WAIT... THERE'S MORE STUFF
In Hip-Hop, if you don’t have good production, then you basically have nothing. For every Hip-Hop connoisseur, the “beat” is everything holy, and the song as a whole begins and ends with it. As for lyrics, they’re just as important, but it’s the production that’s going to initially pull you in, and get you interested in what the MC has to say. There have been a lot of memorable tandems over the years, i.e. Gangstarr, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth, and most notably, Kidz In The Hall.
Keeping the tradition of MC and producer/DJ can be a little daunting, but European-born producer Nicolay and Houston-based MC Kay Jackson are very much up to the task. If you’re deep-rooted in Hip-Hop, then the name Nicolay should come to no surprise for you.
He’s one half of the acclaimed group Foreign Exchange that also included Phonte Coleman of Little Brother. And since then, he’s worked with the likes of Masta Ace, California’s Zion I, and many others.
But when you’re talking about Kay, his road to Hip-Hop recognition has been a little tougher. He was associated with Ali Shaheed Mohammad’s imprint Garden Seeker Productions, and future collaborator Nicolay even lent a hand on his project, The Talk Show, but the album never Your browser does not support inline frames or is currently configured not to display inline frames. materialized, leaving the promising MC in “artist hell.” But after further conversing through OkayPlayer.com message boards, they both decided to put their minds together and come up with TIME:LINE, their new release through Nicolay’s own label Nicolay Music. So now the question is will Nicolay flourish again with Kay benefiting from his soulful production? Only time will tell.
How did you guys first come about working together?
Nicolay: It was a situation where Kay and I, we’ve known each other for a period of like five years. So we’ve always been cool talking on OkayPlayer.com and stuff like that. And at that time, we started working on some projects. Like I sent him some ideas, and we ended up creating two songs for his album The Talk Show, but his album didn’t come out at the time. But I still wanted to at least make sure that some of that stuff got heard. So one of the tracks that we did, I put on my last album. And from there on, we just started working back and forth. And at the end of 2006, we really started working together.
So were you guys basically on the same page throughout out the whole experience?
Kay: Well we pretty much talk about the songs before we get started. And we pretty much analyze the same type of music, which is really vast and we just really decided to push the envelope. There may have been something that Nic wanted to try, and I’d be willing to take that chance. Just to try and go there, and create something different.
People always talk about their album changing the world of Hip-Hop. What about your album?
Nicolay: Yeah a lot of people keep saying that. Like they’re going to resurrect Hip-Hop, and all sorts of stuff. But you know, it’s really not even about that for us. We do it for the love of the music, and just straight up doing music. It’s a situation where we put our heart and soul into this music, and you can definitely hear that. So what people can expect is music on a Hip-Hop/Soul/Jazz foundation. With a lot of soul, a lot of content, and a lot of emotion.
Do you ever think about the album being overlooked?
Kay: I don’t think so. I mean I’ll be honest. I thought about what you said, and a lot of people talk about bringing the “real” back. So if you listen to something that has a throwback sound, it feels cool but it’s something that you’ve already experienced. But now I really feel like as artists in this music, we really need to try and break barriers, and just try different stuff. If it works, it works. If it don’t work, then you just have to go back at it and you have to keep on pushing to create something different.
When I heard new stuff like The Chronic, or Tribe Called Quest or anything like that it was just so much different. Tribe wasn’t trying to sound like Melly Mel or anything like that. So I think that’s kind of the direction that we’re going in, as far as how we’re going with this music. We’re just trying to be different.
Is mainstream success something that’s in the back of your mind?
Nicolay: Well mainstream now isn’t the same as it was like 25 years ago. And it’s definitely not mainstream from 35 or 45 years ago. Mainstream used to be The Beatles know what I’m saying. So I think in general it’s a situation to where what the masses or looking towards right now is basically Reality TV. I can turn on the TV and watch a show like American Idol, and musically that’s all what TV is. It’s not about MTV showing clips anymore or VH1 even. It’s about dating shows, and things like that. So it seems unless you’re in that little circle, you’re not going to get that mainstream exposure anymore.
Kay: I know for me, just with mainstream, there’s much other stuff going on right now. I think the playing field is getting more leveled now. If you look at Def Jam, they got a whole bunch of dope artists, but it’s getting to the point of being “quote-un-quote” mainstream that they’re not really able to support how they’re supposed to operate. And at the end if the day, I think everything is going to go back to trends, and the musicians and the fans supporting the musicians. And all the middle stuff is kind of getting cut out, because it’s too much money to maintain all that.
If you think about it, Talib [Kweli] was number two on the charts when he debuted, and that would’ve never happened five years ago. But the playing field is leveled, and he has a loyal fan base, which supported him. They would’ve done that in the past, but it seems like all the other stuff is kind of following.
When your previous project got shelved, what kept you going in a positive direction?
Kay: Well when I first got in that situation it was Ali Shaheed Mohammad’s situation. I ain’t gonna front, they’re one of my favorite groups of all time, so just to be able to work with somebody like that, I was really excited. But a lot of the issues were things like [he] was going to majors, and they were like: “Okay this kid is really dope, but he doesn’t have a solo history.” But in the past when Ali got signed it was more so of them being like: “Okay, this is a talented group.” “There for we’re going to sign the group because they’re talented.” So they was having an issue with me like: “This is a talented guy, but we’re not trying to sign him.” Because I didn’t have a history and they didn’t want to take a risk.
So my frustration was that there was no more artist development. They don’t do that kind of stuff anymore, they just look at stats. And I told Nic, I was like: “Man I ain’t trying to do this no more.” And then he just started sending me stuff, and he was like: “Dude, lets just do this music!” And at the end of the day, I just love doing music so it is what it is. But things are changing though. (Things are changing)
Being from Europe, how would you say American Hip-Hop is versus Hip-Hop overseas?
Nicolay: It’s pretty much similar being that the fact of you having your “quote-un-quote” radio and major label artists running the charts the same way as they do here. But there’s also a really good underground scene that a lot of people in Europe have a lot of appreciation for. So there’s a lot of love going back and forth both ways.
It’s about the same, but the only thing I would say is slightly different is that they seem to have a little bit more respect and appreciation for the art form, like the breaking and graffiti. Not that I’ve identified myself with that closely, but I do know it’s alive more in places like Europe and Japan more so than in the states.
Nicolay: If you’re talking about Hip-Hop as we know, and not what you here on the radio, then yeah. Something like Soulja Boy is not going to work out there as much as it does here. But then you have groups like The Black Eyed Peas and they’re big over here just like they are over there.
Also you’ve worked with a lot of talented MC’s that are under the radar. Do you plan to widen your music to more artists, or are you content with where you are now?
Nicolay: I’m very content. I love being a different person, and music counts as one of them. Its not that I can’t ship people beats, and beats, and beats, but I don’t want to. I want to have a sense of musicianship with somebody, and something constructive. I’m not saying that I would never want to work with somebody in the upper echelons. But I’m just thinking like if it happens, it’s going to happen on my terms, because that’s the only way for it to make sense.
I can do my thing with anybody that has talent, but I just don’t want to send a beat tape and just have somebody pick something, and that’s it. That’s something I’m just not interested in. Obviously there are a number of artists I’d love working with if the opportunity would ever present itself.
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 26, 2008
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