In 2014, I reached out to Javotti Media in hopes of landing an interview with Talib Kweli. Before the interview took place, I was asked if I had any interest in chopping it up with two other Javotti-housed artists – one of which was NIKO IS.
This would be my introduction to the best hair in the biz.
I was first served the sonic delicacies of NIKO IS shortly before the release of GOOD BLOOD, fervently hitting play on whatever rappetizers I could find. I was drawn to the uniqueness of the Brasilian-born and Orlando-based artist, who had managed to catch the attention and support of Talib Kweli for reasons that quickly became apparent. While so many artists attempt to prop themselves up with gimmicks, locked in the industry standard of cookie cutter trends, NIKO stood out with his sui generis energy and style – both of which were chilluminated by a near unparalleled level of authenticity.
Regardless of what NIKO IS was speaking on in his music, it always felt believable and real.
And NIKO carries that unique authenticity over into his second full-length release, the appropriately titled UNIKO. From start to finish, the album feels as though it’s set to the literal and proverbial heartbeat of NIKO IS, leaving little doubt that the artist is moving through life to the beat of his own drum, guided by his own heart.
The music, littered with cultural vibes, takes listeners on a journey to NIKO’s homeland. Like a live action documentary told through song, we get a sense of the energy that was bestowed upon NIKO throughout his lifetime. Even when his prose is focused on modern times, there is a layer of personal and cultural history packed into the smoothly delivered wordplay. UNIKO brings the listener deep into the tropicool environments that gave life to the chillosopher that is NIKO IS.
It helps, of course, that NIKO rides through UNIKO backed by the sonic vibes of Thanks Joey, who handled the entirety of UNIKO‘s production. A testament to the duo’s brotherhood, Joey’s instrumentation fuels the energy brought forth by NIKO; the lyricist and the producer painting auditory masterpieces in tandem over the course of the 17-track album. It’ll always be up for debate who the best rapper/producer tag-team is but you’re playing yourself if you don’t think the Colours of the Culture forefathers are capable of handling their own against a who’s who of legendary combinations – based on what we hear throughout UNIKO and in their back catalogue of bops.
UNIKO is like a lesson in duality, packed full of a self-awareness abundant in both reflection and living in the moment. With little exception, each track allows for a choose-your-own-adventure-esque listening experience – you will find it easy to make a dance floor out of your living room or find it just as easy to sit back with a cold drink and some lit herb. Whether you’re indulging in medicines and contemplating life or hitting the two-step around the kitchen…or doing both simultaneously…UNIKO gets you feeling right – whatever “right” may be for you in the moment.
As he showcased on “Meet Me in the Future” and “COCA“, NIKO is well versed at cooking up layered musical expression. No matter how high energy or party-friendly the joint is, the Colours representative is filling the record with a depth that’s only possible through truly living life. Because of this, UNIKO is radiating with love, positive energy, thoughtfulness, growth, and authenticity, all wrapped up in an enchantingly exotic package.
NIKO called upon some friends and legends to assist in the creation of UNIKO, with features from Tego Calderon, Kweli, Styles P, Curren$y, CHAZMERE, Haikaiss, Spinardi, SPVIC + TRVLR, Mave, Narcy and Mental Abstracto. Even with the heavy list of notable guest spots, UNIKO is clearly NIKO’s – and Joey’s – project. It’s almost as if they are throwing a house party and some close friends stopped by to kick it, as each feature blends naturally with the foundation of NIKO’s lyrics and Joey’s production.
UNIKO is a 17-track manifesto on how to properly use your confidence to your advantage. Despite the braggadocios nature of some of NIKO’s content, at no point does he come off as arrogant or conceited. He’s celebrating the life he’s living but he’s simultaneously inviting all those with good energy to join him, while also encouraging listeners to go after what their heart beats for. The journey may be long, and the sacrifices may be heavy, but the only way you’re going to get to what you’re after is by putting in the work.
As he points out on “O Que Você Sabe”, a personal favorite of mine, the journey isn’t a quick one and it’s not all flashy. But if you are working towards your purpose, even the struggles can be viewed in vibrant colours.