With a conceptual and innovative approach to his music, Ipswich's Nee-Hi has made a considerable impression on the scene since the release of his much-acclaimed, 'Houston, We Have An L.P' back in December. Recording with Danny C at the renowned AIM Studios and collaborating with the likes of P-Money and Sketchman alongside a whole host of Ipswich-based emcee and production talent, his track 'Slow Down' was played by Target as part of 1Xtra's '100% Homegrown' series despite never actually being released. Now back with his second project in a little over four months and not afraid to speak his mind, I caught up with him on everything from 'Champagne Dance' to looking like Chipmunk:
"Since June last year I've been working with Danny C at AIM and managed to get a 10-track LP recorded there with him, all done independently. Through him I managed to meet loads of other like minded artists on a similar wavelength and in a similar position to me with regards to their standing in the industry. I met Sketchman through Danny who said I should get in touch and he's honestly one of the hardest working people I've ever met - he shoots all his own stuff and works so hard for his music. We shot a video for my track, 'Nice Knowing You' and he edited the whole thing himself - that sort of dedication has just gotta be admired. I met a producer called Mr Noisy through Sketch too and he's got a beat on my new EP, 'Nobody Cares About The Artist - The Best You've Never Heard Of'. I was also fortunate enough to meet P-Money through Danny and managed to get him on my track, 'Open Eyes' , which has since gone on to get quite a bit of play on Rinse and done really well on YouTube.
Before I'd actually released 'Houston, We Have An LP' back in December, I'd already started working on the next project because I was in the creative zone at the time - I was writing loads and had tracks everywhere but eventually got it all recorded to form my second project, 'Nobody Cares About The Artist: The Best You've Never Heard Of' which I released via my website on April 8th. It seems to be doing okay so far, I've had a good amount of downloads and I managed to shoot 3 videos with a little production team I put together. We shot them for my Mike Lowery freestyle, 'Bagel' and 'Black Wallabees and a Blazer' and they were all a laugh to do - I like that independent feeling, being able to do exactly what you want creatively is quite liberating. Music really is a hard-arsed graft though, especially for independent artists - the time and money that goes into just getting your music made, let alone distributed, is incredible. It really is an investment in your future that you hope will pay off so it's just a case of maintaining that drive.
With regards to the LP, I just fancied using something different. Nobody cares for mixtapes really and the projects were too long to be called EPs so I thought I'd go for LP, which is quite a dated term but it kinda makes me think of vinyl! I don't really care for what people have to say about it either so I'm sticking with it. 'The Best You've Never Heard Of' is one hundred percent Grime as opposed to 'Houston, We Have An LP' which was a bit more experimental - I still get the Chipmunk lookalike stuff a lot though but I think I've managed to do every beat justice. My favourite track is called 'If I'm not Grime' and I think it''ll touch a few nerves!"
Having started out putting mixtapes together and selling them on the streets of Ipswich for a couple of quid, it was seeing Pay As U Go's video for 'Champagne Dance' that first captured Nee-Hi's creative imagination:
"I remember catching it on TV and just thinking, 'wow'! My sister was always up on new music at the time and knew the Garage/Grime scene quite well so she got me interested initially. I remember Wiley specifically - his movements, his presence and his energy, everything about him just made me think, 'rahh I wanna be doing what he's doing'! InItially, I wanted to deejay so I bought decks and used to buy loads of Garage vinyl from a record shop in Ipswich. I bought loads of stuff by Sticky and used to rinse out 'Golly Gosh' (laughs) and everything was done purely for the love of the music back then.
From there, it wasn't until I heard a Talib Kweli tune on MTV Base that I thought about taking emceeing seriously so when I first started out, I was making a lot of Hip-Hop which actually helped me to structure my lyrics. Grime's a lot more sporadic - I had 8 bars and 16 bars just filling up page after page of my lyric book with no real cohesion but as I got older I started to blend the two styles together. I eventually bought myself a proper microphone and downloaded Cubase and before long I was making and recording my own music, which I'd then try and sell around Ipswich. The difference back then was that people actually listened to independent stuff because there wasn't much of it about - me and my crew at the time, 'Ear To The Street', were one of the first to be putting music out in Ipswich I think! They were the good old days really - we just made music for the love of making music and any money we made would just go straight back into making the next mixtape or whatever. I hope I never lose that love for making music - I don't want to be a slave to money or a label, I just want to carry on making the stuff I love. I think the day I can't do that will be the day I'll stop."
