I had a chance to catch up with one of Florida’s best upcoming experimental hip hop acts – Niko Is of the group Great People. You heard it here first — keep your eyes on this kid! His sound is indie and his flow is straight ridiculous. Looking forward to seeing whats in store for NIKO IS in 2012. xoxo – JReese
JR: So your real name is Nikolai, where are you from?
NP: I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As a young man I moved to Argentina and then I eventually came to Orlando, Florida. I was raised here and learned the American culture and it really opened my eyes. It was a weird transition but I loved it.
JR: Who were your music idols growing up?
NP: Growing up, man. Lets see. It started with Biggie and then the older I got, I started opening up more and listening to other genres of music: Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, The Beatles.
JR: How long have you been creating music?
NP: Almost ten years, I started in ninth grade battle rapping and writing rap lyrics online. It became more hands on and I found myself – it really opened my mind. I started looking at different cultures and different styles of music.. I immersed myself in art and tried to learn as much as I can to create this one “thing “that hasn’t been created yet.
JR: What genre would you classify your music under?
NP: For now, I’ll just call it hip-hop…but there’s so many ways you can interpret that.
JR: What other bands do you find yourself currently drawn to?
NP: Radiohead, Mars Volta, like I love that shit. Weird shit, man. Two Chainz! Kendrick Lamar, you know, somebody that’s saying something – that’s bridging the gap. Thievery Corporation…I learned a lot from Thievery.
JR: When did you fall in love with hip hop?
NP: Oh man, when I was in Miami in Coconut Grove with my Mom. She took me to Sam Goody and she was like, “Choose a c.d.” and my only options were Biggie and Tupac – I chose Tupac. I was really young and I remember putting the cd in and being like, “Oh Shit! Tupac?! West Side!” and that’s when it all started.
JR: What inspires you?
NP: A cornucopia of different things. Cornucopia, I love that word. Different art forms. I love to mix different forms of art together and see what turns out.
JR: What is your writing process when you go into the studio?
NP: Weed, weed, weed. I don’t know man. I try to write all the time and I always keep beats in my mind. I try to write raps that actually say something. It’s all about energy. I am all about positive energy, so I go into the studio trying to convey that.
JR: How do you feel about being an upcoming hip hop act in such an electronic skewed industry?
NP: I think it’s really good because I believe hip-hop is slowly coming back. It went“right” instead of going “left” and it became so commercialized. It became a business about the money, not the art. It is what it is… but it feels good to have a different type of style that separates me from others. It kind of puts me in my own lane to build my own type of audience. I’m just trying to do my own thing.
JR: When was your first performance in front of an audience?
NP: It was battling rapping back in ninth grade. I would try to write battle raps and compete with kids in my school. You get in front of people and the crowds would start to form – we would all just start rapping. It was cliché, but that is just how it was. People would crowd around just to watch somebody get clowned. It was weird the first time I got destroyed. It was very embarrassing. At the time I couldn’t really rap but it was all about poking fun and I did the best I could. Image wise, I was so different looking from the other kids in my school so they would come at me hard cause I was an easy target. There was one kid that I battled who I’ll never forget –Chris Peterson. He was so arrogant and he could barely rap. He absolutely demolished me in summer school. The next year, I saw him and we battled at a club. We both went to the finals – straight Eight Mile – and I beat him on stage. It was dope, very dope. Free VIP to a teen club for the whole summer.
JR: Was that your most memorable experience on stage?
NP: Opening for Big Sean was surreal. I’m not so big on opening for people but it was so crazy. Out of nowhere, there were 400-500 people who road tripped to come to the show. We came up to Gainesville and had a blast with our crew.
JR: Do you have any plans to tour this year?
NP: Well, I have plans to make incredible art, meet great new people and find my place. I want to tour ASAP but I am working on racking up enough material to be able to adapt to any crowd. I want to play 300 shows this year.
JR: Tell me a little bit about your hip hop group Great People.
NP: Great people is everything. Great people is a team that’s a priority in itself. It’s myself rapping, Riley Barnes playing piano and singing, and Henry Daher producing and playing the drums and Norman Lamberty. Great people is beautiful, its great vibes and great times. It’s unexplainable to me. It’s not just NIKO IS, it’s about team work. Four people come together to create one collective style. I love it.
JR: So the new LP, Chill NYE is coming out in the next month. How long have you been working on this project?
NP: A few months too long. I’ve hit some obstacles in the process of creating this album so it’s been delayed but it’s come together in the end. I’m telling my stories.
JR: Who produced the album?
NP: There are a few different producers; Kerry Beats is my friend and homie. I have specific producers for specific songs. There’s duality between Gemini’s so I always like to mix it up. For my energetic, trunk rattling hip-hop bangers I go to Kerry. Henry does the more rhythmic, styled production. I’m working with some other people coming up too. I steal a lot of beats too – or borrow them. I jack their beats because I don’t believe they deserve them. Beats that are not even hip-hop, like Tao and Zen was originally created by a jazz band. I heard the instrumental and I was like, “I want to put my spin on it”. It’s a mix tape so I’m doing a lot of different things. Some people don’t do justice to beautiful music so I’m trying to put my spin on it.
JR: I’ve had a chance to listen to the whole upcoming album. How do you go about writing your lyrics?
NP: I wish I could write on paper but I think too fast for paper. I love writing on a computer – it’s so much easier. It’s more organized to me to have a notepad up. I wish I had an old school typewriter straight Hunter S. Thompson style. Chugging Wild Turkey and plugging away on my typewriter – that would be a dream. Me and my typewriter under a sunset.
JR: Which song do you find yourself most emotionally connected to?
NP: Astral projection and Tao and Zen. I call them meditation songs – meditation hip hop. I want to make a new genre- Zen music. I make Zen music. It’s very peaceful and transient. It’s a great feeling, I love those songs. I’d like to do a whole album strictly like that.
JR: What do you want your fans to really take away from this album?
NP: That I’m a crazy dude that can rap. I think of crazy things and I try to put an artistic spin on it. I’m no bullshit; every single rhyme is there for a reason. Everything I say is true, or it’s me fantasizing. There’s nothing that’s not me in that music.
JR: What do you do when you’re not recording?
NP: I chill with my family and friends. I look for inspiration everywhere. I try to live life spontaneously and free. Life is beautiful.
JR: Are there any specific artists you would really like to collaborate with in the future?
NP: Hell yeah. First and foremost, Devendra Banhart. Next would be Kanye West because we’re both Gemini’s and we’d probably change each other’s lives and then Flying Lotus – Flying Lotus is ridiculous.
JR: When this is all said and done, what do you want your fans to look back and say about your music?
NP: That it’s real, relatable and beautiful. I’m trying to bring art back. Everything is changing and music is becoming cool again. It’ s not about bullshit anymore; people are trying to tell their stories. I want to spearhead a new movement of art. That might sound a little bit pretentious but I’m just trying to do it for the art. I’m trying to change music.
Check out Niko’s Latest music video: “Doobs Of Hazard”