'We consider ourselves underdogs': Tru Tribe's Sandy Abuah on the rise of Knucks

'We consider ourselves underdogs': Tru Tribe's Sandy Abuah on the rise of Knucks

Knucks went Top 3 with debut album Alpha Place last year. Here, co-manager Sandy Abuah recounts how Tru Tribe’s work with the UK rapper shows that success is about the long game…

"In February 2020, Knucks released the video for [2019 single] Home and it went viral, then Covid hit us. We knew we could sit on our hands and panic, like the majority of the industry at the time, or we could capitalise.

“We joined forces with Believe, kept on releasing and his numbers just started growing. Then when it came to making the Alpha Place album [released in May], the idea was to show people that there are different by-products of being in the same environment. It’s about seeing a situation from a third-person perspective, or being the person [involved] and there being only two ways it could go, prison or dying. 

“We were very meticulous on the artwork and visuals and knew we had something interesting, but we didn’t know how big it would go. We built up a whole infrastructure behind us. At WMELucy Dickins, Caroline Simionescu-Marin and Phoebe Holley have been amazing. They orchestrated his first UK tour, which sold out in five minutes. It went on sale before the album came out, that was a big risk.

“On release day, we did bundles of merchandise, CDs, cassettes and T-shirts. We did a pop-up tour of six cities where Knucks signed over 5,000 CDs and cassettes. In the process, his streaming numbers were rocketing and we ended up hitting No.3.

"No one wants to do something and not be the best. We didn’t get much support from the industry itself, to be transparent. We consider ourselves underdogs, so this was a message to the younger generation that there are other ways to do this. Some people might want to take the lift. For some people it takes 10 years, like Knucks.

“Not only is he independent, he doesn’t make music that’s considered regular rap in the UK, i.e pure drill. It’s harder when everyone is gravitating to a certain type of sound and you’re doing something that’s slightly in between. So it was about telling fans and people that you can be true to yourself and still do the numbers a major can. 

“No one really believed in Knucks, they probably thought, ‘Oh, he’s okay…’ but it wasn’t a thing where [people thought], ‘Oh he’ll be doing a 20,000 capacity show at The O2’ type of belief. That was our ammo, we just decided to put our blinkers on. 

“Our strategy was thinking outside the box, expanding our team and taking it to a new level that hasn’t been seen before. And with that comes big responsibility, so it’s going to be a lot harder than the norm. We’re pushing boundaries. 

“We strategised to a tee, going by what the concentration span of young people is. We made sure we shot all the videos, did everything and then we just released, ‘Bam, bam, bam.’ Knucks doesn’t like doing too many interviews, so our aim was to make the press opulent, making sure we had real music and fashion tastemakers. Campaigns are like a puzzle. It wouldn’t have the same energy if we didn’t have radio or press. You use them as moments to add to the energy and excitement. 

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“The biggest stars in the world all have something in common, they tap into your emotions and we wanted to make sure that we did that. To affect people’s mood was our main goal, to be relatable to the everyday person. That was the key to success. 

“Knucks is very meticulous and very detailed with his lyrical content. We spent nearly a year working on the project, it wasn’t something where he just hopped in a booth and it happened by chance, everything is seamlessly woven together, even the sequencing and the skits, the conversations. It captures real people and real things and that’s what music is about. It’s about support and taking people away from the edge.

“The conversation around Knucks is just so wide now. He is a lifestyle, he’s laid-back, the way he dresses and his energy are very unique, which a lot of people will relate to. In America, for example, Los Pollos Hermanos has really connected. We did a deal with Puma and one of the deliverables was to do a freestyle including their sneakers, you notice he says ‘Puma’ on the record. We were advised to put it on Spotify, we didn’t think anything of it because it wasn’t even properly mixed. It went through the roof [Laughs]! It was a freestyle and it’s just gone platinum. The crazy thing is that it’s not like it’s on the radio and everyone’s heard it, it’s just sat on Spotify doing numbers.

“The other main thing we did was to push Alpha Place for the whole year. People tend to release and then forget about it, but we were like, ‘Nah, there’s a ton of people that haven’t heard this, let’s keep pushing it like it’s brand new.’ As a result, his following is still increasing, people are still finding out about Alpha Place, the numbers are still healthy. 

“The word breakthrough is subjective. Are you building a cult-like fanbase, or do you want to be No.1 consistently? Knucks is building a cult-like fanbase and that’s real success, having fans that will grow with you for years on end.”

PHOTO: Leanda Heler

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