Houston is known for its attractive features and the stormy dark weather, but most importantly, the stars that derive from this city- Solange and Beyonce Knowles, Mike Jones, and Lizzo. Shrouded within an enigmatic persona and wrapped in memories that cascade in and out of assurity, Nicotine’s music stands as an un-recalled narrative for a new generation of young adults.
The misty singer made her musical debut in 2017, gaining attention from celebrities like Khelani and Zack Villere. Over the past two years, her music has acquired millions of streams from huge corporations like Forever 21.
In this nostalgic conversation, Nic lets us in on her mindset for 2019 and gives us insight into the world of “An Open Letter.”
Interviewer: First off, how are you doing? What state of mind are you in?
Nicotine: Before we jump in, I wish to thank you for your patience and interest in this interview. I’ve been doing a lot of living and trying to understand what direction my inner compass is pointing to. The last few months of my life have shifted me completely as a person. I’m glad to say that I am ever-changing for the better, and I am finally achieving that perfect balance of life.
Interview: Houston is one of the main places where prolific talents, such as yourself derive from. What was your childhood like as an afro- Latina woman?
Nicotine: For the first decade of my life, I was raised mainly around my mother’s side of the family, (Mexican). Time at my mother’s home consisted of a lot of family, a lot of food, and a lot of music. The majority of my childhood memories, show reflections of ganging up with my siblings/cousins and doing things definitely we were not supposed to be [doing.] We were always loud, always scheming, and always imagining that we were anywhere but there. Meanwhile, our parents are on the patio drinking, grilling, playing Loteria, and throwing gritos. Sometimes if I close my eyes and go back to that place, I can still feel, hear, sell, and taste those moments.
Throughout my kiddie years, I would visit my father (black), but once I hit my teens he quickly became my best friend and confidant. During some of the most pivotal and transitional times in my life, my father educated me on what it meant to be a black person in the world. He took my insecurities one by one and sent them off- never to be seen again. My mother tried her best to instill in me every ounce of Black girl magic that she had picked up from her surroundings along the way, but as a nonbinary woman of color, there was a lot of information and cultural identity that she did not have access to.
I always felt like was a bridge between these two halves; having to constantly explain and defend each side’s differences to the other can be a bit exhausting at times, but I use these opportunities to nourish myself with even more love and appreciation for my ancestors and those who held my blood before me.
Interviewer: Being afro Latina, how do you think the black and Hispanic community has treated you?
Nicotine: Ah, this question always poses as difficult for me. I don’t want to say I’m triggered, but damn. It was definitely more confusing as a kid. The black community has always been more accepting of me, but the Latin community was always really hard on me for some reason- *cough* antiblackness *black*. There was always a lot of bullying rooted in racism and it led me to disassociate from my Latin roots for years; I didn’t realize the void until I stumbled in the Afro- Latinx/ Latinx communities and was enamored wit the support and energy they had to offer me. Now it’s easier for me to move in my difference because I understand that I’m not that different after all.
Interviewer: Speaking of different, when did you realize you were queer? What did that time look like for you? Was there sobbing? Was there peace?
Nicotine: I’ve known since I was about five years old, actually. At first, I just really wanted to be friends with certain girls or I “looked up to” certain women, but as time started progressing, I started settling into my queerness more and more. It was always very hard for me, though. Although there are many queer relatives to my name, I witnessed how my family would treat them and it struck fear in my heart for a long time.
When I was in the ninth grade, my mother got the hunch that I was into girls and [we] got into an extremely violent and life-changing altercation. From that moment onward, I knew that I had to hide who I was with no exceptions.
As for my father, his eldest daughter, my beloved sister, is gay as well. I still remember the day he found out. I was so confused because how could they not tell? It was so obvious to me, and I admired her for it. Here she is, my big sister, living in her truth and to this day, she doesn’t give one damn about how anyone feels about it. A champion.
After my 22nd birthday, I decided that I was tired of pretending to be someone that I was not. I had brainwashed myself into believing that I was actually interested in me just to please my family and that is no way to love. I blurted out to my mother that i do, in fact, enjoy the company women and all that comes with it. That’s what it is and that’s who I am.
Surprisingly, she took it better than I thought she was going to. After that, I was on such a high that I decided to tell my father and siblings as well. There are still a few family members who are completely oblivious to this fact about myself but at the end of the day, it isn’t their business, to begin with. I’m much happier now, and I’m deeply in love and have been for quite some time.
Interviewer: What moments, smells, and visuals from your childhood or adolescence were plucked from your memory and into “An Open Letter?”
Nicotine: I owe all of my creativity and artistic inclination to my parents. They noticed my fascination with all things art music, and literature, and made sure that my world was filled with it. The time they both spend teaching me and encouraging me to expand my imagination was endless.
