NIKO IS [Interview]

Recognized by his shoulder-length, curly fluff ball of hair and laid back lyrics, NIKO IS is the definition of a motivated chiller. Last December, he released the firey mixtape, Chill Cosby, to much critical acclaim from music blogs all over the net. Last week, Marc and I got in touch with the half-Argentinian, half-Brazilian Orlando-based rapper to discuss a variety of topics. From our brief interaction, it was evident that Niko is a visionary with big dreams of how to bring his story into the light. Among other things, we talked about the perks of living in Brazilian culture, working with Bronson, and his upcoming album, the Brutus LP. Don’t sleep on this kid because the up and coming, self-assured rhymesayer is no doubt emerging in the hip-hop world as a powerful force.

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MJ: A lot of rappers today are super concerned with their production, who their producers are, where they get their samples from. How important is that to you?

NIKO IS: Well, I mean, the production is the other side of the music. The music is definitely a big part of what I’m really trying to say. I approach my production differently, like I don’t like getting my beats sent [to me] that much, I like being in the studio with the producer and creating it and kind of having an idea before even the music and try to create music with that idea. That’s how I work with Joey [his producer, Thanks Joey] and that’s how I’ve always worked. It’s more conceptual though, as opposed to just throwing it together. I really adapt to the studio, you know not every producer is the same.

MJ: Word. So I’m going to switch gears a little bit, I heard that you were born in Brazil is that true?

NIKO IS: I was born in Brazil; I was born in Rio de Janeiro.

MJ: How has that culture played a part in your development as a rapper?

NIKO IS: I was born there and lived there in for 6 years, but I kind of grew up in Orlando. We would go back to Brazil every year, during summer or winter break or something. Just being immersed in Brazilian culture is really unique because there are so many different avenues of how people portray their art and shit in Brazil. There’s a no holds barred [approach to art]. Everybody’s an artist in Brazil, whether they do it professionally or not, it’s just something that comes natural. And that really inspired me because they don’t really try, you know. Everybody just gets together, eats good food, and plays music. It’s just crazy how it’s so easy and so natural.

MJ: I grew up listening to a lot of Gilberto Gil, Olodum, Sergio Mendes, and other Brazilian artists. Did they influence you at all as a kid?

NIKO IS: I actually did! Olodum is really dope. On my first CD, my first big rap CD that I did by myself, Joey sampled Olodum on a song. I’ve always fucked with it. I’ve always had their CDs and it’s just so tribal, and so Afro, edgy, it’s beautiful, you know. You should watch the videos of them like 60 deep, everyone’s just banging on drums. It’s crazy, man.

MJ: Yeah, I’ve seen videos of Carnaval with millions of heads out there, bands with hundreds of people, huge processions, and massive floats. It’s one of the most extravagant things I’ve ever seen.

NIKO IS: Carnaval is great, man. It’s awesome. I need to go. That’s how I want my shows to be. Definitely have [samba dancers], berimbau, cuíca and shit. Just go crazy, it’s like a carnival. Every time you see a show, it’s like Mardi Gras.

MJ: That would be unreal. I’ve noticed that your mixtapes generally don’t have a lot of features, excluding ‘Steffi Graf’ with

Action Bronson in your newest tape along with some others from past projects. Is that a conscious decision?

NIKO IS: I mean, definitely. I don’t like working with rappers too much. I think that what many people forget is that music is an art form. And it’s an art form first before anything for me. I’m my own favorite rapper, you know what I’m saying? So, I’ll rap for the whole song. I don’t really think anybody else can properly portray the vision the song, you know. But when I do [have features], it makes sense and it’s natural, you know. And I love Bronson. Bronson is a great, great rapper.

MJ: How did you guys link up?

NIKO IS: I opened up to him in Orlando at 57 West. We did it right after a show at like 3 in the morning. You know, we played the show, got in touch, then went in the studio, which was in Winter Park, and just knocked it out.

MJ: What was it like working with Bron?

NIKO IS: He was very professional about it, you know. He was very get-there, smoke a joint, do the verse, and go home. It was also 3 in the morning, you know, so I don’t think I can blame him (laughs).

MJ: Metrojolt was founded in the Bay Area, which has a reputation for cannabis clubs, you know.

NIKO IS: The Bay is very blessed, man. The roots are nutrient rich, like Oaksterdam and shit.

MJ: Do you have a personal favorite strain of cannabis?

