Is Hip Hop your main music passion? What are the acts that are currently in your record bag?
Hip Hop is certainly my #1 passion - not just from a music perspective - but as a culture and way of life. I eat, sleep, and breathe Hip Hop. As far as music is concerned, I am a classically trained musician - a concert pianist and concert flautist by my early teens… my grandparents were jazz musicians … I love reggae, dancehall, drum n bass, soul, blues… it's all flowing through my veins at 100mph!
My record bag… well I just played out in Manchester on Friday (ed: November 2003) at Fish Fry… so let me see what's there… Rodney P, Ricochet Kalashnikoff, HardKaur, Gangstarr, Keith Murray, Defari, Dilated Peoples, Notorious B.I.G., Jazzy Jeff, Paula Perry, ATCQ…
OK, going back, can you say how you first got into Hip Hop and what you liked about it? Where did you hear those first tunes and who were they by?
At boarding school I was always stuck back at weekends with all the other kids whose parents lived abroad, so we all used to mess around breakdancing on the polished wooden floors and rapping on the tables in the classrooms to the likes of Run-DMC (JMJ R.I.P). There was one Norwegian kid called Marlon and a family of brothers from Nigeria who knew what time it was with R&B and Hip Hop from the USA… and I was always a little tomboy who liked to get into trouble - so my rebellious nature was mos def nurtured by my love for this cool new music with dance moves you could copy. The other influences came from the early Breakdance movies and LL Cool J in "Krush Groove". I was a baddass kid.
How have you seen the scene develop over the years? In the UK, we were probably the 2nd Hip Hop nation after the US. We fully embraced the culture, but for some reason every time it looked like taking off, it never did. Now many other territories have a much more mature market for Hip Hop. Why is this?
Having been involved in the scene actively for nearly 10 years now the UK scene has only marginally developed. We're still not on par with many other European territories, e.g. France or Germany. UK Hip Hop artists need to make it in their own country before taking themselves off to the USA or anywhere else… those who are on their way to recognition outside the UK and are paving their way for others here are Blak Twang, Rodney P, The Creators and Roots Manuva. The reason why our market is not as advanced in this country is because we don't have a big enough sales market share for the Hip Hop music genre as in other countries. I am sure you have heard of the law in France where they have to play 40% minimum French made music on all radio airplay… well, their scene was parallel to the UK until this was passed, now they are making millions from Rap music and their artists are living like kings. We are also at a certain disadvantage because USA cats don't understand the UK culture at all… because we all speak the same language, they can't quite get their heads around our lyrics - they just don't get us as all… our production is sometimes much tighter than some of their renowned artists, but when it comes to MCs - due to the heavy West Indian influence in our hip hop lyrical flow and accents US label A&Rs get put off. Therefore the money and support that reasonably the UK should be getting from the major labels and artists in the USA just isn't being realised.
The primary thing I know you for would be your artist management. Can you break down for the readers what you actually do for the artists and maybe give an indication of how much your services cost?
I actually started off 10 years ago by djing and then decided that I wanted to get into hip hop for life. I have always been a bit of a lone catalyst… working alone… that is. So - the mission was to get to meet as many players in the scene as possible and I didn't stop at anything… I set myself up as a journalist/photographer and worked for SoHH.com for a few years, made some business cards and got into all the gigs backstage all over Europe. Then managed to get on tours with groups like Jurassic 5… and it all started from there. So - to cut a long story short, 3 years ago Black L.I.B. came over from NYC and asked me to manage them… I said NO WAY! But then I did anyway. Ha. It all worked out well, we toured and I got loads of experience in press, radio, tv and label business… then Amad Jamal came over from LA to find me for the same purpose… and the rest is history. I have briefly managed HardKaur and DJ IQ too. The other beauty of putting in all the blood, sweat and tears to achieve having a higher profile now here and abroad is being asked to work with artists from the USA like Defari, Lone Catalysts, Dilated Peoples, 13, Jay Dee, Mr Complex, Tha Liks, KRS-One and Master P and record labels like ABB Records, High Times, Battleaxe, etc… The Nicci Cheeks network is expanding with every phone call, every email, every hook up baby. This in turn is now starting to develop into solid levels of trust across the Atlantic, which will very soon (if not already) provide opportunities for UK artists to make some real c.r.e.a.m. Nah mean?
