Veteran hip-hop artist, producer, writer and all-around creative Emcee N.I.C.E. has been climbing a long and winding ladder of musical leadership that’s included collaborations with rap icons NAS and Tupac (posthumously), a song in the Academy Award-winning film Crash, and a cover of a Prince song, enthusiastically approved by The Artist himself.
N.I.C.E.’s path has triumphantly led to the independent Billboard biz chart-topping success of his single “I Got Angels” and debut album Praise — faith-fortified message music bonded with the street heat of urban pop’s hottest hits and, most importantly, powerful metaphorical lyrics kicked by a wise young brother who has lived, strived and studied that of which he speaks.
Here’s his interview.
How did you arrive at this career choice? Was it a deliberate decision or a gradual and natural evolution?
My career choices all feed into each other with the base being writing and music, whether it’s my album Praise, my cartoon “Da Jammies” or my book 50 Shades of L.O.V.E. – (Learning Our Various Emotions). Each project surfs in a different genre and is a part of the core of who I am, being a true Novelist. When, I combine writing with being creative, and my evolution is a natural. It’s in my name Emcee N.I.C.E.- N.I.C.E. meaning “Novelist Is Constantly Evolving.”
What separates you from others in your field? What is unique about the experience that you create?
Every artist has a story. We all tell them in ways we feel would resonate and be beneficial to the listener. What separates me from most is that not only do I understand that, I am also very savvy in both the business and the marketing side of things. When positioning my record to be successful, I utilize my knowledge to give you music laced with Scripture that feeds both your spirit and your soul. I remember to always be present, be bold and stay the course while navigating the trends in music and society.
For those considering entering this arena, what skill sets do you recommend mastering? What traits are most conducive to success?
I would recommend mastering the art of trendsetting. Everyone knows that trends dictate the direction of things, and that is 80 percent of the battle. If you can master that part of it, you are more than half of the way there. Also, master the art of storytelling. People like songs that mirror their life and or they like to live vicariously through you.
The traits that are conducive to success are “steady focus” and “intelligent persistence.” Steady focus because it’s not going to happen overnight but if you stay focused, it will happen. Also with, intelligent persistence, you have to be aggressive, but smart about it. When people see you putting in the work, they buy in and support you.
How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
I stay that the leading edge by knowing what’s trending and forecasting what’s coming and align myself with it, so that when it arrives. While everyone is trying to figure it, I would have already tapped into my creative side, produced something noteworthy and capitalized.
Do you think there are widely held misconceptions about what you do? If so, what are they and how do you work to dispel them?
There is definitely a misconception about what I do because some people are still stuck in eras that wouldn’t traditionally agree with my style of praise and worship. But, I stay true to my core belief in God and His message and plan for me. I know the Lord.
How do you map out your goals? How do you measure your success?
Every year at the top of the year, I create a list of things I want to accomplish with a checklist and by the end of the year, if I checked off 80 percent of them, then I feel not only accomplished but successful as well.
Who do you consider to be your peers in your field? Who do you see/use as examples for you to emulate?
Peers would be Jay-Z, 50 Cent, NAS and Diddy. These are artists that trend towards being extremely successful with brands outside of their original brand. I can relate to that and I emulate their business plight – being that I too have my original brand which is music. But then I ventured off into industries that would allow me to create generational wealth via my animation development company Toon Farm Animation, home of “Da Jammies” currently on Netflix and Kid Genius Xfinity/Comcast, Amazon Prime, Apple TV, and Roku.
Name two of your top role models — one from your industry and one from outside of it.
I have no real industry role models that I can look at or have looked at that reflect the energy that represents me. Although I am a hip-hop head, everything about me is eclectic. I might admire certain attributes of a person. For instance. Diddy’s hustle. Jay-Z’s savvy business moves. 50 Cent’s business aggressiveness. Russell Simmons’ out-of-the-box thinking and staying steadfast. All attributes needed to be successful and I implement some of those philosophical principles in everything I do. Outside of it is my pops, Papa De’Jon J.H. Clark. May he rest in power and peace. My pops was my mentor and always got me to see the alternative’s alternative.
Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.
