Originally Appeared on TheseDays in September 2016
By now, SaveMoney has emerged as a force not only on the local scene, but the country and world at large. With a year that has seen the likes of Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa take marked steps towards the throne while the rest of the contingent has made their respective steps forward, the collective as a whole has established itself as the pre-eminent music organization on the come up today. While known mostly for the rap side of things that have taken over the city in the wake of the Drill movement, SaveMoney has never been solely one thing, a sentiment that has been echoed since interviews with the likes of Chano and Mensa back to 2012. It’s a loose contingent that counts creatives of all types in it’s ranks and one man in particular has been tapped to make sure it all comes together appropriately. That man is Nikko Washington.
At 23-years-old, Washington has accomplished a lot without letting many know. A soft-spoken individual that always seems prepared with a thoughtful aside, he’s the type of person who can change your whole opinion on a subject without realizing it happened. Through and through, it’s obvious he possesses a mind capable of great things and over the course of the last five years he’s used it to become one of the more talented personas to emerge in the wake of the steady line of buzzing indie acts. Having produced album covers for NoName, Towkio, Leather Corduroys and many more, he’s certainly benefited from the notoriety of his longtime friends. But he’s used it in a way that is at once capitalized and self-aware, pacing the visual side of everything from merchandise to single artwork for the country’s most talked about group. I caught up with Nikko just before heading out to Cuba over a couple drinks at Soho House to get the full story on how he arrived at this point in time.
TheseDays • It seems like as attention has followed the musicians in the city, others have found welcome roles, how did you end up in yours?
Nikko • It really just friendship, you know? The first person I started working with was Kene, KAMI, because everybody knew I was an artist, everyone knew I draw, I paint but he was the first person I ever did a cover for. He called me when I was in college and that was when Vic was blowin’ up, Chance was blowin’ up and I decided I wanted to take it serious. That was back when I was like 18, I’m 23 now. Kene told me to do this cover so I did it, he loved it, people started liking it and they realized I was fast with it and good and it was better to have your friend do it than some random person. So I started just working with everybody. It was a random cover, remember Scrape Money? Him and Preston. From there I started doing all Kene’s all Joey’s, then Towkio came on the squad at that point so I started doing all of Towkio’s and I started working with Vic, just everybody. Everybody started asking for stuff. The first album cover I think was for Joey, the Purple Tape then I did Mafioso for Fresco.
TheseDays • So what informs your art, gives it a unique aesthetic?
Nikko • Well it’s weird I think of art and what I do, I kind of separate the design from the fine art So the process with design is like, I don’t really follow a grid, I don’t really follow lines of normal design or institutionalized design because when I was in school I did like one or two design classes and then I stopped, that was my major though, it was really entry-level art and I knew how to do it because I transferred from school and was already working with people and I just hated institutional requisite you know? So from there I started doing the more abstract stuff, just more unique, more cold. Not cold as in the temperature, but really clinical and mechanical, I just got really creative with it, I used to create my own fonts, I still do. The most fun you have is when you just do ten of them. I grew up around graffiti but I never really loved it that much, I remember I got arrested when I was 14 for doing that shit on the train and I kinda stopped after that. I’ll do stuff on permission walls or just canvas, just whatever, I never loved it enough to scale up a ten story building and paint, it just wasn’t for me. I have friends who love that shit, like Vic. Vic used to climb up shit and fall off shit, just for graffiti, all these motherfuckers, they’re crazy and I was never like into that, but I loved to draw. I used to come with them and do stuff just cause I could and it wasn’t like I was bad at it, I just did what I did.
TheseDays • What does it mean to you to be a part of a group of friends having such an impact on the world?
Nikko • Its amazing to me to be honest. I always knew that we were put together for a reason. There was no reason, no way that all of was just randomly brought together. It happens a lot, people just don’t understand who they’re with at the time and we understood who we were with, who we had with us at all times and we had talented-ass people so our whole thing was we’re going to come up in-house so we don’t really need to have anybody else because everybody can do something: musicians, artists, videographers, whatever, everyone’s doing something random but tight shit. It was like Nico, he’s just a raw-ass trumpet player and most of us went to Whitney Young or Jones, I went to Skinner with Chance and Darius and Reese and shit and Justin, we all just knew each other and justl inked up in high school. We used to have like 100 motherfuckers with us at all times, we used to be deep as hell, legit used to be on the Ave and have like 100 people downtown, it was crazy.
TheseDays • Yeah, I mean I remember those early days everyone being very careful to not say SaveMoney was just a rap group, do you feel like you embody that a bit?
Nikko • It’s a thing whether people do a certain thing because we’re not a rap group so those who aren’t rapping might not claim it outwardly but they’re definitely a part of it. It’s crazy because we’re friends, we’re a collective so we just do what we gotta do. Malcolm is a good example of that, he came later, that’s the homie, we shake up squad with him, that’s all love but he doesn’t have to claim or put on his fuckin’ Twitter that he’s SaveMoney, you know? It’s like, with me just being there from the beginning, from it’s inception, since the day we start Bo Squad and then we made SaveMoney and people would always ask me like ‘when you gonna rap?’ and I was just always like ‘I’m not gonna do that’. It’s tight to see that I can still be in it and be successful doing what I do.
TheseDays • How lucky do you feel to be in Chicago at a time when that progression is even possible?
Nikko • It’s amazing. It’s showing that, not even knocking Drill because Drill was what it was, but showing that there was a different side to Chicago, that you didn’t have to gang bang, you didn’t have to shoot, you didn’t have to rap to get out, to get money, to get out of your situation. Because most of us didn’t come from money, people didn’t come from wealth or whatever, people had to do what they had to do to get on or to get money when you needed it. Nobody glorifies it, nobody glorifies what they had to do or whatever, and for us to be a positive and still make it and do it in a way that’s different from what’s been out there, it’s whatever, it’s just us doing things how we do them. Like the way we used to dress was not ok at first. People always used to fight us and think we were soft and we wasn’t and we’d have to handle it but we were always trying to not go down that road of being the typical gang-banging-ass dude. It’s tight to see people offering the different perspectives of the same story. Like you were saying, “Paranoia” that shit is like an amazing song that spoke from the persepective of all of our friends and that was a part of his life that he jumped off from that and made something super, super positive. Even Vic now, he’s making beautiful music through the pain he’s experienced and that those around him have experienced.
TheseDays • What’s the next thing for you or something you’re excited about working on?
Nikko • I’m not sure yet, I’m picky with it. I might do clothes, I love fashion a lot, I’ve done art direction for brands and I’ve done design for brands in Chicago and stuff like that but I don’t know, I want to grow into a contemporary artist, I want to be in museums like the Tate or MoMA. Its like what people know me for now is design, doing covers and I think I’m eventually going to stop doing covers or do it so rarely that when I do it’s like ‘oh man, he hasn’t done one in years’ but it’s hard because everyone I know makes great-ass music and they ask me and I don’t want to say no becasue again I’m picky and I hate the stuff that other people give them (laughs). It might be kind of arrogant in a way but with music I have a vision for what that evokes, what it looks like and when they come to me they trust me, they trust my design. Even if I don’t do it, they ask me my opinion. Like for TheMind’s cover, he came to me with pictures, with art direction and asked him what to do like ‘here’s what I have, what can you do?’ and I was like yes, of course, it’s all love. That’s kind of how I want to do it moving forward, more art direction and then like kinda fading out of that. I’m going to do a lot more shows, I’ve been working on a lot more pieces and I have a studio downtown now. So it’s all coming together, I’m just excited to see what else comes along.