We get close and delve deep into the mind and heart of River Nelson, on his upcoming album “The Rise and Fall of River Nelson”.
The Brooklyn-based artist received backing from “hip hop genius” and UK producer Lewis Parker for his debut album, releasing on July 26th. Not just any hip hop album, “The Rise and Fall of River Nelson” is something where River thought hard and searched for deep inside, with self-inspiration the key.
Bringing a mix of hip hop drum beats and blues with provoking words of life and experiences, River Nelson has brought something quite unique to the industry, to prove his name as one of the most refreshing hip hop artists this year. Speaking to Flavour magazine, River Nelson gives us access to his personal mission:
What inspired you for this album concept?
Years before making this album, I really became aware of what type of person and artist I wanted to be, which began a personal mission to discover and access my ultimate potential. Although I knew I wanted to embark on this growth-mission, I wasn’t aware of just how much of a difficult process it would be, until shortly before making this album. Once I started putting together ideas for this project, I really wanted to document the up and down process of trying to grow, by capturing it through song. That’s how the concept of the Rise and Fall came to be.
Regarding the development of creating your debut album, did you find it a cathartic process i.e. did you discover unknown things about yourself or was it simply a case of putting experience to lyrics?
I really did discover things about myself while making this album. Each song was truly written and recorded in the moment, so I’m able to listen to each song and see where I was at that particular time; emotionally, psychologically, spiritually etc, and learn from each song and time period. One of the luxuries about being a recording artist is, you can discover many truths about yourself, and your surroundings, by listening to the songs, and developing new outlooks, and better ways to proceed. You can learn a ton of things in retrospect.
If you could choose one track on your album that you consider the best, which would it be?
It’s hard to pinpoint just one song, because I do believe that they all have an equal amount of quality and contribute to the overall theme of the album. Today, my favorite song is “End of the Day”, as I believe it really reminds us that sometimes the only goal we can establish for ourselves is to make it to the end of any given day, with our bodies and minds intact. But, what I consider my best song, or my favorite song, changes from week to week, sometimes from day to day, because they capture different moods, and experiences. Also, when a fan writes me about a song and tells me how it touched them, that particular song will be my favorite for awhile.
The Rise and Fall of River Nelson – an obviously personal projection of yourself as a person and not just an artist – where and how do you go on from here?
You’re absolutely right, The Rise and Fall of River Nelson is a summation of both myself as a person, and artist, so where I go from here is to continue to be hyper aware of both my personal growths and stagnations. This album taught me that it will be a huge detriment for me, not to monitor these things as much as possible. It’s almost like working out at the gym. You can lift all of the weights and do all of the cardio you can take, but if you’re not checking things like your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and overall body readings, you cannot gage what else you need to do, in terms of adding, taking away, or changing something. This is what I’ve learned while making this album, as it pertains to my own battles in reaching my ultimate potential in all areas of my life.
You’ve even got your sister Panama to collaborate on ‘Rise and Fall’, how did you find working with her?
It was great working with Panama for several reasons. First, she’s been an amazing poet within the poetry scene for many years, and we always talked about combining our art one day, so we were happy that it finally happened. Also, her being my sister, makes it that much more sweet, because we used to sing “Ebony and Ivory” in the mirror together when we were kids (I was usually Paul McCartney to her Stevie Wonder), and dream of being on a record together one day. It’s nice to see that dream now come to fruition.
What would you consider to be the most important element of hip hop music, in terms of creating an impact in today’s generation i.e. it’s not really just about sex, money and fame?
I believe the most important element of Hip Hop is the spoken word aspect of it. The spoken word is one of the most powerful tools to spark thought and create change. Revolutions, wars, and major events in world history, have begun because of the spoken word. Combine the spoken word of rap, with the hard drum beat, and it creates the perfect bedding to have a real dialogue between all of those that have discovered Hip Hop music as a means to communicate. I believe that is the most important element of Hip Hop, and we always have to remember to take advantage of that communication. Also, Hip Hop has created access for our generation. Access to business opportunities, access to hear about others lifestyles around the globe, and access towards being creative. Hip-Hop is unique because it pushes you to participate, and get involved on some level, and you can just start by just picking up a pen and writing down your thoughts in a clever way. It doesn’t require a bunch of music lessons to get started.
