The name of Frank Nitt’s just released six-song EP on Delicious Vinyl, Jewels In My Backpack, is more than simply some catchy throwaway title. Rather, it accurately sums up the new recording's sound -- one that melds the smooth glossy production of Terrace Martin (Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Talib Kweli, etc.) with the raw & gritty yet instantly engaging Mid West flow of the longtime Detroit emcee, who is known to most rap fans for his membership in Frank-n-Dank and his longtime affiliation with the late great J-Dilla.
"I'm considered a backpack emcee, a grimy, underground emcee, while Terrace Martin, he does records with Snoop and people like DJ Quik, his is a much bigger, shinier sound," said the artist, who was born Frank Bush. "So Terrace kinda represents the jewels while I represent the backpack -- Jewels In My Backpack."
In fact, that theme of juxtaposing opposite components but somehow making them effectively co-exist in one recording is what Jewels is all about. Hence, the EP song titled "H.A.T.E." is balanced out by another titled "L.O.V.E." "This whole record is all about balance," stresses Frank. "Like, I got a song called "Go Girl" which is about strong empowered women, but I also have a song called "Psychedelic Freaky Girls," which is about, I guess, the opposite of that. So this record is very balanced." It also has a nice balance of guest contributors, including J. Black, Problem, Bad Lucc, Kurupt, and DJ Quik.
Frank credits the influence of West Coast producer Terrace Martin for bringing in such SoCal heavyweights as Kurupt and Quik. In fact, the Detroit emcee recently made the move west to LA, home of his new label, Delicious Vinyl. "I am there [LA] most of the time now. Me and the homie Grim Ace, of Orio Circus, we got a studio and a place to lay our heads and sleep there," he said. In comparison to Detroit he says LA, "is definitely an eye opener for me, a change of scenery, but you know, it was strictly a business decision. LA was the next stop for me realistically. I've been around the world with Frank-n-Dank. I've done a lot, but LA was the place for me to launch this Frank Nitt solo thing properly, so I had to make my way out to LA and make it happen."
And how did he land a deal with legendary hip-hop label Delicious Vinyl? "Oh man, it's crazy. I knew Mike Ross since 1995 when he flew Dilla out to do the Pharcyde and Brand New Heavies and things like that. So I would come out to LA with Dilla and so I met Mike Ross, who is the owner of Delicious Vinyl. So I have known him for years and years," he said of executive producer "Mike Floss," as he is credited on the new EP.
"And it just so happened when he was putting out the Illa J record I was out in Cali with Illa and we just happened to kick it and sit down." [Illa J is J-Dilla's younger brother, whose Dilla produced Yancey Boys album was released in 2008 by Delicious Vinyl.] Frank played Ross a lot of tracks and he liked them, especially the melding of Frank Nitt's voice with Terrace Martin's production. "He liked the mesh of my Mid Western flow and Terrace's more shiny West Coast sound," said Nitt.
Frank NItt "Go Girl (feat Problem)" Directed by Grim Ace (2010, Delicious Vinyl)
In fact, their next record, he said, could be the seven year old, never released and J-Dilla produced 48 Hours. "That might even be the next Frank-n-Dank project. You never know," he said of the album that so famously (and tragically) got shelved by MCA back in 2003 in a classic record industry tale of artist gets signed, artist records album, but for one reason and another album never sees the light of day (except maybe in underground bootleg form). But ever the optimist, Frank Nitt is quick to see the silver lining to this cloud. "For me it was a gift and a curse. I learned so much about paperwork and being inside the corporate walls as far as music goes and I couldn't have learned all that knowledge any other way," he said.
And what about J-Dilla, who produced that album and so much of Frank-n-Dank's work? How does Nitt feel about how posthumously popular the producer has become since his tragic 2006 death from lupus? "I wish it could have happened so he could see. I wish it could have happened earlier," he said.
"You got to understand that for me, that was my best friend. Like we met in 1986 sometime, so before the music or before anyone knew who J-Dilla was, that was my homeboy. So to me he was just this great guy. And this career that I have, he basically gave me the path to get it. I haven't done anything but music since 1995 or so, since he got on, since his first placement with I think Mad Skillz at the time, [just] Skillz now, or the Pharcyde. It was right around the Pharcyde time. It was all in the same time and since then I have done nothing but music because of him. So for me he is the greatest guy on the planet."
Look for Frank Nitt's six song Jewels In My Backpack at Amoeba Music. Also look for Frank-n-Dank's various releases, including Xtended Play, in the CD, vinyl, and DVD sections. Plus you can find Frank-n-Dank featured on such J-Dilla releases as Welcome 2 Detroit (as Jay Dee) and the posthumously released J-Dilla 2009 release Jay Stay Paid. Click here for Frank NItt's MySpace and click here for Frank NItt's Delicious Vinyl page.