If you say the words “hip hop” and “icon” to any South Asian, I think the image and name that will come to mind will be that of Nivla. Nivla grew up in White Plains, NY, which is oft considered the Hip Hop capital of the world. Growing up, he faced racism and harassment as his family was the only ‘brown’ family in the city for a long time. So, he turned to music to vent and express his feelings. Music allowed him to overcome the negativity, and ever since his debut in 2007, music has only brought him positive energy. One of the moments in his career that made him a household name in the USA was his being a top 3 finalist in Doritos Crash the Superbowl 2008 competition. It landed him a deal with Interscope/Universal Records for lead single, “Be Easy (Koi Naa)”. Read on below for my interview with this hip hop superstar!
I started writing my own music in High School, but started taking music more seriously after getting out of college. With my degree as my backup plan, I decided to go for it, and push as far as I can in the music industry.
UA: What is one of your favorite moments on stage, since you entered the industry?
I’ve had so many great moments on stage, but one of my greatest was rocking a packed crowd at Webster Hall with P. Oberoi. This was back when DJ Sharad threw those college parties. We just kilt it and it felt great to have everybody in the crowd “wilin’ out” to us !
UA: Are you formally trained in music, or would you say your talent is more natural and a “god-gift”?
No, not formally trained at all. I took a few singing lessons and guitar lessons, but other than that, it’s just been about writing rhymes. I’ve exercised my ability to put words together and make things rhyme which normally wouldn’t. I also built on my story writing kills when it came to some songs such as “Never Love Again.”
UA: If you could have a “rap-off” against any artist, who would you pick? What would you say is unique about your rap-style that would make you win?
Haha. I don’t think I’d have a rap-off with anybody. I was never the confrontational type of artist. When artists came at me in the past, I’d just blow them off like “for real dude, use your energy to perfect your craft, not try to hurt mine…cuz it ain’t gonna work.”
I think what separates me from many artists is my versatility. I rap in so many different ways on records. I can story tell. I can be lyrical or keep it commercial. I pretty much can do it all, at least I think so.
UA: A few years back, Eminem transitioned to the big screen with “8 Mile”, a rap-based movie. If you could do the same, would you want the movie to be rap-based too? Who would you want as your female lead (besides me, haha!)? 😉
I would love to do a rap based movie. I always thought about doing a story loosely based on my life. It would have so many angles, from love, family and pursuing a dream. My struggle of course would be different from Eminem’s. Two totally different upbringings. But I think I’d have alot of interesting things to bring up.
Well, of course, but if you weren’t available to be the lead :), I guess I’d just have to stick with Bipasha as my second choice.
UA: I first heard one of your songs when you made the “Nach Le” mix of Timbaland’s “The Way I Are.” The song was good in it’s original format, but your mix brought it to a whole different level! Do you know if Timbaland has heard the mix yet? If you could collaborate with him on a track, would you?
I don’t know if it ever got to Timbo. That would be great if it did. I do know that it got massive views on YouTube and really took me and P. Oberoi another level up in the urban desi game! Hell Yeah I’d love to work with Timbo. I respect that he was one of the first producers to work with Desi Influenced samples. I think we would make some hits together!
UA: There aren’t too many South Asian rappers, but the genre seems to be growing in popularity. What would you say accounts for this trend?
I actually think the game is saturated with South Asian Rappers. However, very few worth listening too. I remember in like 2005 you’d be able to count on one hand, the amount of South Asian rappers, but now I hear of so many.
I think that it’s a growing genre because Hip Hop has become so universal. For example, now you hear it mix all the time with Euro Pop. It came a long way from that gritty NYC sound I loved. Being universal allows each artist to stamp their own type of style on it.
Also, with the advancement of technology, all you need is a mic and a working computer to make a quality song. Before, many people would hit the studio to get that sound. Haha I recall recording a few songs in my old manager’s kitchen! But he was great at mixing it, so the end result was a great sounding product.
UA: You’ve been in the industry for a few years now. Do you see any changes? Has it gotten harder or easier to break into the industry? Also, do you think the Non-Indian community is more accepting now of South Asians in the music industry?
Great Question! I see many changes now. For one thing, as I spoke above, I think technology has really stepped its game up and has made artists promotional abilities much more efficient. With Social Media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, any artist can get his music to the masses.
However, the bad side to it is that there are so many artists that flood the market with music not worth listening to. When 8 out of every 10 South Asian rappers are bad, people are less prone to listen to the good ones, because now they’ve started summing them all up into one big pile of the same thing.
I really think the Non-Indians accepting us has improved. I have people who are non-Indian listen to my music as they would anyone else in American mainstream Hip Hop. However the majority of my fan base I would say is still Desi. I think it’s going to take that one South Asian rap “savior” to break into Hip Hop, like Jay Sean did for R&B, and it’ll open the flood gates for other Desi Rappers to shine.
UA: Your new song, “Journey” has a unique blend of hip hop and malayalam. How did you come up with this interesting concept and how did the collaboration with AJ Nair come about? Is he new to the industry?
AJ Nair tweeted me on Twitter with a link to check out his “Malayalam Rap.” The second I saw that, I thought “oh boy..” because I’ve heard people attempt to rap in Malayalam before, and lets just say, it was pretty bad. But as always, I want to give everything I hear an equal chance, so I took a listen and was really impressed with what I heard. Not only with his rapping, but his singing is just as impressive. I mean the kid can reallyyy sing! So I wrote back telling him we had to do a Stateside remix which would bridge the gap between US/UK. It also helps promote ourselves to each others fan-base. He seems relatively new to the industry, but his talent will quickly catch on for sure!
It was also great because I honestly think its one of few times I collaborated with another Malu Hip Hop Artist, so it was big for the Malayalees.
To be honest, I am not sure if I want to release another Album. I think the way the industry works nowadays there is so much coming out that people’s attention spans are so short. If I dropped one mix-tape with 15 songs on it, I don’t think people would give all 15 songs the same attention as they would if I gave it to them a little at a time. I’m the type of artist who wants people to pay equal attention to all my music. If anything, I MAY drop something but it would be more of a recap of all my previous music with some additional songs.
I also have a video dropping within a few months for my song “Feet on the Ground” which I think may be controversial to some. Also looking to work with DJ Sharad for a remix to another record I have called “Till I’m Gone” so I’ll be looking forward to all these projects!
UA: What would you say are the three reasons why someone should listen to your music?
1.) I feel each record has a message and I try telling a story in each song.
2.) I think I’m one of the more honest artists you’ll meet. What you hear is what you get. If you really listen to all my music, you know my life for the most part.
3.) I think at the end of the day, whether you’re in a good mood or a bad mood, there is something for everyone in my music.
UA: Any other message you’d like to convey to our readers and your fans?
I would just like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout the years and let them know that they’re very much appreciated. Websites like UrbanAsian are what keeps our buzzes going. As an artist trying to make a living off his music, every word of encouragement counts. And in general, mannn life is short, live it to the fullest…Keep God First…and as I say in the beginning of one of my songs, “When you’re alive, live outside the box, cause you never know the day you’ll end up inside one.”
Thanks to the team at UrbanAsian.com for taking the time out to interview me! God Bless…