Fees… well it's all about %s! Unless you want promotion jobs done.
Do you think there are certain artists who need representation like yours? What would be the main reasons for getting some management?
Most artists in the UK need management. That's one of the biggest problems… it's just not gravy to have an artist go to a record label to talk about themselves or to make their phone calls, etc… The professionalism and understanding of the industry is paramount in getting to the next level. Artists have egos - and business executives just don't like to deal with this. To them it's all hype and bullshit, they just want to talk about how much money they can make.
Who are the artists you manage? Can you tell us about them, and maybe say how you have helped them further their success?
Directly - I have managed Black L.I.B., Amad Jamal, Moorish Delta 7, HardKaur and DJ IQ. Black L.I.B. came over to the UK after breaking away from a group with Mos Def. They had a single to promote and we spent 2 years touring Europe and having success. Now Love Born's acting career is taking off in a major way, Black L.I.B. is on a break. Amad Jamal as a result of having UK management did a US tour, and 4 European tours just off the back of only releasing 2 singles! The biggest gift NCM gave him was sales and exposure! Moorish Delta 7 are a UK group and approached me a year ago as they were finding certain doors closed to them on account of them not having any kind of management - so we had a different kind of relationship where they could associate themselves with NCM and we would work together to talk to record labels and book shows. I thought the HardKaur project would go further than it did, but hey, sometimes it's best to quit while you're ahead.
Indirectly I manage a lot of affairs for various USA artists on the downlow - whether it be getting their records played on radio, reviewed in magazines, organizing tours or licensing their tracks to labels in Europe.
There are some big names in there. How did you come to be working with these acts? Did they come to you, knowing what an advantage they could have, or did you admire their work and seek them out?
I never sought anyone out… they came to me.
How does it work with the overseas artists? Do you just work for them in this territory, or do you represent them world wide and in their home territories?
With the overseas artists I represent them worldwide but in partnership in the USA with either the artist themselves, labels or their management companies.
In the past year I see that you have taken over managing the European operations of ABB records. That has to be a bit of a coup. Tell us all about ABB for those who aren't in the know. Who are the acts they have signed, what have they put out and what are your duties?
ABB Records was set up in 1997 in the Bay Area of California USA by the legendary Beni B. Always Bigger & Better…. This label has paved the way for some of the most notable independent releases on the underground hip hop scene in the world - for example : Dilated Peoples "Work The Angles" and Defari's "Bionic". You can find out more about ABB on their web site: http://www.abbrecords.com. My role over in the UK as the European label manager is to look after promotions, press, radio, tv and touring for all the acts on the label as and when they are releasing material.
When you DJ out, what sort of styles do you flex, both in terms of technique and record selection? Would you be playing lots of the acts you work for, like a showcase or are your sets varied?
When I DJ it all depends what kind of crowd I'm playing to. If it's a student crowd then I'll play a complete mixture of underground and more commercial hip hop from USA/UK and I'll get on the mic too. Otherwise at more intimate venues with older crowds I'll stick to the more underground, jazzy hip hop titles and throw in some Stevie, Santana… whatever I feel. Sure I scratch and cut up the records… that happens whatever time it is…!
OK, so you have the Hip Hop… All Day events going on in London periodically. Can you tell us a bit about how this came about, the venue, the sort of crowd you get in and the vibes one could expect?
The "Hip Hop…All Day" event came about after I finally had had enough of people complaining about the lack of unity in the UK scene. The only networking event each year is the Urban Music Seminar, and we hip hoppers needed something which was ours. With the support of big name UK DJs like: Shortee Blitz, Excalibah, 279, J'Son, Disorda, Matt Smooth, Kish, Greenpeace, IQ and UK MCs like: Malarchi, Moorish Delta 7, The 57th Dynasty, Mystro, HardKaur, Ty, Blak Twang, Out Da Ville…we now have a day and night of pure hip hop where DJs and MCs can come from all over the country to make contacts, rhyme, sell records, whatever! I have done two now and am planning the next one for Christmas. At the last event DJs travelled from Paris and rappers travelled from Brussels to attend. We're not taking over… we're expanding.
Can you describe a typical day in the life of Nicci Cheeks, if such a thing exists?