The element of “the group” in hip hop seems to be transcending into more of individuals who think on the same wavelengths and if it works, they create an album. With Outkast and the Roots holding strong, the blueprint on how a group survives and maintains still exists.
Netherlands producer Nicolay has worked with a number of artists, most notably Phonte of Little Brother on their Foreign Exchange album and in the midst of his solo project. Here he’s hooked up with Houston emcee Kay of the Foundation to create their first project Time:Line, which challenges hardcore backpackers and gangstas alike to open their minds and dismiss all boundaries and recognize that hip hop can be anything we want it to be; and hopefully that becomes a transparent concept in the lives they live. Clutch had the opportunity to sit down with the tandem and discuss, music, collaborations and the boxed-in mind state of hip hop culture and rap music.
Q: How did you two meet?
Kay: We met on the boards of okayplayer.com around 2003. I wasn’t really Internet savvy but FWMJ or Frank was the one that really got me on the boards. He was like, “You need to listen to this and that group, and this group Little Brother is tight, and this dude Nicolay is crazy, even all his beat tapes flow together.” I ain’t never heard nobody do a beat tape that flowed together (laughs). So I listened to it and it was like this dude sequences his beat tapes! That was crazy! So Frankie introduced me to him and I just started sending him stuff that I was doing in my group the Foundation. You know how you have to have somebody whose really honest with you about what your doing and would be like, yeah I’m not really feeling this or vice versa? He’s been pretty much one of those folks for me and that’s pretty much it.
Q: How did the concept come about to do this album?
Nicolay: We started working together on tracks for Kay’s album The Talk Show and that was around 2004 when we started, but through all sorts of circumstances, trials and tribulations that album didn’t come out. One of the tracks that I felt had a lot of potential was “My Story”, and I was basically like why don’t we put that track on my album so at least people can hear what you’re doing and he was down with it. So that was a situation where we saw what we could do and we started taking it further than that. I was getting ready to do a Japanese version of the album so I hollered at Kay and asked him if we could do a couple of more tracks and after that it was a situation where we just kept it going. By the end of 2006 it was like why don’t we do a project. It was kind of a situation where we were off and on because we both had a lot of things going on so it took us about a year to wrap it up.
Q: Why the name Time:Line for the album?
Kay: When he was sending me the tracks I heard a lot of the influences and I’m more of a conceptual type of writer. Just listening to them I thought more of a concept where it would be a neat idea to write in some sort of a timeline. It [the album] starts out kind of sixties sounding and dark at the same time and then the album gets more life and even seasonal, and I just heard that in all the beats. I asked him what he thought about Time:Line and he thought it was dope.
Q: Dancing with the Stars is my favorite track, Nic where did the inspiration for that beat come from?
Nicolay: To be honest with you, it was one of the last things we kind of did. There were two things going on. On the one hand Time:Line was going on and Foreign Exchange was going on on the other side. I was really just pushing for a newer and more developed type of sound both in terms of like the timing, tempo and the meter as well as the musical ideas and the cords. I was trying to go really-really deep and realize the potential that everyone has musically. It was really an effort to no longer look at the restrictions of the genre and just dig deeper and really pull the album off. That particular track I sent to Kay and I was like, if you can do anything with this be my guest. All the characteristics of that track are something you wouldn’t expect on a hip hop album because it was quote un quote different, and that’s what made it work. It has that sort of ethereal feel like at the end of the album plus we were looking for a way to end it and we needed the album not to end on a down note, and it didn’t have to be a Hollywood ending but it had to end with an uplifting message.
Q: Kay before the album came out you went on Youtube hard and explained all the different inspirations you got for the album, did you feel like that was something you had to do because some people would miss the point or the concept of the album?
Kay: A lot of it had to do with people don’t know me and generally the way people do their thing is that people try to do their swagger songs etc. To come out with a conscious record, we just thought it would be smart for me to come out and explain what we’re doing and then introduce them to me. We kind of mobilize the normal people, like the Tribe heads.
Q: What is it about each other’s craft that gets you both excited to work together?
Nicolay: What’s exciting for me is that I’m not working with someone who just spits a verse and then bounces. I never really have to push him to come up with a tight verse, and he thinks about it from a real song perspective and an arrangement perspective. It’s easier to work with someone who understands the concept behind the music rather than someone who spits a few lyrics and that’s it.
Kay: I knew he was super-talented but one of the moments I realized he was talented was on the “I’ve Seen Rivers”, where he started playing that guitar part and I was like, “Dude that’s it right there! Nic can say I’m going to make a sound and just do it, and to me that’s just live.
Q: What do both of you hope people will take away from this album?
Nicolay: To not ever settle for anything that’s less than exactly what you want to do. Whether they like it or not, that’s not really relevant, but anything that has happened a lot in recent underground hip hop is people settling for whatever they settle for rather than push themselves. I’d rather see somebody fall flat on their face trying to do something really-really crazy and it doesn’t work out instead of somebody sitting back and saying I’m going to get ten producers to get me ten beats, and they’re all going to be the usual suspects and I’m going to spit about how I’m dope and I’m great on the mic and that’s about it. We wanted to be different in the sense that ultimately we believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility not to go with half ass shit. One thing I hope people really understand is that we were trying to do something completely different.
Kay: Mine is real simple; I just want people to be like them dudes are dope. Straight up, that’s it. I’d rather just try something and it if works it works if it doesn’t, I’ll come back again. I can honestly say that if I’m talking about myself that’s something that I’ve went through and actually seen. Nic and I can try to take the simple stuff and make it beautiful.
Q: Nic you’ve been in the states four years or so right?
Nicolay: Nah, about two. It’s really weird how people in the states look at geographical location. When I first started talking about my plan to move; like when the Here album came out people were like yeah I can really hear that American influence, and I did it in the Netherlands way before it ever came out over here. There was one review in the Netherlands for the Time:Line album and they were like yeah that’s that American influence and I guess people really want to see how it changes someone, but I don’t think that it’s really affected me.
Q: To stay on that topic you’re from Houston, TX and the you guys are known for Scarface, U.G.K, and others but now the representation seems a little one sided.
Kay: I can say from Geto Boyz all the way up Scarface I really mess with those dude. Most of those guys really respect the art form I think its more the powers that be versus the artists. From the powers that be, it’s kind of easy for them to say that Southern music is going to come from these people and we’re not going to mess with the other kind of stuff because no one may support it there. So it’s like this kind of music we’re going to get from the Bay Area and this kind of music we’re going to get from New York and I guess it has a lot to do with the more corporate hip hop gets from a business aspect it makes sense but at the end of the day it’s about why are we doing it? Even if this album didn’t come out I’d still be asking Nic for beats.