VMP Rising is our series where we partner with up-and-coming artists to press their music to vinyl and highlight artists we think are going to be the Next Big Thing. Today we’re featuring Dream Girl, the debut release from New York-via-Minneapolis rapper Ness Nite.
Ness Nite is an embodiment of all the good that can come out of what typically defines our rising generations’ production and consumption of music: SoundCloud, increased creative accessibility, internet rap, influencers, socials, grassroots beginnings, the increasingly blurred lines between music and the rest of culture. On one hand, these factors breed a flood of music, a lot of which goes unnoticed, a lot of which, simply put, sucks. But Dream Girl, Ness’ first full-length album, is an example of what happens when an artist plays those cards right: boundary pushing, fresh sounds, trailblazing, a new brand of authenticity.
“Diamonds falling off my lips / I only spit the coldest shit” she raps on “Expectations.” Confidence is weapon in the age of an oversaturated music market, but a lot of artists' confidence feels fabricated. Brimming with the quiet confidence of knowing what she’s worth and exactly why she’s worth it — be it speaking with me from her East Village Apartment or on each and every bar on Dream Girl — Ness Nite isn’t making anything up.
VMP: Minneapolis seems like, especially in recent years, seems like a really cool place to be an artist. It seems like there's a lot of awesome women coming out of there like Dizzy Fae and Sophia Eris and Lizzo. What it was like to come up as an artist there while all these awesome women were working?
Ness Nite: Being in Chicago I was kind of overwhelmed and still wasn't really sure if I wanted to pursue music, after my whole life it just kind of seemed like a thing that was like, 'Oh, that's not for you.' I was gonna go to school and have a normal job. I think with Lizzo's band, Grrrl Prty, it was cool to see women actually doing something, how they have a big support group. Once I moved there, I was going to school at the University of St. Thomas, and I really just hated it. It was not at all what I wanted out of an education. Everything that I learned just seemed like things you would learn by going out and doing things. I felt like my time would be better used just going out on my own and trying to do things. Learning how shows worked, stuff like that. But I did get involved with the radio station at the school, KUST, I think that kind of gave me a huge boost of confidence to actually to leave school and pursue music. They were doing this sampler thing were gonna accept like 12 songs from student artists at the school and make an album out of it and have a release party for it, and that was actually really cool. I was super not confident in my style of music, and I sent them a song and they really liked it and it was like, “Oh, cool, I actually might be able to make music that other people like.” So that's cool. I've always felt like my own insecurities are my biggest struggles. I never really felt like I'm not supported enough. I've always been surprised at how much support I got.
You’re young, 22, and you’ve had a relatively big and fast come-up the past couple of years. How has that been? Does it feel shocking at all?
I don't take for granted the amount of support I've received in the past two years. I moved from Minnesota in 2014, and that's when I really started making music, and going from 2014 to now getting work with Alex [Tumay] and having access to someone who's so connected in the industry who actually cares about my music is really wild to me. And having Jeff [Weiss] and Haley [Potiker] and POW and Vinyl Me, Please, it's crazy. Not to say that I didn't work hard, but it really feels like someone is looking out for me. It definitely feels surreal. I'm still not where I want to be, but I definitely am grateful for where I am at this point.
Your come up was, for the most part pretty DIY and kind of came from internet culture. How'd you manage to cut through that? There's a ton of internet clutter, how do you feel like your music stood out through that?
For Minnesota, the time when I started putting out music, music in Minnesota was kind of all similar. A lot of people really viewed Atmosphere as their model for making songs. People are really into backpack hip hop. I just feel like being in Minnesota, I knew I was making different stuff than the stuff I was hearing, so it begged people to listen, and I think that also playing live shows helped that a lot. I've actually played a lot of live shows in Minnesota, because they're happening all the time, and I really think that helped me grow more so than just doing stuff online. Meeting people in person and then, 'Have you heard about this person?' I'm even struggling with that right now, like how do I cut through? I never really particularly saw it that way, like I managed to cut through anything, because I'm trying to do that now.
Just for someone so young it seems like you're a bit ahead of the game, but I guess it's hard to say. The internet and this kind of stuff works in weird ways, so who knows.
Whenever I make something I'm like, 'does this sound like anything else?' And if no, but I still really enjoy it, then I know that I made something that is true to me. I don't want to sound like anything else.
Jeff Weiss wrote that when he heard your music, 'This is what I thought music would sound like 10 years from now.' Do you see yourself as being sort of futuristic or a “forward artist” or a trendsetter, if you will?
I wouldn't say futuristic, because to me that kind of gives off an image too. I wouldn't say my image or anything is futuristic, but I do think it's ... Sometimes I do feel like futuristic but in an ancient way. Does that make sense? In my own personal mythology, sometimes I feel like I already know what's gonna happen. I guess futuristic will work. I don't have a word that I really attach myself to.
