Nyle Emerson, an NYU senior, has recently begun to make a name for himself across the internet for his impressive and catchy video “Let the Beat Build Munich download.” The video has swept its way across hip hop blogs and gone legitimately viral, garnering over 10,000 hits in just three days. Though it’s this video that caught NYU Local’s attention, Emerson has been working hard since high school to achieve his dream of becoming the next rap superstar, performing shows at the Bowery Poetry Club and compiling audio and video EPs. The first thing you’ll notice about Emerson is that he’s not your stereotypical hip hop hopeful. Thoughtful, incredibly intelligent and endlessly passionate about his art, I had to restrain myself from wanting to jump across the room and hug him. Entertainment Editor Joe Coscarelli and I sat down with Nyle yesterday at the Clive Davis Recording Studio at 194 Mercer to discuss music, hip hop nonprofits and the making of “Let the Beat Build.”
Joe: When did you record the video for your version of Lil Wayne’s “Let the Beat Build”?
Nyle: The video was recorded the 2nd week in March, I believe. About a month and a half ago. A friend hit me up and said that they wanted to do a video, my friend Jo Gallino was just like, “Yo, there’s this Lil’ Wayne track, I don’t know if you’ve heard it but when we get back to school we should record it with my band and do a video for it. And I was like okay, cool. And I heard it, and it got stuck in my head…
Joe: It’s a catchy beat.
Nyle: It’s a really catchy beat. and I immediately wrote a bunch of stuff that night. I wrote 3 verses for it and um, I don’t know, the video thing just kind of fell through. While I was writing I kept getting all these ideas and while I was sitting on it and waiting to hear back from them I just kept getting all these ideas built up in my head. So I knew I wanted to milk NYU for some money before I graduated, so I applied for pro funds with 194 Recordings which is the label club of Clive Davis.
Joe: So how much did they give you?
Nyle: So they gave us 2Gs, and that covered a bunch of stuff.
Joe: What did you spend it on?
Nyle: We had insurance, that was the biggest thing, then the actual steady cam operator who was awesome and then we had the actual Red camera which is a really expensive hi-def camera, and then after that it was just kind of like lighting, food—all that kind of stuff. Transportation, hard drives, little stuff that added up.
Joe: How long did the video take to record?
Nyle: 30 takes. That take was take 30. It’s all one shot. It’s honestly not edited together, all one shot. And we recorded the sound at the same time, that’s why everybody’s playing into mics, that’s why I had a mic, and you can kind of tell that my voice is actually rapping.
Joe: Do you have a recorded version of that song?
Nyle: No, we have a reference track but not until the album is out, and it should be done in about 2 weeks.
Jessica: You’re a Reynolds Scholar too, right?
Jessica: So what was your idea for the scholarship?
Nyle: My idea, basically what I’ve been doing is trying to establish a network of hip-hop nonprofits and hip-hop grassroots programs that are popping up all across the nation. A lot of them are started by artists, a lot of them are started by producers who actually love the music and they wanna go make a difference in the community, as opposed to like 10 years ago it was teachers wanting to communicate with their students and so they would try to start these programs. Now it’s the opposite and a lot of people just don’t have the training or the resources to be able to get fiscal sponsorships, to be able to get grants, get all that kind of structural stuff that you really need to take yourself from a small project to the next step. So it was just trying to network with different people and find out who’s actually doing these different things in different states and cities and trying to create an online network using ning.com, which is really simple.
Joe: So where are you at with that program right now?
Nyle: Right now we pretty much have a database of people that are talking to each other but we haven’t actually launched the site yet. So what Reynolds helped me do aside from you know, paying my tuition, was they kind of give you an internship over the summer. So this summer I was in Oakland which is pretty much the Mecca of all those hip-hop kids youth education kinda programs. I was there over the summer and then we drove across the country–first we drove through the south and then we drove back across the top and hit up Chicago, Indianapolis, Seattle, all those places and networked with people.
Joe: So what are your plans for after graduation? You’re graduating in a couple of weeks?
Nyle: Yep. I’m graduating in a couple weeks. I’m outta here suckaaaas.
Jessica: What will you be doing?
