Say all the negative things you want to about the internet and its impact on hip hop music, most of it would probably be true. But with all it’s downfalls, it also has many advantages. One such advantage is being able to work with people thousand of miles away that years ago would be virtually impossible. Nicolay is one such person who has benefited from technology. In 2004, he would release “Connected” with Phonte of Little Brother as Foreign Exchange. While Nicolay has since moved stateside, he has done the long distance project again with Kay of The Foundation, an artist out of Houston. The pair have teamed to create a nifty little concept album entitled “Time:Line”. Full beautiful live instrumentation and a strong lyrical performance, “Time:Line” is set to become this years first legitimate dope release. I had the chance to sit down and talk to Kay and Nicolay and chat about the upcoming project dropping on Feb 12th.
WYDU: Thanks for sitting down with me, you guys are probably bored stiff by now, is this is a press day for you guys? Would you mind giving a quick introduction of who’s who?
Nicolay: I’m Nicolay. Yeah you know, it’s one of those days we have talked a lot. I have a good time always with these days, but I’m a talker.
Kay: I’m Kay.
W: Let’s start with you Kay. Some people might not be as familiar with you and your background, would you mind shedding some light on that.
K: I started rhyming seriously in like ’96 when I actually started to record myself and put out projects. I’m in a group that is called “The Foundation” that consists of Chris “Daddy” Dave, Robert Glasper among others. I’m the lead vocalist and producer in the group. It was around this time that Nicolay and I kind of met. It was pre-Foreign Exchange, pre any album I did. We were really feeling each others production style and music each other were doing. From there, they did the Foreign Exchange album. I was actually on a label, Garden Seeker, and still like a collective partnership with Ali Shaheed Muhammad from Tribe and Nicolay helped me out with some production on an album that didn’t get released. From there we always just kept in contact, shop music back and forth to each other.
I guess I’m that guy that gets close but doesn’t quite get there. Ya know (laughs). It’s always been like that. I would think, “okay something big is about to go down”, and it wouldn’t happen. Nicolay really gave me a platform to speak musically and I appreciate that.
W: Cool, cool, cool. So what was the start of this project? Did it start while Nic was still over in the Netherlands or was it after his move to the states?
N: I guess you could say while I was still over in the Netherlands. We started communicating in like ’03. We were letting each other hear our music and giving pointers. Later on, Kay started working on his solo album and I was willing to help Kay with some production. Obviously at the time I thought collaborating was a great idea. I contributed two tracks, so when it didn’t come out, they ended up on my “Here” album. We kind of kept the momentum going and started to do some more work together and is definitely when the ideas for “Time:Line” were born. We knew when we started working together, we knew it was going to be hot, you know. I gave him some beats and it reminded Kay of different era’s within music and that was really when the concept was born and we really started working toward making an album.
W: So the album has been awhile in the making then….
K: I guess as far as us knowing each other, a lot of it has to do with a relationship between the producer and a writer. That part has been in a long time in the coming, but as far as the actual album itself, once we sat down and decided how it was going down and got the concept, that came quick. As far as the time…it really speaks on how we write and how we create…I know my personal struggle of…..just getting the music out has been a struggle. I mean its made me stronger, I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve learned a lot.
I was talking to Ali a couple days ago and we talked about how they did with Midnight Mauraders and the process they went through as far as recording. Nic, being the producer he is, you alread know his stuff is going to flow together well, but as far as a writer that is a concern. One thing I think we really did well on this album is how the sequence work out. I just took all the hard times and what I learned and applied that to this record.
W: Nic was mentioning the concept of the album, which is a very interesting idea, would you mind expanding on how that came about ?
K: The album is ultimately music driven. The thing about Nic and myself, is the type of music we like is varied and goes through so many spectrum’s. The beats and took from Nicolay were just tracks that kind of pushed myself as a writers. When you listen to the songs though, you can hear the influences of different kinds of music. There are some psychedelic sounds, that 80′s sound, you know the electronic, the 70′s soul type stuff.
Once we started doing the songs and everything was different in sounds, I started thinking of historical things. I actually saw a time line and I was just looking at it and I was thinking our album starts in the 60′s and the intro is really psychedelic and it just keeps going through time. I thought it’d be dope to write like that and touch on different sounds, like something would blow up in ’75.
W: How does the one producer/one MC type of thing change how you work? Since Nicolay worked with a bunch of different artists on the “Here” album and Kay, you come from a group back ground.
