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The sharp lyrical proficiency of Niko Is happens to be one of his most head turning assets; his eccentric rhythmic patterns make him stand out in a sea of aspiring rappers with ambition equal in size. But during our conversation, Niko–born Nikolai Paiva–is friendly, humble, and refreshingly down-to-earth. The man who was handpicked to be on Talib Kweli’s label Javotti Media and open for Kweli on ‘The People’s Champion Tour’ radiates an inescapable exuberance when describing how he discovered he wanted to make a career out of rhyming. “These things kind of happen–you don’t really choose it. You find your calling then it all makes sense and just falls into place.” He becomes less ambiguous when addressing his songwriting capabilities.
“I actually think in rhyme. It’s a gift and a curse. I just see rhymes and ideas. A lot of these rappers out now are just listening to themselves. They’re influenced by what’s around them, but they’re not seeing what’s really around them.” And Niko’s verbal imagery knows no boundaries. His debut album, Brutus, manages to sustain the delicate balance between the sacred and secular, between the contemporary and ancient. His haunting introspect is malleable as the MC twists and molds modern lexicon to his liking. Admittedly, he learned from the best.
“I’ve always been influenced by Talib. I’ve been a fan of his since forever. To be on tour with him is super surreal–it’s like a rap dream come true. He’s like this mysterious sage always dropping knowledge out of nowhere–such an OG.” And while Niko is playing sold out venues across the country, he is seemingly amused by skeptical spectators who doubt his talent because they are solely focused on seeing Kweli. “It’s like a game and there are a lot of layers to it. People are seeing who I am and never heard my shit before. A lot of people have told me they like it, which is great.” He pauses to put this statement into a larger context. “You really don’t know what to expect from a big-haired Brazilian guy who raps.”
Niko Is, Immortal Technique, and Talib Kweli. Wednesday, April 15 . Paradise Rock Club. Boston, MA. 18+. 8pm, Sold Out. nikoismusic.com