My mother spent many nights reading to me her favorite excerpts of her favorite poems. I was about four or five years old memorizing lines from Maya Angelou, Khalil Gibran, Anne Sexton, and many more phenomenal wordsmiths. She is my reason behind falling in love with poetry and I am forever indebted with her for that.
As for my father? What a genius. He always seemed to know everything about everything. He knew the best movies, the best books, and every time I saw him - he was waiting for me with more exciting adventures for us to go on. Even now he fills my cup with wonders. A hero.
Interviewer: Which of those memories do you wish you could get back?
I would love to travel back to nights where my mom, myself, and my siblings would stay up watching movies, dancing in the living room, and painting little trinkets we would find on outings.
It's always been the smaller intimate moments that strike the most inspiration for me.
Interviewer: What has life been like for you, post “An Open Letter?”
My life, I feel, has showcased the typical ups and downs that anyone in this world could face. I hit one of my lowest points only a few months after the album was released, and there were many times where I didn't even feel like there was a point in continuing to pursue my dreams.
After taking time to heal, live, learn, and grow, I realized that there is so much that this world and this life have to offer one another. I smiled, and often do now.
Since I've started this new chapter, so many blessings have fallen in my lap. I've achieved many things and come across so many beautiful people; I've traveled and found my tribe, my calling, my purpose. Even when life isn't as I wish it to be, it is exactly what I need and I am so thankful.
Interviewer: From the outside, it seems as though your music career has changed drastically. People throw parties and play your music, H&M blasts your songs like it’s a personality trait, and Kehlani has shown extreme love towards you. In the midst of glamorous success, what things in your day to day life remind you that you're normal?
It's actually crazy because I had no idea my stuff was playing in H&M until now, so thanks for shedding light - that's dope! And Lani? An angel really, she's been so sweet and supportive for some time now. The love runs deep.
I feel as though people always seem to think that I live this hectic lifestyle where I have no time for regular things or they try to treat me like I'm not a regular person. It's strange to me, the way I'm perceived and made out to be.
My career has definitely blown up quickly, that's a fact, but I'd like to think I'm still leading a pretty normal life. I share a two-bedroom apartment with my best friend of 8 years, I have a cat-son named "Malachite", and I'm a homebody (for the most part). Whenever I'm not creating or preparing for the road, I'm either alone or spending time with my loved ones.
I figure eventually my life will grow to be on the busier end of the spectrum; but I know that even then I'll have these people around me, who know who I truly am, and love me just for that. I could never lose sight of that.
Interviewer: What does a normal day look like for you?
Ah, a normal day for Nicotine. I usually wake up early and meditate for the first hour of my day. This includes: stretching, hydrating, loving on my plants, talking to my cat about our dreams, and topping it off with a nice shower.
Once I'm in the zone, I read for a bit to stimulate my mind. Whether it's a book, PDF, or tarot cards, I'm always inspired to write once I'm done.
Now, I could either sit and write for hours straight or write tidbits, here and there, sporadically throughout my day. Regardless of which mood I'm in, I make sure to write for at least 5 minutes, about literally anything. Ex: In times where I'm slammed with writer's block, I write things that don't make sense in order to try and pull myself out of it. This exercise has helped me write some of my favorite songs,(which you'll hear sooner or later).
As I said before, when I'm not alone and creating, I'm with my loved ones. My days can be as simple as watching some old movies with my family or going out for some ramen & drinks with my tribe. I'm 23, you know? Nothing too complex is going on yet; even the lights and the crowds seem normal... I guess because it is normal, to me.
Which music artist helps ground you to reality?
This feels like one of those "who's your favorite artist" questions, so naturally, it's difficult for me to answer. I have different artists and genres for the different moods and spaces that I find myself settling in.
The majority of the time you'll find me listening to artists whose careers began decades ago. Anything and everyone Alternative, Funk, R&B, Psychedelic, Neo-Soul, Rock, hell, even a lil Country from the last 20 - 40 years will have me feeling unison between myself and the rest of the universe. It's enticing, really. Something about those ancestral patterns and frequencies they were pumping out, man; That's the type of shit I'm trying to create: music that's everlasting.
For the last few years, I've been trying to focus my attention on newer artists, and I've come across many new sounds that spark those same feelings in me. Actually I'm in the middle of making some playlists to share with my fans, so be on the lookout for those.
Sonically, how has Houston inspired your creative process (music, spoken word, writing, etc.)?
I have a love/hate relationship with this place. Some of the most life-changing moments happened right here, in Clutch City, both good and bad. There's this underlying need to be here taking care of my family, but I know that if I stay, it will do nothing but destroy everything I've worked towards becoming. I often write about how it places me between a rock and a hard place.
The sounds of the city, the laughter of my niece and nephews, my Nana's humming while cleaning - these sounds ring throughout my mind and remind me of who I am and where I derive from. It's these sounds that I know I'll miss when I move again, but it's also those very sounds that motivate me to get out and better myself and my craft so that I can give back to those who have given and continue to give so much to me.