K: For me, the stuff I do with Nic, we kind of use the same process as I have in the past. As far as creating an album with just me and him, I thought it was really dope. When you get songs from different producers, its really hard to get a cohesive sound and continuity. As Nic has said in the past, you have a whole lot of voices trying to speak in different ways. For the writer, its makes it a lot more difficult to write something that flows. It’s easier to write when the album has a sound, then you can really expand on that. That’s my view on the writer’s side, what you think Nic?
N: I think we all want something that is just more than a track here and there on an album. People want continuity. It just allows you to say a whole lot more things in that 30 minutes to an hour. You can really do a lot, you can really show people what you are about in that time.
I think a lot of opportunity lies in a one producer and one MC relationship. When I got into hip hop, when you picked up an album. It would usually produced by the same person or group of people. You know it could be Prince Paul and De La, it would be the Ummah and Tribe, it would be the Bomb Squad and Public Enemy, the albums were something you could follow all the way through. If you listen to artists records right now, you have ten different songs produced by ten different producers and they all have the same rotating guest lists. You know, let’s have a song with Akon, lets have a Kanye track, lets have a Timbaland track. So you have a lot of albums that don’t have don’t have a true sound and the artists aren’t really able to let their personalities shine through.
W: That’s interesting and that’s exactly where I was going with my next question. I mean do you even think the listeners out there even have the attention span to really deal with a whole album produced by one producer? It seems anymore a lot of people complain that an album wasn’t diverse enough when they do have that type of album in their “tape decks” so to say.
N: I would say that it’s not the music, but it’s the attention span that needs to get dealt with. I say labels are the ones that cater and change the attention span. They cater to a certain sound and a certain feel. They don’t change things up enough. It gets lumped together in one big clump of sounds. Its generic music and the attention spans have adopted to that. It’s time for people to wake up and get out of that matrix. The problem is not the music, its the attention spans……(there is a *ding* then quiet)
W: I totally agree. The masses have been almost trained to that kind of sound. Where you guys able to work on this project in person.
K: We actually wrapped up everything together. I flew out to Wilmington, that was the piece that was needed. We were right at the point on the record when, you know right when you think it’s done, but we able to sit face to face, be able to go out and get the good Subway Sandwich and BBQ and just kick back to the music and just get a feel for it. From there the ideas started flowing out and that kind of sealed the deal. Some of the small things ended up being the biggest things. That’s what helped.
W: I know Nicolay is rehearsed in doing the whole long distance type of thing but how did that effect you Kay?
K: For me? Not really. I have a group of producers that I’m friends with, not so much Nic as much, but being in the band and having that network I can sit and listen to a beat and be able to say “Yo it’d be dope if you could hook up with so and so and maybe get some keys or a guitar” or whatever it may be. I’m used to getting a lot of tracks and recording them at the house and then sending them out. Which is cool versus when I first started when you had to go buy the two inch reels and pay $75 an hour to record and you were stressed out because you were running out of time. I love it this way.
W: How did you handle the creative duties on this project. Did one person strictly handle the beats and the other was exclusive to the lyrics or did you both work on the material together. I know Kay you said you were a producer too, did you work with Nic on the beats?
K: I would never junk up Nic’s beats. I mean I have ideas, I’ll tell him, “Hey I think this would be dope”, but ultimately that’s his thing. I’m more conceptional. Nic don’t need no help (laughs).
W: With both of you using live instrumentation in the past, how much of a role did they play in this album?
K: Nic? Yo Nic?….Nic? umm Okay….(laughs), probably got disconnected. I’ll handle it then. As far as live instrumentation is concerned, for me, that really sits Nic apart to me. He is not really confined just to samples and as far as our process of recording, it allowed for things to flow a lot better. Some songs were really able to exist on the album due to the live instrumentation that might not be able happen with just samples…..let me see where this cat is.
…this is him on the other line, let me get at him.
he got kicked off…
there he is….
(Nicolay’s assistant is on the line telling he will join us soon)
N: Alright sorry about that, I guess my talking short circuited the whole thing (laughs).
K: He asked about the live production thing, man.
N: Oh the live instrumentation?
W: Yeah, just how much of a role did it play in the making of “Time:Line”?
N: From the technical stand point, I switched to pro tools over the last year. For me I’ve actually been able to idealize a lot more of the ideas I’ve always had but wasn’t able to conceptualize or have the means or the equipment to do so. It’s kind of liberating in a way, so I’ve been recording a whole, whole lot the past year. I’ve picking up a lot more of the instruments as well as is indicated on some of the “Time:Line” album.
