Issa Rae’s HBO show Insecure is inspiring and inspired. The show sparks countless debates—#TeamIssa versus #TeamLawrence, #TeamHoePhase versus #TeamRelationship—while simultaneously influencing viewers’ fashion and hairstyle choices, and friendship goals. But Insecure’s most enamoring quality is the fact that it's wholly inspired by real-ass life, and made much more effective by real-ass music that reflects the soundtrack of our current lives.
Nick Hakim’s “Needy Bees,” the latest single from his stunning full-length debut Green Twins, is featured in the last scene of the most recent episode of Insecure. In this particular situation, a central character is getting it all the way in with an unexpected suitor. (No spoilers up in here.) As the couple makes love, Nick croons almost knowingly in the background: “I’ll come inside of you/I'll live inside of you to find what you're looking for.” It's uncomfortably intimate.
Nick makes music you might hear in your dreams after a night of having one too many; it feels hazy, nocturnal, and a bit unbelievable. So it makes sense to initially see Nick cloaked in darkness in the live, official video for “Needy Bees.” A light comes, and then it goes, sometimes illuminating his impassioned profile, at others shielding him from our sight entirely. The visual effect coincidentally mirrors Nick’s positioning in the music industry: a literal balancing act between visibility and obscurity. He's present, and people are taking notice of him, hence his feature in a much-discussed and critically acclaimed TV show. But we can only view him in the right angles, in the fleeting moments when he's exposed, or chooses to reveal himself.
When I caught up with Nick on the phone earlier this week, he was off the map and on a beach somewhere, far away from his hectic homebase of NYC and the inevitable social media tsunami that comes naturally with Insecure discussions. We talked about what it was like to be featured during a sex scene, the real meaning of “Needy Bees,” and the freedom of experimenting.
Do you watch Insecure?
Yeah, I watched the first season. I just started getting into the second season. I've kind of been catching up.
Did you peek and watch last night's episode because you knew you were gonna be featured, or have you not watched it yet?
I watched it, actually. Yeah, it was really cool.
What did you think of the use of your song in that last scene?
I mean, I thought it was cool. I just think it was interesting that they wanted to use it. It was used for a sex scene, so that was the first time that that's ever happened [to me] directly, I think. They don't tell you what they're going to use the song for, so it's kind of a surprise.
I think I still do music because of that little feeling of not knowing what you're doing, to a certain extent. But finding new ways of using your voice and new ways of playing your instrument.
How did the process play out? Did they literally just reach out and say, "Hey, we wanna use this song"?
Yeah, that's it. I had no clue that it was gonna be used for that specific scene. I'm a fan of the show. I'm a fan of Issa Rae, so I was just like, "Of course, if you wanna use my song, that would be an honor." And that was kind of it. So it was a surprise on where it was going to be placed specifically in the episode.
I was super excited when I heard it used that way.
Yeah, me too!
Has anybody hit you up that's seen it and been like, "Yo, did you see this?"
Yeah, a bunch of my friends saw it and have been messaging me. They had no clue it was gonna be used. It seems like a lot of people watch that show, too. A lot of people really like that show. It's really an awesome, awesome, awesome, awesome show.
Have you ever had anyone tell you that they've used your music for sex, or is that the first time you've ever been in that situation?
Nah, people have told me that it's music that they would have sex to. But I guess it was interesting that they used it for that. It's funny because that song's not really about sex—it sounds like it because I played with the idea of it.
What does that song actually mean, if it means anything at all?
It's definitely up in the air for interpretation in a lot of ways. The title is "Needy Bees," and a lot of people are like, "What the fuck does that mean? Is that like, degrading?" I was just thinking about a beehive, and the urgency that bees have. But it's not about bees; it's kind of all over the place. I was just trying to imagine lyrics like, if I was in the shape of a pill or some type of vitamin you would take. That metaphor of like, being something that you would intake to go inside of you. I have another song called "Pour Another," and the lyrics are basically, "Pour another glass."
It's the whole concept of being in the form of an object that you would digest or something. And if I was that object, what I would say? Then again, it just kind of sounds like it's about sex, so it's pretty funny. I thought it was really interesting that they used it for that, but I'm glad they did because I think it worked. I trust the music supervisors there, and I trust Issa Rae, and I trust what they're trying to do. I'm just glad that I got to be a part of it, whatever they envisioned it to be. I'm not like, offended or anything. I don't know why I would be, everybody has sex. Or maybe not everybody. [Laughs.]
So your album, Green Twins—it came out a couple months ago now, right?
Yeah, it came out in May. May 19.
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
No, I don't.
That's a great answer.
Have you been touring with this album?
Yeah, we did a U.S. run in March, and some European dates in April—like, before the album came out. But after the album, we haven't really been touring. We're going on tour all of October, most of November. We haven't done any summer festivals or anything. We're gonna do some festivals in Europe, the U.K. and stuff in September. So I've been kind of chillin' this summer.
Fair, I'm sure you deserve it. So, the live version of "Needy Bees." I'm looking at the video and it's really interesting: the lighting, the way it's shot. I'm just curious about how much input you had about the video?
