J. NiCS has been on his grind, to say the least. The Miami rapper dropped his first EP in 2010, a project with producer Numonics earlier this year, and just released his latest mixtape, Southern Niggas Ain’t Slow: The Tribute. In the midst of his most recent project, NICS is already working on his next album Southern Niggas Ain’t Slow: The Product, which is slated for an early 2012 release.
I had the opportunity to chop it up with NiCS about his musical influences in his early years, the life cycle of Hip Hop as a genre, and why he feels the need to explain [to the world] that Southern cats ain’t slow.
DC: So who is J. NiCS for those who aren’t familiar?
J. NiCS: Who is J. NiCS? I mean, I’m not your traditional “artist” that was brought up learning how to play the piano or something. I just always had a love for words. So, my love for words has always made it natural for me to put words together the way I do and that’s what got me into rap. Other than that, I look at myself as a regular person (laughs). I mean, that’s what I am. I’m not the guy that thinks he’s a superstar or “I’m all this” or “all that…” When I say something, I make sure it’s always genuine and it’s what I want to say. I make the music that I make not because I’m trying to impress somebody or anything… I make it because that’s the kind of music I like to hear. So, J. NiCS is just a regular guy but the whole Polar Bear Mack thing is because I love women (mutual laughter)… Like… I love ‘em. I always want ‘em around. When they’re not around, I’m hoping they’re around. When they are around, it’s… where I want to take them (mutual laughter).
DC: Alright cool. So you said your path into music wasn’t necessarily a “traditional” one. How did you get into making music and Hip Hop in general?
J. NiCS: I started strictly as a fan. When I was growing up in elementary or whatever, I was just always really good with words, you know what I’m saying? I guess that was something I was just born with…I’ve always have a knack for words. When I was in school, I would always excel in English and language arts, you know? Before I wrote rhymes as a kid, I used to write stories. I used to think of all sorts of things…like, if there was a cartoon that I would have wanted… I couldn’t really draw, so I just had to write everything down as soon as possible so I could keep that imagery in my mind. From there, just becoming a fan of Hip Hop… like, Biggie was my first favorite rapper ever. His style was so raw…it was so cool to me that he’d get on the mic and just be like, “Yo, fuck that!” (Mutual laughter) You know what I mean? Like, that was so cool to me… he just didn’t care, he had that swagger. At the same time, he was a big dude and I was always a chubby cat too… but he still had steez! He was a big dude like, “Yeah, I’m fat – nigga what?! I still got yo’ bitch!” He just had so much confidence and style.
DC: Who were some of your other musical influences?
J. NiCS: After Biggie, I got into Jay-Z for kinda the same reason. They just had that confidence about ‘em, like when they’d get on the mic or get on a track, it was so dope to me because they were able to be so street and so poetic at the same time. That’s something I’ve always admired, especially from my perspective as a writer…not even writing rhymes, just writing stories. The way they were spitting, it was almost like it came out of a book. Later on as I got older and got out of my shell, I got more into the southern style. I remember rolling dice at the back of the class with my homies or whatever and I made them a tape of some of my favorite tracks because I was always the nigga that knew about music. Back then, I’d be driving with my Walkman (laughs). That’s how long ago this was. I’d be driving with my Walkman, playing a tape or whatever and in class my homies would be like, “Yo, what you driving’ to?” And I just had tapes that I made with songs from Scarface and other artists, you know… I used to make little mixtapes. And as I got older and just living life down here, I was really heavy on OutKast, Goodie Mob, Cool Breeze, Eightball & MJG, UGK, you know… it was more than I just listened to their music. I lived by their music and died by their music. The stuff they were saying was so real… like, I took so much from that music. Like, “My balls and my word” – for real – I don’t break that for nobody! You know, that’s something Scarface said in a rhyme but it was like scripture… like the Bible to me, you know?
DC: Yeah man, as a southern cat myself being from Texas, I definitely see where you’re coming from.
J. NiCS: Word.
DC: Speaking of your music influences, you have a line on your track “Last Time” off the Rizla project where you say something along the lines of, “Listening to GZA”. Are you a Wu-Tang fan?
J. NiCS: Yeah man! I fucks with Wu-Tang. GZA especially, just because his word play was so unique. GZA and Inspectah Deck were two of my favorites. Their rhymes were so slick, it could easily fly over ya’ head, but like I said earlier, they were tiptoeing’ that line of being so street and so poetic. Their whole group did it so well. I loved it. And I remember times when I’d be working shitty ass jobs in a warehouse somewhere and I’d be catching a bus to go make minimum wage, working my ass off… but in my headphones, I’m playing GZA. Know what I’m saying’? Like I’d have Liquid Swords playing to get in the zone to go in there and deal with that bullshit. That music was real motivating for me… I’d just be like, “Fuck it! I’m finna come in here and get on this job… but I’m listening’ to GZA right now. I don’t even care what’s going’ on, I’m in this world and shit.”
