I used to have long conversations with Byron Nichols in my car in the parking lot of the LA Fitness in Duluth, Ga. This was long before I ever thought I would continue to write into my twenties, and perhaps long before Nichols gained a sense of his artistic identity. Fast forward to just this fading spring, it becomes obvious in our interactions that Nichols, better known as NicX, has zeroed in on the plausibility of making the music he wants to make and achieving success his own way. The tunnel vision he uses to lock into his goals is nothing short of admirable for someone as young and nomadic as the burgeoning MC.
Having nestled into Midtown Atlanta for the time being, Nichols also maintains a Midwest influence via his roots in Cleveland, as well as a connection to Brooklyn via Dharmic X of Audible Treats. And while some of his fellow contemporaries have caught up to him this year, providing an enticing incentive for peer pressure, Nichols isn’t falling for it. In fact, if you were to spend any time at all with NicX in the studio, you would be able to tell he is a born leader, not a follower.
Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with the local rapper and talk about his family and background, what’s inspiring him to write music, and what we can expect from him in the near future. Throughout our interview, his demeanor remained calm, assertive, and self-assured, projecting a maturity that perhaps best represents what NicX is all about: an old soul in a young person’s game.
Who are you?
I’m NicX, pronounced as “Nicks.” Not “Nick X.” Not “Nick X Nation.” Just NicX. The guy who’s going to break the genetic curse. NicX symbolizes my last name “Nichols.” It represents my family. The X symbolizes change and transformation.
What do you mean by genetic curse?
I believe my family has something in their genes that doesn’t allow them to find happiness within themselves. It doesn’t allow them to find their talent. I found myself going from optimistic to depressed and I was shocked because normally I’m like a brick wall. Nothing can break me down. Later, I learned it was something within myself that can turn my dreams into nightmares. I watched it happen to everyone in my family.
Do you have a musical family?
My family has always had great musical talents, but unfortunately never did anything with it. So, yes and no.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Cleveland, Oh. That’s where I lived until I was 14-years-old. At that age, me and my father moved to Duluth, Ga. in Gwinnett County. Also known as the Northside of Atlanta.
What’s your earliest memory of music?
I was in a talent show when I was 6-years-old and I sung Usher’s “Nice and Slow.”
What’s your writing process like?
I chain-smoke cigarettes and make sure I’m outside. If not that, then at least somewhere with windows. If I can’t see any light, I can’t write.
What’s your recording process like?
It’s tricky. Lately, I’ll record a ton of demos. If I think one is strong enough, I’ll finish it. Sometimes it takes a few hours to finish a song, sometimes a few months.
What are some of the things you talked about on your latest EP?
I discussed a few things on Tryna Get Home. I talked about the lack of effort I felt those who were once my idols have been putting into their craft. I talked about being a high school drop out, my fear of airplanes, and my luck with relationships.
What’s inspiring you this time around on your new song “Vows?”
My imagination is what’s inspiring me these days. I normally create music that describes my reality, but doing that I tend to find myself in a dark place. A place that’s not healthy for me. “Vows” was made of pure imagination. When I heard the beat, I instantly thought of a movie. So, I wanted to paint a picture of what I saw when I heard it. I saw a comedy/love story. Almost similar to a Tyler Perry movie. No, I don’t watch Tyler Perry movies [laughs].
What do you love about the music industry right now?
Well, I think the fact that people are finally starting to accept all genres, included blended genres, is awesome. Consumers are starting to understand the concept of there’s no right or wrong way of creating music. I think being in one genre puts the artist in a box.
What do you hate about the music industry right now?
The majority of it does not sound good. I feel like some artists depend on the production so much that they ruin a good beat. Also, the political side of things… but it’s not too bad [laughs].
If you could make a song with any living artist, who would that be and why?
Of course, it would be Kid Cudi. That guy is my hometown hero. He showed me fear doesn’t exist, and that coming from Cleveland, I can do anything in the world .
What about a dead artist?
Bankroll Fresh. That guy was a real one. He had flows for days.
Do you look up to anyone in music?
Not at the moment. I respect everyone, though. The last person I looked up to was Bankroll Fresh.
What are your thoughts on Atlanta’s music scene today?
The music scene in Atlanta is cool. A lot of greats are established here. It has so many different sounds from all across the world in one place. It’s awesome but it’s like candy. It’s really, really good – but too much is bad for you.
How does being in Atlanta influence your music?
Since I feel ATL is the heart of music right now, being here helps because I literally can see everything happening before it happens. Seeing that helps me reflect on what I’m doing, right and wrong. Plus, with everyone moving here and bringing their culture, I feel like I’m traveling in a way.
Is it true you used to be roommates with 6LACK?
What’s your relationship like with 6LACK?
That’s my dawg. We talk from time to time. He inspires the hell out of me. Seeing him do everything that I heard him say he was going to do is amazing but I’m not surprised — that guy is one of the realest in the game.
If you had to pick one — Cleveland or Atlanta?
I can’t do that. I get my hunger from Cleveland and my inspiration from Atlanta. I’ll say, though, they both have their pros and cons.
What can we expect from you this year?
You can expect a ton of new music all year and my album later. By 2018, you’ll know NicX. It’ll be a hell of a ride.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
Before I made music, I was a rebellious kid with a skateboard, but I knew I wouldn’t go pro so I felt like I was wasting my time. I would probably be out somewhere selling something. That could be good or bad. I have no idea.
What do you bring to your live shows?
A lot of energy and emotion. I try to make sure the fans leave with something. It can be an image in their head, a connection, or even merchandise.
If your music could score any movie or television show, what would it be?
The Boondocks. Some days, I want to save the world like Huey. Some days, I want to sabotage it like Riley.
What’s your latest memory of music?
Listening to one of my old songs, saying, “Damn. I’ve gotten so much better.”