Let's say you had to call your local exterminator to get rid of some termites and during the course of his visit he mentioned being a rapper. If that exterminator happened to be one Nickelus F, rolling your eyes would be the wrong reaction. Although the Virginia native's day job is killin' bugs, he's been killin' MCs since winning the VA leg of The Source's Unsigned Hype battle when he was only 17. F's battle reputation was further solidified in 2007 after his reign as an undefeated champion on 106 & Park's Freestyle Fridays.
As of late though, Nickelus F's name has been ringing bells due his association with fellow rookie rapper Drake, our current Cover subject. Drizzy has heaped on the praise, citing F as a huge influence and one of the reasons he began to rap. F has shown himself worthy of the accolades, dropping a string of impressive mixtapes including Heathen, Thank You, and the Portishead-influenced R.A.R.E. (Reliving A Real Experience). Complex took notice, including him in our list of the game's most underrated new rappers. Nickelus recently took time to talk to us about his upcoming mixtape Season Premiere, how he became an exterminator, and his collaborative process with Drake...
Intervew By Toshitaka Kondo
Complex: What's your next project going to be called?
Nickelus F: Season Premiere. I've done like 65-70 references we're cutting it down to like 16 songs. I want to have it out in about two months. I want to get all the videos and artwork done. It's pretty much all-original [production]. One of the main producers I'm working with throughout all of it is this guy Stephen Skeeter from Portsmith, Virginia. I also got some production from Elite. I met up with him in New York and he blessed with a lot of beats. Rich Kidd from Toronto, he did some production on it. The only vocalists on it rapping with me is XV.
Complex: For people who aren't familiar with you, can you tell the people how you got started?
Nickelus F: I started rhyming at a real early age. My father's in the military, so we moved like every three or three and a half years. I was born Portland, Oregon. Then we moved to Berlin, Germany, then we moved to Hampton, Virginia, then we moved to Charlotte, Virginia then we moved to West Virginia, then we moved to Richmond, Virginia. I saw a lot and I just started rapping. I started taking it seriously in 6th grade.
Complex: Did you come up battling?
Nickelus F: Yeah, definitely. Anytime like another school would come over for a football game, niggas knew I would be battling whoever they brought. I would go to other schools and be looking for they niggas. Then the Source thing happened by a stroke of luck. I wasn't even supposed to be in it. You were supposed to be 18, and I was 17. I won it for Virginia and I went up to New York and I lost to Shells.
Complex: After the Source, the next big break you had was 106 & Park?
Nickelus F: Yeah. 106 & Park came randomly. I had just moved to this new apartment, got a new job, and my man called me like, "Yo, you got to go to New York tomorrow." And I'm like "I can't go to New York tomorrow, I just started a job. I got to go to work." He's like, "Nah, dawg, you got to do it. This is 106 & Park. This could really be good for you." I called my boss at ten o'clock that night like, "I'm not going to be in in the morning because I'm going to New York to battle on television. I promise I won't do it no more." But when I came back he was excited for me. And we worked something out so every week I could go up there.
Complex: What were you doing at the time?
Nickelus F: Terminex. Exterminating. I'm still currently an exterminator. I hope to be out of it soon, but that's what I do. Just the other day I was crawling underneath a house and my head bumped a dead rat that landed right in front of me, a big one. It's a regular thing. I crawl under houses and face a snake and all that. And they pay me decent. I mean, everything I do I try to be the best at it. I'm not just a termite technician, I got my commercial license so I can train the next nigga.
Complex: How did you get into that?
Nickelus F: Monster.com. At first I was very hesitant about it. I'm not an insect-type dude. I smash them joints quick. I ain't never ran from them, but I ain't like 'em. I never necessarily thought about working with them. It really ain't as bad as it seems. I always rapped and worked. Before it was Terminex, I was moving nine-foot, $100,000 pianos up spiral staircases. I messed some up dropping them.
Complex: How much did being on 106 & Park help your career?
Nickelus F: It didn't do much in terms of like, I didn't get no deal. But it did expose me to a whole lot of people. That's what I'm grateful for about the situation. That's all I really wanted from the beginning. All I really wanted was the exposure. I wasn't really expecting to get a deal out of it. At the time, I wasn't all the way together with my music. I didn't capitalize on opportunities I could have capitalized on.
Complex: How did the Portishead-inspired R.E.A.L. come about?
Nickelus F: Actually it came out when I was working on Heathen. The producer of the record "Somebody's Watching Me," Ivory Thomson, sampled a Portishead record. I was like; "Yo what is this sample?" I can't remember what song it was off the top of my head, but it was just so crazy. I loved it so much. It was everything I would like to do musically. The sound of it was dark and it had a lot of atmosphere to it, but it also had this angelic-type voice singing over it. It was kind of like an angel in chaos. So that night I bought all of their CDs on ITunes, off that one song, loaded those songs into my iPod and that's all I listened to for like a month straight. And what I noticed was that there was a lot of open instrumental space in-between the singing. So one day I was freestyling over it, and that's how the "Robes" record came about. I was like this is too much for me not to do it. I was working on all at the same time. I actually got in contact with the dude from Portishead, Geoff Burrow, and he heard the project and he loved it.
Complex: A lot of people may have first heard your name mentioned with Drake. I heard you guys met on Myspace. How did that actually happen?
