After Hours with Cade Episode 2: Knuckles

Published: Dec. 18, 2022 at 12:34 AM CST
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LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - Lawton is the fifth largest city in the state, but breaking into the music industry as a musician living in Oklahoma can be a harrowing feat.

On After Hours with Cade, we sit down with local artists to discuss Lawton and Southwest Oklahoma’s impact on their career and how it’s helped shape their artistry.

My second guest is Steven Nuckolls, better known as Knuckles, a national touring country-rap artist and Lawton native. Knuckles has been releasing music and going viral online for the past eight years, but he says his love for music began as a teenager in high school.

“I grew up in Lawton here, you know. So, in an urban area, we were all into hip-hop. A lot of times, I’d be the only white guy rapping, but it didn’t matter because I tried really hard. So, even though I sucked when I first started, my boys encouraged me, and I just kept going and eventually, anything with time and practice, you get better at,” he said.

While he’s been releasing solo music and collaborating with artists all over the country, he just recently decided to pursue a full-time career as an artist.

“Six months ago, I made the transition from an IT career to this full-time, and I’ve been able to pay the bills using social media and using music. I see that as a win, but I wanted to do it full-time forever ago. I mean, all my friends from back in the day will always be like, ‘bro remember when you were like ten, and you talked about wanting to be a rapper? Look at you now,’ and it’s like, I guess you know, I still don’t feel like I’ve made it or anything like that. But it is what I want to do as a career going forward.”

With very few artists in the genre, Knuckles says he was a pioneer for the musical style, and his authenticity drove his audience to respond positively.

“Now, I’m not saying this to be facetious or to brag, but I’m one of the originators of country rap; like not the originators, but eight years ago, there weren’t as many country rappers, and I started doing it around then. I made one song where I talked about a bunch of country stuff, and everybody loved it. I realized it’s because I was being authentic, and in hip hop being authentic is important.”

“Nobody wants to hear somebody rapping about a Benz if they don’t actually have a Benz. Being fake in hip-hop is always frowned upon. So, when I started rapping about these country things, everybody was like, ‘yeah, he literally works for a rodeo company. He’s literally country. This makes sense.’ And so I just started making a couple more songs. Then when I realized there was a market for it and a niche for it, I decided this is where I can build my lane,” Knuckles continued.

Apart from being tougher to break into the music industry, Lawton can also be a place easy to fall into bad habits. But Knuckles beams as he talks about overcoming that time in his life.

“Being Lawton born and raised means that you have dealt with a lot because Lawton is a place where there’s a high crime rate, you know, there’s lots of drug use here, and I fell into that. I did five years in prison; I have three felonies, so I am a person who has changed their whole life.”

“This Christmas Eve will be my 14th anniversary out of DOC custody. And to me, that speaks volumes for Lawton. I grew up as a bad teenager; I was in no way a role model, and yet here I am now, a role model. I’m not out here rapping about drugs and things like that; a lot of my songs are more positive, and I try to influence this next generation in Lawton. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t left Lawton yet,” he continued.

“The internet allows me to reach a broader audience than 20 years ago, of course, but I also know if I had moved to Nashville five years ago, I would be way bigger than I am right now. I know that, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to stay here, and I want to bring things this direction, so hopefully, I can give back to the community. I get to speak out sometimes at the schools and things like that, I’ll get invited to those things, and that feels really good. You know, I like that.”

“One time [an officer] came up to me and was like, ‘Knuckles, I just want to shake your hand and say you’ve done great,’ And that meant a lot to me because he had arrested me twice, so we had a personal relationship in a bad way. For him to see me ten years later and to want to shake my hand for the positivity that I brought to the community; that alone is why I won’t leave Lawton,” Knuckles gleamed.

While he may have a good relationship with Lawton and surrounding communities now, he says it wasn’t that way initially. “The honest truth is the community has helped me grow by not embracing me. When I first started doing this, I received pretty much nothing but hate.”

“There’s a news website here in Oklahoma that literally wrote four or five hateful articles in a row about my videos, but it caused them to go viral. The way I handled it was just by making a silly video saying thanks for the free promo. Lawton didn’t embrace me for a long time, but what that caused me to do was travel. That caused me to get out of my comfort zone and try some different things, you know, that I’ve got to get a drummer, I’ve got to go on tour, and I’ve got to do these things because you can’t make it here,” he said.

“I can’t be a rapper in Lawton and think that that’s going to pay my bills. But it sucks that I had to get my feelings hurt to realize that. Now the support has come back around, and it’s strange to see and is still a strange feeling when fans stop me in Country Mart or Walmart and want to take a picture with me. That means something now because I didn’t have that support when I started,” he continued.

Lawton might have been slow to warm up to the country rapper, but that wasn’t the case for social media, and Knuckles attributes his work ethic to why he was able to go viral online a multitude of times and maintain attention.

