Aaron Knight is a treasure trove of New York’s celebrated borough. He’s not afraid to be vulnerable, on a R&B beat or Drill song. Naturally, Aaron oscillates between a husky drawl and melodic riffs that champion his rhythmic versatility. But this unique balance between flows isn’t a learned behavior, it’s something intrinsic to his stylized rhyme scheme. “The balance comes from my wittiness,” Aaron avows in confidence over the phone.
Growing up, Aaron was subjected to a harsh reality that plagues the lives of many inner-city youth within Queens, New York: drug-ridden communities and limited opportunity. Admittedly, his growth was challenged but he never gave up, he overcame. In fact, Aaron’s steadfast determination and insatiable hunger for a way out is what fueled his ambition.
With time, what was once considered hiccups on the road to success would later become speed bumps to shift Aaron’s perpetual grind into a different gear. At this stage in his life, time is an invaluable commodity for the Sunnyside Queens rep. “I can’t afford to waste time because the cards I’ve been dealt have forced me to play the game intensely,” he shares. “I don’t have the luxury of taking days off.”
Though 2020 was unforgivable in every sense of the word, Aaron managed to remain consistent in his efforts. With Drill, trap-inspired acoustics set the foundation for his bilateral dynamic as an artist. In the same breath, singsong cuts like “SWIM” have garnered global notoriety for Aaron, supporting his claim to being a self-described “once in a generation talent.”
Personally, what does Drill Music mean to you?
Drill to me means a new sound that’s about to take over. If you not doing drill right now, you’re not really making music. That’s what people wanna hear, they wanna hear the snares, they wanna hear the 808’s. They wanna hear you talk your shit on a Drill beat. If you not doing that you’re not doing anything.
With this stylized rhyme scheme being subjective, on a regional basis, how do you identify with your listeners? For those that are unfamiliar with the lingo or lifestyle.
It’s super stylized bro because the type of Drill I do, I bounce on the beat. It has that New York attitude on it. I’m focusing on the rhyme scheme, the pattern, the beats and shit like that. It’s crazy because I didn’t even have to introduce them [listeners] to it, Drake did it. When Drake dropped that Drill song, he put everyone on that sound and it popped. The “War Freestyle” is the one I made “Way Before Drizzy” off of. That’s my first Drill song and I made it because I was doing Drill way before Drizzy [laughs].
How do you find the balance in your flows? Swaying between Drill, which is often considered aggressive — and R&B, which is relatively passive and/or emotive. That’s a unique contrast.
The balance comes from my wittiness. I tell people, if you listen to these songs like 2-3 times, you’ll be like oh shit, he really said that. I don’t have to be the most gangsta Drill artist. The shit I say is fire, it’s relatable. You can understand me.
Do you feel like your humanness is what makes people gravitate towards your sound naturally?
Exactly. My vulnerability, I’m not afraid to be vulnerable on a drill record. I’m giving you me on a track. It can be a R&B track or a Drill track, it don’t matter. As long as I like the beat, you gon’ get a piece of me.
At this stage in your career, how reluctant are you to experiment with new sounds?
If you’re not early to the party, you’re late. When I got on this wave bro, nobody else was on it, in my immediate circle. I was the one that was like y’all gotta fuck with this — and they didn’t understand it, but now everybody fucks with it. Everybody wanna talk to me now.
When the phrase “delayed gratification” comes to mind, how does that make you feel?
I tell people like this, it’s gonna happen for me when they’re ready. I was doing things that they weren’t ready for. I was singing ballads on acoustics, making fire shit. Now, people look at my catalog and realize I made classics. But it’s like yeah, you never heard it [laughs], you weren’t there yet. Now, everybody’s there now. All the pieces are coming together and it’s starting to show. They know what’s going on.
Have you always been this confident? Nowadays, people tend to humble themselves, but you seem like the polar opposite.
The mushrooms, the weed, that shit makes you learn about yourself. You gotta learn to like yourself and be confident. It [drugs] made me realize the world is crazy. Everybody is gon’ judge you regardless, so just do what makes you happy. Focus on what you’re doing and it’s going to work out. It takes away that fear of failure. Early in my career, I would get so depressed because I couldn’t understand why people weren’t getting it. They aren’t understanding where I’m trying to go. Once I stopped giving a fuck, that’s when shit started happening. That’s when the fearlessness started to come out. I can’t fail because I’m not going into a fight blind. The only way I’m ever going to fail at something is if I don’t prepare for it. When something good happens to me, I take it in and I keep it pushing.
What would you say your role has been in New York’s rap scene?
It’s interesting because bro, I’m from Queens. I’m the only Queens artist making real Drill outside of New York. If you talk about Queens artists right now, you have to talk about Aaron Knight. It’s a fact. If you not, you’re a hater bro. I put in the work.
Is there a difference between how receptive UK fans are to drill compared to US-based listeners?
A lot of my producers are from London. For them, Drill kind of originated there, so they wanna see how far you can take it on your side. Like with “Movie,” — it’s one of those records that they’re going to go crazy for. It sounds so authentic, but it’s real, it’s real New York.
Let’s expand on this a bit. What was the energy like the night of recording “Movie”?
The energy for me is always the opposite of what you want. If you want me to be hype, I’m gonna be calm, because I feel like that gets people hype. Screaming don’t get nobody hype, calmness does. I say a lot when I’m talking, so pay attention to what I’m saying. I don’t have to talk a lot. That really be the vibe. Think about it, when you’re in school and a teacher says you can text on your phone, nobody is on their phone — but if they say don’t text, you wanna text.
What is your blueprint for success?
My blueprint and everybody else blueprint is different. What’s hard for me is how I look, people wanna hate me off the rip. But when they hear me talking and see how serious I am, my energy — I don’t sweat for nothing bro — they see I’m real. That’s the energy they get from me.
What’s your legacy? How does Aaron Knight want to be remembered, outside of the music.
A once in a generation talent, because no one is doing what I’m doing. Nobody came from what I came from. The story is real, you can check the credentials. I’m not one of these kids that just wanted to make music, I had to make music.
What did you come from, what’s your story?
I was born in Newburgh, New York but I come from Queens. I was raised by my grandma bro, because my parents, you know, substance abuse, they were fucked up. I had to grow up early. At six, I was a lil’ nigga, going to school in durags and shit wylin’. Luckily I played ball, but if it wasn’t for my talent, I wouldn’t be here.
With being exposed to that level of hardship at such a young age, how did you manage to overcome that?
Time. I don’t waste time for that reason. I know what it’s like to be fucked up, so I don’t wanna be like that. Everything I do is strategic, I’m thinking about it. I just keep my foot on the gas. And if you slow me down, then you gotta go, but I ain’t slowing down for you. At the end of the day, we’re all doing this shit so that we can live longer than our natural lives. The only way we can do that is with our art and talent. Without that, we’re going to be forgotten the day we’re gone. If you can put out something that contributes to people, something to let them catch up to you — with great artists, they’re ahead of their time. It takes people so many years to catch up that they’re still alive. People still listen to Bob Marley because he was mad ahead of his time. I can’t afford to waste time because the cards I’ve been dealt have forced me to play the game intensely. I don’t have the luxury of taking days off.