When the Lupe Fiasco single “Hip Hop Saved My life” hit the airwaves in 2007, the listener noticed a very distinct voice on the hook. That hook was sung by none other than Nikki Jean. While many may have been formally introduced to Nikki Jean courtesy of Lu’, research suggests that Nikki has been grinding and writing music for a while.
The Midwest native spent years in Philadelphia, in Nouveau Riche with longtime affiliate of The Roots, Dice Raw. In between, she worked with Oddisee and others, prior to her successful independent release Pennies In A Jar, released in July. Getting Lupe and Black Thought on the same song (“Million Star Hotel” ) on her solo debut, it was only right that HipHopDX spoke with Nikki Jean.
Growing Up: “I’m originally from the Midwest. I was born in Minnesota and grew up between there and South Dakota, where most of my family lives. Minnesota is very diverse musically, we’re the home of Prince and Bob Dylan, so there was a broad spectrum of music and inspiration in the air. When I graduated from Howard [University], I came up to Philadelphia and started working with Dice Raw and a band that came to be known as Nouveau Riche.”
Intro To Lupe: “In 2007 I was contacted by producers named Chris & Drop. They had done some work with Lupe [Fiasco] and played him some of our songs. After that Lupe contacted me, and “the rest is history” as they say.”
The Changes You Have Seen In Internet Marketing: “As a way to get to know my fans better YouTube has been really valuable to me. I love the people who support my career, so that’s been amazing. As a marketing tool, YouTube was not objectively speaking “unsuccessful.” When you’re looking at YouTube phenoms that garner millions of views per post, my YouTube blog was ineffective…I think it could have been more helpful had I consistently put out music and proper music videos over the last few years, but being hindered by my label obligations, I feel fortunate to have retained the fans I have.”
Droppin’ Knowledge: “The most important piece of advice I’ve ever been given is ‘not everyone wants better,’ which means, that the majority of goods and services we’re offered are sub par, because most people just don’t care. This includes most people you work with. That is why it’s so important to invest in the quality of your work, and work with other people that strive for excellence, they are few and far between.”
The “Hook Girl” Label: “I was not ‘afraid’ of being labeled a ‘hook girl’ because it’s easy enough to say no when you don’t want to do things. I chose not to participate in projects that would take me down a path I wasn’t interested in going. Lupe is an incredible artist, lyricist, and friend. I was honored to be a part of such a great album [in Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool]. Not many opportunities like that present themselves.”
Difference In Writing A Song By Yourself And Co-writing: “There are two main differences. The first being, when I write by myself, I always feel more intimately connected to the song. I don’t think the songs are better though. Frequently they are too introspective, insular, and self indulgent. The second being that when I write with others, there are always fresh ideas and more balance. Working with a good co-writer is incredibly fun…the best way to work.”
Help With Getting To Work With Such Legendary Songwriters: “I had a lot of help. First from my producer, Sam Hollander, and second from my publishers Jody Gerson & Marty Bandier. They really went out on a limb for me, and dug in their Rolodex for people that would write with me. Artist Development is rare these days, and Ive been extremely fortunate to come across people who were willing to invest with me, and had the means to do so.”
The Hardest Song To Write On The Album: “I worked with over two dozen hall of fame songwriters while making this [Pennies In A Jar] record. I’m not sure people understand that every single song was co-written with an amazing songwriter. I would say the hardest to write was the lyric for Pennies In A Jar, the co-write with Mr. Burt Bacharach. It was very close to the beginning of the process and I was writing the lyric by myself. I was very scared of letting everyone down and felt a real need to prove that I could rise to the occasion.”
Success’s Definition Of “Making It”: “‘I made it’…I’m not entirely sure. I’m happy to be able to support myself making music. I’m fulfilled in the knowledge that my music touches some peoples lives. Naturally, I want it to touch more peoples lives. That’s what I’m working towards now.”