Black Knights Biography
“John brings the music and the intelligence side to it,” Rugged Monk says. “This is his first go-round as far as doing hip-hop, but John Frusciante is a very musical guy. If you sit down and talk to him, he can take you from Donna Summer to Led Zeppelin to Jane’s Addiction back to Ice Cube. His range in music is vast. So, when he channeled into what we wanted to do as far as our sound, we were able to bring things out of each other.”
“The great freedom I’ve found in doing hip-hop is that as long as the beat is hard and is something that the rappers will respond to creatively the music can be literally any style of music you want,” Frusciante says. “So, on any given song I can end up chopping up classic music or rock music or melodies based in free jazz ideas. I’ve felt more free doing this than I have doing anything else.”
Thanks to Frusciante, Black Knights was able to take its music places it never imagined possible. “As a producer, you hear the elevation every time he comes with a new beat,” Crisis says. “It sounds like you’re recording with a whole band, but it’s just one dude doing it.”
Indeed, Medieval Chamber shines with Frusciante’s imaginative, diverse soundscape and Rugged Monk and Crisis’ lyricism. For the Black Knights, its name is more than an arbitrary moniker. It reflects a nobility and purpose the duo presents and represents throughout its music, from the group’s song titles to its subject matter.
On the reflective, “Medieval Times,” for instance, Black Knights raps about how losing isn’t an option and how we are all responsible for our own decisions. “As an MC, I have very high morals and standards that I hold for myself and we hold for our group,” Rugged Monk says. “We hold ourselves very accountable for what we say. That’s why we don’t talk about certain things. I’m still able to be creative and visual and reach people in a genuine way with integrity.”
The driving “The Joust” features the group rapping about how winners never quit and quitters never win, while the stark “Déjà vu” preaches the mantra of refusing to lose. With their otherworldly production and philosophical lyrical approach, these songs typify the creative approach Black Knights takes when it makes music.
“When we’re in the studio, it’s not about making regular songs,” Rugged Monk says. “We want to make songs that people will play now, next year and that will live on. We’re looking for longevity.”
The group shows its rap roots on “Keys To The Chastity Belt” and “Camelot,” which reference gangster rap trailblazers Eazy-E and N.W.A. Even though Black Knights first rose to prominence in the late 1990s through its affiliation with New York-bred RZA and Wu-Tang Clan, Rugged Monk is from Compton and Crisis hails from Long Beach. Both New York and Los Angeles area rap acts were major influences for each rapper.
“The West Coast is home, where we were raised,” Crisis says. “Before we got to choose what type of hip-hop we got to listen to, West Coast music is what was around us. That’s natural, but at the same time, Wu-Tang was my favorite group because they had it locked lyrically.”
Indeed, growing up in Compton, Rugged Monk gravitated to the work of local acts Eazy-E and WC, but also had an affinity for such New York rappers as Rakim, Kool G. Rap and Ghostface Killah. For his part, Crisis was inspired when he’d listen to the radio. “A lot of people I’d hear on the radio when I was young I was better than already.”
In the 1990s, the Black Knights was a quartet consisting of Rugged Monk, Crisis, Holocaust and Doc Doom. The crew signed with the Wu-Tang Clan in 1998 and appeared that year with fellow Southern California group North Star on the RZA-backed Wu-Tang Killa Bees The Swarm Volume 1 compilation as Black Knights Of The North Star.
The group soon emerged on its own and released its Every Night Is A Black Knight album independently a few years later. Holocaust then left the group on good terms to pursue a solo career. In 2007, Doc Doom was shot and killed, a crushing blow to the group, which looked to Doc Doom for guidance in life and music. Black Knights soldiered on and its The Stolen Legacy Vol. 1 arrived in 2010. Both Rugged Monk and Crisis make a point to keep Doc Doom’s legacy alive, as Crisis does by giving him a shout out on Medieval Chamber selection “Knighthood.”
Now, with the impending release of Medieval Chamber, Black Knights is sitting on a treasure trove of other unreleased material. The group already has two other albums in its vaults and other compositions are being readied. “Once the floodgates open, we’re going to flood you,” Rugged Monk says. “We’re going to hit you from all angles.”
“The fans have been waiting on us for a long time,” Crisis adds. “If people were doubting we’d come back, we’re letting everyone know we ain’t going nowhere. We’re right here. Now there’s a chance for you to finally hear us.”