Nickelus F: Yeah, it was a random Myspace email. He said he liked my music and wanted to do a record. It was the "Money" record.
Complex: Did you know about him from Degrassi?
Nickelus F: I had no idea who he was. But I checked his screen and saw he had a lot of followers, and I listened to his music. He could spit, so I was down for it. So I did the record and it came out good and we did more records. And we always kept in touch after that.
Complex: He says you're the reason he started rapping. But if he was already spitting, what do you think he meant by that?
Nickelus F: I don't know, I take it as a compliment. I don't know what he meant by that but you get inspiration by all different types of people. And who knows what was going on at that time. The first CD of mine, Cut The Check, he told me he loved it. Ran it back and back and back.
Complex: There was also an original version of "Forever" that you were on, right?
Nickelus F: Yeah, kind of. He sent me the record, told me to send him a verse for it. I did a verse and sent it to him. But it didn't come out with me on it. It came out with him, Wayne, and Kidd Kidd. It was completely different when they officially put it out. I thought [Wayne] went ham on that original verse. It was so raw. I was like, "Damn!" I just personally felt he went in on that verse better than the new verse. The new verse is hot, too, but I felt the first verse was better.
Complex: Did you cut any records for So Far Gone?
Nickelus F: Nah, I had went up there a few times and we had studio sessions. Most of our work was via email. I went up there for the "Replacement Girl" video shoot and went up there another time just to kick it and what not. But as far as So Far Gone, he did send me a record but it didn't end up making it on the project.
Complex: Drake has said he bounces ideas off of people. He names you as one of the people he used to do that with a lot. How would that whole process work creatively?
Nickelus F: He would send me a record and ask me what I would do on it. If say like, a hook was needed or something, I might throw an idea and he might switch it up a little bit. And go back and forth like that.
Complex: Have you ever helped him with a verse?
Nickelus F: Yeah, I've contributed. I'm a team player. I won't say I wrote a verse that he spit verbatim, but I've contributed. I helped out with the hook on "City Is Mine" the hook on "Overdose On Life." I didn't do anything on the verse at all.
Complex: Oh, so it's like sometimes you might help write a hook, or if it's part of the verse you might help start off a verse, or write some of the verse?
Nickelus F: Yeah, I've done that. I know the rumor going around. I don't want anything I say to be misconstrued. I helped out, you know. [Laughs].
Complex: So anyone who says, "Nickelus F writes for Drake" would be mistaken?
Nickelus F: Yes. Have I done work here and there? Yes I have. Do I write for him on a regular basis? No. Have I written for him on a regular basis? No.
Complex: But you have written for him before?
Nickelus F: Verses?
Nickelus F: Yes, I have done a verse. Not a bunch of verses. I have helped out with hooks and one verse in particular. But I don't write no verses for him.
Complex: What was that one verse in particular?
Nickelus F: I don't want to say! [Laughs].
Complex: Was it well known?
Nickelus F: Yeah, it's well known. I don't know if I necessarily want to put that out there. That's my homie at the end of the day.
Complex: Could you say what project it was on?
Nickelus F: Yeah, but it would kind of give it away.
Complex: Wayne spit a Drake verse at the Grammys. People know Wayne writes his shit, just like people know Drake writes his shit. If there's a verse that he spit that's yours, or that you helped him with, it's not going to be like, "Oh my God! Drake doesn't write anything because Nickelus F wrote one verse for him."
Nickelus F: Well, it was on the So Far Gone retail version. I'll just say that much. I don't want to say what song.
Complex: Was it "Fear"?
Nickelus F: No, it wasn't "Fear." I ain't have nothing to do with "Fear." I ain't have nothing to do with anything new that he's working on.
Complex: Are you credited on the liner notes?
Nickelus F: No, I am not credited. Not credited yet. We're working it out though. We talked about it.
Complex: It wasn't anything on "Best I Ever Had" though?
Nickelus F: No, it wasn't anything on "Best I Ever Had."
Nickelus F: Nah, I didn't do anything on "Successful."
Nickelus F: Nothing on "Houstonlantavegas."
Complex: "The Calm"?
Nickelus F: Nothing on "The Calm?"
Nickelus F: Nothing on "Uptown."
Complex: It's got to be "I'm Goin' In" then?
Nickelus F: [Laughs]. I didn't say that.
Complex: Have you been working with him on Thank Me Later?
Nickelus F: Nah, I haven't worked on Thank Me Later at all. I think he's just a perfectionist and he doesn't want to settle. I think he's going to try to get the best material that he can get. I don't know anything past that for real. That's just my take on it.
Complex: How much has him blowing up, helped you? He shouts you out so much, how much has that helped you in terms of your exposure.
Nickelus F: It's helped a whole lot. I can't necessarily say I've had more label interest, but I've just had a lot more people come to me and everyone wants to extend a helping hand. And now a lot of people that are now in support. Just from a loose association. It's been a big help for me. With the success of So Far Gone, people go back and they want to know about the past of somebody. So they go back to hear his old projects, and they hear Room For Improvement and they hear me on it. I just believe if I stick to my guns and do the music that's in my heart that it's going to connect. It's going to connect, eventually. A lot of people have just been speaking on me to other people. I always say, everyday I expect good news and good things for 2010.
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