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Name: Adam Bernard
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Remembering The Knitting Factory NYC
Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It’s 4:30am on Saturday, December 20th. Rakim and Black Thought are long gone as the final Hip-Hop show at the Knitting Factory in NYC ended nearly an hour earlier. Now the only people left are the staff, a few select friends, and me. Chaz Kangas and I decide to give ourselves the grand tour of every corner of the legendary club.

Starting at the backstage area of the main stage, where we had been networking with various folks, including Rakim’s manager and J-Zone, we took one last look at the broken down couch, peeling ceiling, and graffiti covered black and red walls. Some of the greatest rappers to ever grace the stage spent evenings here and some of the underground’s finest did, as well.

Moving down a flight of stairs to the artist’s entrance to the main stage we ran into Photo Rob (Robert Adam Mayer), a man who’s chronicled many a show at The Knit with his camera, and DJ BlacKnight. Once again there was a graffiti covered wall, this one purple, leading up to the stage. Chaz pointed out what has to be the single funniest act of graffiti alteration in the history of man when he showed us what someone did to two of the more prominent tags on the wall. Immortal Technique had thrown his “Immortal Technique, Harlem, NYC” tag up and to the left of it Sage Francis had written his “Sage Francis, Providence, RI” tag. Someone saw these two tags together, put a plus sign in-between them, drew a heart around them, and topped it all off with a “4EVR!” at the bottom of the heart. It’s safe to assume neither artist would have been thrilled to see that, but it sure made everyone else laugh.

After walking out onto the stage and having a quick convo with Bazaar Royale, Chaz and I headed all the way downstairs to the Old Office. The Old Office is essentially the basement of the Knitting Factory (though it would be wise not to let any of the staff hear you call it that!). It’s where numerous underground artists got their start and I’d spent many a night there covering shows. As I walked around it on this night I started making mental notes of the exact places I met some really great people, including Creature, Rabbi Darkside, and Chaz, all of whom are friends I met down in that lower level of The Knit. It’s the same place where DJ Halo met brokeMC, Domer and Metermaids, artists he would end up touring the country with twice.

Making our way back up the stairs we went to the Tap Bar. This middle level of The Knit is where I first saw Louis Logic and Miz Metro perform. Miz Metro’s sticker, along with Loj’s and 2 Hungry Bros.’, hung proudly on the fridge in the tiny backstage area. Of course there was more graffiti scrawled across the walls, these walls being just a shade darker than Carolina blue. The graffiti in The Knit was more than just artwork, though, it was a living record of who has rocked shows there. It was the equivalent of a history book written on top of another history book. That history book, however, will be closed forever once the calendar turns to 2009.

After 21 years of being in business, and nearly nine years of being one of the most important homes for New York City’s underground Hip-Hop scene, The Knitting Factory is shutting its Manhattan doors. Homeboy Sandman sums up many emcees’ feelings on the place when he calls it “The Epicenter. The Mecca. The Clubhouse,” adding “there are a few other venues that rep the underground, but not every week, damn near every day. And nothing else has that true grit feel.”

Sav Killz, an emcee known far and wide for his hustling ability and the way he manages to be at every show that matters, notes that The Knit was a special place in that it gave a voice to a range of artists. “They've always shown love to the local cats as well as the legends,” he explains, adding that it had added significance “as one of the few venues in NYC that regularly did underground shows.”

Although the people around The Knit will tell you it took a good four years for them to become an important part of the scene, what they did between 2004 and the end of 2008 earned them a permanent place in New York City Hip-Hop’s history book. Homeboy Sandman attempts to explain some of the aura of The Knit, saying “cats don't even need to know what's going on at the Knitting Factory, they'll just swing by because they know something is.”

This was the ideology that led Sav Killz and Creature to become such a major part of Knitting Factory lore. Not only did they perform there, but they spent an untold number of nights outside the club with backpacks full of their CDs, looking to make a sale to any of the Hip-Hop fans who were there for the show. Their hustle was, and still is, unparalleled.

