w/ Wiz Khalifa, A$AP Rocky, B.o.B and more. $50-$90, 6 p.m., Aug. 8. Oakdale Theatre, 95 South Turnpike Rd, Wallingford, oakdale.com
At 6:48 a.m. on Wednesday, July 24, @KirkKnight tweeted, "Somebody need to cook for me. This fast food shit is disgusting." On the road as part of the Brooklyn hip-hop outfit Pro Era (short for "the Progressive Era") alongside fellow members Joey Bada$$, CJ Fly, Dessy Hinds and Nyck Caution, he was, at that point, five days deep into the Under the Influence of Music Tour. Headlined by perma-baked hitmaker Wiz Khalifa, Under the Influence is a 20-date run stopping by large venues around the country. "I don't have nothing against what McDonald's does. They do whatever, but [eating] that all the time is unhealthy," says Knight, who prefers a sausage and egg McGriddle and a hash brown for breakfast. (Lunch at McDonald's isn't really his thing.) "That's what I've been eating lately. It's really messing with my stomach."
Knight's growing loathing for fast food isn't notable because it's coming from a musician temporarily trapped on highways. No, the complaint stands out because it's coming from a 17-year-old — one who graduated high school right before this trek. This isn't Knight's first rodeo either, as he went out with Pro Era on last spring's Beast Coastal Tour and has a couple of European trips under his belt, too. But despite being so young that he's not able to legally purchase cigarettes — much less booze — on these tours, he has no gripes with his current station. "To me, it's all about your state of mind. I don't really believe in age. So what if you're 17? You could be 17 with the mind of a 35-year-old [or] 47-year-old. It's all about how you carry yourself, you know?" he says. "I carry myself with certain standards that makes me able to do certain things. Also, I just show respect wherever I go. It hasn't been a problem."
Knight (whose moniker is an alias) certainly isn't the only young face in Pro Era. Joey Bada$$ — an MC with a lousy alias and a prodigious knack for lyricism who is the clique's linchpin and the primary reason why Pro Era has catapulted to hip-hop fame within the last year — is only 18, having graduated high school recently himself. Knight met Bada$$ sometime during middle school, soon becoming one of the first (although not founding) members of Pro Era. "When I used to see Joey around the playgrounds and shit in middle school, he was a more popular person. I was more of a stick-to-your-books nerdy type. One day, he just found the talent when I was beating on the tables," Knight says, referring to his makeshift beat-making techniques of rhythmically slapping pens against tables.
Today, his music is considerably more complex. "Flight 13" off Pro Era's The Secc$ Tape features Knight's ominous, spacey production and him rapping a come-on for the ladies that oscillates between innuendo and instruction-giving. The spry and entertaining "Florists" off Pro Era's Peep the Aprocalypse has a minimal beat that samples Audio Two's already well-sampled old-school classic "Top Billin.'" Knight's work definitely needs refinement — his flow doesn't have quite the smoothness it needs — but there's a substantial skeleton in place. He's thinking about dropping his debut album on November 16, his birthday. In past interviews, he's talked about his interest in chemistry, but at this point, he says, "rap is my main thing."
Pro Era are rising at a fortuitous time — not just because of the group receiving prominence through Bada$$ but also because the idea of the hip-hop group is experiencing a renaissance. A$AP Mob, Odd Future, Ratking, Black Hippy and Flatbush Zombies are just a few of the factions also on the come-up. Pro Era are very likely the biggest contingent of all, with 47 (!) people currently in the group. A primary 12 — including the late and awfully talented 19-year-old Capital Steez, who died late in 2012 — push the name on the music end while the rest, Knight says, are "just the homies and the homies in spirit."
But even while rap crew are very much in vogue, chances are pretty much 50-50 that any of these outfits will stay intact in the long run. For every Public Enemy or Mobb Deep who is still a unit, there's an N.W.A or Wu-Tang Clan that's either entirely fallen apart or just a loosely knit set of individuals nowadays. What's the future of Pro Era looking like? "Everybody has the talent to have their own solo career in the group so it's going to be a little bit of both," Knight says. "When the time comes, Pro Era will come together and blow up the world — as a crew, separately, individually."