Nyke Nitti on hustling CDs in the time of tapes, making it in the game and Louis Armstrong

Nyke Nitti (aka Nate Johnson and formerly known as Nyke Loc) is a veteran in the Denver hip-hop game. With over eight years of rap lore under his belt, he has watched the rise of some of the best who have helped shape the city's scene. From Innerstate Ike, whom Nitti has known since he was referred to as "Lil Ike" to Young Doe to the frequent collaborations with DJ Ktone, Nyke has maintained his status as one of the most prominent witnesses to the evolution Colorado hip-hop.

Nyke hails from a music-centric family: His brother Mo Heat is a hit-making producer for Food Chain, and Nyke himself is a beat maker, as well as a rapper. He owns his own studio (Str8 Chekn Studio) and largely uses beats and rhyme features from in-house collaborators. Nyke has a sound akin to that of Mack-10, if the Inglewood, California, rapper ever spit over grimy East Coast beats with his lazy west side flow. We caught up with Nyke Nitti to talk the name change, the rules of making it in the game and his penchant for Louis Armstrong.

Westword: So who is Nyke?

Nyke Nitti: Nyke Loc is the beginning. I started doing music and dropping CDs in 1995. It had five songs on it, and they were all produced by Boozilla. He produced the whole album except for one song. We sold 1000 units of that. That was back when everybody had tape decks and not too many people had CD players in their cars.

When were were out selling CDs, fools were like, "Hey, man, I can't even play this in my car because I have a tape deck." We were some of the first to push actual CDs in '95 or '96. After that, I dropped Hit List. We dropped that in 1997 and have just repackaged it.

You look kind of like Premier or somebody on the cover of this album. I see, there are like 26 tracks on this joint right now.

Yeah, that was back in 1997 when we were just banging them out.

[laughs] We were recording at my boy Zaboo's spot or we would go to Kerr/Macy Studios. See, right now, they don't really have any really big studios like we used to have back then. When we wanted to do work we had to go to the big studios. Kerr/Macy was where everybody was recording. After that we dropped Mob Life. We spent a lot of money on that one. That was 1998 or 1999 when we did that. We got all the graphics done and used who Master P and E-40 was using at the time for their album covers.

This shit is cool. That's a New Orleans street with Denver in the back?

[laughs] Yeah, that's cool right? It was my idea to have it like that, and we did it for the streets and for the town. That was real big for the town. We had everybody on it. We had Innerstate Ike -- that was when he was Lil' Ike, back then; Young Doe is on there. We all came up together and have been doing music together for a long time. Before they were dropping albums, we have been working together. The Laundromat album was out in 2003 or 2004.

You were already changing the name and starting to go by Nyke Nitti around this time?

Yeah, actually the change started with the Mob Life album, because in one of my verses, I said Nyke Nitti, and it just stuck, because I was watching the Frank Nitti movie and I realized that it's kind of nice. We came with The Formula; it's the most complete album that I've dropped to date. All those CDs are good, but this is the most complete album I've dropped.

What is your hip-hop influence? Where does all of this come from?

I love music. Not just hip-hop. It doesn't matter what it is or what genre it falls in, I just love music. Rock and roll, blues, or whatever. I can listen to it because I like music. As far as where my hip-hop influence comes from, I'm from the old school, and I'm an older cat, so I came up with KRS ONE, Big Daddy Kane, Heavy D, all of that.

So you're a hip-hop purist, as they say?

Yeah, that's where I came from, listening to Kwame. See people don't know about that, but that's what we were listening to when I was coming up. Nowadays, I can't say anyone influenced me, but I just like a lot of people's work -- Talib Kweli, Mos Def, all of those people are dope to me. I like the more East Coast flow with a West Coast track. That's my style of music. I like the delivery of those on the East and mixed with a hard Westcoast sound, like Battlecat. That's what I listen to mostly.

What have you been working on these days?

My main goal is to make quality music. People can go to the studio and put out albums and put out CDs, but it's not really quality. I try to bring quality material to the game, and what I'm working on right now, is the whole complete album. It's going to be seventeen songs, and we're shooting the video for the single "Bottle As a Weapon," that should be coming out soon.

That's obviously a club track right?

For sure. It's a dope song. I know you heard that song with 8Ball and MJG with Diddy [laughs] -- that's what I was on. Me and Dai Dae are working on a project together. We're not going to say that it's a Best of Both Worlds kind of album, because everyone has already used that. It's just Nyke and Dae, like night and day.

Nice. You've got the name choice thing down.

[laughs]Yes! I've got ideas for days and days, I just need someone to bring on the budget. Somebody gotta cut the check.

For someone who has been in the game for a while amidst the changes in the music climate, has your desire to get signed with a major label changed with the times?

I always want to get signed, but I'm not tripping off that. I've done quite a lot. My rap career has taken to all sorts of places. I've been able to travel and asked to perform in spots I've never been before.

Can you pinpoint a particular sound of rap that comes out of Colorado?

A lot of the producers out here are more East Coast. I call it "backpacking." If you're familiar with that phrase then you know what I mean.

The sort of Alchemist, Madlib, Jay Dilla style production you mean?

Yeah, exactly. I never even knew there were so many producers out here. Scorp Diesel, that's my boy. Him, Mo Heat, Mass Productions, Severe -- these are my guys, and that's my sound.

There does seem to be that balance, like you said. Mass Prod is definitely a product of Madlib and Dilla and Severe is more of the style of The Runners.

That's all I need to make my album. Scorp Diesel, between him and my brother, those two guys can always make me a hit. If no one else can make me a hit, those two guys can do it. And they can get it done in ten or fifteen minutes.

What is your writing process like?

Sometimes it's slow, sometimes it's quick. I tell my brother to give me a beat disc with like six or seven beats on them, and then I'll have like three or four songs -- not just verses, songs, with hooks and everything complete.

What's your favorite song?

[laughs] That would be really hard for me to tell you. Like I said, I like so much. It depends. It really depends. I have songs that I like for different reasons, motivation, spiritual, or whatever.

What's the song that you'll never turn off when it comes across your path?

Well that would have to be between "What a Wonderful World" by Louie Armstrong and "Get Your Bread" by E-40.

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Ru Johnson
Contact: Ru Johnson