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Speaker Knockerz - Married to the Money II #MTTM2 Music Album Reviews

Speaker Knockerz - Married to the Money II #MTTM2 Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today we examine the young South Carolina rapper’s profoundly influential moment in the spotlight.

Derek McAllister Jr. was 16 and broke, living in Columbia, South Carolina, and, like any teenager, needed money in his pocket. He wanted a job at the fast-food chicken joint Zaxbys but when they didn’t call him back, he turned to his computer. Using a beat making program called FruityLoops, which he had been fooling around on since he was 13 after he watched a clip of the self-promotion wiz and teenage dance-rap icon Soulja Boy doing the same, he put beats for sale on a website called SoundClick and marketed them aggressively on social media.

Around 2010 or 2011, McAllister sold his first beat to a Miami rapper for $50, which he used to purchase his trusty pair of affordable speakers. He scored early major placements on Meek Mill’s Dreamchasers, for “Tony Montana,” and French Montana’s Coke Boys 3, for “Dope Got Me Rich.” Through his production, you could hear the heavy influence of Atlanta’s rap scene: his piano melodies, soft enough for a jack-in-the-box, wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Travis Porter deep cut; his doomsday-ready 808s and ticking hi-hats were indebted to Lex Luger. Splitting the difference between his beats sounded like the ones on Future’s Pluto if they came from a cracked version of FruityLoops on a personal computer in a 16-year-old’s South Carolina bedroom.

Over the next year, McAllister uploaded 250 beats on his SoundClick page and sold them all. With this newfound spending money, he bought what would instantly become his prized possession: A brand new black-on-black Camaro. Later on, the car would be referenced in his songs again and again, and featured in his music videos with dramatic slow-motion shots that made it seem like the Batmobile.

Rapping came along almost as a promotional tactic. “The whole purpose of me rapping is that I knew I could make a good song,” he said in a grainy interview from 2013 that looks and sounds like it was shot on a flip phone. “I knew how to promote myself, so that would bring more people to buy beats from me.” In spring 2012, he began to upload melodic singles on YouTube under the name Speaker Knockerz. “All I Know,” the best of his early tracks, laid a robotic, lifeless melody—with a generous amount of Auto-Tune—over a bright piano line. This clash defined his music, especially the two essential mixtapes released in 2013.

Married to the Money and Finesse Father sound like much of popular rap throughout the South and Midwest in the early 2010s, because they’re not trying to be anything more. The twinkling production, the catchy coos delivered with a deadpan demeanor, and the attention to detail elevated the pair of mixtapes to melodramatic mini sagas. Sometimes the songs were just shit to throw ass to in the club (see: “Freak Hoe”). But usually, they were bitter anti-love pop ballads and street fiction. But his heartbreak, loneliness, and paranoia came at a strange remove, like the fantasies of a teenager who’d learned about these emotions from the music videos he religiously watched on the internet.

He studied the music around him like he was going to be tested on it. (There’s a clip on his YouTube where he’s dancing along to Future’s “Same Damn Time,” and stops to make a comment. “Why do rappers brag about selling mid?” he asks. “That’s the dumbest shit ever. I would brag about selling loud.”) Particularly the cold style of Chicago’s emerging drill rap scene: Whether it was the stoic melody Durk began to experiment with, or how Keef could warble about numbing his trauma with drugs and alcohol, and it was still sung along to by fans as if it was a joyous Top 40 radio record. Similarly, Speaker Knockerz could rattle off villainous, neurotic sentiments on “How Could You,” or pen the hopeless three-part crime epic “Rico Story” trilogy, and overlap the grim mood with sun-splashed production that felt like it was made for teenagers wearing skinny jeans to dance to, which is exactly what happened.

Instead of breaking out in the South, Speaker Knockerz’s music came alive further north, in Chicago. Spiritually, his blend of Future-style Auto-Tune on steroids and drill’s brutal frame of mind aligned his tracks with the fast-emerging Chicago bop scene which, around this same time, spawned local hits like Breezy Montana’s “Ball Out,” Shawty Doo’s Speaker Knockerz-produced “Its Foreign,” and anything made by Sicko Mobb. In 2013, Chicago’s Kemo, an essential local tastemaker known as the King of Bop, uploaded a video of himself dancing fluidly to Married to the Money’s “Annoying.” Kemo’s endorsement helped Speaker Knockerz become a staple of the scene. Eventually, Toni Romiti—then a popular personality on the short-form video platform Vine—heard the singles around Chicago and used them to backdrop her six-second clips. Speaker Knockerz went modestly viral.

At the end of 2013, Speaker Knockerz put out his definitive single, “Lonely.” It’s his style perfected, crooning with the cold-blooded stoicism of the Terminator, “Started out with nothing, I was hungry/Now I got a couple niggas bitches on me/Fuck nigga, I don’t wanna be your homie/I had to make a couple bands by my lonely,” over rapid-fire hi-hats and a bleeding-heart piano. This time, the track went so viral on Vine that Drake sang along to it. Speaker Knockerz followed up “Lonely” with the similarly dynamic “Erica Kane,” which, along with the “Rico Story” trilogy, represents the pinnacle of his writing. “Erica Kane” would be the last song he released while he was alive. In March 2014, at 19 years old, Speaker Knockerz was found by police and his father in his garage holding his chest, dead from an apparent heart attack. At his side was his black-on-black Camaro.