Whilst some would argue that the current Grime scene is the strongest it's been for years, Nee-Hi has a very different take on where it's headed:
"Ah I say it's headed for the bin (laughs) - people say it's the strongest its been because Grime artists are in the charts which is cool for them, but what about the rest of us? There's not a lot of room for new talent to come through in all honesty. It's made out to be such an independent genre but without partnerships and distribution deals and knowing the right people, you don't really get listened to, regardless of however good or bad you are. Different approaches to Grime aren't really widely embraced either and I struggle with that attitude. Coming from outside of London, I've got a different take on things naturally but that doesn't mean I can't make Grime! Besides that, the instrumental stuff seems to be doing well at the moment, although the job of a producer is a lot harder now because there's so much competition. I'm a big fan of Relentless who made the 'Bagel' instrumental - its got a nice bounce to it and it's just a slight twist on the standard Grime beat you know? I like Z-Dot too, he's doing really well with his stuff at the moment and I was pleased he won that OMA award. There's a young guy called Lolingokid who's got a beat on 'The Best You've Never Heard Of' and he's mad talented - he's only 16 or something and it won't mean a lot to many people but I definitely co-sign him! Can't forget Porchy either - he's done a lot for me and I'm glad Sketchman's got him on board with a few things too! I guess anybody making consistently good music will always catch my eye - anybody who thinks they can help me out with some new stuff then gimme a shout!"
As an artist, Nee-Hi tends to defy what it's expected of your average Grime emcee and although he struggles to define his sound outright, fitting in is the last thing on his mind:
"'Houston, We Have An LP" touched on a few things but it was the first project I'd put together in a proper studio and I was just writing stuff that I'd want to listen to. A friend of mine always says that you should make what you'd want to hear and that's essentially what I did. I guess I like the futuristic sound and I like weird bass sounds - it all tends to lead me to structure things differently. For example, I've just recorded a track called 'Me, Myself and Hi' which has no real chorus and I managed to wrap it in one take. I guess some people take to difference and some people are a bit perplexed by it so I leave people to form their own opinions. I don't take Grime too seriously either, I like to have fun with it and keep it light-hearted but at the same time I think it's stuff people can still relate to. Making music you love doesn't always have to be serious. As for fitting in...fuck fitting in, what's the point?"
With such an individual take on Grime, it's perhaps no surprise that Nee-Hi is an advocate of the current variation and diversity of sounds in contemporary electronic music:
"Grime used to be Grime straight up, that was it. Now I find it hard to distinguish Grime from other genres, how do you define it? A lot of stuff is still made at 140 but there's a whole host of new sounds and influences coming into productions now. I guess that's why I hate it when people say, 'that's not Grime', because you can't pigeon-hole the sound anymore - Grime's evolving regardless of whether people see that or not. That's not to say people don't stick to the more familiar Grime sound but there's elements of everything in some new productions. Some Grime beats sound like they've been made by MGMT or Hot Chip, it's mad! Where do you put that sound? Is it Pop at 140? Is It Grime? Whatever you define it as, it's definitely good to see such variation in the sound."
Two projects down and with lots of new material in the pipeline, Nee-Hi is aiming to go from strength to strength in 2011:
"I'm currently working on a new project at the moment which could be another LP or even an album, who really knows! It's very much me as an artist though - I feel like I should have put a few tracks from the Houston LP on this one because I think I released them a bit too early without a proper introduction! In all seriousness though, it's me as a person - my good days, my bad days, my dark days. It's gonna be a real, fucked up, heartfelt project and I'm looking forward to putting it all together. I've got quite a few shows coming in at the moment too which I'm enjoying. I'm actually in talks with a club chain at the moment about performing at various spots over the UK so hopefully that'll come off. Working on getting the fan base established is definitely a big focus for me this year too - I just want to share my music with as many people as possible. Hopefully I can be lucky enough to do that for as long as I can. There's a three-day tour down in Cornwall lined up in July too - I'm gonna be supporting a band from Ipswich called 'Third Eye' which should be dope. I just wanna get plenty of surfing in if I'm honest (laughs). The video shoots are carrying on too even though I hate doing them - people like putting a face to a name so they're important. I'm just basically out here living life, working hard and enjoying my music!"
"Ahhhh and before I forget, massive shout out to GrimeTime Promotions who've repped me to the fullest over the past few months. A lot of people have heard my music through the YouTube channel so mad respect is due!"
Everything else Nee-Hi (including download links for 'Houston, We Have An LP' and new project, 'Nobody Cares About The Artist: The Best You've Never Heard Of': http://www.thisisneehi.com/