High Rhymes: Niontay

High Times talks to rapper Niontay on working with MIKE, Ring cam music videos, and his career so far.
Niontay
Credit Christopher Currence

There’s a moment in Niontay’s “Thank Allah,” that feels like Sunday Service. Tay repeats, “Wake up in the morning, plot on gwuala, and thank Allah I’m alive.” Relief and tension thicken the song’s atmosphere with each breath. The Brooklyn-Florida emcee understands circumstance and thrives with the cards given. Last year, Tay released two projects: Dontay’s Inferno and Demon Muppy EP

While Niontay sounds relaxed, his lyrics often raise caution. On “Bac2highbac2reality,” Tay warns, “You can’t leave the field without taking a hit,” a stark warning and reminder over an uptempo dance bassline. It’s like dancing the pain away. That’s the allure of Niontay’s music: it sounds like the silver lining in a bad situation.

Niontay was originally born in Milwaukee, moving to Florida at 5 years old. He’d go back and forth until his Dad passed when he was 10. “When you were young, you just going with your mama,” he explains. It took him some time to adapt to Florida due to having ten toes down in his Milwaukee roots. Even down to his music taste of Boosie, Juvenile, Cash Money Records. His parents had diverse tastes; Dad was into Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Outkast, as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Q-Lazarus. Tay describes his mom’s taste as “all over the place,” depending on how she was feeling. “Mama would be going through some shit, she got on the Jill Scott in the car, she got on the Musiq Soulchild,” he remembers. What would capture Tay the most would be his Grandparents’ influence consisting of artists like The Isley Brothers, The Stylistics, The OJs, and The Ohio Players.

Niontay got into loads of trouble as a kid, taking on writing when grounded in his room. “My mama was the type of mama like, “Stay in your room, read, nigga. I’m going to take the door off the hinges. I’m taking this Xbox, nigga. Whatever in this motherfucker that I bought, I’m taking it,” he reminisces. The first beat he ever rapped on was the Alchemist-produced Jadakiss song “We Gonna Make It”. Tay came to terms early that rapping is his calling. “I had finally started realizing, just coming to terms that hooping not finna work, bro. You like 5’8″. You smoke weed all day, every day. You not finna make it to the league, bro. So I’m like, ‘Damn. All right. Let me fuck with this rapping shit.'”

In a Zoom call, Niontay speaks with High Times about his early beginnings, his relationship with MIKE, and recording “Real Hip-Hop” with Earl Sweatshirt and El Cousteau

As a producer, what do you look for in the crates when you’re picking out vinyls for chopping up beats?

I’m definitely looking for some shit that’s not too drum heavy. And it also depends on how I’m feeling. If I’m trying to just make a loop, I’ll use the drums in the sample and chop up that as best as I could. But most of the time, I’m looking for some shit that I could just straight rip the sample and throw my own drums on it. But I really like soul. I like soul shit. I don’t want to give up no sauce or nothing for myself personally, but gospel music be the hardest shit, low-key. 

You’ve previously spoken on how MIKE creatively inspires you. How has MIKE helped you, if any involvement, for the Demon Muppy EP?

Shit, just playing the gang songs. Playing songs for gang and shit. I think that’s a very important part of the process of putting the project together. MIKE is somebody who I really respect their opinion on music, on life in general, but just especially… We talking about music. I’m not going to put a song on a project without playing that for MIKE. Not that he got to approve it because MIKE could be like, oh this is cool, and I love the song and I’ll still put it on there but I’m going to play it for my dog, you feel me? 

When did you first link up with MIKE?

2020. My nigga Sideshow. Shout out to Sideshow, my twin. He was in New York and me and Sideshow had kind of disconnected for a year or two, just fell out a communication type shit. It wasn’t no beef or nothing. I wasn’t on Instagram like that. That nigga wasn’t on Instagram at the time. It was before we was both rapping.

Then he posted in New York and was just like, “Bro, I miss you, nigga. Link up.” Linked up. He like, “Bro, you got to meet this nigga who I know you would be cool as fuck with.” And I wasn’t too hip to who MIKE was. I knew who MIKE was but I ain’t know how hard a nigga was as a rapper, or just like how cool he was as a nigga. So I pulled up. I pulled up on MIKE with Sideshow. And after that, bro, I’ve been with MIKE for like 60% of the time. My life since then, nigga, shit is crazy.

Dontay’s Inferno, the “Thank Allah” video was made via variety of public cameras. It looks like, what, Ring cameras? So what was the inspiration behind?

I ain’t going to lie. I’m glad you asked that because niggas be trying to make think pieces about that video and shit bro. Me and the homie Carlos ain’t have no resources, ain’t had shit. I literally was like, all I had in mind was okay let’s do a Ring camera shot and then he had another Ring camera type thing over his garage. We was at the house in Florida and shit. I’m like, “Okay, those two shots I for sure know I want to do. I’m going to pull them up in the driveway. We going to get this shot and I’ll rap into the doorbell shit.” 

But we sat down, we edited that shit. I ain’t even have enough clips, for real. If you watch the video, it’s a lot of the same clips repeated. And then most of the video, I’m not even rapping to the song. It is just clips put together, you feel me? So that shit just some real makeshift shit, bro.

One of your most recent records you team up with Earl Sweatshirt, MIKE and El Cousteau for Real Hip-Hop. How that track all came about?

Shit, when we was at… Shout out to Tony. We was in Tony Seltzer’s studio. We had been kicking it for a little bit just in the stu. MIKE could do some. I’d run some. Thebe would run some… We was all just doing shit on our own in the same session type shit. But everybody had the day where they’d work on some shit. It got to the point where I’m like, “All right bro, we all in this motherfucker. There’s no way we finna end this era without a song.” And Thebe don’t even, he don’t live in New York. He don’t be in New York too often, but around that time, that nigga was in New York like a motherfucker. 

I’m like, “All right. Bitch-ass niggas.” I go in the studio. I’m like, “Tony load me up, bro. Punch me in.” I go in there. I spit the first three bars. I’m like, “Let me hear it back.” I heard it back. I’m like, “Oh yeah, I got one.” Punched the rest of that shit in, bro. And then off that, Cousteau… Cousteau is such a workhorse, bro. This nigga Cousteau have a verse he wrote god damn two weeks ago that fit the song perfectly. So he go in there, lay his shit in like 10 minutes, bro. He lay his. I’m like, “Damn, we just torched this motherfucker.” That’s low-key why MIKE got the shortest verse on the song, but low-key one of the hardest on that motherfucker. MIKE dropped his eight bars. Now we just waiting on Thebe. I seen the nigga writing. I know he got something but I think he had stepped outside. He was on FaceTime with his son. Come back inside. Bro, we low-key like impeding on somebody else’s session so we got to finish this shit. Fuck it. They can wait.

I’m low-key like, “Damn nigga, hurry up so we can get out this bitch, get out these niggas’ way.” Thebe is just taking forever, bro. He’s on the phone with his son. So I’m like all right, cool. He get off the phone, he get to writing and shit. Me and Cousteau like, “We finna go to the store real quick.” He still ain’t lay shit yet. I’m like, “Bro, do your verse, nigga.” Nigga finally do his verse. That shit was done, bro. Fiftieth anniversary of hip hop, man.

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