Speaker Knockerz may have made pop-inflected rap music, but when he was alive he was no pop star. He only did a handful of interviews, there was little written about him, and despite interest from Atlantic and Universal Republic, he never signed to a label. His recognition veered more regionally specific, in cities like Chicago, New York, and Milwaukee. He also came along at a time when rap blogs were beginning to fade; media coverage tended to favor the mix of typically label-backed stars who would grace XXL’s Freshman covers. Even after his death, his family was relatively tight-lipped aside from a single profile on the music website Wondering Sound. While it’s unclear how Married to the Money II, a posthumous album released almost six months after he passed and headlined by both “Lonely” and “Erica Kane,” was completed, it’s fair to assume that it included heavy involvement from his family, most specifically his father, Derek McAllister Sr.

Initially, the younger McAllister was raised in the Bronx by his mother and father, who was a music producer himself. When McAllister Jr. was 5, his father was sent to prison on drug-related charges; in that time, his mother moved him and his younger brother to South Carolina. At 13, when Speaker Knockerz first began to mess around on FruityLoops, he played his amateur instrumentals over the phone for his father and asked for advice and criticism. After McAllister Sr.’s release, he worked closely with his son, bringing him to a studio and assisting with the more routine aspects of his burgeoning career.

Despite the likely involvement of close relatives, Married to the Money II is flawed like most posthumous rap albums. Its construction is comparable to Pop Smoke’s 2020 album Shoot for the Stars Aim for the Moon, by how it aimed to take a regional star who was on the verge of mainstream fame before a sudden loss and build on their legacy while also remaining an introduction point for possible new fans. It ends up sounding confused, focused on too many lofty goals at once.

Unlike those two foundational mixtapes, II is not as tightly edited and runs too long. Speaker Knockerz’s decisions usually felt fun and chaotic, as if made on a whim, but here the choices come out of necessity, especially the heavy emphasis on collaborations, which were sparse on earlier projects. It’s easy to tell that quite a few of these songs were unfinished: Kevin Flum sounds like the most cliché fast-spitting white rapper on “U Mad Bro”; childhood friend Capo Cheeze’s use of Auto-Tune on “Smoke It” and “Double Count” might make you think JAY-Z was right that one time; the “Scared Money” hook by Toni Romiti, the Vine star who helped to boost Speaker Knockerz’s early popularity, is unfathomably bad.

Despite the glaring issues, II is the launchpad into Speaker Knockerz’s catalog it was intended to be. Particularly notable is his production, which continued to maximize the popular rap music trends of the era: automated-sounding hand claps and finger-snaps, booming drums, and electronic keyboard melodies, hallmarks of the unconventional ATL era between ringtone rap and the arrival of pivotal mixtapes like Rich Gang’s Tha Tour Pt. 1 and Migos’ Rich Nigga Timeline. Of course, “Lonely” and “Erica Kane” are the peaks, but “Tattoos,” where he laid heart-pounding drums over pop synthesizers, and “Don’t Know,” which is the perfect canvas for his AutoTune-heavy wails, belong in that conversation as well. With production this bubbly and harmonic, it’s likely that if Speaker Knockerz got the chance to finish his verses and hooks himself—rather than rely on cheap mercenaries—II would have been his opus.

In tune with the lyrical structure of his previous mixtapes, the writing—whether jolly or somber—is as straightforward as a nursery rhyme. “The phone, the phone is ringing/I’m ’bout to talk dis dumb nigga out all of his ching-ching/All dis finnessin’ now I got all of this bling-bling/Nigga… I’m fuckin an’ smokin’ and drinking,” he sings on “We Know.” The basic words are uplifted by vocals that blend disorienting Auto-Tuned croons with the uncanny energy of an A.I. that has just learned how to feel for the first time. Likewise, if you can overlook the lackluster guest verse on “On Me,” you’ll find one of the most vibrant and melodic verses of Speaker Knockerz’s brief career: “She wanna ride in my black car, because I’ma star,” he lilts, as if the offer of a ride in his Camaro was the equivalent of getting down on one knee.

As time goes on, Speaker Knockerz’s story only becomes harder to tell. The regional scenes where he thrived are no longer the same and the social media platform where his music boomed is now a distant memory. It’s getting harder to find the original Vines and clips that made him an early viral star; if we were to wake up one day and his YouTube page were taken down, much of what we know about him would be gone. It’s a reminder of how temporary anything that lives almost solely on the internet is, of the fragility of a legacy that exists entirely on platforms Big Tech could snuff out tomorrow.

Regardless, like so much memorable pop music, Married to the Money II feels like a time capsule (next to a Speaker Knockerz CD there would probably be snapbacks, True Religion jeans, graphic tees from his favorite store Urban Outfitters, and clothing with unnecessary zippers). But similar to his kindred spirits Future and Chief Keef, the moment while important is also a backdrop to the ageless stories that just happened to take place during this time. More traditional pop-rap records are forever stuck in the early 2010s moment (see: “Rack City” or “Black and Yellow”); a single like “Lonely” has emotional weight that feels timeless. Speaker Knockerz sounds like an entity of his own, no matter how heavily inspired he was by everything popular to a teenager, in the early 2010s, stuck in their bedroom on the internet.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Speaker Knockerz - Married to the Money II #MTTM2 Music Album Reviews Speaker Knockerz - Married to the Money II #MTTM2 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, April 25, 2021 Rating: 5

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