Once, in the grand brownstone Nemiss has occupied since arriving from Chicago to Brooklyn’s historic and culturally indispensable Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, an 8 x 10 print of Josephine Baker decorated a top-floor hallway, as if presiding over the many souls there -most transplanted, including mine for a time- whose mission to create art had consumed our lives since we could remember. Like Baker, Nemiss ChiYork was born in the Midwest industrial belt where largely migrated African-American populations measured success in ways that precluded commitment to the arts: a stable job, home and simple family life fulfilled promises our people had been denied for centuries. However, Nemiss remains faithful to her native working class Chicago roots by moving her hip-hop, lyrical, dance and arts organizing gifts between the Windy City and New York City. Her University of Chicago education preceded her debut EP The Bottom Line. The album began a career including coverage in Okayplayer, opening for Common and global travel with the Deeply Rooted dance troupe.
After performing at famed New York City rite-of-passage venues and now with the band Cross Culture, she continues her fusion of soul, R & B and classic hip-hop with a new single: “Searching for Love.” Yes- people still put on the music in backyards, pools, basements and garages to just dance. No occasion is necessary. But given we’ve arrived to Labor Day much faster than I realized one summer could pass, this weekend is a perfect one for “Searching for Love.” Enjoy our conversation about this latest Nemiss song.
Kalisha Buckhanon: A lot of today’s heavy rotation music glorifies “Searching for love in all the wrong places,” which is part of your single’s hook but it is actually the opposite sentiment of the song. “Searching for Love” is about wanting to love and be loved. It is refreshing. How did the melody and lyrics come to you?
Nemiss: My friend D. Prosper, creative director of the New York live music party “Soul In the Horn”, thought that it would be a good idea to collaborate with upcoming producer Thomas Piper as he thought our talents were equally yolked. It turned out there was an amazing professional rapport, which was refreshing and a dope music chemistry. As soon as I heard the track for “Searching For Love” I was smitten. It just so happened that I was in the process of reaffirming love in my own personal life, thinking of all the things I have been through up to this point in love and thinking about how I defend the love that I have. That thought process led me to write the “Searching for Love” lyrics.
Kalisha: The song keeps with the neo-soul aesthetic that was very prominent when we were forming as artists but seems to have faded from the frenzy people like Jill Scott, D’Angelo and Common drove. I am personally inspired by a lot of British artists and young men, like Daniel Caesar and Leon Bridges and Elle Mai and Her, for reinvigorating that tradition to new listeners and the forefront again. Who are you listening to now?
Nemiss: My musical taste is very particular. I also like what Elle Mai and Daniel Caesar have cooking up. I do like what Anderson .Paak, Kendrick Lamar, and Lizzo are doing to uphold good feel-good music. I also want to shout out Noname and City Girls for keeping the lyrics and the fun in female hip-hop.
Kalisha: “Searching for Love”is a bona fide dance song. For some reason, I thought of the late great disco queen Donna Summer the first time I heard it. She inspired people, women especially, to get up and move with confidence and sexiness that caught on to a movement. Who or what would you say the song pays homage to?
Nemiss: [Summer] for sure. It is without debate a dance track with hip-hop fundamentals. I definitely was inspired by the soul bounce Anderson .Paak and Estelle and Kanye (American Boy) have brought to soul music. Most people know “NeMiss Chiyork” as a lady lyricist with word play and I wanted to show people the multi-facets that I have. I’m looking forward to people hearing more of the melodies and flav I am bringing to my new project.
Kalisha: What was the production process like? Was it one of those creations that just came out in one hit or was it layered?
Nemiss: The production process is always longer than what people think. It took about a month to conceptualize it, lay down verses and then lay down the chorus. I recorded the singing and rapping tracks on separate days. I always lay a rough draft and then come back and freak it as I see fit. But to get this single out it took month of listening and re recording… Doing clean versions and radio edits.
Kalisha: The virtual “interview” process you go on in the video is part of searching for love. You basically went straight “The Bachelorette,” but I liked it. Dating is an art, courting is an artform. Men used to know, from a young age, that they would have to sit across from women and prove their worth. But you also appeared happy and free all by yourself. Was it your direction to display this old-fashioned take on romance or did that arise in the collaborative process?
Nemiss: I definitely was aiming to show myself in the video “speed dating” and on a love mission. I wanted to leave to the imagination all the other forms of dating. We were a little tight on a budget but the point is my journey is like most ladies’ journeys: Looking for a partner is a process. You go through quite a few duds until you find someone worth your time. Even then, like that song by Heavy D proclaims, “Now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it?” In life, you are constantly presented with tests in love.
Kalisha: The song’s emphasis on “so many faces and so many places” really speaks to rampant online dating and even “hookup” culture. Also, virtual social media lives standing in for that work and expectation to really get to know people. Not that I want to put you on the spot as the go-to expert for everyone’s romantic issues, but how can men and women find balance or authenticity these days in the love game?
Nemiss: I am definitely no love guru! I tried the online dating, I was not really feeling it because it seemed like people were just putting their resumes up with their best picture. I would say the long term relationship that I finally found came from a place of authenticity. All of my significant “love connections” were through doing something I was passionate about and finding out that person had similar values and was on the same page as me.
Kalisha: You’ve made love songs, both about love going right and wrong, as well as activist music and women’s empowerment anthems. What are you thinking of doing next?
Ebony: Well I don’t want to give away all the nectar, but let’s just say I want to stay in the same vein and fulfill the potential of this single I just dropped. High energy, memorable hooks, lasting lyrics and boundless creativity.