If you’ve paid any attention at all to bass music over the last year you’ve undoubtedly heard the name Nitti Gritti. Known as one of the reigning kings of edits and mashups, the Miami resident boasts an even more impressive catalog of originals on tastemaker labels that span the genre spectrum. Confession, Quality Goods, Dim Mak, Mad Decent, Musical Freedom, and Sony Music have all signed music from this diverse powerhouse whose production prowess has expanded well past the confines of any particular sound. It’s evident that Young Nitti is making power moves and has his sights set on dominating the dance floor and the airwaves.
Nitti Gritti is the latest incarnation of the artist who began his career in dance under his real name, Ricky Mears. Prior to rebranding two years ago, Ricky had already begun to build an impressive body of work that put him in the studio with artists like Skip Marley, Seven Lions, Dj Mustard, and Above & Beyond. His innate musicality and understanding of how to shape both soaring melody and intense and driving bass lines helped keep his name on the industry’s lips and provided the kindling for the fire he was about to light on the dancefloor. Nitti Gritti is an expansion of his sonic footprint and one step closer to his goals of becoming the next super producer.
Even the name Nitti Gritti is reflective of what his music is all about. Stank nasty, bow throwin’ beats that you have to wild out to. And his new persona has offered him a new opportunity to embrace a side of himself that allows his personality and humor to be on full display on stage, and on social media. Something he hadn’t previously pursued. Even so, what’s most striking about him in person is how humble and kind he is. It’s clear that his upbringing as the child of missionaries living in Haiti has clearly helped mold him and keep him grounded. A rare quality in an industry that rewards insane antics and bad boy behavior.
On his recent trip to San Francisco for Insomniac’s Boo! SF, I had the chance to sit down with him for a few moments before he took the stage to a sold-out crowd. We chatted about how his unique childhood helped shape him personally and musically, what it means for him to produce as much music as possible, and LEGOS.
Your parents were missionaries, how do you think it shaped your worldview growing up in an environment where you were in service of people?
As a whole, I feel like I take less things for granted and realize that most of the world is not as blessed as America. It's kind of nice that in anything I do I really know this and try to give back or just, in general, be kind to people. A lot of people don't realize how blessed you are just to have any kind of middle-class suburban life [with both] parents growing up. Even being able to go play music is a huge blessing, it's just rare.
And how do you think it affected you musically?
Well, musically it's weird because I obviously listened to a lot of Christian music and I played that at church a lot. But then I also listened to a lot of secular music because my parents didn't. So obviously when you aren't [exposed] to something you actually want to go try and listen to it and see what it’s about. So I even listened to stuff like Slipknot and [stuff that] was almost opposite of it.
You went way left of center with that.
Yeah, but at the same that time that didn't really like sway my faith, I actually just like the music.
And when I was in Haiti, they love Caribbean dance and reggaeton and then that led into house music, which was actually one of the initial things about electronic music that I liked was house back in 2005 and onward.
When you moved back to the states what changed? How did you end up getting into dubstep?
So that was after I moved back from Haiti to Pennsylvania. I was into metal and Skrillex was the one that I felt did the best to mix that style of heaviness into electronic music. So then, that kinda really, really got me into it. You could definitely [hear that] in dubstep. And even right now in 2018, you can even hear it in trap. I love that people are taking Blink 182 melodies and mixing it in with electronic music.
You have a pretty impressive publishing catalog. And you've written a lot for other people too. So, what is it about collaboration or writing or even just writing music for other people that really speaks to you?
I have [so many] ideas but I can't necessarily release them all. The best [example] is “Move to Miami.” The first person I thought of was Pitbull because he's Mr. 305 and I actually went and thought of it, I was like, "Well this would be perfect for him." And then Wuki and his manager helped send it to him.
In working with Diplo I found he does that a lot. He just talks to everybody, and if he has an idea that suits them, he sends it to them. I started to try and do that myself. I can make anything I want now because it will never go to waste. If there's an ingredient for a rapper or pop act, I could try to go place it and still feel good about creating. It doesn't always have to be for yourself.
DJ Jazzy Jeff said something to the effect of "Make all the music you want, sell some, and give the rest away."
Yeah. It's true.
Die empty, is what he said.
No. You really do want to be empty by the time you're done because that's exactly what everybody wants to be able to be a part of. It's everything that you've created.
Do you see yourself moving fuller into pop music?
I mean yeah. I want to have a smash hit. I want to have the biggest of the big. I want to win Grammys. I definitely want that. There's no question. I definitely feel like Nitti Gritti has certain aspects of it. So, I'm not too worried that I'll get there but you know, just I want to do it in my own way. However, that happens naturally. And if I end up working with certain hip-hop acts or pop acts, I just want it to be organic and not forced.
So, what should inspire the change from your real name to changing it to Nitti Gritti? I mean I've heard at least 5 different origin stories of the name itself, so you can’t get over on me about that. But what inspired the switch from using your given name to Nitti Gritti?
[laughs] I just never really released heavier bass music and as much house or you know, future bass. It was more rock and a lot of dubstep. And it just wasn't a brand where I felt, I was really giving the brand a chance. I was just purely making music. [With] Nitti Gritti from the get-go I put the same amount of effort into my content and my social media, my branding, as I did the music. And it was much more equally divided between those to get people interested. And it's also a bit more fun.
With Ricky Mears, I didn’t really care about making, fuckin’ dumb videos or whatever. I enjoy those don't get me wrong, but to me that, that one's a separate thing where I don't wanna have to worry about that. That music is more personal on a deeper level. I don't want it to be affected and tainted by social media. Whereas with Nitti Gritti, I love doing social media because it doesn't affect me. I do the dumbest crap in the world because I'm having fun
So tell me something, are LEGOs still on your rider?
Yeah. Always. Sometimes at festivals don't have them but almost every club at my own headlining shows, I normally get them. I got a few cool ones that were an actual DJ one, like a band one. And then, I love all the Star Wars ones.
What's the biggest that you've built?
I personally spend like $300 on one set sometimes. I have a 1:20 ratio Porsche that's at least 2 feet long. It's huge. Took me like almost 3 days.