Niykee Heaton may have had the best 18th birthday you could ask for. On Tuesday, WorldStarHipHop picked up her YouTube cover of Chief Keef's "Love Sosa"—and it's not your typical struggle cover. Heaton turned Chief Keef's rap into a real acoustic ballad and it sounds pretty damn good.
That's not her only cover, either. She's reworked everything from A$AP Rocky's "Fuckin' Problems" to Rihanna's "Birthday Cake" and Lil Wayne's "No Worries." These songs don't have guitar riffs, so she sits and listens to each song a few times before she plays what "feels right."
Most blogs picked up her "Love Sosa" cover, and DJ Khaled and Ace Hood have already reached out to the young artist. Several record labels have hit her up, too.
Chief Keef even tweeted about it:
In one week, Pusha T has tweeted her cover of "Blocka", adding "Street Music Has No Boundaries" and Trinidad James loved her cover of "All Gold Everything. We reached out to the 18-year-old between her final exams and a shift as a cashier at Ace Hardware to talk about YouTube fame, what's coming next, and high school drama.
Interview by Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
Where are you from?
I grew up in Geneva, Illinois. It's close to downtown Chicago. But my South African roots are a huge part of my life. My mom is 100 percent South African. The rest of her family is still there.
When did you start singing and playing the guitar?
I picked up a guitar, I just loved the way it felt. I started to play when I was 10, on acoustic. I’m self-taught. I’ve never taken one lesson. I started singing when I was about five years old. When I was younger, I bought Diana Ross' Greatest Hits CD and listened to every song on my Walkman until I could mimic her voice. That's how I learned to sing.
When you do all of these covers, what is your method of learning the chords?
I started listening to rap and hip-hop when I was in fifth grade. I was raised with siblings who loved folk rock and bluegrass, so I was the odd one out with Lil Jon blasting out of my boombox. I just really identified with the beats and the rhythm of the music and melody. Lately, almost all the covers that I’ve done have no guitar chords. I turn on iTunes and I play the song three times, then I pick up my guitar and try to [play] what feels right. Half of the time I don’t know what the notes or the key or the chords are. I just play what sounds right and I don’t write anything down.
I was raised with siblings who loved folk rock and bluegrass, so I was the odd one out with Lil Jon blasting out of my boombox.
Why did you chose to cover Chief Keef’s “Love Sosa?”
People said I would be good at it and it would be a fun song to hear. At first I was like, "I don’t even think that’s possible to sing" I just tried it and I got it immediately. I think that got people’s attention because I don’t think anyone else had made [that kind of] cover to "Love Sosa."
You must be a fan of his since you’re from Chicago and all.
I am. I saw him in concert over the summer.
I’m curious what people’s reactions have been of you taking these hip-hop songs and turning them into acoustic ballads.
I would never want people to confuse my covers for mocking rap. I may not always be able to relate to the lyrics but I connect with the beat and rhythm. You can't control or force what makes you feel alive. I'm a true fan of hip-hop music and culture.
And the video went viral on your birthday.
Yeah, I was sitting in my room getting ready to go out to dinner and I was on Twitter. All of a sudden there were tweets from these random people saying, “Hey, you’re on WorldStar.” I clicked this link and it took me to the main page and I saw the “Female Cover of The Week.” I literally screamed.
Now, you’ve got a ton of rappers following you on Twitter.
When I did the cover of Ace Hood’s “I Need Your Love,” he retweeted that two weeks ago. That’s kind of where it all started. After Ace did it, DJ Khaled tweeted me and I think that got a lot of people’s attention, but it really didn’t blow up. After Chief Keef tweeted, that’s when it got really big. I saw that Trey Songz followed me and Vinny from Jersey Shore followed me.
And you must have labels after you. What's your plan, in terms of that?
My plan has been the same since I was 9 or 10 years old. That’s to reach as many people as I possibly can with my music, whether I sign with a label or wait a while. All I want to do is get as far as I possibly can. I don’t know what heights that’s going to take me to, but I’m not going to stop until I get to the very top. Every single label, at least one person, if not multiple people from every single label, has tried to get in contact, one way or another, this week.
Plus, you don’t just cover songs. You write some of your own music.
My original music is kind of alternative, but I’ve always loved rap music. It’s always been my first choice. If I would be able to write my own music with an urban edge to it, that would be the ultimate dream.
On the day after Christmas, I fly out to Miami. I’m going to work with two different writers that wrote on Rihanna’s Unapologetic album.
Have you made any plans to make music with people?
Ace said that I could perform “I Need Your Love” with him. On the day after Christmas, I fly out to Miami. I’m going to be there for about a week, so hopefully during that time. I’m going to work with two different writers that wrote on Rihanna’s Unapologetic album. Kevin Cossom, who wrote “Jump” and then another writer, Xplicit.
Are people in Chicago supportive right now?
I’ve gotten so much love it’s overwhelming. It’s something that I never expected.
You have some interesting comments on your WorldStar video.
Yeah, those are some interesting ones. I’m not sure if I should be happy about it or offended, but I’m going to take it in a good way.
Is it hard still being in high school and having rappers and labels reaching out to you?
It really isn’t. I never went to those high school parties. My Friday nights, I was composing music. People really didn’t like me for that. I got bullied a lot. As soon as this all started happening, I expected people to be excited for me but I’ve been getting almost violent threats at school. Like yesterday, I was walking in the hallway to my first period yesterday and a group of people just shoved me up against the locker and swore at me. I’m graduating early, too. This month.
Because you didn’t like high school?
Well, that’s because I just knew what I always wanted to do. I knew that the place I was in wasn’t the place where I needed to be. I was willing to do anything possible, if that meant sacrificing my free time, if that meant working harder, I was going to do it. Getting out of the place I was and moving on to somewhere I was needed.
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