Nicolay & Kay: Hour Gang

It is a sad day when the average artist doesn’t feel the least bit nervous about how listeners will interpret their new project. Enter Nicolay & Kay, who aren’t afraid to admit they’re harboring slight anxiety about how the Hip-Hop nation will react to the new concept album they’re ready to unleash, TIME:LINE on February […]

It is a sad day when the average artist doesn’t feel the least bit nervous about how listeners will interpret their new project. Enter Nicolay & Kay, who aren’t afraid to admit they’re harboring slight anxiety about how the Hip-Hop nation will react to the new concept album they’re ready to unleash, TIME:LINE on February 19th.By no means typical tunes, TIME:LINE brings Dutch producer Nicolay [Foreign Exchange with Little Brother’s Phonte] together with Houston MC Kay Jackson for an audio experience they hope will put a ripple in an at many times stagnant genre. The concept of time is one we can all appreciate and ponder, regardless of our age, race, IQ or shoe size; something the duo is banking on to broaden the range of people they can touch in twelve tracks. Between Nicolay launching his own label and Kay still working a 9-to-5,  the gracious duo spared a little extra of that irreplaceable commodity to let us know why this is going to be a record to Let’s start it off with you Kay, being that you’re maybe the lesser known of the two entities involved here; how did you meet Nicolay and end up collaborating on this project?Kay: I met Nic close to five years ago online at Okayplayer. We both were fans of each other’s music, and this was before either one of us had released any projects. He was somebody that was always honest with me about the direction I’d be going with music, and just [had] a good ear. I was on Ali Shaheed’s label [formerly of A Tribe Called Quest], but we were having issues with getting distribution, and Nicolay really helped me out with my album that I was putting out. Once that kind of folded and we were just not knowing what to do, Nic put one of the songs from my album on his album. I was totally frustrated, but he was like, “Let’s just put it on there and see what the people think.” It got a really good response, and we had always sent music to each other to check out, so we sat down and decided to just record music and see where it goes. That was the beginning stages of Nic when you heard the response to that track on the album, was doing a full-length project together something you knew would have to happen?Nicolay: Yeah I think eventually. I’ve always tried to work with someone on just a spot track here and there, and I felt like ever since we did “My Story” it just really gelled and it was clear it was a good fit. From that point on, we were both feeling in the future that was something we would need to do. At the same time, the fact that it happened relatively quickly shows that we’ve got a really cool chemistry going on. [Nicolay f/ Kay “My Story” from Nicolay’s Here (2006)] Was it hard for you guys creatively to keep each other in check while drafting the album, or were there only minimal discrepancies?Kay: It was pretty easy actually. Before we even go into the track, we shoot the idea around in more of a brainstorming session. He’ll send me a “scratch”, and I’ll tell him what I’m thinking about and write, and the songs build up like that. Nic sends scratches because at the end of the process, he builds the track around the vocals and makes sure that everything fits seamlessly. I just made sure while I was writing to keep him in tune to how I was thinking, and if he had any suggestions I’d keep him in tune to what I was coming with.Nicolay: I can only think of a very few number of things where one of us wasn’t feeling the particular direction of [a] particular track. When you reach a level with each other where you can say, “This is awesome and wonderful, but this isn’t really doing it for me,” it has nothing to do with ego at that point, and everything to do with how that sounds from us to the outside world. We can say that about each other’s work without it becoming a personal thing, and it helps the vision and helps us move When you say the process was behind the scenes, were you two your own biggest critics? Or did you bring anybody else in to hear it and give suggestions?Nicolay: It was mainly the two of us. Kay has a deeply rooted circle of people he works with that he bounces stuff off, so at whatever level they all helped him do what he does. But at the same time, when it comes to an album as a whole, it was him and I that made all the decisions with sequencing, content, sound, whatever. So now that we are ready to put that out, we’re still really waiting for the feedback to come in on it.Kay: I guess in my mind, I think it’s dope. But when you listen to something for so long, it’s not really the conventional underground record. It’s way different than what people would expect, if they had an expectation. One thing we always do is just try it. On a couple songs, it may not be in normal four-four timing, or the programming is different. At the end of the day, we both feel it’s our repsonsibilty as artists doing progressive music to actually try things, because a lot of artists get stuck inside a box, doing the same eight or sixteen bars versus creating