DX's monthly column catches up with Quite Nyce & Seek, whose RADIx group is in the lab with Statik Selektah, and Portland's Cool Nutz, who's worked with Living Legends and E-40 alike.
Life has a way of providing a path for us, but it never ceases to prove that we can create our own paths just as well. For two randomly selected roommates, it seems life had a set-up plan. Quite Nyce and SEEK were united in this manner, arbitrarily, by chance. The path was provided. While a strong bond formed, forged together by a mutual passion for Hip Hop, it’s now clear that the road would become far from smooth.
After undergoing years in the underground, SEEK and Nyce are now armed with their latest secret weapon, beats by famed Showoff Records CEO, Statik Selektah. With a newer sound, the two seem revitalized, poised to create their own path and boast that, “Anything’s possible.”
Recently, SEEK and Nyce spoke with HipHopDX about their forthcoming project with Statik, what his production means to their sound and how they plan on channeling Kevin Garnet. They also talked about their goals, how things have changed, stayed the same and how traveling has allowed them to broaden their perspective of Hip Hop.
HipHopDX: You haven’t released an album since The Staple which was released in ‘06. What made you guys decide to reunite after that many years to release this new album?
Quite Nyce: We never separated really, like that. It wasn’t like, “We are reuniting.” We were doing solo stuff and touring between then and now. It was just a natural growth in us as a group, individually and collectively.
SEEK: We wanted to make sure the next full length LP was something really special. We didn’t want to put anything out frivolously.
DX: This one seems special with Statik Selektah on the beats. What can be said about Statik’s production? How did he help you all elevate your game for this album?
SEEK: [Statik Selektah is] just a great producer. Watching him work is incredible. He’s so fast with making beats and engineering. He mixes your vocals right on the spot. He pushed us to elevate our writing and to write quicker and better.
Quite Nyce: When you get in a session with him, you joke around a little bit in the beginning but once you start recording, it’s all business. He’s trying to get the best out of you and he’s trying to get the best project. Going with this album, where we dreamed of taking this album, he’s actually making it a reality. We just started with Statik with one song. From then, we was just like, “We might as well do a whole album like this.” There’s no other producers we’ve ever worked with that could do anything that he can do, especially that fast. We did the album so quick and it came out like a classic.
DX: Would you say that’s the biggest difference, that you recorded it quicker? Did that add a different element to the music?
Quite Nyce: I think it’s the element of Statik’s beats. That was always one of the knocks against us. It was like, “They’re dope. They can spit and flow but the beats? Eh.” Now, the flows are crazy, concepts are crazy and the beats are right there. This is an undeniable project.
SEEK: We never got to work with a producer the way we worked with Statik, as far as recording with him. He made all the beats, too. So, it added another element because it was just one producer doing everything.
Quite Nyce: Another thing I want to add is that these beats were made for us. About 70% of these beats were made on the spot. It’s not like he had a stash where we picked the best beats or whatever. We actually made the beats together in the studio.
DX: People started to see this chemistry in “The Return,” which was a great single. I wanted to ask, how does one harness their inner Garnett?
Quite Nyce: [Laughs] That’s a great question. I mean, if you look at Kevin Garnett’s career, he was always like a stand-out player on a mediocre team. He had a couple good years with Stephon [Marbury] but he had a bunch of misfortune. When he finally got that ring, that was the inner Garnett coming out. That was all the years that he was down [when he said,] “Anything’s possible!” You can kind of compare that to Radix. It’s kind of a parallel. All these years in the game with some, not mediocre beats, but not Statik beats, I feel like we’re getting to that championship ring, with the notoriety we definitely deserve. Ultimately, we will get that championship ring.
DX: I read that you two met in college. What were you guys studying then and how have those dreams changed or not changed since those days?
SEEK: We met as randomly selected college roommates. I was studying communications. I actually did Radix for my internship at the end, to graduate. I got it approved. So, that was always on my mind. As far as my dreams, I always had the same dream, to make it in music. Since then, that was seven years ago, we’ve been doing it. Hopefully we can get to where we want to be eventually. I don’t think my dream changed necessarily. I still have the same dream; just fighting to get there.
Quite Nyce: Yeah, I studied Sociology and Criminal Justice. I’ve always been a talker and networker but I think we’ve attained a lot of our dreams first since we set out so I think we’ve had to set our dreams higher. At the end of the day, our main dream has always been to put out quality music for the world. Whatever comes from that, comes from that. We definitely have done a lot considering it has been mainly us and couple people around us. We’ve been to over 20 countries and done shows in front of thousands and thousands of people.
DX: For a group that has traveled the globe, what is the biggest difference between Hip Hop in the states and Hip Hop everywhere else?
