AHHA: If you had to name one single artist that influenced you the most with regard to your career and/or your music, who would it be and why?
Nicole: It would be probably Mary J. Blige, because I watched her life from a young teen to my life now, and seen how she stayed on top of the game even with bad press, even with people saying she was on drugs. She overcame all of the obstacles that were thrown in front of her and she still remained positive in my [eyes]. Her music is outstanding, she addressed the pain from day one and let people know, I'm not perfect and I am dealing with the struggles, and that's why I write this type of music. It would probably be her - she changed my life a lot. Now I'm leaning a little bit towards R. Kelly. A lot of people say a lot of negative stuff about him instead of talking to the man, help him instead of talking about him, because he's a great artist. His music is going to reign regardless, because he always addressed the pain. Every fan or listener wants to feel like, I'm a part of his world - I do feel like him, my bills aren't paid, I am hungry. Those type of records - Celine Dion, Mary J., R. Kelly, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys, Usher - those artists really put the stamp on pain and make fans feel like I'm a part of his world and I'm just like him, he's a regular person just like me - through music. Music is very powerful. A known artist can make a song and make people feel like, I wanna just kill myself.
AHHA: Or in Lil Jon's case, fight everybody around you.
Nicole: Yeah! [laughs] But some music is for the clubs, some music is positive, and as long as it isn't hate hate hate, kill kill kill - at the end of the day it's all good.
AHHA: With your new album youve said that you're going back and picking up some producers that are relatively unknown and some artists from Virginia. Do you look in those up-and-comers for qualities that you possess? Are you looking for specific personality traits on top of that talent in order for you to help them?
Nicole: Personally, I've worked with a lot of big producers from day one, and a lot of people change. A lot of those people, after they get to a certain level they just shut people off like, I want $100,000 for this, and they don't go back and get someone that's hungry. You have a local producer standing up against a big producer, who's going to give you the banger? The local one, because he's hungry he's trying to get into the game. [The big name] is going to give you something he had from two years ago and try to touch it up. Instead [with the new producer] you're gonna get the passion. I have so many songs and cds that I get and I'll put in, and sometimes I watch other artists just throw cds away like, I ain't listening to that - but you never know what you're throwing away. You should always help and give back and not try to be ridiculous.
I worked with one of the up-and-coming producers on Roc-A-Fella - his name is Voola. He's a young cat who's very hot, he did a lot of stuff for most of the artists, Beans, Peedi, Noreaga - but I think I might have been the first R&B girl artist that he worked with on Roc-A-Fella. Listening to his music in the beginning when I first met him two years ago, and listening to it now, it's crazy because he's more hungry. I want to get to that level, and he works day and night - he'll give up on a party just to do tracks all night. That's the type of artist or producer that I would love to work with, because I know I'm going to get my best. I want us to be able to vibe and feel the same way about the music and that's why I chose to work with a lot of up and coming producers. Another two producers out of Virginia, they call themselves White Boy, Black Boy - Pee Wee and Brian - they did two or three songs on the album. We became friends first, we built a relationship from one of my other homeboys in Virginia, and we just got in the studio and vibed. We're all creating and they're so hungry, these guys are no older than 21 or 22. I don't know where they'll be in the next five years, if they'll still have that drive, but if you love music like R. Kelly, like Mary J. Blige, you'll remain humble and continue to make beautiful music instead of getting beside yourself and saying No, because you're just cheating yourself at the end of the day of a career.
AHHA: With the new album, obviously you're very excited and happy to be putting out something you had some input on. Tell us about that.
Nicole: The album is entitled Love Child, and because I named it Love Child everybody wants to know why. The reason is, I kind of sit with my mom a lot, my mom is my best friend. My dad - I don't really see him too much, but when I do see him he is telling me about the past. He lives for the past. I don't know why, but I guess that was the most memorable and important time in his life, the past when I was younger. My brother was growing up when he was with my mom, so I listened to her stories and I listened to his stories and I put them together. My mom came from the hood, my dad came from upper class. My dad was like a young Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder, every girl wanted him, he was popular. He had the nice car, the clothes, he was young, he was cute and he could sing. [My mom] said everybody respected him and he was the life of the party, he would bust out singing in a minute. I guess they started dating, my brother is the oldest he's a year older than me, my sister is three years younger than me. My brother was born in Virginia, my sister was born in Virginia, I was born in California because my dad was in the army. He went AWOL to come and get my mom, she was pregnant with me - when I was born the nurse said I was a star She's a love child. I guess she saw the love in my father and my mother's eyes when they were together, because they've been separated for a while now, a couple of years. I listened to those stories and it must have been beautiful, the 70's, the 80's, now today everything is so cluttered, you don't get that freshness, that soulful vibe.
I love listening to Stevie Wonder, I listen to The O'Jays, I listen to a little bit of everything. I like to light candles and have the lights low, burn incense, I'm from that funk/soul 70's era. That's what you're gonna get from the album, but it's colorful and it's modern day, it's a little bit of all of that put together. I'm a love child and I stand for positive, no negative stuff. People will find something negative to say, of course, because I'm in the eye of the media and the public. That's just what I wanted to do with the album, I was creative, I have a couple of ballads, a couple of up-tempo songs. One of my favorite songs is talking about a young female, which is myself, and the road that I chose to go down. I kind of went getting into a lot of craziness and I had to find myself. That's why I say I did a lot of church and bible school, because I got tired of the life that I was living and I felt my life going down the drain. My career at the time was going down the drain and I had my mom calling me - I'll never forget, I was in tears and she said, You just gonna let your career go down the drain? What are you going to do about it? Something hit me one day and I just changed my whole life, and I just decided to come to New York. It was a familiar place, but I wasn't a New York girl, I'm a Virginia country girl. I knew when I came here I was going to be facing a lot of different things and trying to become more focused and more mature because I was on my own. The album is great and represents my growth
AHHA: It sounds like you've done a lot of self-discovery.
Nicole: Exactly. I know who I am inside and out, and if I don't like something I'll tell you. I used to be a person where I would just sit there and not say anything. I would be cold with icicles on my toes and I wouldn't tell anybody. [laughs] But now, if something isn't right I'm just gonna say it's not right because what do I have to lose, if it's not right it's not right. But then a lot of times people take that the wrong way like, She's a bitch. But no, I just know what I'm not gonna stand for, I'm not gonna do something that I don't like.
AHHA: Looking down the road, let's say two years from now, where do you see yourself?
Nicole: Wow. Two years from now I would love to have sold over diamond. [laughs] No - I want to have some platinum albums underneath my belt. I would love to branch off into fashion. I want to open up a studio a laundromat in Virginia. I love Virginia, I'll never turn my back on Virginia, I want to give back to my community where I come from, and just keep going hard, keep putting out good music and inspiring young kids all around the world to stand for something and to do something with their lives. When they say a mind is a terrible thing to waste, that's the truth.