W: I noticed the guest list is pretty impressive. You have Oh No, the Strange Fruit Project and even Chip Fu, how did that come about, especially Chip Fu, I haven’t heard from him in awhile.
K: Kind of going back to the whole Garden Seeker thing, most of those people like Chip and Sy who was on the “Here” album, a lot of them were on the Garden Seeker album. Nicolay was really instrumental in helping us get a lot of things done. “My Story” was one of the stronger cuts on the “Here” album. Strange Fruit was kind of the same thing, they are really good friends of mine and I’ve done a lot of work and production for them in the past. We all just a big family and we all do music because we love it. I told them that Nicolay and I are getting ready to do an album, they wanted to know when they were getting a track to get on. The stuff came out really good. I’m happy about it.
W: You guys have been hitting the promo trail pretty hard with lots of interviews and a sampler. How do you feel about the initial response so far?
N: So far the people’s reaction has been really, really good. We are trying to find out the feedback. Sometimes it gets to the point that we retreat to our “hide away” to create our music and sometimes you lose touch with whats going on. We are in that excited phase where every day you hear about people getting excited about it. So far the reaction has been really good.
W: I listened to the sampler and I’m really pumped for it. You are both pretty internet savvy, Nic with spending a lot of time on Okayplayer and Kay, you started “Rappers I Know”, correct?
K: Yeah, me and Frankie, me and FWMJ. This shows how “Time:Line” is such an important piece to all of this . I was so frustrated with the Garden Seeker situation, not at Garden Seeker, Ali was really trying to get behind good music. We went to Wendy’s by my house and I was saying “Man, we need to have a website called ‘Blank That I Know’, and put on everyone we know. It was a little more profane because I was angry. So the thing is….
N: Did you call it “Ballers I Know”….(laughing)
K: (Laughing) Nah, it wasn’t that. Basically from there, Frankie called me back later and told me he thought it was a good idea. Frankie is pretty much a taste maker himself and people really value his opinion, so I was like, I know all these people, I gave him the music and we just put it up and create a platform where people can hear this music that we do. A lot of that though was just my frustration of not being able to put an album out. The site is still going strong though. Doing this album with Nic though is like finally being able to do what I’ve always wanted to do though.
W: We all know that the internet is kind of a gift and a curse, what are your thoughts on it?
K: My thoughts are that I would have never met the people I’ve met without the internet. Because I live in Houston, I don’t live in New York, and Nic can probably attest to this, but by being in my space, having the cost of living a lot less and I can record at home where I have a nice little studio it’s easier. I can get a lot of things accomplished. But at the end of the day, if you are not in LA or New York, without the internet, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, you aren’t going to be able to reach the people. The internet allows you to do that.
One thing we do with “Rapper’s I Know” and all the music we create, since people really don’t “trust” the music, we start creating music people can trust and know what they are getting. It’s like with Nicolay’s label, people will know what they are getting. Back when I was buying hip hop all the time, there were certain labels you knew what you were getting based on just who the label was itself. People start trusting your “brand”, trusting Nicolay Music, trusting Rappers I Know, trusting Justus League. The playing is leveled more with the internet. If you have talent and people support you and you do something different, you can make your name for yourself like a Gnarls Barkley or Amy Winehouse. Maybe we can be the next Gnarls Barkley, ya never know. As long as you are trying to do something different, people recognize that and they will support it.
W: Speaking of Nic’s label, what do you have on the horizon at Nicolay Music?
N: Ever since I announced the launch of my own label, people have been getting at me asking how to be down and it’s not really like that. It’s more for me to be able to put out my own music, my own albums and projects. So it’s going to be projects that I’m personally involved with, my own albums and whatever I find along the way.
It’s going to be a big year. Obviously right now we’re pushing the “Time:Line” album and then this summer we’ll release the Foreign Exchange record. By what means, we are not totally sure yet, only thing we know it won’t be on the previous label. It’s going to be a very interesting year to see if we get our feet on the ground. It’s getting tougher and tougher, but we feel we still can still reach the people that will appreciate what we do.
W: Alright, looks like my time is up, I appreciate you guys taking the time to talk with us.
N: Thank you very much for your time..
K: It’s been nice talking..
Click to download -or- to listen to the sampler
As The Wheel Turns
Gunshot feat Chip Fu
Nicolay’s imeem page:
Nicolay’s Official Site: