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chromonicci. on SoundCloud, Making a Space For Himself, and Being Very Black [Q&A]

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Photo: :Joshua Harrington

Houston-based chromonicci. is a non-conformist who garnered respect in the beat scene for being one of the most prolific producers in electronic music, injecting his signature "niccibounce" to mark his territory. Baptized by musical fire, the musician grew up singing and playing the piano, so dedicating his life to music wasn't a surprise.

It wasn't until he stumbled upon "Massage Situation" by Flying Lotus in a basketball highlights video on YouTube, where Christian Crenshaw would officially transform into the artist we now know as chromonicci. He shares, "The next recommended track was 'Camel' by Flying Lotus and I was like, 'Yo, what is this?' And of course, after that it was just like a big avalanche."

While chromonicci.'s claim to fame might have been his beatmaking abilities, the last couple of years have proven the artist has so much more to offer. During SoundCloud's prime in the mid-2010s, the producer would occasionally add his vocals to a beat. In 2018, he told FUXWITHIT, "I felt that the vocals I added took away quality from my songs. I didn't have a mic for a HOT minute so vocals sounded like trash. To be honest, I'm still pretty dissatisfied with the quality of my vocals, but gotta take it one step at a time!"

Today, you can find the singer-songwriter-producer dropping a myriad of tunes. His discography is an assortment of hip-hop beats, electronic trap tracks, soulful ballads, and a mixture of everything. His James Blakeian career trajectory has just begun, and we're just here to take it all in.

Ones to Watch: You got into music through your mom teaching you how to play piano and maybe eight years ago is when you started actually making your own music. What got you into the production pipeline?

chromonicci.: Oh, good question. Flying Lotus exposed me to this whole new world of instrumental music. So I was really interested in early FlyLo and Cosmogramma which opened the door to Hudson Mohawke, and then that took me to Soulection, and then that took me to SoundCloud. I was kind of just riding this wave of listening to really dope stuff. And then it morphed into me making it.

Flying Lotus is credited to be one of the pioneers of the LA beat scene, which is such an integral part of electronic music. Recently, there’s been this conversation around being Black and in the electronic music scene, specifically in EDM. I see a lot of Black artists in electronic music get categorized as hip-hop, whereas a white artist can make a similar song and now it's electronic music. Where do you think you lie?

It’s honestly been very back and forth with me over the years. So when the beat scene came up, I felt like there was a space for me to be exactly who I was. Niccibounce is just bounce music. And there was plenty of black representation like TEK.LUN, Kaytranada, WIZE, J.Robb, Monte Booker, the list goes on. I felt represented and felt like I could fit in. Then fast forward to when SoundCloud like, just completely died, it was like a very quick transition. And I felt like I was reminded that when I’m put against the rest of the industry, I don’t really have a space because the beat scene was a small sliver of electronic music. And then electronic music was a whole host of artists and things and people who I just personally don’t find a whole lot in common with.

There’s just like this pop aspect to EDM, where it’s like it’s made to appeal to the masses. And you have that in every genre, but  that was the main pull to EDM. So being black in this space, it was kind of interesting, especially when I would perform. I could be playing the hardest experimental [electronic] trap that's out there right now and people would be like "yo, such vibes. You got some vibes up there" and I would be like, "Are you referring to my blackness?" If I touch any sort of melody, it’s jazz immediately. So I think I play in between because I am in this space, but I did come from experimental hip-hop and alternative R&B. Pharrell, Stevie Wonder, and Prince are some of my influences, so I guess I'm playing into the "vibes" people always talk about.

Singing and songwriting have been a central part of your project for at least the last four years, but back in August you performed "Magnetic" live at a sold out Good Society show. Was that the first time you performed your vocals live?

It was the first time I did it in that context. This night was so different because everyone went hard as hell. There was a mosh pit for, like, half the show. And I’m up here singing "Magnetic" at the top of my lungs. It was so out of place. I’ll probably never do something like that again.

It's interesting because Good Society is heavily inspired by Low End Theory shows, so when they have an EDM trap night, it's such a stark contrast.

Weird friction, but it’s not a problem. Overall, it was still a very fun show. It would just be weird for me to not acknowledge that. No one acknowledged that I stood out so much and I’m not gonna trick myself into thinking that that wasn’t what happened when it was very jarring.

Well, I was there in the front row singing with you.

*Laughs* Thank you!

