How Nikeo Music’s Breaking Barriers in Gospel Music

This article was originally posted here.

In the past decade alone, the music industry has undergone drastic and rather rapid sonic shifts across genres including the emergence of trap soul (Bryson Tiller), drill (Chief Keef), synthpop (Halsey), and mumble rap (Lil Uzi Vert). But what happens when an artist develops faster than their genre? New Jersey-based group, Nikeo Music, made up of two rappers Aaron “AP” Pearson & Ishmael “Ish” Rouse, and two singers Akida Gray & Tynesha “Tyne” Jackson is at this proverbial fork in their career.

While secular music has continuously evolved, Gospel music has remained resistant most recently demonstrated in the public backlash Gospel recording artist Erica Campbell received for trap-inspired single, “I Luh God”. The Gospel gatekeepers have drawn a thick line between music and ministry; very few new acts have the luxury of teetering on the edge.

However, Nikeo Music is up for the challenge! As pioneers of the self-coined subgenre “worship hop”, the group refuses to suppress their message while acing all tests along the way to solidifying their testimony.

I had a rare opportunity to join Nikeo Group in the studio for a private listening session of their forthcoming album, 3 AM, before its official release. During the session, I was able to speak with all of the members about the inspiration behind the album, their journey through the genre, and much more. Check out the full interview below!

There are several different categories within Gospel music. You have Gospel, Christian and Inspirational music. How do you guys view this classification system?

Akida: In the Gospel community we’re so typecasted! We have all these different [sub] genres and it’s supposed to be the same message. So when you look at Hip-Hop or Pop music, you don’t see artists refer to themselves as a Muslim rapper. They [just] say…I’m a rapper. So why should your music be limited in that way?

For context, Christian music is the overarching genre specially focused on the Christian faith with the subgenre being Gospel, a more niche focus pulling inspiration from Southern blues music. There are genres that are self-segregated with Blacks on one side with non-blacks on the other. Whereas inspirational music is more so open to all.

You [as a group] don’t self-identify as either instead labeling your music what you’ve coined worship hop. So, what exactly is Worship Hop? How do you come up with the sound?

Tyne: It’s just our personalities! Ish and AP are hardcore Hip-Hop. It’s not that I am not a Hip-Hop fan but [Hip-Hop] wasn’t my era. I was more into R&B and Pop. So I have a different mindset. Also, I’m younger and the only woman in the group. So all of our different ways of thinking and musical influences just came together.

Aida and AP: There was a long period of time before we decided what lane or where we wanted to go.

Aida: We just knew we were different! We would go into places and it would be awkward after we performed because the music [performed before us] was so different from what we did that we sometimes felt out of place. So, we had to create a lane for ourselves.

Tyne: Worship Hop is a bit of it all. [As a group] we’ve recorded worship tracks, Hip-Hop tracks, and Pop tracks.

After grabbing the ear and approval from Grammy Award and Dove Award-winning recording artist Smokie Norful, the group knew they were onto a special breakthrough. From ministering in houses of worship to the stages of historic performing arts venues Nikeo Music is leading an innovative new sound of music.

We all know Gospel music is one of the genres least open to change. Can you all talk about the stigma that comes along with trying to introduce worship hop as a genre?

AP: It’s different! We’ve ministered places and the people loved us. But we have gone to a few churches and people literally got up out of their seats, covered their kid’s ears, and walked out. It’s like wow. Maybe it’s too ‘worldly’ for you?

Unconventionally formed in 2013, the group beams with confidence as they detail their humble beginnings. All members met while pursuing a solo career, Aaron “AP” Pearson and Ishmael “Ish” Rouse a decade ago while studying at the Institute of Audio Research in New York City. Akida Gray and AP a few years after that. Lastly, Tynesha “Tyne” Jackson was introduced to the group by Ish after discussing her interest in lending her voice at their church home, Agape Family Worship Center five years ago.

After coming together for multiple performances as a then collective, the group gained a following quickly. With no idea that the audience would take to them as a unit and having no name pre-selected the group inherited “Nikeo Music” drawing inspiration from member Ish’s record label, Nikeo Music Group.

Now that you’ve shaken off the difficulties of being in a new group such as finding a track that represents everyone. What can fans expect from your sophomore project, 3AM? What was the inspiration behind the album?

AP: We all you know worship worshippers at our church, so we don’t get together until 10 o’clock at night until almost four o’clock in the morning then turn around to go to work at seven o’clock. The whole album came together because we wanted to show people what the grind was about me. Staying up late! You know the kind of sacrifice that comes with making the music.

Akida: It represents the grind, it represents the hustle. It represents the families who have sacrificed along with us. It represents the dream that you’re striving for and chasing after to get to. Everyone has a 3 AM! So we just hope this album will speak to that.

Nikeo Music’s new album 3 AM will be available for purchase where all e-music is sold very soon. Be sure to connect with the group on your favorite social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates.

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