Disciples of Dilla

Seattle Future-Beats Wizards Nice&AO Enter the Zone

Disciples of Dilla

kelly o

NICE&AO DJAO in excellent Kingdome hat. Nice Nate with piercing gaze.

The plan, as hatched by Seattle producers Nice Nate and DJAO (Nice&AO): I should bring a song to the latter's Capitol Hill bedroom studio for them to sample and then mold into something they can play at their next show at Lo-Fi. I brought three songs instead: Edgar Winter Group's "Free Ride," Et Cetera's "Lady Blue," and Sensations' Fix's "Music Is Painting in the Air"—none of which they'd ever heard.

Nice&AO immediately started working digital magic on them. AO fast-forwarded and rewound the songs on Serato Scratch software, seeking sweet segments to manipulate, like a massage therapist homing in on sore points. When he'd secure a loop, Nice would add beats, rim shots, cymbal hits, and hi-hats as needed. AO instinctively zeroed in on the tracks' dopest elements, usually dropping the pitch way down for maximum poignancy, and Nice quickly improvised new rhythms over the foundations. AO hit the buttons on his sampler with exaggerated torque, as if the surfaces were scorching, while Nice punched out percussion on his Akai MPD24 pad controller. Wholly in the zone, Nice&AO bobbed their heads in sync to the beats, their skinny bodies hunched over the workstation in deep concentration.

Within minutes, Nice&AO had laid the groundwork for three amazing cuts of what they like to call "future beats." Funky and psychedelic, the twosome's music has its head in the clouds and its feet in the gutter. Nice&AO readily admit their allegiance to Dilla and Flying Lotus, but their "zoned" sound isn't outright homage; rather, it's a Northwest, hyper-internet-savvy extrapolation of those artists' techniques.

Nice (25, real name Nate Pringle, drama major at UW) and AO (26, real name Alex Osuch, Apple store employee and writing tutor) began collaborating in the summer of 2011. Earlier this year, I caught two of their live performances at Lo-Fi's future-beats incubator/hiphop mecca Stop Biting. Both times, folks of various races, ethnicities, and genders were head-nodding and brazenly smiling at Nice&AO's lucid, stream-of-consciousness cuts. Still buzzing from the fresh slants on post-Dilla beat science I'd just witnessed, I thought these guys could be foot soldiers for one particular battalion in hiphop's ongoing war on sonic conformity.

Looking at these unassuming dudes in AO's small bedroom studio—with its Logic Pro 9–equipped Apple computer, M-Audio KeyRig 49, and Serato Scratch hooked up to a laptop (and a map of Earth's ocean floors on the wall)—many might scoff at such an observation. So would Nice&AO. "I think we've practiced for a total of five hours since we started this project," AO says.

Nevertheless, the two have a natural affinity for improvisation that's impressive, even if they claim what they do isn't that difficult. They also admit that they don't rehearse their shows. "There are maybe a couple of tracks where we know what each of us is going to do," Nice says. "But there are other tracks where we keep it open-ended. It ends up changing every time, but in a good way."

"We're homies," says AO, who met Nice through the wonders of Soundcloud; they later linked up after a Beatmakers showcase at Lo-Fi. "We just have similar tastes and levels of talent. We don't try very hard, but everything we do is so fiery, so people are gonna hate on us," he concludes with subtle sarcasm. "It sounds kind of douchey," Nice adds, "but we just hang out and make beats, and it ends up being something cool that people like."

Nice grew up in Spokane in a "super-conservative Christian" household and got turned on to hiphop via positivity-pushing artists like Jurassic 5 and Blackalicious. AO's parents rarely listened to music when he was growing up, but he had his hiphop epiphany with the Beastie Boys' underrated 1998 classic Hello Nasty. Then, while studying English literature at University College of London, AO had his sonic horizons expanded, including immersion in J Dilla's oeuvre. Nice and AO share a devotional respect of Dilla, and it clearly resonates in their solo output and collaborations.

"Dilla was the bridge for everything I'm into now," AO says. "I think Donuts is one of the best pieces of music in all of humanity, starting with Gregorian chants. [Donuts] is clearly the blueprint for the stuff we're doing here."

Nice&AO champion the chopped-and-screwed approach to production that DJ Screw pioneered in the '90s. "It's cool to find the different sounds within a finished song that the people making it maybe didn't pick up," Nice says. "But you pick it up with your ear for the kind of music that you want to make."

AO observes, "You're breaking down a song that has structure and conventional elements to just the tones and the harmonies and the base sonic elements and enjoying them on their own. It's warm and meditative. When you slow a beautiful song down, you pay even closer attention to everything. It's just an easy way to make something sound fuckin' zoned out, to make something sound really thick and meaty."