songs. That’s what I’m nervous about, because it’s a lot different. I think it’s needed, but it’s still It’s refreshing to hear something that doesn’t necessarily have a regional sound or appeal to it, since that seems to be what the industry and a lot of artists catering to at the moment. As far as the sound, what have you guys been describing the TIME:LINE sound as?Nicolay: I think “progressive” is only in the eye of the beholder, in the sense that for somebody who is used to listening to progressive music it may not be at all be progressive, but to those who only listen to conventional music it may be a bridge too far. So it’s kind of relative to what audience you’re doing it for, and we decided ultimately we do music for us, channeling our emotions and experience and influences. We made something that we feel really strongly about, and hopefully people pick up on that passion that’s behind it. It may not be the album for a typical high school kid who lets BET dictate what they listen to, but for our generation I think it’s something that a lot of people can relate Being that this album is the first release on Nicolay Music, how are you guys feeling about the project from a business perspective. Are your expectations any different than the average indie label?Nicolay: When I started out doing this, a lot of artists I know were saying, “I could do this myself,” , “I could do this better.” And I’ve been saying the same things, but there comes a moment when you really need to put your money where your mouth is. You learn about all the different aspects that come with releasing and distributing a record, all the money and effort and work, but at the same time we have a rock solid belief in the record. We have modest and realistic expectations and from our standpoint, the fact that we’re doing it ourselves means if we have modest success, to us that’s a huge The first single is “tight” to say the least. Was there a lot of discussion about what would be the single, or was it obvious from the time recording was completed?Nicolay: For me it was pretty obvious. Looking back it was funny because one of my dudes over here kept asking about that song. He’d heard it one time at the crib, and he just loved it. Every time I’d see him, he’d be like “Play that ‘Tight Eyes’ song again, that’s tight.” Ever since that moment in the summer, I knew it was the best “jumpoff” song. It’s got the beat, it’s kind of clubby, but in a way that underground heads can still feel it.[Nicolay & Kay f/ Oh No & The Luv Bugz “Tight Eyes”] Are you guys of the opinion there’s never enough “time”, or do you have a little to waste in your everyday lives?Nicolay: It’s funny because ever since we started working this album, ironically time is the one thing I don’t really have anymore, since we’re doing it ourselves right now and basically do everything. Time is a really fascinating concept, because it’s one of those things that you can have a really hard time describing, or take many shapes and have many effects. It’s a philosophical topic even, and what’s cool about it is it relates to everybody. Whether you like Hip-Hop or Soul or Jazz or whatever you like, some of the things that are going on in the album from a subject matter point of view, I think a lot of people can identify with them. Kay: For me conceptual records are going to be necessary because we all see the state of the industry. If you provide so many people with the same product and it’s not scarce anymore, people don’t value it as much. But as far as dope, creative concepts, that’s going to be necessary just moving forward in music. If you don’t sit down and really think about what you’re doing, and try to get to people different, you’re just going to be like everybody else. I don’t think the industry is built to work like that. You’ve got to get people to really stand behind what you’re doing and champion your beliefs after you’ve recorded. A lot of people get excited about concept records, but we’re also starting to see a resurgence of albums handled entirely by one producer. Do you guys feel that’s the best formula?Nicolay: It’s one of them. I think that when I first started listening to Hip-Hop, that’s what most records would be about. Whether it was a Cypress Hill record, or a Black Sheep record or a Tribe record, you knew the production of all these groups was handled in-house. Current day albums, you’ve got 10 different MCs who drop 10 different albums but the features list or producers list might be pretty much identical. Everyone will have a feature from T-Pain or Akon, and everybody will have a song produced by or a beat by Kanye. Ultimately all these people are throwing their own identities out the window, where 10 years ago each group would have a certain sound because a certain producer was involved with the group, the same way that Little Brother came up. I’ve always been more interested in doing entire albums for the simple fact it gives you a lot more time to say what you want to say, or show what you want to show. I’ve always been more a fan of that than giving somebody a beat and that’s it. The concept of a producer and vocal artist doing a whole record together is something that can keep things really fresh, because all these different match-ups shed different light on everyone’s creativity.