I was impressed when I got your music emailed to me but I don’t think a lot of hip-hop fans know who you are yet. Who is Niles?
Niles is an artist that speaks truly from his heart. He’s an artist that represents every aspect of not just hip-hop but every aspect of humanity that has to do with substance, man. He’s about trying to overcome pain and struggle to make beautiful music to inspire everybody from all walks of life. That’s who Niles is, man. He’s about creating that legacy to last forever.
You’re originally from Michigan but you’re living in New York now. What’s been the biggest change you’ve had to make to adjust to New York City?
Oh, man, things have been changing rapidly. New York City is so live to me. This city keeps you on your toes because whatever field you are in here, it’s so competitive. So you have to be sharply sculpted because you are definitely in a race with other people who are just as hungry or hungrier. But I always knew I could thrive here.
The grind of the city fits my hunger. The melting pot culture of the city is so dope to see. Plus, this place is one of the most historical in the world. I can feel the history in the air wherever I go. It’s been a blessing. I plotted everything out. I planned it out carefully throughout my life just to make sure that when I go at it and when I go for it that it’s completely open and completely free to go at.
You know, I had to go through college and at times it was challenging. Like when Kanye’s album came out, I wasn’t thinking of dropping out but everything that he was talking about I was thinking about heavily. But you know, everybody has their own lane. I come from an underprivileged background so education was a must for me. I knew that no one could take my intellect from me, no matter how they stereotyped me. I learned self knowledge at a very early age. It is so powerful. College was a door that I had to open for more opportunities. So when I graduated there, I was like, ‘Okay, now I can go at my dream full throttle’ because I don’t believe in putting all of your eggs in one basket. I believe a true man is multi-faceted.
So I moved out here and things started happening extremely rapidly. I’m a chilled type of dude and that whole spotlight thing, I‘ll call it the Superman Effect. You put your cape on when you have to and when you’re done saving the world you go back to being Clark Kent. (laughs) Things changed rapidly but I remain who I am. I won the EOW challenge that they held. It was a talent search that Koch Records held with Hot 97 and this was all in the first few months I was here. There was also an event called the Harlem Rapathon with 100 MCs and the winner, the person that gave the best impression to the voters, were chosen to be in Summer Jam. So I did Summer Jam last year and then I ended up performing at Summer Jam this year and I’m on the commercial for BET spitting about Barack Obama and this is all underneath a two-year span. Things have changed rapidly but it’s a beautiful thing, man, because I’m representing who I am so it’s a bright karma. I paid my dues, now it’s time to go and get it.
At Summer Jam I went out there and I was embraced by the crowd. I did my single and that was basically how it was orchestrated.
What was your experience at Michigan State like for you?
The college experience was a beautiful experience. It was definitely something that I needed. I needed not just the educational experience but the experience of independence. I was still very young and learning myself and coming of age. At that moment of time I had a lot of time to myself. Throughout my whole life I’ve been a loner and studying myself and who I am and what I can become but college was really a part of the test. Education’s a huge thing. I always tell the people younger than me that high school is free education so take advantage of that as much as possible because college costs and if you can get a scholarship just through a 4.0 grade point average through free education, then you better take that right there. That will open so many doors so you don’t have money that you have to pay back through loans. I know the future is sometimes so far out that a young teen can’t see that but I tell them to keep that in mind that that opportunity could be there and fly by without them grasping it.
As far as college and my artistry, I don’t use that as a way of looking down on anybody. We’re all in this world together and we’re all trying to reach something. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke and I’m not trying to use that for a platform like I’m smarter than you or I live a cleaner life. Those different aspects, I don’t want to be defined by those things. I want to be defined by what I’m talking about and what I’m trying to lead people too. The whole positive thing can be just as cliché as the negative thing, bro.
People can switch up just because positive is in now. They switch up how they dress and how they speak. Just because you say something positive doesn’t make it real because the foundation is something that’s distorted. It could come from a fake place. You have people with negative intentions but since it’s “Bring Hip-Hop back” season, they switch up. But in a few months they go right back to the BS. Just because you don’t look how they look, or say what they say doesn’t make you any better than them. It’s deeper than that. It’s all about how you want to come across and if you can make people actually believe you. Can you actually change lives? Can you actually influence the masses? Cat’s get drunk off of their own hype too soon. They are focused too much on the battle instead of the war.
