Our Spotlight Artist for the month of February is Neak! This Chi-town hip-hop artist grew up in a talented family of Gospel and R&B artists, where music was in his blood from the start. WorldArts caught up with him as he preps for his tour all across the U.S. Check out our exclusive Q&A to hear about his early days, his thoughts on the current state of the music world, and all about his newest EP, ‘Paure/Amore’!
1) How did you get started in music?
My first introduction to creating music came from my older brother, Dijon Wallace. Any neighborhood we moved in, he became a well-known producer. As a kid, most little brothers wanna be like their older brother, and I was no different! He would take any money he generated as a teenager and buy equipment for production. I would sit around him and just watch him make music. Once day he asked me, “Do you wanna make a song with me?” As many times as I would be around him it was only a matter a time before I would be able to create with him…and I’ve been making music every since.
2) You come from a musical family. How did that impact & shape you as an artist?
Music has always been in my family roots. My Father, Robert Kelly, sung lead vocals (along with my Uncle–Curtis Kelly) in their R&B/Gospel group called, “The Kelly Brothers.” My other Uncle, Andrew Kelly, sung background vocals in the group as well. My mom, Patricia Kelly, would always play Gospel/R&B records around the house growing up. From Bobby Womack to the Canton Spirituals, I was always intrigued by the sounds, vibes, and rhythms of music. Even at a very young age, I would noticed the subtle nuances in production, vocal arrangements, etc. between records and understand what made records sound differently in comparison to each other. It still stays with me today when it comes to knowing what musical elements to add into production, how to establish the right vocal accents, etc.; all to get the targeted feel you’re aiming for when creating music.
3) What’s the music scene like in Chicago?
Chicago is extremely diverse musically. It’s a HUGE melting pot of different sounds and musical elements. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. On the other hand, Chicago is one of the only places in the world where its unity amongst different artists, industry personnel, etc. gets put into question. There’s a popular phrase that Chicago resonates heavily within itself–‘City Of Hella Haters.’ I do believe that stigma–in some cases justified–is being put to rest; as you see more and more artists on the music scene begin to collaborate with one another. This allows artists to cross into different networks of fans. There is power in unifying, and I believe for the past few years, Chicago artists have really seen the benefits of coming together rather than working separately.
4) If you could go on tour with any artist (past or present) who would it be?
This is one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer! There’s so many people I would love to name. I’ll answer this in two ways if I may. If I was a business man, and I wanted to pair my sound up with another artist that would work for a tour, I would say Nas, Kendrick Lamar, or J.Cole. Now if it was someone that I would love to go with on tour as a personal preference, I would say Marvin Gaye; especially when he was touring for his “What’s Going On?” album. His message in that album represents a core part of who I am; a person connected deeply to the times. He was an amazing artist. I would’ve love to been able to witness his live show day-in and day-out.
5) What’s your ‘go-to’ karaoke song?
Haha! This is hilarious. My go-to karaoke song is Kanye West – Flashing Lights. That’s one record that I know front-to-back and would not have a problem performing it. One of my favorite records from a hometown favorite.
6) WorldArts is all about giving tools and opportunities to artists. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
I would tell any aspiring musicians starting off to constantly seek opportunities that’s relevant to where they are, constantly network with other musicians, always have something to offer while networking to make it worthwhile for other people to work with them, and learn the music business. Half of the time in this industry, you make your own luck. You have to apply yourself. In today’s music industry, there is no red carpet to success; as success looks different to many musicians. Set goals, achieve those goals, celebrate those achievements, set new goals, work harder than you did yesterday, and the right people who can help you along the way will be there for you.
7) If you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?
I would change the decline in music sales in the music industry. Independent artists (and some major label artists) are suffering the most from the ways in which people are consuming music nowadays. On one hand, the internet has made it so convenient to reach new fans, get into new networks, and share your music with millions of people worldwide–thanks to musical platforms like Apple Music, Spotify, etc. On the other hand, streaming sales are dismal at best. The streaming royalty breakdowns are confusing, and therefore causing a bottleneck of funds being brought to a halt because of these established pay scales or lack thereof. This forces you to seek other financial fulfilling ventures like designing creative merchandise, etc. Money isn’t everything, but it’s going to be a pretty sad day in the music industry if artists keep going at a pace where their generated finances can’t keep up with their level of desired production based on their demand. On a brighter note, vinyl sales are started to soar; seeing I believe a 40+ percentage increase in sales over the past few years. That’s promising; as it seems consumers of music are beginning to look for physical musical product in that regard. Plus, vinyl is more personal than a digital download.
8) What is the best way you’ve found to market yourself as an artist?
Live shows! Nothing can solidify someone as being your fan more than putting on a great live show. That is the turning point between being an artist they’re interested in to someone that is your lifetime loyal fan.
9) What can you tell us about your latest album, ‘Paure/Amore?
Paura/Amore (translation from Italian to English: Fear/Love) captures the complete and unadulterated emotions of myself as a recording artist. I believe that every emotion stems out of fear and love (jealousy, envy, happiness, joy, etc.), and I wanted to touch on multiple musical topics that depict those emotional variants. It is designed to reveal the multitudes of what I embody as a musician–from my human, emotional, and spiritual state.
10) What next on the horizon for you?
I’m in the process of designing a merchandise store via my website (CDs, album-inspired t-shirts, posters, etc.), releasing more music video/singles from the album, and preparing to go on a U.S. tour around the country. I’m focusing on a grassroots approach in terms of promoting my album; going to multiple cities, shaking hands, doing live shows, signing autographs, meet-n-greets, etc. Paura/Amore is my focus! I’m grateful for all of the opportunities given to me thus far! I’m very honored to have been interviewed by WorldArts.