DC: So to backtrack, you said you began to come out of your shell and what not… what was it like growing up in Miami? Did that environment influence your music?
J. NiCS: Yeah. Like, Miami has always been a different kind of place as far as the vibe and what not. The drugs [have] always been a big thing down here. Like some places, you have to be “In the hood,” like literally the worst part of town to see cats just selling drugs on the corner. But Miami isn’t like that. It’s so common that anybody can sell drugs down here. It’s just a prominent thing down here…that it’s something that you get into. You know, you wanna make a couple of dollars real quick, you don’t even have to be a “drug dealer.” You’d just go on and get it, boom, boom, boom, make some money. I’d never say I was a thug… like I say in a lot of my music, I was never a thug in the sense that I’d be like, “Yeah, what?! Let’s go!” I wasn’t ready to fight the world or whatever…it was just hard to stay in one place. I always wanted to do my own thing. I was never a person that just wanted to follow… I always wanted to do my own shit. Like when I was in school, I stayed to myself a lot because I was in my own vibe. I wasn’t coming in there to learn from the teacher and I’m not tryna’ disrupt anybody else anyway, so I was just to myself and in my own vibe writing my rhymes. But then once I got out of school, if you have that mentality you get into the real world and have to be a man… there wasn’t no school around, know what I’m saying? It was a different type of game. It’s easy to take that wrong path and be in the drug game. I remember at one point it was really crazy down here in Miami with the guns. The gun violence down here is crazy. I remember having a choppa was so common that if you were in the street and hanging around certain people, you could get one so easily. You could buy one for like $500. (Laughs) And you could easily make $500. I lost friends to gun violence. That’s the unfortunate side of being down here. But still, the city is so beautiful. It’s strange, you got the beautiful city but you also got this “wild west” type of mentality and activity. You had all that with a beautiful backdrop… that’s basically what Miami is, or at least what it was for a long period of time. It’s such a hustler’s city.
DC: It seems like some of that is translated through your latest project, The Tribute. Could you tell us a little bit about it?
J. NiCS: I’m really surprised with the response it’s been getting. When I put it out, I expected for it to get more of a response specifically from just the South. You know, because it’s called Southern Niggas Ain’t Slow: The Tribute. But when it came out, I got a lot of love from different regions. From the South, East Coast, West Coast… and it’s such a humbling feeling to me because at the end of the day, I was influenced not just by the South. I mean the South had such a big impact on my music, especially because I’ve lived here my whole life – I was born and raised in Miami. But I listened to so many wide ranges of artists and have favorite artists from so many different regions. So to put out a project like The Tribute and for it to get so much love and respect from other regions, it’s… man, it’s like a dream. I never thought I’d be able to do something like that.
DC: So, why S.N.A.S.? Why that name, specifically?
J. NiCS: The name itself came from a line off a Nas album.
DC: Yeah, “Get Down.”
J. NiCS: Yeah, exactly. When I heard that song and I heard him say that, “Southern niggas ain’t slow, nigga tried to play me…”
DC: I remember when I heard that line, “Get Down” became one of my favorite Nas tracks.
J. NiCS: Yeah man, I remember there was a time when I first started rapping that a lot of cats felt like I had an “up-north” type style… well, I kinda did. I look at it like this, the younger you are when you start rapping and developing your craft, you’re gonna mimic a lot of what you were inspired by. So when I first started rapping, I kind of sounded like Biggie. I used to listen to Big and Jay all the time so my style kind of had an East coast flavor to it. Niggas thought I was from New York and I was like, “Nah, I’m from Miami, I’m from Dade County. I was born and raised here!” (Laughs) In Miami, a lot of the music was really club-based or party-based and my style didn’t fit into that mold. You know, I’d write songs or whatever and there wouldn’t be no hook; it’d just be a long ass verse and that’d be it. I’d just be spitting. So anytime that I’d be freestyling or say something crazy, cats would think I was from New York or something and I’d have to be like, “Nah”… I’m just well rounded. So yeah, Southern Niggas Ain’t Slow is basically… yeah, I’m a South nigga, but I also have a different type of flow. Because on the outside, when people look at the South or our music, they look at it as something that has a “lack of” intelligence or a “lack of” things that make a good MC. For a long time, the South had to really fight to be respected as artists. On the project, I have a track called Swangin’ where I said, “Scarface gave me hope when he got five mics.” That was when Face got five mics in The Source for The Fix and I remember how I felt seeing that because before that they’d only give people like Nas five mics. Only top-tier artists really got five mics and other than Outkast, nobody from the South really did. I was so happy when I seen Scarface get [that] because his music was always so dope because his flow and the shit that he was saying was so deep. He had so many lines that were just so hard-hitting and would resonate with you long after you’d turn the song off. The Fix was definitely an album that had that. It made me feel like there was hope for me, that I wouldn’t always be looked at like, “Oh, you a South nigga that sound like you from New York.” I knew it was possible for me to show people that there was a message in my music and I have something to say, but I can have fun at the same time and it’s gonna be respected.
