Know Pittsburgh Hip-Hop and the New Studio Making It
While talking about the benefits of signing a record deal, the rapper NVSV's (NASA) manager, Chanice Lazarre, popped her head in his yellow and blue studio-office to ask, "do you want to do a show at Diesel," the club on Pittsburgh's South Side. The 24-year-old music producer and rapper said yes as he appreciates the exposure.
Through that show and others, and credit to his management at Library Collaborative's independent record label, NVSV has cemented himself as a contributing member of the 'Burgh's local hip-hop scene by taking opportunities to perform. He performed a trap hip-hop show in Butler, Pa. and performed at James Street Gastropub on the North Side last weekend.
NVSV's music features "a lot of personal experience, lessons, and self-reflection. I want people to see what I'm living through," he said.
At Library Collaborative, "we have artists on the label right now. I am one of them. Then there's Juice, L K Hae, he's like an alternative rock type act, and Tremoravia, he's like a hard rock guy," NVSV said. SMTATOE, a guitarist and pianist, as well as the rapper Vapo Reeves benefit from the label's resources. The diversity of the Library's in-house artists is the best resource. "We definitely have a catalog or library of musicians from different backgrounds," he said. If "I need these [piano] keys, I can go around the corner and be like, 'Smitty [SMTATOE], can you play these keys for me?' And Smitty is damn near a classically trained pianist."
"Everyone is feeding off everyone else's process, so you end up learning a lot about how all the artists here approach what they do," SMTATOE said. "I've learned a lot from just trying new approaches I wouldn't have tried."
NVSV's appreciation for eclectic styles of music came from his childhood while he grew up in Baltimore. "I listened to a lot of everything... There was a lot of house music and a lot of gospel music. With my mom, I grew up Christian. I went to Catholic schools," he said.
Listeners of NVSV can draw comparisons to Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco. He said he relates to Chicago music the most, and that the listener needs to accept what they're not accustomed to. "I don't get too caught up in the braggadocios [raps]," NVSV said.
Importantly, NVSV saw education as his way out of the 'hood. Music "was a hobby" of his while he matriculated through school. "When all of my friends are going to the zone school, and they see me going to school with a suit and tie on, I knew education would always be my way out of the city," NVSV said.
It wasn't until NVSV attended The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in 2011 when he understood the profitability of making music. "I encountered a lot of people who were artistic in their respect," he said. One of the owners of Library Collaborative, Shane Johnson, attended The Art Institute and that's how NVSV learned about the studio.
After graduation in 2015 with a degree in Industrial Design, NVSV, officially Aaron Adkinson, took a job with Invent Help where he did 3D printing. He'd head straight to the Library after his nine to five shift, and he'd stay there until three in the morning producing all the beats he'd rap over (he produces under the moniker SWGLTUUF). "The owners saw the drive of the musicians they had here. It's just a dedication to that craft that made the owners go forward and start a record label," NVSV said.
The Library Collaborative opened its doors as a full-service multi-media recording studio in Pittsburgh's South Hills on October 13, 2017. They have rooms for recording live instrumentation with guitars and drums, a full environment green screen, a projector room, and more. Artists on the label, like NVSV and SMTATOE, help run the studio's operations and manage clients.
Further, the Library focuses on "making sure the quality of all of our work is up to par, all of it is seen and respected as such," Juice said. Raising the bar of "the music itself but also in the events that the scene provides."
Although the city thrives creatively, people, especially rappers like Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, tend to go elsewhere to make names for themselves and come back to visit home when convenient. NVSV wants to be part of the crop of people who stay in the 'Burgh and be the "poster children" for the community. "We need to become the promoters. We're in touch with the culture" he said.
NVSV said he is "hopeful for the future" in Pittsburgh. "By playing, creating and working hard we can inspire the same people that inspire us," Juice said.
ITR: Whenever you were little, who were you listening to?
NVSV: Growing up I listened to a lot of everything. I'm from Baltimore, so there was a lot of house music and a lot of gospel music. With my mom, I grew up Christian. I went to Catholic schools. My mom kept me in private schools because she didn't want me to fall into that crowd which was a crowd I'm familiar with 'cause I grew up in the 'hood. When all of my friends are going to the zone school, and they see me going to school with a suit and tie on, I knew education would always be my way out of the city. When I see people I grew up with pursuing music as their ticket out, I understand that. You do need to get out and school is not for everybody, but I knew that was my way. As far as music, during that transition, I was susceptible to everything. What I listened to really was Jay Z, Lupe, and Kanye. Ludacris too. Ludacris was the first CD I bought. Fuckin' "Chicken and Beer." As of now, we have so many vinyl records here and so many other forms of music that I wasn't aware of before. It's just opened my ear.
ITR: Talk about the artistic freedom you have here at Library Collaborative or the tools that are here and not elsewhere.
NVSV: The perspective of other musicians. I can sit here and twiddle at a beat for hours and I'm like, 'I need these keys.' I can go around the corner and be like, 'Smitty (SMTATOE), can you play these keys for me?' And Smitty is damn near a classically trained pianist. [laughs] I don't have to sample. I can sit here with someone and we bond over music and they express what they're feeling over what I did. It's Library Collaborative because there's a lot of collaboration going on. We don't turn down an opportunity to collaborate. All the projects we've released under the label, every artist that's ever worked here is on each one of those projects. I know a song that I perform called "Entropy" that people love. It was from my last album called "Mystic." It was just a cool song to me and not anything serious. It's me and L K Hae and I just asked him to throw me some guitar lines on it. People love that song and I wasn't expecting them to feel that way towards it. That's a testament to his talent.
