Karmin has a few things to prove. 1) The bubbly duo—made up of Amy Renee Heidemann and Nicholas Louis “Nick” Noonan—is not a talentless sensation culled from the depths of YouTube. 2) The group is about more than popular cover songs and karaoke rap. And 3) Karmin is not a gimmick.
From the moment Karmin signed to L.A. Reid’s Epic Records in June 2011, the married producer-and-rapper pair were peered at through squinted eyes. Their video renditions of songs like Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” and Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” were cute, but could the Berklee College of Music alums become a force in pop’s glitzy waters? After warming up with the Hello EP, the 26-year-old Tauruses are gunning to become a fixture on top 40 radio with their full-of-surprises debut LP Pulses (out later this year). On the tail-end of a promo run in New York City, Karmin sits down to speak about the new album, working with reggae legend Shaggy and advice from Kanye. —John Kennedy
VIBE: It’s been a long time coming for your first full-length album, Pulses. What was the process of recording this one? Did you start fresh after the EP dropped, or save the special tracks for your proper debut?
Nick: Yes, it is a long time coming. The EP that came out last year was supposed to be the first album, so we had a lot of other material that we wanted to get out.
Amy: But none of it made it. We went back into the studio and everything was better.
Nick: There were a couple of ideas for what might be the next single [that] Amy wrote probably before we even started Karmin. So we tried to revisit some old stuff. Actually Kanye was the one who told us to do that. He remembered doing “Jesus Walks” [before he blew up] and being booed off stage. So he was like, Dude, you might have some shit that you don’t even know. [“Jesus Walks”] was one of his I’m-here statements. We had a different [mindset] from the EP. It wasn’t all happy go lucky like we had just come from winning the lottery, all of a sudden having all this attention. Now it’s real—we’ve gotta make some fucking music.
How does Pulses differ from the Hello EP sonically?
Amy: Sonically, it’s more cohesive. The EP was like, here’s a Stargate track that sounds like “Spaceships!” And here’s one that’s Dr. Luke-sounding! We have some things that resembled what we have now; we still worked with Jon Jon. Those recording sessions are always magical—that guy is so talented. He came up under Rodney Jerkins so he’s got that vibe.
Nick: It’s probably harder. Sonically it’s a little harder. It’s more aggressive. There’s more content where she’s saying something.
You scored a collaboration that no one would see coming—with Shaggy. How did that happen?
Amy: We’re doing an interview and they’re like, who do you want to work with? And we were like, Shaggy. They’re like, why don’t you ask him right now on camera?
Nick: We do this whole thing, like, Shaggy, wherever you are, give us a call. They end up playing that clip and one of his friends saw it.
Amy: They’re like dude, this group is calling you out. They want you to work with them. We DM’d each other. I emailed the track and he sends it back two days later.
Nick: He’s like, I love this!
Amy: And that’s how we connected with everybody—Missy Elliott is on there, we’re talking. It’s like, the coolest thing ever. I’m like, I love you! She’s probably creeped out at this point.
Ah, the power of Twitter. Speaking of creeped-out moments, Miley Cyrus caught a storm of backlash for her raunchy performance at the VMAs. Did you feel that it was warranted?
Nick: So this is how I feel about this: She’s a white girl, and a lot of stuff she’s doing when she came out with “We Can’t Stop”—it was just the visual, that it was culturally inaccurate or culturally incorrect because she was dancing like a black girl. Whatever, who even knows what that means. But we kind of get the same thing a lot because Amy is white and she raps very aggressively. It’s not a Ke$ha style or anything, it’s just not the same type of thing. So we’re the last people to pass judgement on that. But that being said, when we were watching it I was definitely like—I think the reason people are mad is because it’s like, trying so hard, maybe. I don’t know.
Amy: There’s something that doesn’t feel authentic about it. Maybe it’s just going to take time. Maybe we’re going to have to watch more of those before we get it. It just doesn’t feel honest.
Nick: It’s pretty intense. Everybody was blushing.
Amy: People were worried that their kids were watching. She had a hit song so she’s doing well. She’s definitely laughing all the way to the bank.
Do you think that there’s a line you have to walk when dabbling into hip-hop culture to avoid that kind of backlash?