Ill Nicky – Tells Us Which of His Tracks Should Go Down in History & More

Ill Nicky SpitFireHipHop Interview

San Diego-based rapper Ill Nicky presents the Leto Films-directed music video for “Young”, his Taylor King-produced single from Beware The 8, his forthcoming album set to feature “Westside” singer TQ as well as production from Snoop Dogg/Rick Ross producer Anno Domini. A Boston-born Italian-American, Nicky’s 2015 single “Perpetrator” reached #4 on Billboard’s Hot Digital Sales Chart.

Nicky has shared stages with KRS-One, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Waka Flocka Flame, IAMSU, Nipsey Hussle and more. Nicky’s previous projects include Hungry, My Name Is Nicholas, Breaking and Entering, The iLL Nicky Experiment, The House With No Pressure, Crescendo and Angles 2 Angels. Nicky describes “Young” as “much more than just a song for me. After losing several close friends to tragedies, watching my mother fight for her life, and dealing with failure after failure, I knew I had to rewrite my album.

‘Young’ was the first, and I was able to bare it all and just be honest and vulnerable with my fans. This song was the result of all that darkness and my departure into a new life, a more confident and driven artist and man.”

SFHH: What do you think the old school can learn from the new school and vice versa?

Ill Nicky: I find the old school/new school thing to be a certain way of thinking. Generally speaking, old school thinkers tend to criticize the new school for being things like weak, too feminine, too sensitive, not lyrical, saturated, things like that, while new school thinkers criticize old school for being things like, played out, corny, poorly produced, and closed minded. And then there are people (like me!) that can see the light and beauty in both. With that being said, there are plenty of things that they can both learn from each other.

For one, the old school (in general) paid more attention to their lyrical content and pushed the boundaries of what they actually said. When it came to battling, it was much less censored, and things like gettin money, poppin bottles, blah blah blah wasn’t so glorified and saturated. The old school can teach the new school how to be more lyric conscious and encourage people to create their own lane (lyrically) instead of just following trends.

It feels sometimes that old school rappers showed more love for the art of hip hop, by mentioning it in their lyrics, and displaying it in their visuals. This aspect I believe created unity within the culture, even when there were beefs and battles. And lastly, back then, if you wanted to break into the world of hip hop, your sense of history and education of the culture had to be on point. I mean it makes sense to me. If you are studying to be an astronaut, I hope you know all about why Neil Armstrong was important, and if you are studying to be a lawyer, I hope you know the history of how our government was built.

The old school can teach the new school thinkers to show appreciation to the art form by educating themselves on the history. On the other side, new school thinkers can teach the old school how to be more opened minded and how to embrace their individualism and artistry. It seems that so many boundaries have been broken in the world of hip hop, and that is attributed to the new school way of progressive thinking.

Old schoolers may look at Young Thug wearing a dress or Lil B painting his nails or Kanye wearing a skirt and fear that rappers are becoming soft, but these are just extreme artists who encourage others to break boundaries and embrace their artistry. This way of thinking has opened the door to new music and visuals that old schoolers would never have experimented with. Another thing that new schoolers can teach old schoolers is the importance of production. There are tons of artists today with insane lyrical content, but for the most part, today, production is just as, if not the most important aspect.

From the quality of the mix to the intricacy of the beat, there’s a reason why it feels so good to dance to when you’re drunk. And most of all, old schoolers can take lessons in marketing strategies. Instead of ‘Buy my mixtape, fam’ the new schoolers have invented hundreds of new and creative ways to market their product.

SFHH: Describe the typical Ill Nicky fan.

Ill Nicky: Hm, that’s a tough one. Here’s why. My demographic is so diverse. I once met Bob Costas and gave him a CD, and now he’s a fan, and he may even make an appearance on the album! I’ve got a fan named Tremayne who’s currently serving 15 years at Riker’s Island. I’ve even got a fan named Ricky, a 10 year old from the UK. The point is, my fan base comes from all walks of life. I believe the reason is because, The iLL Movement is based on love, and there is no age, race, or social restriction in my message. Fans and supporters of my music are very loyal, and I love them.

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SFHH: You’ve lived all over the country. How did each place affect your music?

Ill Nicky: Living in Boston, most people were fans of east coast artists. Not many people know this but Guru of Gang Starr was actually from Boston, and moved to Harlem after he blew up. Coming from the Bean gave me a love for the smooth boom bap style, soul samples, and funky break beats. The Bay created their own style that they called The Hyphy Movement back in the day.

The Bay taught me how to be original and encouraged me to create my own lane. Also, guys like Nickatina sparked my ability to story tell. I wasn’t able to fully find my style until I moved to San Diego. Down here, there is a very diverse amount of music from reggae, blues, EDM and hip hop. Somewhere along the lines, I tied everything together and created iLL Nicky’s sound.

SFHH: You’ve dealt with lots of tragedy. How has your approach to tragedy evolved?

Ill Nicky: I haven’t dealt with half of what many people have had to go through. But I think for me, just a lot happened in a short period of time, so it was difficult to take it all in. At the time when everything was happening, I was angry and pissed off, and I took it out on people that were very close to me. I was frustrated and therefore had a shorter fuse and less patience. I guess I started feeling like I was running out of time, so I started acting in a way that wasn’t me, so hungry for success that I would do anything in my power, right or wrong, to make it. My mom spent the year battling cancer, and I wasn’t with her during that time, so I felt guilty, worried, nervous, anxious.

It wasn’t until she finished her treatment, that I got to go and see her, and her strength was inspiring. She made it seem like nothing had happened, and that changed my attitude real quick. Her strength and faith reminded me of where I come from, and brought me back to myself. I’ve always had a very strong faith in God.

I realize there are a lot of things with religion that are hard to believe, but I’ve always had a personal spiritual connection. In my heart, I know that there is more after this life. With that faith, I’m able to positively deal with tragedies as they come. Although I miss my friends that passed, I am certain in my heart that I will see them again.

SFHH: What track of yours do you think you should go down in history for and why?

Ill Nicky: So, about a year ago, I made a poor business deal with a known label. I ended up losing 20k. The one thing this deal did for me though, was get me to perform at the Urban Network in San Diego, where TQ, one of my favorite artists growing up, was attending. After I got off stage, TQ approached me and told me he enjoyed my set and that we should work. I went to the studio and immediately wrote a song and had him sing the hook I wrote.

When it was finished, my engineer, Sean, sent it to a songwriting competition hosted by Anno Domini. Their production team chose our song over thousands others, to have the opportunity to win best written song. The prize? 20k. It’s amazing how things come full circle. The song I wrote is called Barriers, and it tells the story of 3 different people that have been trapped in lives that they don’t want.

The first, is the 9-5 corporate worker stuck in a cubicle, who wants to break free of his mundane life. The 2nd is a convict who just wants to get out of prison so he can watch his daughter grow up. The last is about myself, who is the proof that you can break through barriers, and that you can live the life that you’ve always dreamed of. I think this song, says a lot about who I am, what I’ve gone thru, and what I’m willing to go thru to accomplish my goals. I believe it will go down in history. It will debut on my album, Beware The Eight.

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