I tell people to go to school. I had to go to school. I had to. I come from nothing. I had to use my education as a tool and a driving force to create other options for myself. I had to stay focused and there were a lot of things that I had to do to get to the starting line because I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Education can help you so much. With an education, you can come from poverty and end up being the boss of people who came up rich. We can’t really control the cards that we’re dealt in life but we can control how they play them and what we stay away from. You have to do certain things to overcome things.
College, it was a great experience but there’s always life after college just like there’s life after high school. There’s always more to do so I don’t ever get caught up in accomplishments. I won some track medals but they’re all inside of a box. Even my college degree is inside of a box. I don’t even want to see it because I’ll get comfortable and I don’t even want to see that. And all my accomplishments that I’ve had in New York City, I don’t even want to think about that. I want other people to talk about it. I don’t even want to bring it up. I want to speak through my actions.
I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I’m interested to hear how you won Koch’s single contest.
It was actually the last day of it and I didn’t know about it. I figured I would give it a shot. I went out there and I was in line. The line wrapped around the building and I was thinking that I know I had what it takes. And you know the best person never wins in a damn talent search. It could be set up. I didn’t know what to expect. This is a testimony right here, man. This is showing that God is real and God moves and works wonders. You have to believe and have faith.
I’m not gonna lie. I was broke. I only had $20 on me. Miss Jones came out and said that the talent search was going to cost $20. I was like, ‘I don’t even know if I want to get into it because I needed to get my Metro Card. I was in the front of the line. When it was time for us to go in, I let like 100 pass me while I was thinking hard on if I should pay to be in it. I prayed and God told me to be in it. So I stepped in there and my whole mode changed. I thought “I have to win this” especially since I spent my last. When it was my turn to go up, they had three different beats to choose from and there were three different people in there. Miss Jones was in there, Kay and I think a representative from Koch and I just rocked it. They loved it and told me I was in the finals so when I came back, everybody was deep from every borough on the East Coast and there I was.
I only had two people with me. I was just like, ‘Wow, man, how is this gonna go?’ because a lot of talent searches like this one came down to who cheers for you along with your talent level. I was defiantly outnumbered. I went in there and the talent search went on. Different people went up and did their thing. I went up and did my thing and I was just really confident on the impression that I left, man. I just went in there and spit my soul out. I had on my J Dilla t-shirt, just repping for the real artists, man, and yeah, it came down to me and two other people. We got called back up to the stage and I ended up winning, man.
The crowd showed a lot of love and it just goes to show that it ain’t about where you from. They just showed so much love and I got interviewed on Hot 97 the next day and I met up with a producer named Boola, who’s a Rocafella producer. He gave me a CD with 32 beats on it and all of them was live, very live. It was a hard decision to make not just on what beat I wanted but on what topic I wanted to write on. This was it. It was a single that was going to be out nationally so I had to think about my integrity and I had to think about how I wanted to be looked at. I had to think about a lot of things but one thing I wasn’t going to do was not be who I am. I notice that with a lot of artists in this position, they go either too far left or too far right. I didn’t want to be looked at as cliché but then on the flipside you have cats who are real stingy and they just want to keep it 100, grassroots, organic, underground and lyrical without really thinking about what’s at hand. It’s like playing a chess game with the world. I just wanted to mix it all up and have it come off as not corny. I wanted it to come off as genuine. It was a lot of pressure with the whole process. But everything came out live. I’m excited.
The song is called “This Time” and it’s just about patience. It’s about what the dream chaser goes through. It’s about how you want to reach your dreams and your goals but you get side tracked by life’s ills. Sometimes a dude could see other people reaching dreams and goals and he can become very impatient without knowing that patience is the main thing that will get him there. Not focusing on them and their grind. Or you can get impatient with trying to find love, so you just become a player knowing that you just want one woman. A real woman that is a potential wife is one of the hardest things for a man to find. So understanding that should make you that much more focused on making yourself better and when the time is right, you’ll meet a woman that exceeds every expectation you had. But if you get impatient, you can have babies out of wedlock because you said, Fuck it. Now you’re paying for it for the rest of your life. You can be patient for 10 years and impatient for 10 minutes and that will have everything that you have built up falling down.
It’s like a game of Jenga. That’s what the song is about and I’m leaving it out there. I’m just going to leave it out there in the atmosphere and I feel very, very good about it. I’ve been waiting a long time for this situation. I planned for it and now it’s time for me to make the most of it. The world will be introduced to Niles.
How’s your debut album coming?
I was actually working on an album before I moved up here. I may drop that as something for the people after I drop my actual album or even before. But the album is called To Remain…To remain what? To remain relevant, to remain yourself and to remain the most genuine and intricate artist. People in general, they remain. John Lennon remains. Bruce Lee remains. Miles Davis remains. Malcolm X remains.
