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Interview: Meet Nilo Blues, the Vietnamese-Chinese Canadian hip-hop artist bringing the representation we need

Nilo Blues is the refresher you need for this beginning of 2020. The 20-year-old is becoming a relevant musical voice for communities that have yet to be sufficiently represented in the current music industry; that of third-culture kids and Asian diasporas in the west.  The hip-hop artist’s debut single “No Risk Involved” was released on January 31st. The single is accompanied by a music video directed by angelicamilash and cinematographed by Dennis Grishnin. The visuals calls attention to the problematic fetishizing of Asian women in the entertainment industry. Blues says of the song:

“The writing process for this song started with the influence of my own experiences growing up in western society as an Asian-Canadian. Growing up, I often found myself lost in the middle of the spectrum between assimilating to fit a model minority mould or sticking to my ‘clique’ & not having any care for external cultural influences. It always made me feel isolated because I never truly felt accepted by anyone and couldn’t fully connect the same way. I hated the fact that I couldn’t speak any of my native tongues, but also hated the idea of being a ‘token’ Asian guy. I had a lot of resentment build up because of this, and ‘No Risk Involved’ is definitely a huge ‘FUCK YOU’ to that energy. It is a shedding of old skin. I’m at a much better place in my life now, and this song was a way to release all of that insecurity and resentment I’ve built up through the years because of that feeling.”

Image: Cover art for “No Risk Involved”, Nilo Blues

I got the chance to catch up with Nilo and gain more insight into the concept behind his new music:

How did you start making music?
I started making music very spontaneously. At that time, I was still heavily involved in dance and was working on a TV production as a series regular. My good buddy (one of the dancers on set) showed me his newest app download, which happened to be iMaschine. I decided to give it a try and quickly fell in love with producing. As I started making more and more beats on my iPhone, the natural instincts of my singing/songwriting abilities started to shine through as well. My mom, knowing how hooked I was on this new passion, spoke to a DJ friend of hers that I was taking an interest in music production. Through my mom’s friend I was able to start learning from HMLT, a Toronto based producer. He taught me everything I know, and even cracked Ableton on my shit LOL. At that point I was sold. After three years of learning and trying to perfect my craft/sound, here I am (excited with a hint of scared shitless lol).

Much of your inspiration comes from your experiences growing up in Canada as a Chinese-Vietnamese, and the way some of them had made you feel isolated in the past. What advice would you give your younger self now?

I would tell myself to RELAX. Stop getting in your head about shit you have no control over. Just keep striving for authenticity and stop putting yourself down. Keep an eye on the energy around you, stop draining yourself trying to break yourself down for others. Just because you care about someone doesn’t mean they are actively reciprocating that energy. Smile, it’s okay to be happy, excited and care about things. Don’t be afraid to feel, it’s your superpower. Just do you. You got this.

Who are your biggest musical inspirations, and why?

SUCH A HARD QUESTION AHHH. I’m gonna try my best to narrow them down. James Brown for creating the feeling, MJ for being so multi-faceted and shifting music & dance culture, Bruno Mars for keeping that triple threat knack & entertainment value alive, Missy Elliott for constantly creating refreshing visuals & sounds, Travis Scott for hypnotizing me with his insane melodies & ethereal sonics, and Drake for putting the city on & changing the way Toronto music is looked at globally.

“No Risk Involved” is your debut single. How did you go about the creative process of speaking out against the stereotyping of Asian culture while also presenting your own cultural identity?

The process of creating NRI happened very organically. It was definitely a feeling that was inspired by the gritty production going on when I started brainstorming… It’s not uncommon for a second-generation Asian-Canadian to feel isolated from western society/culture. It’s just as common to feel alienated by your own culture. There were times I felt no one accepted me. I felt like I could never connect with anyone fully because I was always lacking in things we could relate to. I never learned how to speak any of my mother tongues, never felt fully comfortable eating my homemade lunches in fear of being mocked, and missed a lot of childhood moments to train. A lot of things disconnected me from every clique and crew I tried to find comfort in. I felt like the guy that knows everybody and nobody at the same time. When I wasn’t feeling forgotten and ignored, I was feeling like the token asian friend. It was only natural for this song to be made because I’ve felt this way my entire life. I’m thankful for those strong feelings though, because without them I wouldn’t be so comfortable with myself now.

What is the biggest message you hope to convey with your upcoming song and music video?

NRI is more of a flex than an anthem. It stems from the frustration from the misconstrued asian-representation (or lack thereof) in western culture, but I want the message to be whatever the listener needs it to be at that moment. NRI is special to me not just because it speaks on genuine obstacles we (the asian community) face, but because it allowed me to challenge those obstacles in such a loud and obnoxious manner. I’m trying to get my point across by screaming “WHAT THE FUCK” to all of it. I want people to focus on feeling, and evoke new thought. The more I explain the specific message, the more I limit the chance of the message growing further. Feel it, let your own interpretation drive how you listen to the song & watch the visual.

What can we look forward to see/hear from you in 2020?

MORE! More music, more projects, more visuals, more performances, more singing, more rapping, more dancing, more acting, more good times, more EVERYTHING!! Debut EP coming very soon.

Keep up with Nilo on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook

Featured Image: Frank Lin

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