“I’m just doing music now — as of today, actually,” says Ness Nite when asked if she’s currently enrolled in school or working a job.
It turns out the 20-year-old singer, rapper, and producer left the University of St. Thomas in January. She recently ditched her day job, too, freeing up time to pursue a career that’s taking off fast.
Ness, born Vanessa Reliford, began making music seriously just two years ago. Even so, over the course of our conversation, her level of artistic direction and confidence is striking.
And it’s a hard-earned confidence, considering how much she’s accomplished on her own. As stated on her SoundCloud profile, Ness “makes the beats,” “writes the words,” and “says the words” of her music. “My hands are everywhere in the process of making my songs,” she says, adding that her “permanent co-producer,” Mike Frey, has also impacted her sound.
Though Ness grew up in Milwaukee and Chicago, she says she doesn’t have a musical presence in those cities. Minneapolis is where she’s been developing her craft, and she admits that she “definitely prioritized” music above school while a student at St. Thomas.
The result of that devotion is a sleek, intimate mix of hip-hop, R&B, and soul that shares commonalities with the likes of alt-R&B star SZA. At times, her beats even evoke the electronics of Lorde. Ness says she likes to use her voice as an instrument, yet she conveys plenty of personal meaning simultaneously. “All my songs, I feel like I’m speaking to someone,” she says.
Ness’ recorded output so far consists of her EP from August, Nite Time, as well as standalone beats. She recently debuted three songs during a show at Public Functionary in Minneapolis, and says she produces new music on a daily basis.
Are other artists seeking out her beats, assuming there’s a trove of unreleased material, particularly instrumentals? Some do, but usually it’s not a conversation that gets very far.
“If I make a beat that I like, I want to write to it,” Ness says. “I definitely have a full song in mind when I set out to make something.”
When she does collaborate, she prefers the process to come about organically, with each artist seriously invested in the project.
“I’m not into compromising my integrity as an artist,” she says. “I’m just a ‘big picture’ type of person.”
While that mentality implies a need for patience, Ness isn’t wasting time, either.
“I don’t know how you could do something every day and not get better at it,” she says when asked about her rigorous recording habits.
Given her fast rise and evident growth, don’t expect to see Ness back on campus or punching a clock anytime soon.