Quite Nyce: From my personal opinion, I might catch flack for it but I think that everywhere else, they appreciate the art instead of the name. They don’t really care who you are as long as you rock it. In the States, you gotta have features with Drake and [Dr.] Dre doing the beat for people to pay attention. Overseas, it’s just like, “I like the way they rocked that show. I’ma go support them.” It’s not about the name.
SEEK: I agree. We toured with Das EFX and the response to them was so incredible. So many people came out to see those guys. If they did the same route in the States, it probably wouldn’t be that way. That’s the best comparison I could make…We definitely studied them. I learned the most from them.
Quite Nyce: Yeah, that was definitely our biggest tour experience. They taught us a lot about the game and I just have a lot of respect those guys as far as their legendary status, which I would say is well deserved. A lot of people might not hold them to that status, but I do.
On his boldly titled Incredible album, Cool Nutz firmly states that he can rock with squares and rock with G’s equally. Not for nothing, he lives up to some of that by having an array of topics ranging from suicidal thoughts to gritty descriptions about depression and the drug game. He also manages to create a diverse portfolio by rhyming over varied beats, never succumbing to monotonous instrumental selections other artists fall victim to far too often.
Squares may enjoy him but he’s not fronting about the street life. In this interview with HipHopDX, Cool Nutz opened up about losing family members and close friends to violence. Anyone who’s gone through a similar painful struggle can relate. This may explain why this vet has been doing it successfully for years as one of Portland’s most highlighted acts. He brings others in and doesn’t alienate.
Cool Nutz also spoke with us about his varied subject matter and beat selection, boasting that he’s proud to not fit into any box. He also shared more about his mother, her struggles and how they helped shape him. He candidly spoke about how darkness creeps into our lives and how important it is for him to find happiness. Something else stood out while speaking with Cool Nutz. He was incredibly open to sharing his knowledge with others. Potential up-and-coming musicians can learn from his lessons about the record industry and he isn’t afraid to share how all of his experiences have allowed him to thrive independently for years. He’s cool with sharing all of this, with squares and G’s alike.
HipHopDX: “Momma” is one of the more touching tracks on the album. Can you explain why it was so important to give that love to mom? What was the most important lesson you learned from her?
Cool Nutz: Well, first and foremost, I just wanted to take a different approach to the album as a whole. The artists that I have with me are two cats that I always work with. We always, kind of, get stuck doing certain kinds of songs so when I was putting this album together, I wanted to do something different, something people wouldn’t expect from them or me. All of us are close to our mothers so I figured a song about my mother would be good. The biggest thing from my momma was, she had me when she was 15. She was out in the streets and I ended up living with my grandparents and then as she got older, she turned her life around, got into the church and changed her whole life and became an example to me of, you know, you could go through a lot of stuff but then also pull it together and get on the right track and set a positive example to me, my brother, my sister with the change she went through and the struggles she went through.
DX: That song stood out. “Darkness” is also a track that struck me. “So many nights, so many cold nights…Soul searching, I was looking for the light. Fighting with my demons, hating myself…” What truly inspired that song?
Cool Nutz: As you get older, man, you start understanding that when you actually have a voice with your music, for me being one of the prominent artists in the Northwest…Sometimes you discount what your voice can do or the impact or influence that you have. When you go back and look at some of the stuff you’ve been doing or some of the music you’ve been doing or even how you were living, you start to become more accountable because you can influence people. There’s people looking at you, whether it be from a musical standpoint or inspirational standpoint. I think sometimes, we as artists don’t take into account…Everything from the gangs, the killing and the drugs…Even if we were living and doing that, there’s different ways to tell your story other than glamorizing it. There’s better ways to teach somebody or to tell somebody, “This is my story and this is what I had to endure.” That line, sometimes going back and thinking about some of the stuff that you might say in the songs or stuff you’ve done in life, you think you’re fighting with your demons, like, “I lived this way and to some people that’s a glamorous lifestyle.” Some people think backwards. You’re always fighting with yourself to keep yourself in the right frame of mind. Music is an extension of me. My music should be a portrait of my life and who I want to be.
DX: Going along with that, you talk about the pursuit of happiness on this album. What has been the key for you in that pursuit?