Though their music often moves at a sluggish pace, Nice&AO's work rate does not. Since 2011, Nice has uploaded three albums to Bandcamp, and AO has released tracks on Car Crash Set and Dropping Gems and just issued a collection called Screwmixes for Hush Hush, wherein he reinterprets tracks by Grimes, Janet Jackson, Mount Kimbie, and others. AO's first solo album proper is slated for a summer 2013 release on Dropping Gems. Both gentlemen would eventually like to work with MCs, particularly with Rik Rude and young local rapper J'Von.

Nice&AO's first show was at Chocolate Chuck's Concord night at the defunct Faire Gallery. There were five people there. Now they're opening for Guilty Simpson, House Shoes, Samiyam, and Knxwledge—all mighty disciples of their hero, Dilla.

The interview over, Nice&AO eagerly return to their instruments. They play a half dozen tracks that scramble the molecules of R&B, soul, and gentle rock. Big Star's "Thirteen," Chi-Lites' "Have You Seen Her," Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror," and Ariel Pink's "Round and Round" sound as if they're entering a druggier dimension and then dispersing into gritty aural mist.

All this, and they just started their own Tumblr. "Game over," Nice concludes, with subtle sarcasm. recommended


Comments (14) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
I don't think a week goes by without Segal raving about this dude. He's alright...still needs time to develop...
Posted by srslydude on December 5, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
fire beats man. these guys rule
Posted by truebluebb on December 5, 2012 at 5:23 PM · Report this
wow lol at the hater above me...unreal lol
Posted by truebluebb on December 5, 2012 at 5:25 PM · Report this
Texas10R 4
"I brought three songs instead: Edgar Winter Group's "Free Ride," Et Cetera's "Lady Blue," and Sensations' Fix's "Music Is Painting in the Air"—none of which they'd ever heard.
Nice&AO immediately started working digital magic on them"

God be praised! They created something out of something previously created! It's creative genius!

What a bunch of derivative rubbish. Oh, the miracle of remixing and turning something creative (which they did not create) into something else and then calling it a creation. Sorry, boys: get a musical instrument and learn how to play it. You don't have the excuse of being impoverished 1980s inner-city youth with little resources. Musical equipment is more accessible than EVER. Stop rationalizing and start composing, lazy white boys.

Why does anyone give a shit about this kind of pseudo music?
Posted by Texas10R on December 5, 2012 at 7:45 PM · Report this
This is a well written article about horrible music. You guys like to make "fire" beats that swing and slump. We get it. Ugh, sorry to say but that AO guy sounds like a douche. I DO NOT want this to be the future face of seattle hip hop.
Posted by Theseguysstink on December 5, 2012 at 8:38 PM · Report this
"I think we've practiced for a total of five hours since we started this project,"

"We don't try very hard, but everything we do is so fiery, so people are gonna hate on us."

Excellent reporting.

Posted by activelistener on December 5, 2012 at 9:31 PM · Report this
Terrible article..dis-service to music as a whole..
Posted by agoodear on December 6, 2012 at 8:57 AM · Report this
Wow, terrible article, does music a dis-service.. Depressing.
Posted by agoodear on December 6, 2012 at 9:01 AM · Report this
thelyamhound 9
@4 - I'm not sure whether you missed a memo or I did. I was under the impression that modern culture had outgrown the need defend the artistry of electronic and/or sample-based music.
Posted by thelyamhound on December 6, 2012 at 12:07 PM · Report this
How is this any different from other loop based hip hop beats? Why is this considered "Future" and what are the characteristics that distinguish them apart from the beats that we hear from other "post Dilla" producers? Are these guys doing anything new, or are they just following a trend?

Looped sample based music is extremely formulaic. Grab a loop, add drums and a bass line then call it done. I just see two kids trying to do something that's been done already.

The music isn't that great nor special in any way, but also not horrible.
Posted by Notbadbutnotgood on December 6, 2012 at 1:12 PM · Report this
While this isn't the second coming or anything, the number of people on here who know jack-shit about sampled music is ricockulously high. Get the fuck out of the electronic music section of the paper if you don't know what the fuck any of this is about.

Doesn't play an instrument? Loop based music is easy? Fucking idiots.
Posted by ABCV on December 6, 2012 at 5:56 PM · Report this
this is some higher level shit.
music is an instrument unto its self, a cascade of crashing sounds and derivatives.
props to those who see sound as a channel of vibration and nothing less.
Posted by jeezyweezyfosheezy on December 8, 2012 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Well they're cute… but the timing sounds off and it's self masterbatory!
Posted by Erok on December 10, 2012 at 2:17 PM · Report this
for the record nate knows how to play several instruments at a fairly skilled level. get off these guys for doing something they just enjoy doing.
Posted by jimgrover on March 18, 2013 at 10:31 PM · Report this

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