My buddy Pmang told me I needed to interview this rapper. Told me he was one of the most talented lyricists he’d ever heard.
NICE (a.k.a. Nyuanru), 20-years-old, born and raised on the streets of Providence, Rhode Island.
I was down but the problem was he didn’t have a computer or a phone. He’s so underground you barely see his Melkavine cap popping out of the ground. In a beaten up white Honda with creaky doors we drove around East and North Providence, checking his normal spots. My buddy hit up a few of his friends but no one could find him. Wasn’t around Providence College, nowhere near La Salle Academy, his old high school, not around the mall. So I thought it was pointless and I’d be going back to Connecticut. But Pmang had the idea of swinging around his house. I swear we graduated college.
From the first listen, NICE has this lyrical emphasis with a voice that echoes Common and Mos Def. Check out the rapid fire angst coming from his feature verse in the Afro-Americana centric track, “HEAV7N.”
But while there is a definite political punch to his lyrics and delivery, he has a Millennial vibe. Several artists these days talk about broad concepts or subject matter and just insert themselves like they’re playing Mad Libs. Like how Future harps on getting fucked up and the auto-tuned language of the short term high along with heavy machismo. Contrastly, NICE offers a deeply autobiographical tone.
On one line he’ll talk about how he hustles to keep the tracks coming, getting the tapes out there, and he’ll pivot the other way proclaim he has no idea what it all means, saying “Only Lord Knows.” It’s a new type of poetic storytelling that relies on how men are opening up about their emotional struggles. NICE is on that wave. But by no means is he soft.
We pulled up to a one floor house, looked like a three-bedroom made from light brick in a neighborhood built in the 70s that hadn’t changed much. Pmang blared on the horn and NICE popped his head out. He had a big smile and came roaring out.
He wore this black leather jacket with a hood and dark blue jeans. He was a bit confused to see me. Like he sort-of recognized me. Last time we met I was at an impromptu concert at a club in North Providence. Pmang and I were the only white people in attendance. Guess we stuck out. The sky was overcast and grey and gave the whole city a grit that wanted to shake your hand.
He was a little off-put with how eager I was to start, probably thinking who the hell is this guy. After I dropped how we’d met before, guy greeted me like an old friend.
NICE first dipped his toes in the game when he went with Pmang to a concert at Lupo’s, a staple of Providence music. “I didn’t really go to concerts because it’s weird for me,” NICE continued, “I’m always overanalyzing so I don’t really get to enjoy it. But, I was chilling with [Pmang] and my cousin called me right then and told me ‘yo I got two extra tickets for A$AP Ferg and YG you have to come.’ Pmang and I love Ferg so it was like Fate.” After that, he wanted to drop bars full time.
As we drove around, Nyuanru slightly rocked back and forth. He kept eye contact answering each question. Even when we passed Chad Brown Street, where you see flashing red and blue four days out of the week. Sirens blared as they sped past us but he was focused, he wanted to get his point across. But what was that internal spark?
“What really sparked it for me was that there really hasn’t been any major artists from Providence that have made much of an impact in a long time. I mean, I just found out the guy who did George Washington’s presidential portrait was from Rhode Island. Which isn’t bad at all but I can’t name anyone off the top of my head from Providence who’s had much of a cultural impact, especially when it comes to music. I want to be that guy.”
He started hanging around the rap scene, learning from them, getting close, dabbling in freestyles with his own personal approach. That propelled him to want to put Providence on the global scene.
His influences transcend generations of hip-hop because each source of inspiration centers around one thing, “Everyone I listen to like DMX, Eminem, Tupac and a whole bunch of other guys are more than music and they know that. It’s deeper than rap.”
NICE has this shade of the belligerent braggart similar to DMX because it’s essential for every rapper. But he weaves it so well with a polarizing commentary on race relations in tracks like “Go For Broke.”
Even the shape of his city has influenced his artistic development. Providence has its own type of strange. Everything is fifteen minutes from each other. Thayer Street by Brown University is full of restaurants, bars, and indie shops. And two blocks down you run into a collection of boarded up townhouses filled with squatters and hipsters who couldn’t make rent. It’s not like Chicago or New York with designated areas for certain demographics.