ITR: Do you know Geechi P?
NVSV: It's funny you said that. That song was an inspiration. I've always been NVSV (NASA) and I got it from a college friend. She used to call me NEVA SOBA because every time she saw me I always had a blunt in my ear. I turned that into NVSV since 2012. When I first got here to the studio, I was doing a lot of my own stuff and it was my first time seeing a guitarist and a live drummer. It was new to me so I wanted to do something with that so I created a band called EVRTH (earth). We dismembered, but I wanted to do something different. This genre was neo-soul, Fugees-esque. 'Swim At Your Own Risk' is inspired by a song called 'Oceans' that EVRTH performed. It was written as a double entendre for women as a body of water and as a life force for the world. My writing process is a lot of personal experience, lessons, and self-reflection. I don't get too caught up in the braggadocios. I want people to see what I'm living through.
ITR: What has Pittsburgh meant to you? Were you involved in the creative community in Baltimore before you left to notice a difference or similarity between the two cities?
NVSV: A little bit but it's different when you're doing that as a child to when you're an adult. In Baltimore, I attended the Baltimore School for the Arts until I got kicked out [laughs]. I've always been artistically inclined. So, in Baltimore in 2009, they started cutting art programs. I knew people who didn't have art in school. I'm fortunate to go to private schools so we have art. It was something I felt like I was wasting while I was there and I could have done more with. In Pittsburgh, the Art Institute was my first choice. People are like, 'you chose to come here?' Yeah because I wanted to be an industrial designer and they had Industrial Design. The only other Art Institute that had that was in Orlando so I knew I'd be on the beach all day and I would've failed. It was strategic planning coming to Pittsburgh. When I got here, it was a lot of diversity. I never looked at people as different races because growing up in the inner-city all you see is one race. I remember telling people here I thought white people were exclusive to teachers. [laughs] You know? I didn't think they did anything else in the world. Coming here to Pittsburgh was one of my first times seeing an inter-racial relationship. That opened my eyes to a lot more. They're mixing here and I knew that they've always been mixing. My mom wanted me to go to an H.B.C.U. and I told her that the world isn't black [laughs] and she gave me shit for it. You can't win in a world with all black thinking because that's not what the world is.
ITR: Is Pittsburgh a place you continue to see yourself?
NVSV: Right now, Pittsburgh is doing well because the art scene is flourishing. Me as an artist, I feel like this place as a sanctuary for artists to come to is going to be on the up and up. I'm not trying to run away from Pittsburgh anytime soon. They're going to be poster children and I feel like we are in a position to do that. You guys also. I see you guys everywhere. Reviving Real just to name a couple. I'll be here for a little bit. If I do go anywhere, it'll be overseas. My end goal is to be in Africa. I do music differently from why other people do music. Of course for the money, but what I want to do with my money is different from other people. I still have that industrial design background in mind. Once I do make these millions on millions, my plan is to buy land and start a self-sufficient community, hopefully, a city one day. I have blueprints and shit already. I want to build a city inside of a mountain. I have some architecture friends. I just need to meet some engineers. That's another thing I can attribute to Pittsburgh, meeting people from different fields of studies. I can definitely say thank you to Keep Pittsburgh Dope and them. Just for rubbing shoulders with aeronautics guys like last time I was at Creatives Drink. I met this guy who designed airplanes. We're just being drunk together. It's an experience you can't get anywhere else, and if you can get it somewhere else it needs to be publicized. It's the new age fraternal system or partnerships for life.
ITR: Do you feel like you can achieve your artistic goals in Pittsburgh? Do you think the city moves fast enough? Things happen here but people don't see trends quick enough.
NVSV: Right now, no. But I'm hopeful for the future. It's a big city small town type aspect, but it's like, you ever see the movies with the high school football star of the small town and he doesn't make it to the league? But he goes on to own the local car dealership. [laughs] That's the hero though. That's what Pittsburgh is. They want that local star to come up, but they want him to come up and stay here.
ITR: How do we keep people here? When you look at Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, they came up here and left. But, when you look at these Jimmy Wopo interviews, he's talking about keeping the attention in the city. How can people like yourself keep the community here so that attention stays here?
NVSV: We need to become the promoters. Right now, there's a monopoly on that with Drusky Entertainment and Opus One. I won't even call them promoters. They tell you who is coming to town and they tell you to sell these tickets. They don't promote anything themselves because it's up to the artist to do it. When I'm telling people about 24hrs and people are like, 'who the fuck is that' I'm like 'bro you have no idea.' Then 24 is hitting me up like, 'bro this shit's not sold out.' 'I don't know what you want me to do. I sold these 50 tickets they gave me.' I feel like promoting isn't here in the city. We need a promotion agency to bring these popular acts and that's why they are skipping over Pittsburgh.
More from NVSV:
+ "You have to remember people are sponges."
+ Check out the collaboration with Chicago rapper Qari.
+ "Art is all about risk."
+ "I like when producers drop albums because you can see what they want to hear."
+ "Producing for people is hard when they tell you 'make a beat like this.'"
+ "I love Pittsburgh for what it's given me."