After Kanye West’s Graduation outsold 50 Cent’s Curtis in 2007, street centered rap has been consistently overshadowed by the hipster/suburban streak for nearly a decade. Some acts representing the other side of the culture - for instance, Rick Ross, Gucci Mane, Meek Mill, Future - were able to impact the album charts, but for the most part the 2010’s have not been favorable in the mainstream to those artists telling tales about the hardships of inner-city life.
Chicago's Drill and Atlanta's Trap subgenres have actually produced plenty of underground records representing the urban lifestyle in recent times. The soundscapes of those modern movements are reflective of their forefathers like Three 6 Mafia, UGK, T.I., and Young Jeezy. However, in many cases the lyrical content has taken a backseat to aggressive energy and hard to decipher mutters.
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For those fans that miss the type of street rap which provided listeners a chance to vibe to the music as well as appreciate the words, Money Makin Nique is an example of a performer embracing both elements at once. The ATL native was essentially born into his role of being a voice for the new generation of street poets.
“My mother used to rap. She had a deal when she was 16, but when you’re 16 you have to get a parental signature. She went to my grandmother, and my grandmother wouldn’t sign the contract,” Nique tells AllHipHop.com.
While mom went on to become a DJ/promoter, she did not want her son to enter into the industry. Nonetheless, her career choice played a major role in Nique’s eventual decision to pick up a pen. He began writing rhymes with his friends at the age of 7. His peers ultimately veered away from rapping, but Nique discovered it was a gift he could not ignore.
He adopted the name Money Makin Nique (an homage to a character from Paid In Full) and began studying the artistic and economic history of his new craft. Roc-A-Fella Records co-founders Dame Dash and Jay Z along with Stone Throw Records head Peanut Butter Wolf provided business road maps for MMN to follow. Jet Life leader Curren$y’s “do-it-yourself” approach served as a template as well.
“I feel like the best motivation is when nobody gives you sh*t and you have to figure everything out on your own,” Nique explains. “So you start reading and watching what other people are doing. You start using that to gauge what you should be doing.”
It was not just music moguls that offered motivation. Nique proudly admits he enjoys analyzing the lives of successful people willing to make bold decisions. His lists of read books includes Roxy Reynolds’ Secrets Of A Porn Star, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, Assata Shakur’s Assata: An Autobiography, and many of the works written by Sista Souljah. Acclaimed fashion designer Ralph Lauren is another one of Nique’s influences.
“Ralph Lauren is one of the greatest of all time. I love his story. He didn’t just cash out. He wasn’t in it for the money, he was in it for the art,” says Nique. “If you read up on Ralph Lauren, you find out he started off with ties. His ties got so successful that Bloomingdale's tried to buy his brand from him, but he said no. He started doing clothes and built an empire. That’s how I feel we’re at with this music. We’ve been given offers. We said, ‘No, this is about us building what we got.'”
That diverse collection of outside inspiration plays out in Nique’s introspective tunes such as the ones placed on Guyana Gold. With production by Curtis Williams, ForteBowie, Kebu, and others, MMN’s breakout project tapped into his hometown’s distinctive vibe. The main purpose of the mixtape was to give a personal interpretation of the creator’s view of Atlanta.
Perhaps the song that best achieves the goal of introducing Money Makin Nique and his side of the city is “West Atlanta Damned” featuring Alexis Glenn. The cut incorporates the drug trafficking located in Zone 3 and the philosophies of the West Indian population found in Zone 4. “Don’t that sound like Babylon?” Nique repeatedly asks at the end of the record.
“I grew up in a Rastafarian household. Growing up with Rastas, you learn about Babylon on some biblical sh*t,” Nique reveals. “It always gave me perspective to where if you walk down the street on the Westside you’ll see crackheads, prostitutes, the hood, the city - everything looks f*cked up. Naturally, I’m a product of this. This is where I came from. This is Babylon.”
The Babylon theme extends to other Guyana Gold tracks like “Said So” and “How We Do.” Cuts like “Funny Guy” and “I Ain’t Sh*t” also show Nique doesn’t always take himself so seriously. Despite the public's positive feedback for the mixtape, some blog sites passed on posting Guyana Gold because of the imagery on the cover artwork.
MMN does not seemed to be too concerned about the lack of support from some of the gatekeepers. In fact, Nique claims he does not even revisit Guyana Gold.
“You make better sh*t, then you listen back and you’re like, ‘That was corny.’ It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, because I do. I appreciate where I was at the time, what I was trying to prove, and even the reception it got,” states Nique. “Guyana Gold was raw in terms of the music and artwork. That’s exactly what I was trying to prove.”
He continues, “‘Everybody who got it, loved it. Everybody who didn’t get it was scared of it. That’s what I was expecting. I wasn’t thrown off because people didn’t understand it. I knew that was going to happen.”
Beyond Guyana Gold, Nique’s current catalog features Gas Money, The Lion King EP, and The Extra EP with Johnny Cinco. A project called Bimmer Candidate was originally scheduled to be up next. But after putting in two years on BC, MMN felt the music was starting to feel out of touch.
He moved on to another set of records which will make up an album called BMW (Bring Money Witchu). The LP is set to be released to retail and also be available for free.
“This is why it’s been taking so long. We want to create something that people genuinely want to buy. A lot of n*ggas make a mixtape and think they automatically got to make money off it. But they’re not thinking about the musical aspect of it,” says Nique.
Even as Money Makin Nique’s career is still on the rise, he is already paying close attention to how future music followers will think about his brand of thoughtful street rap. Some of his contemporaries may be concerned with cashing in right now, but the independent artist is more focused on leaving a lasting impression.
“N*ggas don’t really pay attention to the long term. Nobody thinks about how this is going to be looked at in 10 years, what type of impact will this have in 10 years,” he expresses. “If I put out a song right now, I don’t want somebody 10 years later to hear it and say, ‘That sh*t was corny. Why did that n*gga do that?’”
Nique adds, “I want to put the musical element back into street music. Remember when sh*t actually used to feel good. Regardless of what it was about, it felt good. That’s what we’re trying to do. It doesn’t have anything to do with trying to sh*t on nobody. I’m just trying to change things, so you can go there for that and you can come here for this.”
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Read other installments of AllHipHop’s #ATLRiseUp series here.