Cool Nutz: Coming form an urban environment where you have gangs, drugs, guns and…My brother got killed, my best friend got killed, my cousins done been killed…So it’s just like, knowing that there’s nights when we’ve been out going to the club or something and just dumb shit happens, you sometimes should feel lucky that you made it home. For me, being happy is like not worrying about someone wanting to kill me, not worrying about going to jail or not getting a job because you a felon. My pursuit of happiness is just living and being able to live a normal lifestyle and not having to look over your shoulder. There are so many things in Hip Hop that are looked at as being cool. When did that become a normal lifestyle? At 16 and 17, when was it normal for cats to have to worry about leaving their house with a gun or certain things that we portray in our lives that are negative? A normal lifestyle is not growing up and your brother getting killed or your best friend that you grew up with getting killed. It might have been like they died from a car accident driving drunk from a party. That’s more normal than some of the things we look at in music and urban culture. For me, happiness is like, as I get older, just being able to go out the house not worrying about where you going, what you doing on a daily basis. Even through our music, if you get affiliated with certain things, certain people won’t buy your music because of that. That is a part of life that you think about and you say, “Man, some of these things that we’ve been living through or being a part of is not always correct.” You just want to be normal, man. Just an average Joe walking down the street, you see the guy who goes to the grocery store to get eggs, he’s going home to cut his yard. He doesn’t care who drives by and sees him cutting his yard. He can go to whatever place he wants to and have a drink, take his woman wherever and just be happy.
DX: I see. Now, you're quite versatile, where you rock with squares and you can work with the G’s…How has that versatility allowed you to reach various different types of people?
Cool Nutz: [Laughs] Yeah, I think because, like, for me, I’m a little older. I grew up when Hip Hop was real. If you had [albums by] Ice-T, you had Rakim’s record [too]. If you had Eazy-E’s record, you had Poor Righteous Teachers. If you had Public Enemy, you had King Tee. For me, I’ve always just loved Hip Hop. My style of music is more like [Tha] Dogg Pound’s first album [Dogg Food]. It was dope rhyming and dope Hip Hop but it was still street. It represented the west coast but it was still something you had to appreciate because Kurupt was one of the dopest emcees. For me, I never wanted to be limited by the type of music I made but I wanted to be relevant while still being me. I can go rock with the Living Legends, Grouch and Ghostface [Killah] and then I can go rock with E-40 and The Game, Kid Cudi or whoever else and still be relevant and not be looked at as, “This don’t fit.” That’s always kept me in a position where no matter what the occasion was, I could always perform and I could always craft my set or give songs that would fit this situation or compilation or mixtape or whatever. I feel like that versatility always kept me from being boxed in. I could do a Hip Hop show or so called “gangsta rap” show or a backpack show and people will still say, “This dude is dope!”
DX: You’ve seen the highs and lows of this industry. How have the obstacles allowed you to move through this business successfully?
Cool Nutz: Man, just seeing the dirty side of the record business like going into a record deal and seeing all this love that you get from the label. “Yo, you’re the hottest thing! We’re going to blow you up! We’re shooting a video!” And then, seeing that same love turn into just fake love, I guess you could call it. Then, seeing those same people even work to ruin your career, those same people not take into consideration that this is your livelihood. Every time I got out of a record deal, I went and put out my own records and kept pushing to have success through that. There’s a few things. The industry taught me how to step up my business and perfect what I do and see it from a bigger level, and be able to sit down with a vice president at Universal or sit down with a Craig Kallman, who’s the [Chairman and CEO] of Atlantic. I can sit down with them and know that I’m a good enough artist to where these people want to meet with me. They respect what I do. I’m talented enough to have them come offer me a record deal or give me a check. Also, when we signed with Universal, that was my first time going to New York. Going to New York opened my mind to a whole ‘nother side of Hip Hop. Coming from the west coast, we think, “That’s that east coast shit!” We still listen to it but it’s still like, “I’m from the west coast.” But going to New York allowed me to see why Jay-Z and Nas rhyme the way they rhyme. Being in the subway, smelling the piss in the subway and seeing how the people in New York are completely different from people on the west coast. All of these things, through experiences in the record business, basically gave me a better perception of what I needed to do and how I needed to treat the business. Also, it made me understand the different tiers of who’s who and what’s what, when you’re somebody and where you’re not somebody. I can be a big fish in the northwest and then I can go to Miami and Nelly walks in and you’re nothing. You know what I’m saying? It gives you a better idea that you’ve got work to do. There are so many other levels we need to step up to. There’s so much more out there. There’s so much money being made. There’s so much opportunity. But then, at the same time, there’s so many pitfalls and downfalls to this game. I’m not going to lie. At one point during my record career, going through these situations with these labels, basically made me feel like I didn’t even want to do music no more after that shit. It was like, “This is a despicable game.” At least somebody in the streets, most of the time, will just straight up tell you in your face, versus dealing with somebody on a record label that’s lying to you. “We gon’ shoot this video! Y’all gon’ blow up! It’s y’all time to shine!” Then, going to the meeting for your record and them slitting your throat. You know what I’m saying?
DX: That’s knowledge people need to learn from.
Cool Nutz: That’s the thing, man. Even on this Incredible record, like I say, “We’ve been dropped from some deals.” I’ma tell it like it is. I’m not gonna hold that part of it back because like me and my homie say, “You don’t only toast when you’re winning; you toast to your shortcomings, too.” [Laughs]