For Nico Segal, music is music. Rap is to instrumentation what instrumentation is to rap—it’s all the same. The trumpeter of the Chi-Town Savemoney collective has been making moves since the split of his once-upon-a-time band Kids These Days, touring with Frank Ocean and now establishing himself as a vocal-less artist.
With his upcoming project, Donnie Trumpet, the 19-year-old Northsider who describes his voice to be his trumpet, hopes he can force listeners to rethink music.
“It’s how willing you are to wrap your head around concepts and how deeply you’re willing to listen,” he said over the phone on Tuesday night (June 11).
Nico admits that it was initially difficult for him to deal with the breakup of Kids These Days, but that he is excited about his next chapter. Touring with Frank Ocean is "different," he says, but he realizes it's an amazing opportunity. "It's a really great challenge and I enjoy every second of it," he says. "We have the challenge of writing lines on his songs that don't already have lines. We have to be creative and cool, but also stay out of his way."
With Donnie Trumpet, he has a little more leeway and knows that even with all of its features, it is something he can call his own. “Vocals on songs nowadays means that it’s their song, but if you look at old J. Dilla projects or old Madlib projects, they have projects where someone is rapping on every single song,” he says of the 'tape, which will feature cameos by Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and other Savemoney artists. “The vocals on the song aren’t always the most important thing and I kind of want people to get away from that, just listen to the music.”
The tape’s first single, “Zion,” is an ode to a woman Segal describes as one of his biggest inspirations.
“Lauryn Hill is easily one of my favorite and most influential artists of all time,” he said. “I love that song. It’s the only cover on the whole project and it doesn’t sound like her song at all. I re-harmonized the chords and I play her melody on the trumpet as if I was singing.”
Nico hopes to build on the work of modern hip-hop inspired instrumentalists like Robert Glasper. “When I started playing in school, I didn’t like the songs they had us playing, ‘cause they were really fuckin’ boring," says Nico. "What I started to do was play to the songs I loved and a lot of those were hip-hop and Latin and funk and what that taught me was that every kind of music has something beautiful for you to pay attention to. I don’t necessarily want to be the Miles Davis of hip-hop, but that is the way I think about it to a certain extent. The way I think about making music, is infusing these different styles and it becomes me.”
Donnie Trumpet is due on June 25, which is Nico’s 20th birthday and the same day he kicks off the worldwide tour with Frank Ocean in Germany. —Shannon Powell