‘Knuckles’ review: a timely portrait of rap’s rising star that should dive deeper

This 15-minute documentary about UK rap star Knucks and his Kilburn upbringing really needed a longer runtime

Endorsed by huge names including Stormzy, Kilburn rapper Knucks has made quite the breakthrough this year. Following the top three success of his debut album ‘Alpha Place’, he is now paying homage to the North West London estate that made him with Knuckles, a two-part documentary produced with YouTube Music and Untold Studios. Sadly, it’s hampered by a short 15-minute runtime that makes any real resolution to the story impossible.

Named after his childhood nickname, this is the first documentary dedicated to Knucks.  You would hope that it might offer an in-depth portrait of a norm-defying independent musician who’s now a real force in UK rap. But considering that directors Lauren Luxenberg and Alfie Barke have been capturing footage since August 2021, and Knucks is ten-plus years into his career, we don’t learn that much about him.

Instead, the directors hit on the theme of The Three Musketeers. In dramatised scenes fronted by rising star Tuvya Balogun-Williams as Young Knucks, we follow a story of three adoring friends who take different avenues in life. Yet, there’s no deep dive into their friendship dynamic. You would assume that a film called Knuckles would focus exclusively on the rapper in question – so to justify this broader approach, it really needed to double down on the musketeers theme.

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Still, the directors’ abstract approach to telling Knucks’ story with unapologetic and rebellious cinematography is initially refreshing. They rely heavily on dramatic reenactments of Knucks’ childhood and metaphorical imagery to fill in the gaps; a long shot of two suitcases abandoned on Knucks’ childhood estate, Alpha House, and Young Knucks clutching a feather are poignant moments. But elsewhere, things become muddled.

Though Knuckles scraps the sit-down interviews synonymous with music docs, there are several unseen voices acting as narrators. Stormzy tells us that “if we’re talking about crème de la crème, [Knucks is] one of them men… He has a sound. He has a purpose”. But for the most part, you only can pick out who you know; not everyone will recognise the voice of Knucks’ manager and father, which makes their insights less clear-cut than they could be.

That’s the unfortunate thing about Knuckles: with 15 or 30 minutes added to the runtime, the directors could have really played with their inventive telling of Knucks’ life and created a unique depiction of a fascinating new rap star. But since they only had 15 minutes, making a straight choice between dramatisation and something more conventional might have helped the narrative significantly. Surely there’s more of this story to tell.

Details

  • Director: Lauren Luxenberg, Alfie Barke
  • Starring: Tuvya Balogun-Williams
  • Release date: December 21 (Part 2 drops on YouTube)
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