“I have over 200,000 followers on Facebook, and I’m verified. That alone has allowed me to make connections with people online. Then when we do events together or something like that, I’m like, ‘hey, you want to work on a song together?’ or ‘hit me up if you need someone at another show,’ and I’ve always done good business. Anywhere I say I’m going to be, I’m there. I show up and put on the best show I possibly can. I leave everything on the stage every night and pay for everything I’m supposed to pay for. Even though it’s music and rap, I still want to be a good businessman,” he said.

When it comes to local collaborations, he says it’s a must for the other artist to take their craft seriously on a professional level, which is why he’s primarily ventured out of state to gain popularity and connections.

“I have done collaborations with some local artists here. Takeez is one of them. I have done collaborations with several artists locally as I was starting, but as I’ve grown now, I have a feature price. It costs money to get a feature from me, so not everyone here has the capabilities to do that. I need people to have the money to be able to put behind the song if we’re going to do it together.”

“You need to have a marketing budget, and it’s not even that I want your money, you need to put it into yourself, and that’s what I really want. I can only work with people who are treating it like a business at this point. For a lot of local rappers, that’s all they are is local rappers, so I’m more about people who are trying to get outside of Lawton and take their music into the actual national touring act side of things,” Knuckles continued.

He went on to explain that there’s an inconsistency for genres like hip hop or pop in the Southwest Oklahoma area and that focusing on only country or rock genres stifles the growth opportunities for newer acts trying to break into the scene.

“We have very consistent rock and roll bands here, very consistent country music artists that consistently play the same places and consistently play the same cover songs. I do think that we have the potential to have a better music scene here, but I think it would take more places trying to work together,” he said.

“We have a lot of competition in Lawton between venues, and I know that just from dealing with them personally. Because of that, the scene is not going to grow here. Do I think there’s a lot of talented artists? Yes. But I think they’re going to have to do what I’ve done and spend the money to get outside of Oklahoma to make themselves pop more,” he continued.

2022 brought a lot of new, exciting moments for Knuckles, one of those being able to branch out artistically from his norm into other genres of music. “This year, I’ve taken some direction from my producer and engineer, Fyu-Chur. Shout out to Fyu-Chur Recording Studios here in Lawton. We’ve been working together for eight years, and I have finally let him convince me to start singing more, which is why I’ve released my first country song this last year.”

“For the longest time, all I wanted to do was rap; I wouldn’t even do any sort of vocalization. I didn’t even like doing choruses because I feel they should be more catchy and singing. Over time I’ve grown to develop that in the right key and in the right song that’s written for you, anyone can sing. So, I have a lot more in 2023. You’re going to see a lot more singing coming from me, and you’re going to see some music that sounds a lot like 90s Classic Gold Country. It’s going to be weird coming from me because that’s not my normal speed of things,” he continued.

That’s not all; thanks to some upcoming collaborations in 2023, he’ll also be releasing a Bluegrass song titled ‘Family Tree,’ along with various rock-rap songs. “I also am going to be working with some people who have more of a slow southern Atlanta-type style. So, there’s a different style of me rapping coming out where I’m a little bit more melodic, kind of jazzy. A lot of people tell me that I’m extremely versatile. That is like one of my greatest qualities with the music.”

While he likes to break out of the box and strive from his comfort as he did with his recent single ‘Believe,’ he says gospel is one genre he doesn’t see himself experimenting much with.

“I don’t know that I would do a full-on gospel song. My latest song is country, and it is almost southern gospel. It’s very clean, there’s no curse words, and I’m talking very much about my faith in God and what it means to me. But in it also, I leave it kind of open to say that everyone needs something to believe in.”

“I’ve learned not to be closed-minded; that’s something that I get accused of all the time because I look like this. I’m not closed-minded about anything, and I want people to find their own path in life. I believe that everyone does need something to believe in out there to have that path that they’ve got to find. Whatever that is, you know, it could be another person, it could be a job, it can be whatever. But I don’t know that gospel’s for me because I still like to use curse words like an adult. That gets you thrown out of the church sometimes,” he laughed.

Knuckles says that he’s currently sitting on 15 unreleased solo songs, along with an animated music video for one of the tracks that focus on Southwest Oklahoma’s primary hobby for many: noodling. Along with that? The highly anticipated sequel to Knuckles and the Boys Volume One.

“Knuckles and the Boys Volume Two will come out in 2023, as well as an EP with my friend KeyBoy who I toured with this summer. He’s from Kansas, and he’s a very good artist. Me and him already have five songs partially finished together. So, we’re releasing an album within the next six months or so.”

“I do have shows in the works, but I don’t like to talk about things until they happen. But I can promise that I will be touring in the spring and fall of 2023. We’ll see what happens in the summer. In the summer, I would really like to stay around here and try to do shows in the Lawton area. Maybe some shows at the lake and things like that. That will be the time that I try to bring some artists in as they’re passing through on their summer tours,” he continued.

Knuckles can be found online on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and Facebook as Knuckles. He can also be found on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok under KnucklesRap.