Argentine Star Nicki Nicole Is Freestyling Forwards With Pace And Fury
Nicki Nicole spent her teenage years in the numerous plazas of her hometown, in Rosario, Argentina, killing time with friends in freestyle rap battles, “At first, we’d do it just for fun” she said. “We flowed, played around, and didn’t realise we were actually training ourselves to write songs.”
Nicki, real name Nicole Denise Cucco, is now Argentina’s fastest-rising Gen Z star. At 21, she’s released two albums, clocked up millions of views on a stunning NPR Tiny Desk session, a Latin Grammy nomination and she’s playing Coachella this year. It was only a few years ago she entered Rosario’s freestyle scene, but she blew it up fast, her verses ripping through Latin America to achieve US domination.
Her songs are decked with charisma, confidence, and confrontation; where ballsy rap verses are framed by jazzy choruses. It’s a style she pinpoints to two core influences: Amy Winehouse and freestyle rap. “Amy formed part of my musical identity, I’d sing her songs at home, and then I’d go to the battles,” she affirmed. “That’s how I started to make music.”
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While her age and dark pop style have earned her comparisons with Billie Eilish, Nicki’s lyricism is wrought from distinctly Argentine realities. One of her early 2019 songs commemorates women’s day on the 8th of March, called ‘Juntas (together)’. “Please sister / let us know when you arrive” she raps, addressing the femicide epidemic in Argentina, where a woman is murdered every 35 hours.
In Rosario’s freestyle battles, Nicki fired burn verses against male MCs who’d slut shame her for calling out misogyny. So, when Christina Aguilera asked her to collaborate on ‘Pa Mis Muchacas’, a song about female power, Nicki knew exactly what she wanted to say. Her lyrics translate as ‘you don’t know us so don’t talk about us / you are the one that lives in our shadows / what you lack I have plenty / you’ll never turn us against one other.’
“I didn’t write it down, I just rapped it and it stayed in the song,” she laughed. “What I really want to express comes out best when I do things in the moment.”
Freestyling is integral to her lyricism, which is why she defines herself, first and foremost, as a rapper. She talks about singing—being in a studio, writing out a verse, rehearsing it—as something laborious; “(Rap) flows from me,” she explained. “I don’t have to sit down in a studio to write it out.”
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Despite this, Nicki is a masterful singer—notable in the ballad ‘Parte de Mi’, the title track of her latest album, which navigates loss. Nicki doesn’t rap at all, her voice soulfully shifting from tender intimacy to soaring power, “It was a great step for me to open up something else outside of my character and show sadness.”
Her “character”, she explains, is the no-nonsense Nicki we hear on tracks on the Drake-inspired Colocao (“Drake’s always placed in the number one spot, it’s about being like him” she said in a video interview) or No Toque Mi Naik, where she warns off anyone trying to exploit her.
“That’s my best version, someone who never shows weakness or sensitivity,” she said, contemplatively. “I’m not always my best self—or maybe being sad is also being about your best self.”
The album ‘Parte De Mi’ is Nicki’s first major-label release; she challenges herself to explore new genres, packing in elements of reggaeton, jazz, hip-hop. It was lauded by critics, earning a place on Rolling Stones’ Best Spanish-Language and Bilingual Albums of 2021.
Despite her international fame, she never forgets to credit the Rosario rap scene for honing her skills. “I met a lot of people there, who had words I didn’t have. I absorbed information and opened my mind.”
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Nicki Nicole plays Coachella this year. ‘Parte De Mi’ is out now on Sony Records.
Words: Charis McGowan
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