DC: Definitely. And you got The Product coming out in early 2012. Could you tell us something about that?
J. NiCS: Yeah, The Product is the second installment of Southern Niggas Ain’t Slow. Southern Niggas Ain’t Slow is like the theme and The Tribute is me going over classic southern instrumentals and rare southern tracks that people may have never even heard. You know, that’s why it’s called The Tribute… I’m paying homage to those tracks. I’m not trying to say I’m similar or even like those artists, or that I can make the type of music they make. It’s just that they influenced me so much that I wanted to put a new feeling or flavor on a classic record. The Product is all original production. That’s why it’s “the product,” because I’m a product of what you hear on The Tribute.
DC: Cool. So, you dropped The Stimulus Package last year, Rizla earlier this year, and now The Tribute. You’ve got The Product coming out soon… it seems like you have a good work ethic and stay real busy. What’s the next step from here and what are your end goals?
J. NiCS: Wow, that’s a good question… I’ve never been asked that before. I guess you can say to come in and make really good music [and] to put my mark on Hip Hop history. Hip Hop itself is still such a young form of music. We kind of forget that. Right now, Hip Hop is just now seeing “older” rappers. If you look at other genres of music, they’ve had older artists come and go and years. Hip Hop is so young that it’s just starting to see its artists be in their 40’s or 50’s. The thing that keeps the other forms of music going is that you have artists that come and go. They have their time in the game and then new artists and styles form from the previous generation. I just wanna play my part in that whole cycle. I wanna leave my mark on the game until I’m out and I’m retired, then somebody else can come in who was influenced by my generation’s music. Maybe somebody will start rapping’ because of my music, the same way I was influenced by Scarface or Jay-Z.
DC: I think that’s a great outlook. You haven’t been putting out projects for too long, but what’s been the most exciting moment of your career thus far?
J. NiCS: The most exciting moment of my career? Let’s see… I’d have to say SXSW this past year. That was a huge thing for me. Same thing with A3C. Being able to do both of those things this year were highlights of my life because I remember last year I wasn’t invited to go. Not being a part of it sucked because I wanted to be there so bad. I told myself that I wanted it so bad that there was no way I wouldn’t be a part of it next year. And when this year rolled around, I was able to accomplish both of those things. And to be a Miami artist… like, Miami doesn’t have a market that’s always looked at for Hip Hop. There’s a lot of other genres of music and Miami gets it popping, but Hip Hop doesn’t get too much of a shine. It gets overlooked a lot of times. I just told myself I was gonna work hard, make my music real and truthful, and make it undeniable with love and passion so it would connect with people. I wanted to go there, do that, and bring some shine to the city. Being able to rock at SXSW and A3C, which is something artists from Miami don’t really get to do, that was really big for me.
DC: Who is somebody you really want to work with? Any other rappers or producers?
J. NiCS: Definitely. A lot of the classic producers. I would love to work with Mr. Lee who produced “From the South.” 9th Wonder – I think he’s a dope producer. I think Pharrell is great… his style is always so fresh and organic to me. Rapper wise, I’d definitely like to work with Freddie Gibbs. I would love to do a record with Scarface. I’d also like to work with Trick Daddy.
DC: So you’re dropping The Product in 2012…are there any other projects you’re working on or planning to work on?
J. NiCS: I’m just really focusing on The Product. One thing I really believe in is quality over quantity, know what I mean?
J. NiCS: Some people put out so many mixtapes or albums… but if you don’t put any passion or effort into one of them, it just falls on deaf ears in my opinion. I’m just focusing on The Product and getting that to sound exactly how I want. Other than that, I wanna do more shows. I did that a bit this year, but I wanna do more traveling in the next couple of months. I wanna go everywhere. There’s a lot of places my music has touched that I haven’t been able to perform at, so I wanna go out there and show those people some love.
DC: To wrap up, any last words or anything you want your fans to know?
J. NiCS: Man, I just want my fans to know that the music that I make is really to live your life to. I don’t make music to promote any specific thing like violence or drug use. I’m just showing people that… this is life. That’s exactly what life is, the good and the bad. That’s what my music is… my music is life. With my music, you may get a message on one song and on another, you might wanna shake yo’ ass (laughter). That’s exactly what life is… you got both sides.
DC: Cool man. I appreciate you taking the time out to have this interview. On a personal note, I’ve been listening to you for about a year now and I’m a fan. I look forward to hearing what you’ve got planned for the future.
J. NiCS: Thanks man, I know KevinNottingham.com has been showing love. I remember last year, y’all gave me a spot in the Top 10 EPs of the year or something when The Stimulus Package came out. That was the first time I had ever received attention like that. If y’all ever have anything going on, I’m down for all of that. Whatever KevinNottingham.com is doing, I support it.