You just brought up personal mythology. I love the track “Magic Bitch” and I just wanted to discuss what the inspiration behind that was.
I feel special, in all honesty. I feel like I'm important, I feel like I'm doing something important for myself and for people like, people unlike me, but it's more like a reminder, like a warning sign to people, but it's also a reminder to myself that I'm a magic bitch. Don't try to use me, I'll see through it. Don't try to do anything. Just don't try it. It's also, I don't talk about my ethnicity a lot or anything. I'm not a very explicit, I don't just outright say things in my music sometimes, but like, 'Damn man, I ain't even know she mixed,' that's kind of like my little insert, like, 'Yeah, I'm mixed.' I'm very aware of how I look. Also, at the end it's like, the last verse is more how I would describe the ancient futuristicness, because I do feel like equally connected and disconnected to my ancestors. All of my immediate, like my parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are all still alive but all very misplaced people, like the odd one out in their family that doesn't talk to their family or has moved far away. So I feel physically unconnected to people I've descended from but I also feel spiritually connected. Ancestry gives more power to a line, and then 'I got magic around, it's always within me.' I just know without knowing that I came from really powerful people, at least internally, or people who are strong.
You said earlier that your biggest hurdle has been your insecurities, yet I thought Dream Girl was such a confident album, track-to-track. That's one of the main draws for me; it's just brimming with confidence. And also, you're 22 — I'm 21 and I know how hard it can be to build that confidence at this age. Where does that come from and how do you feel like you got there?
I really feel like it comes from Ness Nite. I definitely stepped into a character of Ness Nite. Not to say that it's untrue to myself as Vanessa, but I definitely feel like, if I'm in a room and very much in a Ness Nite mode, that's me shedding all my insecurities and everything. But walking around in daily life or sitting at home looking at my phone or whatever, I definitely feel insecurities all the time. But I feel like if I'm recording or writing and I feel like it's all true what I'm writing, then I feel like I'm very confident. It's just stepping into a character, but it's not a character unlike me, it's just a character that doesn't have the insecurities or the fears that I have walking around in my life.
You've said before that you get inspiration from Lorde, Willow Smith, Kid Cudi, SZA. When you listen to these people, what's your biggest takeaway? What draws you to these people?
To me, all those artists, I would describe them the same way you just described my music. They're characters but they're all based on their truth, and that's very evident to me. I feel like all my favorite artists have always been like that. I feel like Willow Smith or Lorde or Kid Cudi, they're clear characters, but to me their music is all really authentic, and they're only talking about shit that applies to their life. Not to say I don't listen to other things, but as far a quality level, or a content, that's just what I want to strive for. I feel like I struggle being myself in day-to-day life so like I think that the fact that being more myself, I felt that I want to be ... I feel like I see them doing that, too.
You worked with Alex Tumay on this, and that's big, that's awesome. He's really connected and his work is great. How'd you connect with him on this?
He read the same blog post we were talking about that Jeff wrote, about me sounding like I'm from 2024 or whatever. He read that, and I had no idea who he was, he just followed me and then I looked...I think I messaged him and was like, "Thanks for the follow," and he was like, "Yeah, if you ever have anything you want to send me to listen to, I'm down." I was like, "That's crazy." He was in New York, and my girlfriend was gonna move to New York, and I also wanted to move to New York if she's moving to New York, so I came here and we just met up like a week or so after I moved here and now we're friends. He calls me his daughter to random people that he introduces me to. It's cool. I'm excited to do more work with him, and it was awesome getting to mix albums with him, I feel like we have a lot more to accomplish together musically.
What was going on in your personal life over the period of time that you wrote the songs on Dream Girl?
I have to think through all the songs. Some of them were about moving on from one person, some of them are about the possibility of being with another person, some of them are just about myself. It was very much a growth from one chapter of my life to the next. A lot of it is relationship stuff.
So you're queer, but you definitely don't market yourself in the way a lot of other artists tend to do as a "queer rapper," a "queer artist," super overtly, is that intentional?
It is. But it's not out of any type of negative thing. I just feel like that's more relatable. I feel like it makes it more normal. Why should I have to ... Why does that matter? It should just be one person talking about their issues and life. I don't feel like people walk around and in their minds are like, "I'm gay, I'm gay, I'm gay." Maybe they do. I'm not a very explicit writer in that way. I don't really out and say what I'm trying to say, I kind of just hint at things. I also don't like sharing that much about myself, either, so it's making stuff that's true to me, but also not revealing everything about myself, because I don't want to.
Have you already started on some new stuff?
Yeah, I have a couple of cool songs that I've started and I'm really excited about the direction that they're going. Once again, it's not Dream Girl, it's just me. Really, evolution really excites me. This isn't the end.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.