It’s rare, but every once in a while you come across true innovators. People who, whether on purpose or by pure coincidence, do something so out of the ordinary that they create a whole new way of thinking and understanding. They reinvent the way that people feel about something.
Truman Capote was one, Miles Davis was one, even Kanye West can be considered one. With their new album, James Kelly, Houston-based The Niceguys have the potential to become one, as well. Their new take on hip-hop has been getting positive vibes from nearly everyone that has heard them, and it truly separates them from everyone else out there. They’re hoping the positive response continues after people get a chance to hear their full-length debut.
How did you guys come together to form the group?
It was all at the University of Houston. On a friendship level, me and Candlestick, we knew each other before we knew Free and Christolph, and we were doing parties. I was emceeing the parties, and he was DJ’ing, so that worked well, but I wasn’t rapping yet, and my boy saw that I was writing because that was something that I took an interest in.
My boy Dallas Mike noticed, and he would make fun of me because he would be in 365, all the time and always be like what the f*** are you writing, and I would tell him I’m not really sure yet, but his cousin made beats, so he was like, “You should get down with him and put some of that dumb s*** to a beat,” and his cousin was Free, who is now one of the producers for The Niceguys.
So, I went to Free’s dorm, and Christolph was in the back while I was recording, and after that it was a rap. We did it a few more times, and they were like, “Let’s start The Niceguys,” which we didn’t have a name at the time, but that was the inception of it, and the idea was for us to make a mix tape, and somebody gave us the name. I don’t know who it was, but I hated it, and it stuck.
After that, I was like we need to add Candlestick because I had already been working with him and coming from New York and looking at groups like Run DMC and Salt n Peppa, you just need a DJ. So after that it was an official four-man group.
Do you think groups that are formed naturally like yourself are better off in the long run than groups that are put together by labels or managers?
I think with a little less experience I would have said the natural one is going to be better off and last longer, but now it’s the more prepared and the more professional one. I think that us coming together naturally is what the better thing is and is going to have the most endurance, but you can be the best of friends and not be professional and be prepared, and it wouldn’t matter.
The music industry is something where it’s good to have real ties and chemistry with people, but, like you said, these labels can put these groups together and have them last for years because of the nature of rap. It’s just not necessary, but all things being equal, it’s natural.
We don’t avoid it. If you’re going to bump heads, bumps heads. It’s how you patch things up. To try to avoid it, you just get repressed bullshit that’s going to come out later and probably with more grievous effects.
Don’t act like it’s supposed to be sweet all the time; don’t act like you’re supposed to agree all the time; don’t act like you have to walk on eggshells; none of that works because we’re friends, and it just doesn’t work. The best thing we can do is use our friendship.
Be honest with each other, but use our friendship to patch it up. You don’t only have your friends when it’s good. You have your friends when it’s bad, and I think that’s what a lot of people forget when it comes to the music and business dealings. Don’t let your friendship only hurt you. Let it help you and be the reason you can get past.
How would you describe your sound?
I think cohesion is a very big thing, and more variety is what’s happening on The James Kelley album. We’ve grown a lot. I think me being from New York and them being from the South and being able to produce without being a slave to their region produces one of the most well-rounded and hard-to-categorize sounds ever.
That’s the thing with journalists and people reviewing the CD. They love it, but they don’t know what to call it. We don’t even know what to call it, and we want to avoid giving it a corny fusion name. You have to be careful with those because some of them can come off sounding real wack, so we just leave it as it is.
The sound is definitely influenced by the South, and it’s definitely influenced by New York, and I think influenced in a way that people will appreciate and not just think they’re trying to put together a band sandwich. This is a good natural blend of uptown and down south.
Why pick the name James Kelley for the album?
James Kelley is a friend and also the President and Lead Engineer at the recording studio where we have been recording since the last album, and he’s been invaluable to our process and a great resource and a great friend. It’s like how else do you say thank you to somebody? Our work is our life and to dedicate a body of work that we’ve done to him is like one of the biggest thank yous we could give him.
That’s the type of group we are. We’re really big on friends, and we’ve been having the same friends, and our friends are a really big part of what we do also. Any show we do in Houston, you’re going to see a lot of our boys there. Not necessarily on stage, but just getting drunk and f*****d up and celebrating with us every chance that we got.
So, James Kelly is just another celebration of another great friend that we got and just our way of saying thank you.
Michael Mahon attended Clark Atlanta University, where he majored in journalism. He is a regular contributor to SoJones.com and has written for several other online and print publications, including Ballerstatus.com, Allhiphop.com, Creative Loafing Atlanta, and INsite Atlanta. Aside from writing, he is also a huge sports fan and film buff.