These are people that remain for the rest of the Earth’s existence. Their legacy will remain forever because they tapped into their originality and they tried their hardest to be who they were and when it was their time to shine they left impressions that will remain forever . And everything that they were affiliated with is archived. From pictures that were taken of them, to clothes that they wore, to places that they stayed, to interviews and speeches that they gave, to whenever they were filmed. It was all documented and it will be put out in the media to educate the world for the rest of time. When I was in 2nd grade they was talking about Martin Luther King in class. Every single year from then to right now, they educate the world on him. You have people like Einstein and Aristotle. This is like King Tut. To this day they are being studied. Their philosophies are being studied. These are legendary people and I feel like all of us are legends just by existing. Life is a wonder.
Just by being a human being, you’re already engraved in history. How you want to be seen and how you will be seen comes down to your actions and how you show yourself, whether your talent is acting or being a doctor. You becoming the best in everybody’s eyes will come down to how you practice not when you’re seen but what you’re doing when nobody’s looking. The people that make it look easy are the people working the hardest when they’re not seen. The people that make it look hard are the people that are working the least when they’re not seen. To Remain… is coming. The sun is here. That’s the same sun that’s been here since the beginning of time. It remains.
The album that I’m working on now, it’s going to have brand new songs because I want my best material and my latest material on it.
Who are your influences?
Wow, man it is so many that I’ll be talking to you forever by naming them. Malcom X, Denmark Vescey, Bruce Lee, Medgar Evars, Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama, Stokley Carmichael, Assatta Shakur, Harriet Tubman, c’mon man. There are so many and those people I just named aren’t music artists. They are people that stood up for what they believed in and will forever be remembered and loved for that very thing. They fall right in line with “To Remain..”. Musically? Man, Miles Davis, John Lennon, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Fela Kuti. I’ll be naming people for ever with that too.
Hip-hop wise? First and foremost I want to thank Jay Dee, James Dewitt Yancey, J-Dilla. This man is the sole reason of why I believe. He is the best producer ever. And I was saying that way, way, way before this brother passed. I have everything he ever made and I just want to say that I am honored to be blessed with hearing his music. Jay Dee is a genius and he will be around forever. I feel that he needs to be talked about more. I don’t like what’s happening with his estate. They need to really get that together, for real, man. This dude was for all people. His legacy will forever be engraved in stone. He had a work ethic like ‘Pac. You will never have every Dilla track ever made. It’s too many out there. Rest in Peace to Jay Dee and God Bless his family. I went to a Dilla tribute in the D and it was people there from all around the world just for that day. That speaks high volumes on how much he was cherished.
Nas is my favorite MC. Nas is way more than an MC. The intricacies of his rhymes remind me of a doctorate professor. He’s like a modern day griot. His image is like a monk from poverty here to spread jewels to the world. Everything he ever did, I have. You have to peep a song by him called “Amongst Kings”. He really took it there.
Common is one of my favorites. Man, “Tekzilla”, “Hungry”, “Invocation”. Dude said, “Envisioning the hereafter/and listening to Steve Wonder/On a quest for love like the “Proceed” drummer/I strike like lightening and don’t need thunder/Inhale imagination and breathe wonder.” C’mon, man, that is poetry in motion.
Big L is one of the greatest, Andre 3000. And honestly, if you say Canibus didn’t make you go back to the lab when he first came out, you are lying. He was on that mixtape shit just totally, man look. I started rapping when I was 15 then stopped for a year because I was into school and sports. I heard him first on this track called “Uni-4rm” with Ras Kass and Heltah Skeltah. When I heard that, it made me really, really want to do this.
Much respect to Canibus. BlackStar, Illadelph Halflife, O.C.’s album Jewels. Moment of Truth by Gang Starr is my favorite album ever. It changed my life. If Primo or Guru ever reads this, I want to tell them thank you for changing my life. G-Dep had the most swaggerific verse ever on this track called “The Mall”. He said, “Don’t be mad at me/I used to be King Raggedy/fiends naggin’ me/shit, I had to breathe”. That verse had me so hype. Krumb Snatcha’s verse on “Make ‘Em Pay” got a hip-hop quotable in the Source back then. He went in!