How it developed was pretty organic, in the sense of like, the director [Derrick Belcham] had the idea of the lights and shit. I just thought that was really interesting, so we tried it, and we ended up just using one-camera take. I thought that was probably the best move. After we recorded the video, we stayed at Strange Weather and mixed it. I stayed there with Daniel Schlett, whose studio we recorded at, and he mixed it. I gave him little notes, but I just kind of let everybody do their job and do the things they're good at. I do a lot of production, and I have a couple different engineers that help out with recording. I work with one producer/engineer, this guy Andrew Sarlo, who helped out a lot on the album. He actually played bass on "Needy Bees." And he played bass on a bunch of shit.
On "Needy Bees," is it just you two?
Yeah, it's just us two. Everything else but bass, I played it all. Andrew and I have a great working relationship. We produced the EPs together, as well. He's the only other person I've ever collaborated with as a producer.
Since Green Twins is your first full-length album, what was the process like putting this together versus your EPs in the past, which were a little bit more free?
They both took a long time, which was something that was similar about the process. But they were just different parts of my life and shit. They were just based around two different phases I've gone through. The main difference, I think, was the environment that I was in. Green Twins, all those songs were mostly written in New York, and trying to figure shit out in New York, and figuring out why I even moved to New York. I was just working so many different jobs, just hustling a lot. I was just at home, writing and figuring. The EPs, I self-released that. It's been a lot of learning how to navigate, and making my own little safe space to make music and just to be myself.
When I was in Boston and I made the EPs, I was a student in college, and the album was made while I was working. At times, I had at least two to three jobs at once, doing all kinds of jobs while I was trying to write music. It all just fell together with the songs; they all kind of blended together after a while. I guess comfortability was a big difference of the process. At school, you're a student, so obviously there are a lot of things that are stressful. But I didn't really have to deal with you know, being in the real world. [Laughs.]
I wanted to focus on "Needy Bees" for this piece, since it was featured in the show, and you have the new video. But I personally wanted to tell you that I really appreciate "Farmissplease." You use your voice in a way that a lot of people don't.
Wow, thank you so much. I appreciate that. That might be [my favorite song on the album], if I had to pick one that I had to like, lean towards to. In terms of flexibility, that was one piece of music where I was doing a lot of different things. I was using my voice in a lot of different ways in that song. Some of that shit was hard. It's funny because, for a lot of that song, for the first verse, I was trying to re-sing that. The demo version is the one we actually ended up using, just like, scratch vocals. We ended up using it because it was impossible for me to re-sing that, and for it to feel like the right thing.
Everything on that album, I feel like every single piece, especially the vocal stuff—it's one thing to make an instrumental, flesh it out and have everything work together. For me, that's always been easier than when you have to perform your vocals. I feel like vocals are such a sensitive and vulnerable space to be in, and I have to be by myself. I cannot be around other people when I do shit like that. I have to be by myself. It's kind of like I get into a race car, and I don't know what's gonna come out, or what I'm gonna hit, or what I'm gonna do. But I just fuckin' go a little crazy, and it's really the most liberating feeling. I think I still do music because of that little feeling of not knowing what you're doing, to a certain extent. But finding new ways of using your voice and new ways of playing your instrument.
Sep 02 Dorset, UK - End Of The Road Festival
Sep 03 Stradbally, Ireland - Electric Picnic
Oct 03 Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg
Oct 04 Baltimore, MD - Metro Gallery
Oct 05 Raleigh, NC - Kings
Oct 06 Nashville, TN - Basement East
Oct 07 Atlanta, GA - Vinyl
Oct 09 Birmingham, AL - The Nick
Oct 10 New Orleans, LA - Gasa Gasa
Oct 12 Houston, TX - White Oak Music Hall (Upstairs)
Oct 14 Austin TX - ACL Festival
Oct 15 Dallas, TX - House of Blues (Cambridge Room)
Oct 17 Tucson, AZ - Club Congress
Oct 18 Santa Ana, CA - Constellation Room
Oct 19 Los Angeles, CA - Echoplex
Oct 20 San Francisco, CA - The Independent
Oct 21 Oakland, CA - Starline Social Club
Oct 23 Portland, OR - Doug Fir
Oct 24 Seattle, WA – Barboza
Nov 01 Paris, FR - Pitchfork Avant-Garde
Nov 03 Rotterdam, NL - BIRD
Nov 04 Eindhoven, NL - So What's Next Festival
Nov 07 Bristol, UK - The Lantern
Nov 08 London, UK - KOKO
Nov 09 Manchester, UK - The Deaf Institute
Nov 10 Glasgow, UK - King Tut's
Nov 11 Leeds, UK - Brudenell Social Club
Nov 13 Cologne, GER - Stadtgarten
Nov 14 Berlin, GER - Lido
Nov 15 Belgium, BE - Forest National (Supporting Bonobo)
Nov 16 Amsterdam, NL - AFAS Live (Supporting Bonobo)
Nov 17 Hamburg, GER - Uberjazz Festival
Nov 18 Paris, FR - Le Zenith (Supporting Bonobo)