Speaking of "Magnetic," a lot of your most recent songs are centered around romance and heartbreak. Some songs I can relate to as a casual dater, even. But I know you've been in a relationship for many years and even recently got engaged! So what gets you in the mindset to write these kinds of lyrics?

That’s a great question. I have a lot of security in my relationship. So I don’t really worry. I just get to be creative with my music. For a lot of people, what they’re writing about and singing about, in terms of romance, is like their direct lived experience. And I would say that doesn’t necessarily resonate all the way for me. "Magnetic," for instance, I was teleporting myself back to a late '80s dancefloor. And I was just like, "Yo, what would it be like if I was an actor in a movie scene? What would it feel like?" So I get to kind of take myself to these spaces.

Almost like you're creating a character loosely based off of you.

Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it definitely, like feels just kind of like a loose representation. And I do have some that are actually completely about me like "True Colors" and a bunch of other songs. That's just the nature of my creativity. I don’t really feel siloed into any specific type of song or songwriting, I just kind of like to experiment and see what catches and see what people enjoy. And what I have fun with when I’m making it.

Do you find that you react differently to people’s responses to songs that are based wholly off of your lived experiences rather than a character?

Yeah, absolutely. I will say, anytime people are dancing or recording themselves to "True colors," "Beautiful People," or like anything that I put my heart into, I feel like they really accepted a very authentic and vulnerable portion of me that I put into a song and that’s super sick.

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Going back to the niccibounce, can you tell me how that sound was developed and who coined that term?

Oh my gosh, so fun fact: That was my term I made up in 2016-2017. I saw the first use of the "bounce" tag on SoundCloud by Monte Booker, Montell2099, and WIZE. I was sitting in a class one day and was like, "I’m gonna tag this niccibounce. People will use their own hashtags. So I’m gonna use this to see if it catches." After a while, people were like, "Yo, this is like, so unique! Niccibounce!" and I’m just like, wait, I just pushed a whole pocket for myself and opened up some space. And it just made me feel so free.

I feel like that's the best way to do it, because you don't have to let other people tell you who you are, you can tell them. How was it when you first started popping off on SoundCloud?

What a fun time. Back then, certain reposts from people meant your song was gonna go up. I remember the first time I secured a Naji repost, I was flipping out. Then, once it started to build traction, I couldn't keep up with who was sharing my music. I started doing SoundCloud label releases with everybody to get my name out there, too. I probably have a digital footprint the size of the world.

You did mention earlier that SoundCloud was dead, but you're still pretty active on it. I don't think there's even one comment on your track that you don't reply to.

Yeah, I guess I say SoundCloud is dead and I shouldn’t have. I don’t like to phrase it like that, because it’s not completely dead. It’s just it’s not as living as it was and it’s not as community-oriented as it was. But yeah, I still experiment with it and I’m still with it. Because to me, there’s still not a platform like it. The quality of the music and the ability to comment on a specific part of the track - I think that that’s a really cool thing. So for me, what I mean by SoundCloud being dead, it’s all a perception. All the people that I grew up listening to on SoundCloud like Sam Gellaitry and Mr. Carmack doesn’t really post on there anymore.

It's sad because a lot of the people we grew up with on SoundCloud popped off because of SoundCloud bootlegs and you can't necessarily get those on Spotify and Apple Music.

It's giving erasure lowkey.

It's become a meme where people say SoundCloud has the meanest comments. As someone who's super active on yours, do you experience that a lot?

I’ve got a handful. And what’s funny is because of the community I’ve built - they handle it. Somebody will say something wild and I'll be like "just leave it." Of course I'll get my little fist-shaky moment where I want to tell them their eyes are too far apart, but I just leave it and lo and behold someone else will reply "Dude shut up, you don't know what you're talking about and I'm like, 'Oooh get em!'"

What about any weird interactions in real life?

This one woman at a show I did. They were playing "Into Me." in the background and I’m just chilling and vibing. And she goes "Oh, I love this guy. Love his stuff!" So my friend Harry is like, "This is him right here! This is his song!" And she looks at me and says "I thought you were some white European dude!" I laughed. I was like, "I am very black!" And that was very, very funny.  

Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to talk about or anything you want to plug in?

I’m chromonicci.. I’m a vocalist. I’m producer. I’m a songwriter. I’m a vocal arranger. I'm a visual artist. I do a lot. And this year, I really want to lean into that. Every song that you hear, if I don't specify the producer or the featured artist that means I'm the producer. And I was singing.

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