The Wu? Hold up man, the Wu-Tang. Man, hold the fuck up! Wu-Tang is the motherfuckin’ shit! I have GP Wu, Killa Army, Wu-Syndicate, The Swarm, The Pillage, Heavy Mental, Sunz of Man, all of Ghost’s shit, Only Built for Cuban Linx, all of RZA’s shit. The Wu-Tang Clan are gods of hip-hop. I want to thank all of those brothers for what they did. Seriously. Remember the “Triumph” video? Man, my whole high school went nuts when that dropped. We all loved the Wu. Much respect to them. They did something that is only done once ever.
Prince Paul’s album “Prince among Thieves” was a classic. Breezly Brewin’ totally repped on that. There was this song on there called “War Party” where these four unknown cats straight murked shit! Where ever they are at, much respect to them. I remember when Nas video “If I Ruled the World” came out and in the beginning he was chilled back in the whip with Cormega and the screen had a red tent. The cop went up to their window and knocked on it with the baton. Nas looked at the camera and snapped his finger. Then you saw Lauryn standing on top of the car singing her heart out. That era, man, wow…Like, come on, man. Hip-hop, that is what hip-hop is. I’m getting the chills talking about that because the memories are so live. Goodie Mob’s “Soul Food”, that track “Thought Process”? Oh man.. Remember the OutKast “Elevators” video when it first came out? Remember Yo! MTV Raps? I used to stay up till 2am just to see Xzibit’s “Papparazi” video. I’m not going to take it to the “we need to bring those days back” speech. But by everything I just told you. Just imagine, just imagine how serious I take this, just imagine. I will let my actions speak. You won’t get no “I’m the messiah” speech from me. I’m just a man with something to say. I’ll let the world decide accordingly.
That’s a really dope answer. What do you have to do to win right now?
You just have to grind, man. It’s never too late. If you notice, it’s always the same complaints going on. You had generations looking down on generations before them because of what they were doing and stuff has gotten more digital as time has went on but they still made a way. You have starving artists who made a way. In this day and age we have an advantage because we have the digital side. We have the internet and that’s an important factor for an artist to make it.
You have an artist that’s not heard on the radio or seen on the TV and they’re still making a living because their music is getting out there. Hip-hop is always going to be there. They can take it off the radio and off the TV but it will still sell out a stadium or pack a piece of land in Fort Greene or something. It can still happen. I’m still optimistic. There are a lot of things going on that are trying to hold artists back but as long as you’re breathing it’s all about how you formulate hour plot and how you conduct your business. It’s all about your talent level. You have people who are talented and don’t hustle and people who don’t have talent but hustle. The ones without the talent but hustle are the ones that are getting the opportunities. I think that has to do with what the corporate sources want to put out there because in order for them to make money they have to keep the listeners ignorant. They make their money off the ignorance of the audience. If someone comes out with something to say and it blows up, that makes all of the cats with no substance have to ante up on having more substance, because now they’re focused on your sound because that’s what’s popping. Somebody has to take that chance. I remember watching an interview with Lauryn Hill and she said “If you ever have a chance to change the situation, do it.” I took that quote and ran with it.
There are a lot of different aspects to it but I’m an example of hope, I did it, and I am doing it my way and it’s pushing me through. That’s what it’s all about right there whether it’s an independent artist or a major artist. There’s still a chance for everybody so all you artists out there, don’t give up on your dreams and your goals. Just go hard on what you want to do in life and work hard on your craft and you’ll make it, man. It’s faith and destiny and you have to use both of those things with your own actions. You have to believe in yourself man. Even when the whole world frowns on you because you are not like them. That same world will become your footstools when the smoke clears because you inspired them to be themselves. You have to be strong with your approach to whatever you do. Plus, you have to endure.
You have a lot of people who are lazy and they don’t want to make sacrifices but sacrifice is what’s made everybody we look up to. When I moved to New York City, that was a sacrifice. I was broke as hell but I had to open that door myself, man, so I could create opportunities for myself, like the Koch Talent Search. I went hungry for four days straight after that but I had to do that, man. That $20 spent was the best investment I ever made. That $20 spent created the next world that I am stepping into. That is the world that will introduce me to the people. But I had to have enough faith in myself to make that type of sacrifice. I walked across two buildings without a balance beam and made it across. That’s the type of faith in yourself I’m talking about. I had to plant seeds. And trust me, it’s a whole other side of this journey that we haven’t talked about that has to do with the rain. The gray skies, the struggle, the test. But guess what I planted my seeds early, then the rain fell extremely hard. Flood of it. But now the sun has risen and when the flood drained. It was nothing but ripe precious healthy fruit for me to pick. Get ready world, I'm right around the corner.