There's no exact science to this here rap game (shocking, I know). What does it mean to be "hot" or "next up"? What makes a project "buzzworthy"? Honestly I don't have the answers; I just play the game. I will say though, whether its in talks with other rap nerds, a tweet or blog posts, some emcee's names just seem to pop up more and more until it reaches the point where you simply have to check them out.
That's how I discovered Nikko Lafre. I had been hearing his name around more and more that I was left with no choice and had to do some investigating. Well, after "investigating" his latest project, MPLS: West End Stories, his most recent single, "Secrets & Sins," it is a scientific fact that he is dope. Rather than just check out his music and leave it at that, I wanted to know more about the promising up-and-comer, so I shot him over a few questions. Meet Nikko Lafre.
If someone has never heard a song by you, what would you like them to know before diving in?
"Know I speak from the heart, and life experiences, but my story isn't the only story I'm tryna tell, so don't expect every record to be about me, even if they are rapped in a first person. I speak for myself and those that I grew up with who no longer have a voice to speak for themselves. I am now that voice. Also, picture every song I make as a movie. That's how I write music, I write it in the form of a movie, I introduce character(s), shed a little light on their background then explain their current situations, then go on to give the setting, climax.. etc. I got a lot of the way I write music from the song 'Killers' by J. Cole. The song wasn't necessarily about him, but he rapped in first person so the people could better connect with it."
What was the biggest challenge you faced why creating/releasing MPLS?
"Nothing really, except actually getting a chance to sit down and record the music. I travel a whole lot between, Minneapolis, DC, Miami, and other places because of music and family related reasons, so it was kinda difficult to get to stay in one place and lay the whole project down. But I put everything aside for about a two week period and flew to Miami and recorded it."
A majority of the songs off the album were produced by K-Beatz. Why? What is it about his production that you liked so much?
"He created my sound… he literally took me as a person and made beats out of me, if that makes any sense. I'm a very dark and somewhat mysterious individual and that's the vibe all the beats I get from him have. I love that sound… the whole atmospheric, dark, & spacey shit.. It gives me a lot of room to build on the track and tell a story and not rely so much on the beat to carry me as some other artist do. Some people say a lot of the records me and K have sound a lil similar but honestly we don't give a fuck. It's our sound. Those who love it will love it and those who don't can die tomorrow. We wouldn't notice.
When you hear a Drake song you know it's a Drake song before it even starts just based off the production. Same with J. Cole, Future and a bunch of other mfs. They might break out of their mold every once in a while to hop on something a lil different sonically, but overall you know they have a distinct "sound" which is what me and K have a distinct sound. We do have some real not-what-you'd-expect type records on the way from us though. We made em just for the fuck of it. Look out for those."
Do you have a personal favorite song off the project? One that means the most to you?
"Yeah. I really love 'The Prayer.' That's my wake up song. And for people that know me I don't listen to too many lyrical rappers outside of Cole cause I feel like I'd start sounding like them niggas. So really all I listen to outside of my own music is hard hitting trap music. That's my shit. I don't make too much of it cause it gets a lil too easy and boring to make sometimes, but it's fun to listen to for the time being. That's why I love 'The Prayer.' It's that one hard hitting trap record on my tape. Every time I hear that shit I be ready to go rob a hunnid niggas. Ha...nah I'm playin. But that shit gets me real hype and it's the perfect way to start a day full of money gettin."
"Never Understand" is a very personal, compelling effort. Can you elaborate on one of the stories you touched onor you inspiration for the song (your father for example)?
"Like I said earlier, 'My story isn't the only story I'm tryna tell,' which is especially the case with 'Never Understand.' I wrote that bout a very close friend I grew up with, Slim, which is why it's titled, 'Slim's Story: Never Understand.' The whole song is about him, and so is the video we just shot for the record that's coming out in a few short weeks. It's a deep record and I had to get clearance from his folks to even release it. I couldn't get it from him himself cause he's in prision right now, but I hope he hears it and see's the video when it comes out. His mom told me she's show it to him on one of her visits to him so hopefully she does and I get some feedback on it from him through her."
Minneapolis isn't a premier hip-hop outlet. How has being from a smaller market affected your career?
"To be honest, I haven't been really in Minneapolis for more than a month for some years now. I moved to the Washington, D.C. area and grew up there from 10th to 12th grade so I made a lot of my musical connections in that area more than Minneapolis. All I did in Minneapolis was get in trouble with the law as a kid. I wasn't rapping seriously back then. Wasn't really shit to do back in Minnesota but get in trouble, plus everybody was beefing. Niggas never had no love for what anybody else was doing. I spoke about that in the 'Hometown Love' record. I never thought being a rapper was a possibility when I was back there.
It's not a 'smaller market,' it's a nonexistent market outside of the Rhymesayer niggas. But they don't really show love to kids from the urban areas doing music, and unless you do music in Minnesota you'll have no idea who they are. The east coast really is where my eyes opened up to all this music shit. But even though I didn't get my music inspirations from Minneapolis it's still my hometown and I still love it and I'ma rep it till the grave."
If your next release was an actor (or actress) Who would it be and why? Also when can we expect to hear it?
"Shit, man..I probably know the name of two actors off head so I can't even tell you. I grew up with no cable so I ain't really watch no TV or movies much and I still don't. Just know the project is gonna be great. And even though many people fucked with MPLS: West End Stories this new project is gonna make that look like dirt. On all angles. The rapping is better/more uptempo. The messages are more personal. The beats are better and the mixing is much cleaner. It's titled The Reflection and drops November 30, distributed by 300 Entertainment."
Be sure to grab Nikko's MPLS: West End Stories for free via Audiomack and if you want to be fully informed on the release of his next project, be sure to follow him @NikkoLafre and keep an eye on his DJBooth artist page.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]