Providence is so small that the experiment of America as a melting pot came true, for good and bad. You could run into an investment banker and a clan of meth heads on the same street within seconds of each other.
With all these people on top of each other and the cross wiring of culture, race, and politics it’s no wonder Providence calls itself The Creative Capital. But hip-hop is just on the come up.
“And I’m feeling like the industry is looking for the next best ‘question mark.’ Where people are browsing through music and they see us they think ‘what is that?’ We have no choice but to be original because people like me don’t have connections”
Then Pmang chimed in, “Basically if you’re not authentic. You’re not fucking with us.” Nyuanru nodded his head like he just found the words he needed. He then continued talking about Providence as a city and what it has to offer. NICE wants to bring all the artistry he can into the limelight.
“I think we’re all at a point where if we want to go anywhere, we have to stand out. I mean we get boxed in with all the other scenes in New England like Boston and New York and that just sucks. It’s time we carve out our own piece.”
One of the ways NICE and those associated with Melkavine stand above the fray is the web-series Free Verse, which he hosts. A series where he meets up with local Providence rappers and spits acapella freestyle. No beat. No prompt. Just raw language.
“I think each of these guys have so much to offer from a cultural stance, they were bred from this city. We want people to be a part of Free Verse because they have a voice. Not because they’ve got buzz or making dozens of tracks. I want the originals.”
Not just for himself but everyone he can bring along. He wants to be that X-factor who will bring a whole new wave of artists to invade the airwaves, similar to Top Dawg and Kendrick Lamar with the renaissance of Compton rappers. We passed by a parking lot and NICE told us to turn left, some of his friends were chilling.
One of them was another local talent named Messy Tye. Wearing a green veteran’s jacket with a blue bandana and short cut dreads, Tye is a soft spoken and humble guy away from the mic. But you should see this guy spit. Glad I had space on my phone for this.
NICE and I leaned against Pmang’s white Honda as the sun went down. From the look on Messy’s face, he was reassured that he did what he loved right then and there. So I asked Nyuanru what was that one song or lyric or verse that made him decide to go all in with the hustle.
He rubbed his chin with both hands and thought hard, “It’s this track called ‘Movin’ On’. (that’s only a little taste) And honestly it wasn’t until I performed it that I knew what this track could actually do. Because, it was supposed to be a throwaway. Not really a throwaway…but a filler to prep for a larger project. Unintentionally, or at least more than I expected, I put my emotions, parts of my past, and things I’d been going through into that track.
NICE performed Movin’ On at the Providence Arts Festival a few months back and he was shocked to see “once the strings came in and the beat dropped there was this whole mixed crowd, mixed races, cultures, nationalities, orientations, genders, just bobbing their heads. I brought people together. That’s when I knew I had something to offer. That was the moment.”
We’d gotten to the apartment and were sitting on the couch playing Beerio Kart. A few of Messy’s friends tagged along for what was certain to be a wild night. NICE wasn’t drinking, just chilled and watched us get sloshed without a hint of judgment on his face.
Young Thug was bumping in the background. NICE nodded slowly, playing with his hands like he was on a switchboard. He was in a zone and I had one more question left. A question I already knew the answer to, kind of.
I asked what he thought separated Nyuanru from the rest of the come-ups. “Basically what I want to do with music is push culture and open minds because I think that is what everyone with a craft wants to do.”
He didn’t have a definite reason. And I think that’s really good. From what I’ve seen when being around talented musicians, the ones meant for great things don’t have a message or a specific goal as to why they’re in the game. An artist just feels compelled to create because they have something to offer and can move people through their talents. From what I gathered NICE right now is in a spot where he doesn’t know exactly where the music is going but he wants to ride it. He’ll have time to solidify what he wants to bring to the studio. Right now, it’s all about the vibes and message of the moment.
About ten minutes later he asked to borrow my phone. He called a number as we all kept drinking, Mario Kart 64 wicking and wa-wa-wawing in the background. Once Nyuanru handed back my phone he tapped one of his friends and said he had to dip out for some studio time. He shook my hand and off he went. Back to the underground.
I don’t know when I’ll see him again but hopefully it’ll be backstage mobbing out to one of his beats. Sure hope he gets a phone.