Nicki Knightz’s latest EP actually came out in May 2020, and I hate to say it, but I’m a little late to the party in discovering her. She’s been on the London scene for over four years and has two stunningly good projects under her name as a solo artist: ‘HATE’ – released in 2018, and her most recent offering ‘For the Uninformed’ (2020). Made as part of the creative double ‘The Knighthood Society’ with her good friend, producer, and fellow artist Henny Knightz, she’s steadily risen in popularity as part of the “illest thing to come out of Hackney since the Dalston mural”.
Having listened to the fruits of their creative synthesis I can’t help but agree – undeniably, they’re some of the freshest talent to come out of Hackney. Henny Knightz’ capacity to generate a clean beat using 808’s, melancholy and superb instrumentals – matched with Nicki’s unapologetic ability for storytelling – culminates into something that unequivocally stands out.
Nicki’s skill in using her personal experience to elucidate wider issues in society is particularly special, an effortless expression of heartfelt and hard hitting. ‘For the Uninformed’ demonstrates her aptitude for rap through exploring her identity as mixed-race with poise and nuance. Ultimately, the outcome is refined, punchy and poetic.
During a pause in our schedules, and through quickly eliminating video-call as a form of communication (we both share a strong dislike for the medium) we found time to talk on the phone. After five minutes of technical difficulties – and Nicki kindly telling me not to worry – we got down to talking about creativity in lockdown, her most recent EP, and her hopes for 2021.
How’s Lockdown number 3 treating you?
It’s been calm – I’ve had a lot of time to make tunes. Henny’s got his own studio at his house so we’ve just been recording there.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
A variety to be honest. Initially it was like old school ’90s hip-hop: My brother banged out a lot of Biggie Smalls in the house – that kind of vibe. Then, I got into Channel U [grime music channel in the 2000’s]. Though, my first memories of music are Lady Sovereign, N-Dubz… now, it’s more the underground scene in London and mixed with American Artists – J Cole, Young M.A.
How has lockdown been for your creativity?
So the first one was a bit depressing obviously – I was working on ‘For the Uniformed’ and I had all these ideas to get videos and for the press releases and it kind of went out of the window. I had to just pick up disposable cameras, shoot these promo videos on my iPhone, find out how to edit them – hella DIY. From the first Lockdown it’s got better.
How would you say this EP differs from HATE (2018)?
This EP is more focussed on one said topic I suppose –my story, it’s more central. Before I created it, I was speaking to Henny and he said ‘What do you want to get across on the next project?’ And I was like ‘I want to tell the story of what it’s like being mixed race’.
I want to tell the story of what it’s like being mixed race.
Initially, it was supposed to be a really long project but time was going so fast and I was just like – fuck it I’m just going to release 3 tracks and push it out, because I feel like it’s been so long since I released something. It wasn’t even intentional – one song for my mum, one song for my dad, and one song for the both of them. The idea was just to talk about family life and where I’m from.
How do you feel about that now?
I’m still learning to be honest – this was the beginning of me trying to figure it out. I’m not really in touch with my Black side like that. The majority [of my Nigerian heritage] has been learned from my friends. My parents both came to London before I was born – and I’ve been in Hackney all my life.
What was it like growing up in London?
Secondary school – it either makes or breaks you – bullying – exploring sexuality – all that kind of shit. It made me anxious.
Talk to me about the Knighthood Society –how did it start?
[Henny and I] went to the same schools when we were younger but we didn’t speak, because he’s two years older than me. He left secondary school and we both had each other’s BB pins. He had this status up saying ‘Writing a song’. We messaged and he asked me if I wanted to make a song with him – I had no sense of belonging at that point so when he came to me with that, I was like ‘yes’. I was thinking, like – what? I could be a part of this. Months after I started doing small sessions at his – he’s my best friend now.
Congratulations on your most recent video release 1964 (Howlett Drive). How do you visualise your music into the videos? What’s the process?
Sau Ali will already have a rough concept and we’ll work together. One thing that I like is to ask what the colour palette is and styling. I’ve always picked the outfits. I love doing that – getting a particular item of clothing to go with the videos. Like, India – Arie was very 90s inspired. I always have a big part in terms of the styling. I do all the styling for Henny’s videos too.
So you do a lot of it yourself – how’d you find that?
Sometimes it can become like [sighs] – there’s so many things to do I don’t even know where to start. Before coronavirus I was full time working and making music, recording it, emailing when the music was out. I guess that’s what it means to be independent. It comes with its issues but in future it should be beneficial – I won’t have a middle man.
What are you focusing on for 2021?
I’m writing a new project, more videos. I’m just really trying to blow it out of the park this year in terms of quality and sound. I just want everything to be bigger than before.
What do you think about the world at the moment? From the perspective of an artist?
I’m one of those people with an addictive personality – I’ll go and check how many people have died from coronavirus daily. I can’t stop myself. I don’t know why, but it helps me to feel more in control. But at the same time, I’m so… almost desensitized. I just tunnel vision: I know what’s happening but I don’t let it affect my world. I create this world with my friends, my people and ignore what’s going on outside of that. It sounds so selfish, but I swear that’s where depression comes from – focussing too much on external factors outside your control.
I create this world with my friends, my people, and ignore what’s going on outside of that.
Have you had any difficulties with mental health yourself?
I suffer with social anxiety – back in the day it was depression. But I feel out of that now. It’s just the more social aspect of it – for introverts this is a crazy time because when things do go back to normal, they’re going to be so overwhelmed. All this time inside, and then they’ll have to go back out – it’s a bit mad.
Lastly, what would you say to people starting out?
Be yourself, don’t try to be what people want. Just be authentic. By being yourself you can’t sacrifice your art to fit what people want. Don’t tarnish what it is that you want to bring.
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