The ownership of the Knitting Factory says they’ll be moving to a one story space in Brooklyn, but as one patron said to me, dripping with sarcasm, “yeah, and CBGBs is in Las Vegas.” You can move a club but you can’t take its soul with it. The soul is in the graffiti on the walls. The soul is in the people who spent time on the stages, all of the stages. The soul is in the crowd of emcees that showed up night in and night out because it was the place to be, because it housed the scene, because it was the best spot in the city for Hip-Hop. The soul is in the moments that were witnessed and experienced there.

At some point the walls of The Knit will be painted over and the next people to rent or own the space will probably never know the kind of magic that once happened there. The walls will be white, sterile, void of any acknowledgement that for nearly a decade this place was a home for Hip-Hop.

For a while the scene will wander, looking for a new place to call its home. A new situation will present itself eventually and according to Homeboy Sandman there will be one surefire way to find it when it does, just look for Creature and Sav Killz. “Them two cats, they might decide where the rest of us go,” he says, “somebody's gonna smarten up and say ‘where, Creach and Sav at? Them cats are always where the action is.’”

Back in the main stage area Chaz, Conscious, our friend Elizabeth Allen, and I are standing at the front door as an employee opens the gate to let us out. It’s 5am. I’m wide awake. We walk away from the venue, turning back to take one last look at 74 Leonard Street, at the space that loved Hip-Hop just as much as Hip-Hop loved it. We’ll all find another place to go, but we’ll never forget The Knit.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:35 AM  
  • At 11:41 AM, Blogger louis said…

    man. that was a tough read. i'm really gonna miss that place. how'd you get to be such a classy dude, adam? louis

  • At 2:14 PM, Blogger Adam Bernard said…

    Classy? Who? Me? That can't be, I don't even own a tux.

    I'm glad you dug the piece. Writing it took a lot out of me, but I REALLY wanted something out there so that when people searched for information about NYC's Hip-Hop history they'd have an idea about what The Knit's place in it was.

  • At 3:30 PM, Blogger YC said…

    Wow,man...I'm one of the unfortunate few who will never be able to experience that...and i'm kicking myself for not taking in the scene sooner.

    Great post...

  • At 5:22 PM, Blogger Homeboy Sandman said…

    it's the truth. pour out some OJ for the knit.

    dope homage.

  • At 9:37 PM, Blogger Robert said…

    Excellent read Adam. One of my favorite shows as pH10 was playing with Dr. Israel at the Knitting Factory back in 2001. Great place that will be truly missed.


  • At 10:16 AM, Blogger Liz said…

    Great post Adam! I didn't get hip to the Knit until 2007, but I'm so glad that I did! I kinda feel like the emcee's who worked their way up in the building; the first shows I attended were in the Old Office, then the Tap Bar. I didn't make it to the Main Stage until this summer...

    I don't know if the underground scene will follow the Knit to Brooklyn, but I do know that losing such an important venue will not stop the progress that has been made in exposing such phenomenal artists.

    Long Live the Knit!

  • At 10:48 AM, Blogger Caberp said…

    I live in Canada so I don't get to experience this kind of shit
    I hope once I am able to get into NYC more often I'll discover some other Hip Hop magic

  • At 12:33 AM, Blogger Phil N. DeBlanc said…

    Great read my dude..I couldn't make it out to the last show but I got to see Souls of Mischief that Tuesday and once they finished 93 Till Infinity I started to hear that lonely closing piano riff from the Incredible Hulk. I thought it was bad losing Tramps in the 90s but losing The Knit seemed to be more heartfelt being that I got to be at more shows there.

    Man it's crazy I hope we can find a new home for hip-hop in the city sooner then later.

  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger J-Ronin said…

    Great article brother. I enjoyed it a great deal. I have been going to Knitting Factory since Junior High!!!! 1996 i think!!!

  • At 9:03 AM, Blogger rhea said…

    Great article. You've captured the essence of the Knitting Factory. I was a regular when it first opened - loved moving from floor to floor to hear different performers. You've kept it alive.

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