Sometimes the industry is just that, an industry — a business drenched by politics beyond the control of the actual talent bound by its residual effects. Plenty of great artists fall victim.
Look at Grafh; though he was one of the most talented spitters in New York City during the Mecca’s post-millennium mixtape run, politics kept him on the verge instead of in the spotlight like some of his peers (who he could, frankly, rap circles around).
Harlem artist BillboardBaby, formerly known as It’s Ya Girl Nicolette, is also one of those artists dripping in allure; I first got onto her via a freestyle on Power 105. I went down the rabbit hole from there, and after literal months of DMing, we hopped on a call and — honestly — her story is even more intriguing than I previously thought … I promise that you’ll just as plugged in as I am now by the end of this.
Nicolette got her start early on as a member of The Harlem Sunshine Girls — a group founded by her mother that included her late sister, Olivia. I was floored to hear that the group also included fellow Harlemite Teyana Taylor (who ended up signing to Pharrell’s now-defunct Star Trak imprint) and Lil Mama (who ended up signing to Jive).
Nicolette herself ended up signing a deal under iconic MC LL Cool J. It came about randomly after her mother spotted him on the street, which led to the young spitter freestyling for the legend — and later that same night hitting the studio with him.
She appeared on his Exit 13 album, alongside Jiz, Lyrikal and Trick Diamondz on “Get Over Here.” She also made a cameo in the video for the album’s brightest star, “Baby,” featuring The-Dream.
Still, signing to an established artist often leaves signees at the mercy of the artist’s creative drive. In this case, Exit 13‘s handling by long-time label Def Jam was criticized heavily by LL — and ended up being his last for the imprint. As well, he was knee-deep in NCIS, leaving his focus anywhere but on Nicolette.
They split on good terms, and Nicolette herself recounts her time with the legendary MC as incredibly reaffirming.
What makes her story so compelling, for me, is her strength and determination. The more you dig, the more you can see just how hard she’s been working to get her music to pop — amid a lot of soul-crushing obstacles.
In 2013, her sister Olivia was murdered; a subsequent lawsuit filed by Nicolette’s mother against New York City Housing Authority was met with a shocking response: [Olivia] should have been aware of the safety risk of living in NYCHA housing. Even worse, the egregiously bad take was published on the front page of the New York Post.
Michele Graham, the 37-year-old woman who shot Olivia, was sentenced to 21 years in prison in 2016 after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
More recently, Nicolette has had to deal with the loss of both her mother and another close friend Hooliganradguitar5 — which she’s seemingly taking in stride, channeling it as added motivation to achieve what seems like an inevitable goal in their honor.
It is inevitable; you can feel the contagiously positive spirit in her voice as she speaks. From her ongoing professional relationship with Dame Dash to her working relationship with Ron Browz (among many others), she is in the right circles, and thankfully — for many reasons — she has a great support system.
Please believe, I’ll be bringing you an in-depth interview with BillboardBaby in due time, but for now, I urge you to catch up and get ready for the show. I promise you, she’s about to go; if you’re looking for an artist to put your chips on before the world at large finally gives her talent the notice it deserves, here it is.
Tap in. You’re welcome.