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J. Nics has the kind of voice that always sounds cool. Gravelly and guttural, it's as forceful and blunt as it is smooth and soothing.
Fortunately, the rapper (appropriately nicknamed "Polar Bear Mack") has something to say. The acronymic title of his latest mixtape, SNAS: The Product, stands for "Southern Niggas Ain't Slow," a slogan addressing the perception that rappers from below the Mason-Dixon line lack the lyrical depth of their Northern counterparts. Coincidentally, Nics's slogan (perhaps you've seen stickers with the phrase at local music venues) actually comes from a lyric off Nas's "Get Down."
And as with last year's similarly themed SNAS: The Tribute (on which he reconceived Southern rap classics such as Goodie Mob's "They Don't Dance No Mo'" and UGK's "Take It Off"), The Product offers ample evidence of Southern spitters' lyrical depth in the form of clever wordplay and broad lyrical themes.
"People used to say I had a New York kind of style. I was always really big on words," Nics recalls during a wide-ranging conversation in the back yard of a North Miami house belonging to local rap crew Da Camp. "Even now, I might write a song and there will be a word there because I like the way it sounds or the way it looks on paper."
And while his mellow flow has traces of Southern rap greats like 8Ball and Z-Ro, he credits a New Yorker, the Notorious B.I.G., with inspiring him to pick up the mike. "Before I started writing [rhymes], I used to write stories —crazy stuff about aliens, leprechauns," he says. "I liked it because it was vivid. Biggie's music was so vivid. The way he rapped, it was almost like hearing a movie."
Although the 26-year-old Miami Gardens native has been recording since his teens, not until 2009 did he begin pursuing music seriously, he says. That was the year he released Dirty Sneakers, a mixtape that helped establish him as a local MC to watch. Subsequent EPs such as 2010's The Stimulus Package and 2011's Champion Rizla earned him endorsements from key hip-hop blogs like 2 Dope Boyz as well as a growing profile beyond Florida.
The experience of exchanging beats with producers and traveling out of the state to perform proved to be transformative for Nics, who had never traveled farther than Tallahassee. "Before, I didn't think about those things. They didn't exist," he says. "Driving out there, getting to see new trees, it changed me."
With The Product, he now has a cohesive, album-quality release to go with his body of freestyle-driven mixtapes and short-form EPs. Where earlier releases favored sample-based East Coast-style production, the beats on The Product are 808-based and bottom-heavy. In other words, more Southern.
Nics's humble, easygoing personality, meanwhile, is reflected in the relatable lyrics of songs like "Summer Time" and "Last Day." As a whole, the project has a ruminative, day-in-the-life vibe.
"I'm just trying to keep out of trouble and keep family close to me and just live life," Nics says. "I'm laid-back for a reason. I try to always have everything be a vibe, a comfortable scenario. That's what I'm on."