Nickk is a Cedar Rapids-based MC whose recently released full-length album, Closed Hands, explores themes of mental health and addiction. The album title itself represents the concept of self-sabotage, which is a theme that bleeds into one of the album’s standouts (and its lone feature), “Ghosts and Spirits.” For the track, Nickk teamed up with Big Teo the Trap Man, of Trap Garage Mafia, whose own verse takes a similar approach thematically, focused around his own experiences in that realm. In this Q&A we discuss those themes and how they play into the broader picture of the album. (Photo by Focus Media.)
villin: You wrote Closed Hands with a specific aim in mind geared toward a focus on mental health, with the name itself acting as a reference to self-sabotage. How does “Ghosts and Spirits” relate to the album’s overarching themes?
Nickk: The track “Ghosts and Spirits” is one of the biggest pieces of the project. The track dives deep into one of the biggest struggles I see around me. There’s a lot of people who refer to this “little voice” in their head stemming from such things as insecurity, anxiety, and depression. People end up so in their head about the things they might hate or all of the negatives instead of the positives. I’d describe the song as a representation of my own journey through that struggle. The feature on the track was actually not the original track I had made. When I played the track for Teo, he just had this look on his face I cant forget. He instantly had something for the track, the verse was very dark diving into the perspective of drug corruption and the life that Teo was living at the time.
villin: The song’s lyrics reference topics of violence and drug use, which both have obvious detrimental influences on mental health. How do you balance your own safety and health with any influences urging you toward these areas, and what were you trying to say with this song?
Nickk: Balancing your health is very important and isn’t always the easiest. I myself still haven’t figured that balance out 100% and the drug use does get to be a lot. It feels like a never ending cycle that I’m currently trying to conquer. Some of the influences on this are the crowd I was around that got me into a lot of the things I do. Without those experiences and the things I did I wouldn’t be in the same place today. It was turning for me to be able to say I can do this and become better. The message behind the song is to do what you want in this lifetime. Don’t stop yourself from becoming who you truly are. Addiction will be all around you in your life, don’t get sucked into it.
villin: Closed Hands isn’t a heavily collaborative album, and I’m wondering if you had Big Teo the Trap Man in mind when “Ghosts and Spirits” first started to come together? What made him a good fit for the song?
Nickk: Yea, so, to go a little deeper on the matter, “Ghosts and Spirits” was the sixth track I had made for the project. There is an alternative version with the second verse somewhere on my computer that will probably never be shown to anybody. The album Closed Hands was a very therapeutic album for me with the intent to really connect with the people. A chance to be vulnerable for my fans and to guide them to a better mentality and help them discover themselves deeper. Teo was a good fit for the song because we grew up with similar lifestyles to each other. We both have sat down and really gotten deep about the journeys our lives took, and the way we lived before we met; [it’s] the reason we connected on the song like this. It’s almost like we had a message for each other on our verses.
villin: What was your first impression of the song, and when thinking about how you could add to it what did you hope to bring to “Ghosts and Spirits”?
Big Teo the Trap Man: My first impression was this beat would really be good to speak about life on with a hook. I shot for talking about how it feels to be stuck in your head and also how it feels to deal with addiction, which is a close home subject to me
villin: Where’d the beat come from and how does its sound help communicate the song’s themes?
Nickk: The beat came from a producer by the name of Docent. Docent was one of the first producers I really connected with. We’ve collectively done about eight tracks together now and it’s always great to work with him. Docent makes a lot of darker beats like “Ghosts and Spirits,” but has some softer production on the album, as well. The dark kind of horror-like concept really shows how scary the human mind can become. As for any more work with Docent, there will be plenty work. “Ghosts and Spirits” is the first official collab from me and Teo, but we will feed the souls soon…