New (to Me) Artist Spotlight: Nikko Gray
Having finally taken the time to explore the online music site known as Bandcamp, I now feel that I will probably be discovering a lot more buzz-worthy artists to write spotlight articles about. Although I’d been directed to the profile pages of specific artists on prior occasions from external links, I never took the time to go to Bandcamp’s main page and perform any independent searches. Once there, I found several intriguing projects from a host of artists using the site to sell and promote music in a way that is sure to attract anyone looking to find something new. It was through visiting the “Gallery” section that I stumbled upon Nikko Gray, and after listening to the available tracks, I can now say without reservation that I am fortunate to have found her music. Powerful in her passionate and enticing subtlety, Nikko, in my opinion, is an artist of profound emotional sensibilities who is capable of evoking a spirit from within the music that transcends lyrics, bringing the listener to a place where experience itself is the only necessary architect of expression.
Originally from London, Nikko Gray has lived in various parts of Europe and the U.S. She began modeling as early as age 2 and appeared in different magazines and even on film. Raised in a home filled with music, Nikko was inspired early on by her single mother, a singer and songwriter who frequently brought her daughter to the studio while she recorded. By the age of 4, Nikko was singing into her own tape recorder, and within two years she had begun to write her own lyrics. From these roots, Nikko went on to make her first demo in high school at the age of 16. She eventually formed her own group and performed covers of other artists’ songs, often having to sneak into clubs for shows. Nikko's skills as a vocalist soon earned her the opportunity to showcase her talents on television and in the company of performers such as David Foster, KRS-One, and Travis Barker.
Although Nikko was beginning to achieve some degree of success and recognition for her talent, a spirit of disillusionment soon threatened to derail her progress. Feeling encumbered by the traditional business attitudes towards writing songs simply as a means to produce “hits” instead of trying to capture personal and relevant forms of expression, Nikko deviated from her musical ambitions for a while and took up formal training as a nail artist, a skill that she would one day turn into a personal business venture. A later encounter with creative kindred Imani Waddy sparked a new appreciation and approach toward songwriting that reinvigorated Nikko’s passion for the craft. After being introduced to future collaborators Nevin Thomas and AFTA-1 and feeling that she had finally surrounded herself with the right circle of artistic peers, Nikko began to redefine her sound in a way that nurtured her ever-growing desire to create something that felt more organic, honest, and true to heart.
The Gray Area / Era
During a time in which technology is allowing artists to gain more creative control over their music outside of the direct influence of the big music labels, Nikko’s surname coincidentally seems to mirror the spirit of the current independent movement. While most artists are still not completely free to abandon the prescribed sounds of popular music, there has been a noticeable shift away from easily definable extremes towards more chimerical interpretations. At once, everything becomes nothing (or rather, “no thing” in particular), thereby allowing room for innovation. It’s in the approach to this concept that artists differ.
Nikko’s voice resonates with a soulful quality that begs for a listen in the most intimate type of setting. I use the word “soulful” with caution, however, and absent any intent to relegate her sound to any particular store shelf or digital playlist. I simply speak of Nikko’s seemingly innate ability to touch a universal chord so penetrating as to feel immediately recognizable to the heart of the listener. Within the ebb and flow of her explorative vocal style, Nikko’s delicate approach demonstrates that she is very aware of the balance necessary to achieving a musical effect that is welcome in its familiarity, but still fresh and inspiring in the variation of its execution.
Taking Love’s Seen It Route
While exploring the numerous samples of Nikko’s work, including the collection “Love Seen,” it became apparent that she is very much a producer’s type of artist. In this, I mean to say that Nikko has a voice that fits naturally across a wide range of styles and arrangements. From the experimentally abstract to the vividly thematic, Nikko’s voice brings out the best in every piece of accompaniment. Although she is comfortable and in many instances happy to abandon the spotlight to showcase her respective producers, Nikko nonetheless always seems to become the star attraction of the song in which she is featured, and is unable to mute her intensity despite whatever catchy melody may be playing alongside her. Nikko’s versatility is undeniable and all the more impressive when one hears the recording of her live set at the.breath’s Moon Festival, a feast for the ears which shows that her sultry voice is not simply the product of studio mixing techniques.
Words We Danced
In terms of lyrics, the dominant theme across Nikko’s life and music plays toward the thoughtful examination and exploration of love in all of its boundless complexity. Through the combined effect of her fluid wordplay and sensual delivery, many of Nikko’s songs, even when interpreted in their most unassuming light, carry enough lyrical ambiguity to inspire love’s creative musings in contexts equally applicable to both open-road journeys of self-discovery and closed-door midnight rendezvous (with listeners being free to ignore any possible distinctions in the right company). With this sort of duality, Nikko proves to be a gifted storyteller, knowing which scenes to emphasize in detail and which to leave to the workings of the imagination. As a result, Nikko shows that love is most valuable as an all-encompassing experience, fully capable of confounding the senses for the sake of being able to appreciate the joy of revelation.
I can honestly say that after listening to Nikko, she has left me wanting more. Heartfelt, stirring, and altogether lovely, her music captures the essence of human emotion in a timeless fashion that is sure to please audiences of varying persuasions. With her work having made a lasting impression on me, it is my sincere hope that Nikko Gray will continue to produce captivating music for many years to come.