Nicki Nicole Says Rap Music Helped Her Get Out of Her Shell

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It’s a drizzly Thursday afternoon in New York City, and Nicki Nicole has spent most of her day answering back-to-back interview questions from journalists. For someone who just concluded a tour between Latin America and Europe, not to mention nine sold-out shows at the Movistar Arena in Buenos Aires, where more than 100,000 fans were in attendance, you’d think she was ready to slow down. But hours before our conversation, she announced that her first US headlining tour would kick off next month in Mexico City. You can see the tunnel vision in her green eyes. Her fans, who have been by her side since day one, are what motivate her to keep going.

The 23-year-old budding singer, rapper, and songwriter has cemented a name for herself in her native country of Argentina. Nicole Cucco prides herself on never sticking to just one genre when creating music; it helped define her place as a multidimensional creative keen on bridging the gap between singing and rapping.

With the announcement of the US leg of her tour comes new music that does just that. Her first single of the year, “Ojos Verdes,” is a cumbia ballad inspired by personal situations she’s gone through, quite possibly alluding to her recent public breakup with Peso Pluma. The lyrics translate to: “But I brought out the best in you / And you realized it the day I left.”

“Since I was a young girl, I’ve listened to cumbia and know so much about it. The only other time I’ve worked on a cumbia song before was with the [band] Angeles Azules,” she says. “Now I feel comfortable and prepared to make my own song, so this is me doing it on my own.”

Nicole has come a far way in a short amount of time. Her 2019 debut album “Recuedros,” filled with sprinkles of pop, soulful R&B, and urbano tones, includes her standout single, “Wapo Traketero,” which she performed a couple of years later on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” — making her the first Argentine artist to ever perform on the late-night show.

Meanwhile, her 2021 sophomore studio album, “Parte de Mí,” plays around with reggaeton, hip-hop, and upbeat pop sounds, along with heavy collaborations from acts like Rauw Alejandro, Mora, and Mon Lafarte, just to name a few. “ALMA,” a self-exploration album that ties reggaeton, Latin R&B, and dark ballads all together, was nominated for “Best Urban Album” at the 2023 Latin Grammys.

“The truth is, every album and every song I put out has really helped me to evolve my sound,” she says. “If you listen to my first and third albums, you can see the growth not only vocally but down to the overall concepts, even the way I express myself. I love when people can notice that evolution in my music.”

Her fourth studio album is still a work in progress, but Nicole notes that the project’s overall concept is finished. “I don’t want to limit myself or rush the album. I’m always learning something new. Just being here in New York for a week, I made some incredible songs,” she says. “For this next project, when it comes to structure and melodies, there will be a lot of hip-hop, R&B, and rap — that will be the focus. Musically, though, aside from my next project, there will be many surprises that will come about this year.”

Growing up, Nicole’s musical influences varied. She grew up listening to tango, cumbia, rock, and various genres. “Amy Winehouse, Christina Aguilera, Kendrick Lamar are some of the artists who have influenced my music. I’ve never worked on rock music as a solo artist, but that’s something I plan to explore as well,” she says.

Nicole’s love for hip-hop began when she was 15, around the time she started attending freestyle battle competitions. She remembers being intrigued by “The Get Down,” the Netflix series that centers on the birth and rise of hip-hop in New York City, and wanting to learn more about the genre’s origins.

“Before watching [the series], I knew somewhat of the history of hip-hop, but as I continued watching I wanted to learn more about this world, it really caught my attention,” Nicole says. “I started to listen to more rap music; I fell in love with it all. I was sad that there was only one season of the show.”

At 17, a younger Nicki Nicole was joining in on freestyle competitions, which helped shape her wordplay today. Her favorite past and present rappers include Nuyorican rapper Hurricane G, Lauryn Hill, Ivy Queen, Nathy Peluso, and her sister, Sofía Gabanna. The rise of hip-hop culture in Argentina isn’t new; it’s been a movement for some time now. Nicole is grateful for El Quinto Escalón, dubbed Argentina’s most prominent rap competition, which was held from 2012 to 2017 in Buenos Aires. Duki, Paolo Londra, Milo J, and many others — each with their own style and essence — have all participated in the competition and are key players in the Argentine hip-hop scene today.

As a white Argentine woman, Nicole understands that she occupies a space created and originated by Black folks — hip-hop is Black history. It was never hers to begin with, so as an outsider, it’s imperative for her to navigate it thoughtfully and avoid any appropriation of the culture.

“This didn’t start out as my fight, and it’s easy for anyone to co-opt a space that they didn’t begin in, but I’ll never take ownership of a space I’m a guest in,” she says. “To know the origins of hip-hop is important, bringing visibility to things that went on in the culture in the past, and so many incredible rappers that make up these spaces, appropriating the space is something I don’t ever plan to do.”

She says she also owes hip-hop and rap culture for helping her get out of her shell and shaping her ability to freestyle.

“I feel like hip-hop, but mostly rap, taught me how to express myself when freestyling. Not just musically, but also it taught me how to get out of my shell because I used to be really shy,” she shares. “Everything I didn’t have the [courage] to say in person, I would say it in a freestyle, in a studio, in a battle, and I learned to express myself this way. And through freestyling, I learned how to socialize, and it also served me in my personal life in how to speak to people.”

With so much music and talent coming out of Argentina — Cazzu, Emilia, Tiago PZK, Duki, Maria Becerra, and so many more — Nicki Nicole is proud of the greatness coming from her country.

“I know that every single Argentine artist that is putting in the work right now really deserves all of the recognition,” she says. “I know a lot of them personally, so it makes me happy because I know all of the work and effort that goes behind it all, and I know that they do all of this because they dreamt it. It’s an honor to know them.”

As Nicki Nicole prepares for her tour and plans her world domination, she is unphased by any outside noise — anything that comes between her work. Nothing can stop her, unless it’s an opportunity to get in the studio with the legendary Tego Calderon or electropop band Miranda, which she hopes will happen one day. What’s keeping her grounded is her family and friends, and enjoying what she does.

“I’m really achieving everything I ever dreamed of, and that’s what keeps me going,” she says. “To be able to support my parents, to be able to spend time with the people I love, that’s the most important thing to me in this world of music.”

Brenda Barrientos is a Peruvian American journalist and social strategist with more than seven years of experience. In addition to her work in social media, Brenda writes about music and culture, with a particular focus on Latine creators. In addition to PS, her writing has been published by Billboard, Byrdie, People en Español, Refinery29, Rolling Stone, and more.

This post was originally published on PopSugar

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