Yaself part two. I got new Jack songs on there, too. Clyde Carson. Show Banga. Lil Goofy. Dubb 20. Joe Blow. That one is epic. Niggas might as well get used to Street Knowledge. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.
I appreciate your time. Any other words?
R.I.P. to the Jack, and keep that shit mobbin’.
Written by Louis Goggans for A Humble Soul