The lead single and opening track on Uncommon Knowledge—a collaborative effort between rapper K.A.A.N. and producer K-Def—functions as both a tribute and a mission statement. Aptly titled “Music,” the song is used by the Columbia, Maryland-based rapper to pay homage to the artists who inspire him—including Etta James, Tupac Shakur, and Frank Sinatra. Using his signature breakneck flow, K.A.A.N.—birth name Brandon Perry—challenges himself: “I want that music that was real so I can feel it for sure/ I realize that they don’t even make that shit anymore.” That he raps over a Marvin Gaye sample further bridges the gap between past and present.
“It’s a perfect matrimony of beats and rhymes,” says Damu the Fudgemunk, a Washington, D.C.-based rapper/producer and co-owner of Redefinition Records, the label that released Uncommon Knowledge. “He’s a very animated rapper, but when you actually have a conversation with him, he’s very reserved and quiet. He doesn’t show a lot of emotion.”
Listening to Perry’s music—his stage name is an acronym that stands for Knowledge Above All Nonsense—it’s hard to imagine him as reserved. Beyond his technical skills—which are, quite literally, breathtaking—his voice rises and drops, cracks and mends itself as he considers broken families and suicidal impulses between brief bouts of optimism and inspiration. His emotional range gives greater weight to his straightforward lyrics. Still, in spite of widespread critical acclaim, Perry is remarkably laid back. Fresh off his first tour with Chicago’s Alex Wiley and Chuck Inglish, he seems unruffled by the hype growing around him.
“I just don’t think about that stuff,” says Perry. “I have goals and things that I want to accomplish, and I haven’t reached them yet. I think what I’m doing now is what I’m supposed to be doing—just putting out a bunch of records and working as hard as I can.”
Perry’s sheer talent is bolstered by an alarming productivity; Uncommon Knowledge is his third EP of the year, alongside a continuous stream of singles. In fact, it was Perry’s diligence that captured Damu’s attention in the first place.
“D.C. doesn’t really have a lot of resources if you’re creative,” Damu says. “It’s a political city. The whole area in general isn’t based on the arts, though there’s unlimited talent in the region. But he’s one in a million, not just because of his talent, but also because of his work ethic. I was grateful to see someone locally with his skills and to just be able to connect.”
Perry is no stranger to steady, diligent work. He’s had jobs as a brick mason and at Target, and still wakes up and heads to a day job while his music racks up tens of thousands of plays. K.A.A.N. doesn’t think about that when he’s on the clock. And while outsiders might see a break around the corner, Perry isn’t banking on it. He’s first and foremost a realist; fans may see a winning hand, but he operates like the deck is stacked against him. Rapping is a hobby he happens to take seriously; his full-time job is a means to an end.
“I think it’s more dope to be a normal person who gets up and goes to work everyday. That’s all I’m selling,” Perry says. “I think that’s better than being someone who’s just super caught up in themselves or in some dream that’s not even guaranteed.”
Rap wasn’t always Perry’s life goal. He started writing when he was 21, but it took another year before he decided to consider rap as a potential career choice. He didn’t grow up in a household filled with music, but he still found ways to discover things on his own through the radio or television. He cites Tupac as one of the artists who caused him to fall in love with hip-hop; a Behind The Music on Hall and Oates piqued his interest in rock. And though rock doesn’t directly inform his style, it expands the scope of his mission.
“[Rock] adds a different perspective to my thought process on music and how I want my stuff to sound,” Perry says. “Even with live shows—if you watch videos of Radiohead or Pearl Jam performing, it gives you lots of ideas. It just adds another level of creativity. You have a broader musical palette, and more ways to present it to people.”
Perry’s goal is to keep learning and to take his time doing so. The music industry is a marathon, not a sprint; He remains his own toughest critic, and he doesn’t listen to his music after he releases it. At that point, it’s for his audience; he’s moved on to other things.
“I would rather listen to everyone else, or someone I think is doper than me, or go see someone’s set that I think performs better,” Perry says. “When you get caught up in yourself, and what people are telling you, you kind of fall off.”
Still, there appears to be no ending in sight, as Perry keeps quietly, doggedly working his way up the ranks.
“I do this to have fun,” Perry says. “If I make some money, if I get some attention, cool. If not, I’ll be at work.”