Listening to Ness Nite speak is much like listening to her music—there’s a profundity to her words, which float on the air like balloons. The 22-year-old singer, songwriter, rapper, and producer forces you to lean in, because every thought and idea seems carefully chosen for peak impact.
You can hear the same attention to detail on her latest release for POW Recordings, Dream Girl, which expands upon the themes and sounds from her brilliant EP, Nite Time, to showcase an artist in total command of her craft.
Ness speaks to me from her new home base in New York City, some 1,300 miles from where her career began in the dorms of the University of Saint Thomas. It was in the close-knit Twin Cities scene where Ness discovered her voice.
“I think it definitely played a huge role in what I do now,” Nite says. “I pretty much had zero confidence when I moved to Minneapolis in terms of singing or even like sharing my music with people. So I think that when I took the steps to actually do that I was able to meet people who were really supportive and inspired me… it was definitely an encouraging space to be in in the indie scene in Minneapolis.” Her artistry grew quickly: Before she left town, she’d already placed in City Pages’ 2016 Picked to Click poll, and she was selected as our Best R&B Singer the following year.
Nite proudly brandishes the confidence she developed during that period on the new album. Dream Girl is about taking ownership: of yourself, of relationships, of how the world sees you. On “Watercolor Roses,” Nite raps with self-assured braggadocio, “Girl you on/ Don’t you pick up, don’t you look back/ Don’t you dare do that/ You know you’ve been winnin’ all alone.” The dreams in Dream Girl aren’t fantasies; they’re set in the reality that hard work and perseverance pay off. As Nite puts it on “Xtra,” “You want extra shit, you work extra hard/ Better push yourself for that push-to-start.”
From the beginning of her career, Nite has had a hand in every aspect of her career, from songwriting and beat-making to writing and directing her music videos. She grew up in three major middle-American cities (Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis), and the blue-collar Midwest “do-it-yourself” mentality has stuck with her.
Part of Nite’s development as an artist, in fact, has been learning that she doesn’t have to do it all on her own. “When I was starting out I thought, ‘I’m just going to do literally everything myself,’ and honestly it gets exhausting,” she says. “I very much didn’t want to collaborate, which is fine because that is what worked for me at the time. Now I am more excited at the possibilities of working with new people. I would say don’t be afraid to reach out to new people and it is really about putting yourself out there.”
Nite has said that her voice is her greatest instrument, and she uses that instrument to its fullest potential on Dream Girl, not just to relay her message but also for the sake of pure vocal experimentation. “The way I switch up is natural to me,” she says. “Once I decided I wanted to expand myself it made sense because the way I write goes in and out of perspectives. Within one song I could be talking to/about many different situations. I think my tones and how I decide to sing or rap all depends on my perspective.” These changing perspectives give a fresh edge to Nite’s storytelling skills.
Tonight’s show at the Entry is a homecoming album release party, and Dream Girl isn’t just a journalistic portrayal of where Ness Nite is now, but also a roadmap for where she’s going. “There are a lot of big opportunities for me right now and big things headed this way,” she says. This won’t be the last you guys hear of me.”
With: Dua, Izell Pyramid, DJ Rowsheen
Where: 7th St. Entry
When: 9 p.m. Friday, March 23
Tickets: $10/$15; more info here