Nyle: I live in a concert loft right now which is pretty much a big ass loft that has a stage and a backyard; it’s in East Williamsburg a.k.a. Bushwick and pretty much I’m gonna concentrate on throwing parties there. It’s called Lake Johnson because it’s on Johnson Ave. and it has a big huge like 200 foot puddle on the roof next to us that stays wet all year round. So yeah I’m gonna keep throwing parties there, pay for rent, and then just kinda do odd jobs, do shows.
Joe: Do you make money from the parties you throw?
Nyle: Yeah. Pay rent. It’s on MySpace– So I’m gonna keep throwing parties there, I’m gonna keep rapping, and my plan is pretty much to give myself a year to do nothing but music before I try to get a real governmental job and my goal is to be on the road, touring, doing different college shows by September.
Joe: So you’re giving yourself one year to make it in the music industry?
Nyle: Pretty much. I’ve been doing it for a while now; I’ve been accruing a fan base in New York, and I’ve been releasing albums ever since I got here. Now I feel like a year is a very short time to try to “make it” but I think that’s sufficient time to try to get yourself on your feet. Even though the music industry is kind of crazy right now, I think that’s totally doable.
Jessica: So what do you want to do if you don’t make it?
Nyle: I’ll probably concentrate more on the nonprofit stuff. I’ll go to grad school at Berkeley and work in Oakland. I kind of have a job waiting for me there working with kids, working with hip-hop education and just keep focusing on the network, which is called 3 Feet High and Rising.
Joe: Are you gonna stop rapping if you get a real job?
Nyle: No, I’ll never stop rapping. I’ll be an old man with a cane, rapping, freestyling, trying to battle little kids. I’ll always rap.
Joe: What’s your writing process like?
Nyle: Well there are two writing processes. There’s a writing process where I’m just walking around and I’m either taking a crap or I’m just eating or riding my bike and then I get an idea and I start freestyling to myself and I’ll be like “Oh, that’s hot,” and then I’ll keep going and I’ll be like “Oh crap, I gotta stop, write it down.” That happens all the time and I have my phone and a little notebook that’s filled with little 16 bar verses. And then there’s just with my new album that’s coming out basically the past 8 months me and my band have been jammin’, freestyling, getting these song ideas down and then I’ll go back and actually like kind of work out the idea of the song, write it, and then you know kinda edit it like I guess you would do a paper or whatever. But just really let the music inspire you. Sometimes the words come first and sometimes the music does.
Joe: So you’re really big, from what I can see, on the live music. Did you grow up on funk, on The Roots, being from Philadelphia and all? Where does that come from?
Nyle: I would say that I grew up on–a bunch of my teachers would smack me for oversimplifying it but I grew up on regular black music on the radio. Motown, the Philadelphia sound, obviously… I’m from Philadelphia. Definitely funk, but I think that what really influenced me was when I started developing in 6th and 7th grade, when you start really branching out and acquiring and devouring music for yourself. That was during the neo-soul time, and I was in Philly, which is the heart of neo-soul and that shit was poppin’ off and so I saw Common, Black Star, Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild, all these different people who were performing with live bands and doing this whole hip-hop thing.
And of course The Roots gave bunches of free concerts and that was amazing, so I always saw the band as avant gard. And now it’s a lot more standard for hip-hop artists to rock with bands, most of them try to if they can on the live shows especially. So I think my thing is just trying to do live music. It’s what I’m most comfortable with, it’s what I’ve been doing for a long time, and I feel like I’m better at it than most people who just kinda hop on stage with a live band. Because it’s very easy to sound like shit when you rap with a live band even if you’re good at it, it’s very easy to sound like shit. More than anything I’m about that live feel and my favorite, even though I’m a recorded music major, my favorite thing to do is perform and be in front of an audience. My goal isn’t really to sell a million records, it’s to see a million people at my show.
Jessica: And why did you decide to come to NYU? A lot of hip-hop artists who are out there trying to pursue music don’t end up going that college route.
Nyle: ‘Cause my Mama made me! She made me promise. It was like you better go to college and you better get that degree and that was it. My mom sacrificed a lot so that I could have a good education and I definitely owe it to her to get this degree, at least one, and so there was really no question in my mind whether or not I was going to college. You escape the hood by going to college, and you have to go to college, and that’s the only way out, blah blah blah. But crazy enough, my parents definitely support me in doing music. It wasn’t like a rebellious thing against them and it came down, for my senior year of high school, it was pretty much either I was going to do this accelerated business track with a full scholarship at Howard or do this half scholarship and I didn’t know how the hell i was gonna pay for it, for music at NYU. And I decided to go to NYU and just follow the music because I knew that if I went to Howard it would be a lot easier for music to fade away, or it wouldn’t be cultivated in a way that it would be here.
