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Vocalist and songwriter Nikki Jean, a native of St. Paul, Minnesota, was a member of Nouveau Riche, a Philadelphia-based group featuring Roots affiliate Dice Raw. The group released a pair of EPs and never achieved lift-off, though Nikki did some outside work during that time, including the lead vocal on a cover of Sting’s “Be Still My Beating Heart,” recorded with ?uestlove of the Roots' Randy Watson Project for Ubiquity’s Rewind! 5 compilation. She gained wider exposure in late 2007, when she contributed vocals to two tracks on Lupe Fiasco's The Cool — “Little Weapon” and the single “Hip Hop Saved My Life,” the latter of which she also co-wrote. The following year, she performed with Fiasco as one of the opening acts on Kanye West's Glow in the Dark Tour. She subsequently focused on her solo career and forged a close alliance with producer Sam Hollander; she sought him specifically for his work on Carole King's Love Makes the World. Hollander and Nikki conspired to gain songwriting input from a a number of legends, most of whom peaked during the '60s and '70s. Though Columbia signed Nikki, the label didn't see the project through and dropped her in October 2010. S Curve swept her up and released the album, Pennies in a Jar, in July 2011. The diverse set of throwback-oriented songs, all custom built by Nikki Jean's light yet powerful voice, counted King, Thom Bell, Lamont Dozier, Paul Williams, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Jimmy Webb, and Carly Simon among its staggering list of co-composers. The album also featured “Steel and Feathers,” a song intended for Bob Dylan's 1981 album Shot of Love that had been left incomplete and unrecorded for three decades.
Nicholle Jean Leary
St. Paul, MN