NIKO IS: Well my favorite weed is this shit I used to smoke in LA. This shit was Skywalker from the club. I knew this guy out there who used to bring some ridiculous herbs, you know, and that’s where I had Skywalker. That, and champagne are my favorites. That’s what I did the CD about, Champagne Sundays. Nobody knows that, you know, they thought I was singing about champagne. It’s actually about that herb that I smoked on a Sunday once before, and I was just like ‘Oh, this is amazing.’ That’s how my shit is, man. Once you really start listening and start dissecting it, I try to do it for a reason, you know. Ten years from now when we do Behind The Music, all these people will be like, ‘Holy shit, I never knew this!’ Every line means something.

MJ: Who are some of your biggest influences as a musician? Who did you grow up listening to? Or even currently if you want to go into that. Who inspires you and who do you look up to?

NIKO IS: Oh, man. Obviously, Biggie, you know. Biggie really changed my life.

MJ: Your life?

NIKO IS: Definitely, Biggie was definitely one of the first I heard who made intelligent hip-hop. Jay-Z, obviously, is a huge inspiration. I love Jay-Z. There are so many influences. Everyday I have a new one.

I grew up immersed in a lot of shit. I listened to a lot of Biggie, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd… I listen to music based on how I feel. Sometimes I’m feeling pissed, so I’ll listen to some hard shit. Sometimes I just wanna chill, so I listen to some bossa nova, you know what I’m saying?

MJ: Yeah, for sure, man. Where do you see yourself going from here? Do you have any projects coming up? What are your next steps?

NIKO IS: I have a lot of projects coming up. I’m mainly focusing on Brutus because that’s gonna be the album that really does it, you know. And it’s all produced by Joey.

MJ: Right, the Brutus LP. And when is that coming out?

NIKO IS: Man, I wanted it to come out in March, but I don’t think it’ll be ready by then. This is a big release, you know. This is a serious release. I want it to be very big and, like, luxurious with, like, gold, rose pedals on my CDs. You know, I’ll be wearing some mink and there’ll be a clown on one of those bicycles they have in India [rickshaw?]… It has to be very big. But that’s how I am, man. Every album shows a new side of me. Chill Cosby was the chilled, laid back, you know, more hippie side of me, more easy-going. And then Brutus is gonna be king shit, you know. And I wanna do a big tour with it, and this’ll be the first CD it’ll be the first CD I sell, hopefully.

MJ: That’s a big step.

NIKO IS: Maybe not, but I wanna make it really expensive, like 60 bucks. It’ll come with gold and stuff, like an investment, too. Some shit like that to make it really dope. I’ll probably sell ten copies, man, but fuck it (laughs).

MJ: Any last words, Niko?

NIKO IS: The main thing is, man, that I’m trying to take a little of everything, so everybody can get at me, but at the same time, doing it in my own way because I make music for me. I make shit that I think I would like listen to. I probably bump my shit more than anybody else, you know what I’m saying. I’m my biggest fan, my biggest hater. I wanna give you something that you can turn up to, and at the same time, still go ‘Hell yeah. I see what he’s saying.’ My new shit is gonna be poppin, it’s a lot louder and like stronger. It’s still gonna be always chill but it’ll be more refined and in your face. I have some big collaborations coming up, too, but it has to be right, it has to be something that my fans would like to hear. I’m gonna get a lot of different genre features.

MJ: Alright, man. I think that wraps it up. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. Good looks.

NIKO IS: Much love, brothers. Take care.

Be sure to check out the music of NIKO IS here and stay up to date with his latest activity by following him on Twitter.

And for those planning on making the trek out to Austin to be a part of the South by Southwest, my man NIKO IS will be performing on March 14 and 15 at The Mansion alongside Dorrough, Mistah FAB, E-Dubb, Pill, and other great artists. SXSW is one of the most premier and hottest entertainment festivals in the world known for introducing the globe to the next big thing in entertainment, such as John Mayer, James Blunt, The Hurt Locker, 21 Jump Street Bridesmaids, and others. Past performances from big name artists include Big Sean, Talib Kweli, Lil’ Wayne, A$AP Rocky, 50 Cent, Danny Brown, The Black Keys, Metallica, N.E.R.D, Wu-Tang Clan, Smokey Robinson, Kanye; the list goes on… The point is, definitely hit that up if you’re in the area, and if not, get there. You don’t want to miss out on this year’s acts. Stay chill.

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