Nick León's Debut Album Uses Sounds From the Everglades to Warn of Florida's Demise

For centuries, mankind has attempted to tame nature with a heavy hand. Florida developers have drained huge swathes of Everglades swampland, building so-called “McMansions” behind useless gates and endless arrays of one-story shopping centers where iguanas and alligators once reigned. And yet, that very development pollutes the water and air, and as industry progresses,  seals the state's downfall.

The Sea Level Solutions Center of Florida International University expects an increase of sea level by two to six feet in the region by the year 2050. It seems the relentless pursuit of domination is futile beyond founders' imaginations. Despite humanity's best efforts, Mother Nature is always in control.

That is Nick León's prophecy, and that's the hidden message between the beats of his debut LP Profecía.

“It's a warning, but it's not too pessimistic,” he says. “I’m into the heavy stuff, and it's weird to ask about it with people because not everyone can go there, but I went there with the music. That's where it came from for sure — the big questions.”

That's pretty fucking heady for an instrumental beatscape, and it might not exactly be evident to the casual listener, but Profecía's nine tracks do tell a story of haunting intensity.

“It's meant to be listened to from start to finish — one big body of work,” León says. “I don't know how to say it without sounding like a kook, but to me, it sounds like it could have come from thousands and thousands of years in the past, if they had the equipment to make [this kind of] music.”

León was raised and continues to live on the outskirts of an Everglades nature preserve. For years, he's been fascinated and inspired by its unique ecosystem. Much of the LP's melodies and rhythms are built on top of stretched out samples of local bird songs, chirping insects, and the sound of wind through tropical leaves. In that way, Florida has left its subtle imprint on the project, a co-producer of sorts. 

“I'm a big fan of textures,” León says. “Songs that I produce for other people will sound nothing like the record you just listened to, and I used to have a problem with that. I used to think you have to be super consistent, but I have lots of music that I want to make, and I think I honed in on my own kind of sound. I want to explore that.”

León created Profecía at the request of Alpha Pup label head and renowned music mastering engineer Daddy Kev. He's the guy who cleans up sounds for L.A. beat bosses Flying Lotus and Thundercat, among many others. He first came across León's work as he mastered the latest album from Brooklyn rap group the Underachievers, most of which was produced by León personally. Kev dug the sound and asked León to put together a full-length instrumental album for his label, then he flew him out to L.A. to perform at the monthly Low End Theory party series, understood by hip-hop heads everywhere as a breeding ground for future sounds.

“It was really cool, because I look up to that guy,” León says. “They kept introducing me as 'the kid from Florida.' It became kind of a thing.”

Profecía dropped Friday, April 29, but León didn't host a giant release party. He's opening for Tokimonsta at Bardot on Thursday, May 19, but in his mind, that Low End Theory gig was the big celebration. For now, he's keeping his nose to the grind, focusing on the future and relishing the fact that the hard part is over.

“[Two years ago] I was a bedroom producer. I didn't show anybody anything,” he says. “Being able to put something [solo] together was a relief, because I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do it, but it came out pretty well, I think, for what I was trying to do.”

Tokimonsta with Nick León. 10 p.m. Thursday, May 19, at Bardot, 3456 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-576-5570; Tickets cost $15 to $20 via
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Kat Bein is a freelance writer and has been described as this publication’s "senior millennial correspondent." She has an impressive, if unhealthy, knowledge of all things pop culture.