After a chance meeting at a Montco grocery store, Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise’s new album marries hip-hop and classical

The Philly duo Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise speak to WHYY’s Priyanka Tewari about their musical love story and their new album, where hip-hop and soul meet classical.

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Kuf Knotz sits while holding a mic, as Christine sits next to her harp

The Philly duo Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise speak to WHYY’s Priyanka Tewari about their musical love story and their new album, where hip-hop and soul meet classical. (Courtesy of Knotz and Elise)

It’s not often that one sees a collaboration between hip-hop, soul, and classical music, but in Philadelphia, a musical duo is doing just that: Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise.

Knotz got his start as an emcee and producer in 2003. He’s opened for a number of big names and collaborated with the likes of G Love. Elise is a classically trained harpist and got her degree in music therapy from Immaculata University. They’ve been collaborating and performing since 2018, and just put out their second album “kəˈmyo ͞ onədē” and a bonus holiday single.

WHYY host Priyanka Tewari spoke to them about their musical love story and what their new album is all about.

Note: This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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How did this all come together? How did it begin? 

ELISE: I was working for an Philly nonprofit, and I saw Kuf in a previous band that he was in and I was just blown away, stared at the stage, and I said, “If I ever am a performer, I want to be in something like this.” And then about two months later, I randomly saw him in the Wynnewood Whole Foods.

KNOTZ: A vegan donut. I’m like, “Oh, she caught me getting sweets!”

ELISE: So I go over and I was just like, “Yeah, I saw you perform and I think you’re amazing. If you ever need a harpist, let me know.”

KNOTZ: I’m like, a harpist? I’ve definitely seen that, like, on TV, like, the orchestras and stuff. I wonder what that would sound like. And I’m like, alright, let me send her some music that I’m working on and hear what she does to it. And then she sent it back and I was like, wow.

What was the first song that you guys did together ever? 

KNOTZ: So it was an improv, originally. We just performed it live one time and it went over really well. And then we went to the studio and recorded it. It’s called “Open Heart.”

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Now, Christine, going from being a music therapist to actually singing, performing, did you always want to do that? Or it was just that when you met Kuf, you thought, maybe we’ll try it? 

ELISE: Yeah, I never thought I was going to be a performer. In the moment, I just took a limb and said, “Hey!” And then it just unraveled from there.

You’re actually very good. Now you just came out with an album [pronounced like] “community,” is actually spelled “kəˈmyo ͞ onədē.” Okay, then! Try looking that up on Spotify. What were you trying to accomplish with this album? ‘Cause there’s a lot of spoken word in it as well.

KNOTZ: There is. So, our first album, which was called “Higher Grounds,” we didn’t release it on any digital outlets, but at live shows. This one was more of a fun, free move around, and a lot of the inspiration came from performing live, because you learn what songs get people moving and what songs people go to the bathroom for, you know?

Do you think the pandemic had any kind of effect on your music? 

KNOTZ: Yeah, I do. For one, it gave us a chance to really relax, because we were on the move and on the go so much. We were able to just sit and be and then also experience all that happened around us, positive and negative, because I always try and work off balance. So I think dealing with all that and taking it all in definitely inspired some of the songs on the album and the music we created.

What’s the story behind this cover of “Winter Wonderland?”

ELISE: We were thinking about how to add some festive songs into our performances lately, and if we were going to make one, we wanted to make it sound a little bit different, you know, our own approach. So he made this magical, enchanting music and then just listened a couple of times, and it came out.

Any advice for other musicians? 

KNOTZ: Put 110% into it and constantly work at your craft.

How about you, Christine? 

ELISE: Continue to stay authentic no matter what changes around you and where that path takes you and continue to say the words that you say, have intention of what you want to say.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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