Joe: So why do you think it is that a lot of rappers don’t go to college? Do you think they’re successful because they don’t, or do you think there’s a stigma against it, or what?
Nyle: It’s definitely against the grain or considered the opposite of hip-hop or like a tweak on hip-hop to be like, “Yeah, I went to college!” And thats because hip-hop is street culture, street music and it comes from underrepresented artists in the hood and that demographic. That’s why Asher Roth comes out being like, “Yeah, I’m white and I went to college and I had all these experiences” and it’s really different and making an impact because that’s been completely the opposite of what hip-hop is supposed to be standing for or supposed to come from. You know, it’s just poor people aren’t supposed to go to college and that’s where hip-hop comes from.
Jessica: So how do you garner fans? How do you get people to come out to your shows?
Nyle: I pay people to come to my shows. I see them on the street and I pay them $5 each to come to my show and act like they like me. Haha. Um… oddly enough, right now I’ve been lucky enough to just know a lot of people. So it’s a combination of people I know, people I’ve met and stay in contact with them, and then they come to my show, they like it, and they come back with some more of their friends. And that’s how it’s always been. I’m always talking about family at my shows because my shows really have this familial vibe because a lot of people know each other from like the downtown New York hip-hop scene and from the NYU scene.
Joe: What do you think the internet has done for your music? Are you trying to get on the blogs? Trying to go the Charles Hamilton route?
Nyle: Hell yeah. Hip-hop is in this thing right now here it’s like very much about getting on the blogosphere. I just got my first hit on the blogosphere with this video which is really exciting for me.
Joe: Who posted it?
Nyle: Um, [the hip-hop blogger] Nation posted it at Nah Right, then it went to to 2DopeBoyz, now it’s on OnSmash. We just broke 10,000 hits today on the video and it’s been out for 4 days. It’s definitely exciting for me to be on the blogs because right now there is no radio, I mean there’s radio, but there really is no radio and blogs are kinda where everybody gets broken. That’s where people are coming from. Mickey Factz just got signed to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and that was all off of blog stuff, Lil’ Wayne is pushing Drake and that’s all off of blog stuff. He had 5,000 people at SUNY Purchase and he doesn’t even have shit on the radio.
Joe: What was the blog reception from the video?
Nyle: It’s been very good. Right now my main focus is just getting up more material so that it’s not just a one-hit wonder like “Oh wow, that was a really interesting thing that that person did.” I want people to be like, “Oh, this person is able to produce interesting content,” so basically they’ll fuck with me. Because once you’re in, they’ll post everything you do. And a lot of people have major label budgets and stuff like that to basically hire promotion companies to put you through all the blogs, so when I thought about this video, I thought about it in a viral way. I want something that’s gonna spread virally, and then I want to have music videos to follow it up that are very engaging in terms of actual music.
Joe: So what’s next? You have people’s ears, so where you going now?
Nyle: The plan is changing every day but right now the plan is to release my EP for free digital download in late May or early June. A lot of people are selling their stuff on iTunes and its the digital age but that actual scene, the hip-hop scene, your music has become your calling card. Where for other people their music is their advertisement, it’s really just your business card to open your doors. During the summer I’m going to be slowly releasing videos from my video EP which is gonna be six music videos that combine into a short film which will drop at the end of the summer or halfway through the summer depending on how things catch on.
So I’m gonna keep releasing really dope videos, really good music, and hopefully just be on the road by the time September hits. Keep making music in the studio, and move on to an actual full-length album and even more cool stuff. And then on top of that I have a show coming up on May 1st at the Bowery Poetry Club. It’s kind of become a home. We’ve had four shows there so far during this year, pretty much every other month we have a show at the Bowery Poetry Club and we have been completely packing it out like 300 people in a 200 person capacity venue. And their sound system is awesome. It’s pretty much become our home for rockin’ shit. May 1st at the Bowery Poetry Club, Friday, so, that’s our next thing and we’re gonna really tear it down.
Interview conducted, transcribed and edited by Jessica Roy and Joe Coscarelli
Photos by Lauren Monaco