Do you have any tips for new artists trying to get noticed in the industry?
I would say the best way to get noticed in the industry, is to develop a buzz on your own, before you reach out to the big record companies. The industry really respects an artist that has made their own success, because it shows initiative, and that the marketing of your brand is already under way. As a result, the industry is more inclined to work with you, because your music will be a much easier sell for them. Also, you really want to have some negotiating leverage when you first deal with the music industry, and it’s really hard for an artist to have that, if they just walk into a record label with a demo. Good music by itself usually doesn’t get respected by the industry. It’s both good music and good business practices, with a strong buzz.
Would you agree that the current music industry requires artists to change, in terms of approach/image/stance to make it big, or is talent alone enough?
Definitely. There was a time when good music alone could get you a record deal. Since Hip Hop became big business, and turned into a billion dollar juggernaut, there was too much money to be made by record executives to solely focus on the art. So a lot of Hip Hop music became packaged and watered down, to appeal to mass audiences. This really forced the artist who is concerned with making quality art, to change his or her approach. No longer can artists depend on the record label to take care of their art, or really even appreciate it. The only ones who still appreciate just the musical aspects are the listeners. So nowadays, you really want to deal with the fans directly, as opposed to waiting for a record label to open up that communication for you. An artist must take advantage of all of the social network sites, and other means available to them, because it takes away the music industry having sole power in their careers. Today is the best time for an artist to create his own fan base, and he must do that if he wants to penetrate industry doors.
Do you think hip hop is changing and if so, in what way do you hope?
I do think Hip Hop is changing. It changes every 10 years or so, and right now we are in the beginning stages of another paradigm shift. Lyrical content is now being respected again. There was a large portion of time between the late 90’s through just last year, where financial status, fashion, sexuality, and being a gangster, came before lyrics. I see it now, where artistry is a bit more appreciated with great works being put out by, Kanye West, Drake, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and many others. Since these are all mainstream artists, they are starting to change the perception of the music industry in terms of what can sell and be profitable. I really hope it stays in this direction, because there is no reason why you can’t be commercially successful and boundary pushing at the same time. It will allow those of us, who really want to stay creative, an opportunity to make a decent life in this business.
How important has Lewis Parker been to your cause, and what can the industry learn from producers like him?
Lewis has probably been the strongest force behind my cause. Our chemistry is so great on this record, because he really understands my approach, and what I wanted to convey sonically. He is probably the most devoted person to Hip Hop music that I know, and everyone can learn from that. Lewis keeps himself immersed in the music, and his personal life, and his art are pretty much one. That’s really inspiring to me, because I believe that’s how you get the most out of yourself as an artist. You have to live it 365 days a year, and always have your creative antennas up. Lewis does that, and has certainly reminded me that this is how an artist should be. Lewis is a Hip Hop genius on many levels.
Last but not least – which other artists do you look up to, if any, and is there anyone you would love to work with?
I look up to a countless amount of artist, as I love all music, not just Hip Hop. However, my main influences are, Outkast, Nas, A Tribe Called Quest, Radio Head, Bob Marley, Sade. I love all of these artists approach to song writing, and I’ve been inspired by all of them. There are also a large number of artists I would love to work with too. I really feel the UK Hip Hop artists Ramson Badbonez. I love his words and delivery, and would like to work with him. I’d also love to do something with Dizzee Rascal and Sway, as they are amazing to me too. Also, I’d love to work with Amy Winehouse. I love just about everything she makes.
Keep up with River Nelson on MySpace.
Words by Saima Azam