That’s an awesome question. One would be The Golden Age of The Moor (Journal of African Civilizations). This book just puts it all in perspective. It examines the races and roots of the original North African and more. The performance that currently stands out to me is the Kendrick Lamar Grammy  opening. Man … that had to be a defining moment for the culture. A musical stage play highlighting the ills that plague today emotionally, socially and politically and was artistic genius.
Why do you consider continued learning important?
Continued learning is very important because with a degree real respect comes. Along with that respect, depending on the institution you belong to, the alumni database is your friend. If you pursue it with diligence, you’ll get opportunities that only the alumni get.
What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
For any great achievement someone has to be the first to do it, so why not you? And, if you strive for perfection, you’ll limit your mistakes, so I strive for perfection.
What role does technology play in your day-to-day life? How do you utilize it?
With music and movies moving in and out of marketplace to accommodate the phone-viewing consumer. Technology is pretty much on steroids. It seems like every day a new phone, iPad, computer and or apps drop every year that is revolutionizing. So, I have to be in the know and understand the functionality or be left behind. I use technology in everything whether it’s the iPhone X, the smart TVs to the new computer and iPad. And, it seems like every two or three months they release firmware updates that you have to be aware of because the update always affects something major [on] the phone itself.
What software, app or other technological innovation has made the biggest difference in your life and/or career?
The app that is making my life move right now is the Auria Pro, a music production app that gives me the full service of being in a large studio. With flying faders, great vocal editing functionality, easy export and it’s compatible with the software “Protools.” This simply means that all of the files I record on my iPad. I can just send them right to my engineer. I also love the iMPC and MPC because they give you that digital look and feel while mimicking the swing of the physical machine.
Please define your personal brand.
My personal brand is really simple, it’s about God and hip-hop, which allows me to not only spread God’s word but also present an identity that’s reflective of my musical beliefs without disrespecting the father’s name. My brand is eclectic, it’s urban, it’s trendy, it’s inspirational hip hop!
What is your favorite vacation destination and why?
I loved being in Newport, Wales, it’s something about that place, but as far as my favorite spot, it’s Puerto Rico, the culture, the food, that Mamposteao and Mofongo, Ponce pier with the live music and folks just living, man I could go on.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would change the laws that govern Congress and limit their terms. That way you have fresh ideas constantly coming in to move the country forward. Our country won’t be held back by the lifers on both sides of the isle’s constantly getting in the way because they are not getting their way. I’d introduce laws that force them to truly put forth bills that reflect the true diversity that governs America.
If you could change one thing about you, what would it be?
If I could change one thing about me, I would make the earlier me be a lot more aggressive and not just be happy to have a seat at the table.
What does it take to be iconic? In your estimation, who has achieved that status?
Iconic is such a big word. To be an icon, one has to be the ultimate representative of whatever they are beholden to and stand the test of time on top of it. The biggest icon of them all past away in Michael Jackson. He was 1,000 years old in “music years” and still was selling out 50- to 70-thousand seat stadiums and arenas. Jay-Z, Diddy, 50 Cent, Dré and Cube all qualify because they diversified their portfolios putting them in some elite categories.
What keeps you inspired?
God keeps me inspired along with all the fascinating things that he created. It truly motivates me to dig into my creativity when I see creativity.
What scripture(s) are you leaning on?
Right now, I am leaning on Jeremiah 29:11. Knowing that God has a plan for me (all of us) and that it’s a good plan and all you have to do is believe and hold tight to faith. I can’t beat that.
How do you stay connected with fans?
There are so many platforms that I can be reached it’s tough. But, I do mostly @EmceeNICELA on both on Twitter and Instagram, or my Facebook at /EmceeNICEMusic and Snapchat just plain ole Emcee N.I.C.E. I try [to] respond to everyone unless it is something crazy or I’m working in the studio or production.
What’s on your playlist?
A little ole school and new school. I am a big fan of Portishead. It’s something about that song “Humming” that sets the mood and tone when driving. Other than that, I have some old school Redman (metaphor king), some Rakim, Jay-Z (Kingdom Come).
Where did you vacation this summer?
I went to various colleges randomly, organically spreading the word on my forthcoming album Praise at the time, turning them on to my single “I Got Angels.” From NMSU to Villa Verde EPCC, I was on the move. Seeing our great states and meeting people from all walks of life in the process.