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Inside The Niceguys' Dark, Earth-Shattering James Kelley Listening Party

Rewind: The 2012 Houston Press Music Award Winners

Meet the Niceguys

Monday night in front of a small gathering of hand-picked compatriots and friends, The Niceguys allowed their recording home of Wire Road Studios to turn into an open house. The multi-million dollar recording palace rolled out its carpet complete with television sets, dining areas and a patio just for the Houston foursome who just repeated as Houston Press Music Award winner for "Best Rap Group."

"This feels like our real debut album," said resident Niceguys producer Free, clad in his usual high socks and shorts. "We want people to keep guessing how the album sounds to them."

The night was for James Kelley, the group's much-publicized EP turned full-fledged sophomore album and for the man himself who, as inconspicuous as he is, relishes the fact that his inherited family of a kid from New York City, two from Dallas and Beaumont, and a resident Chopstar came together and created synergy under his roof.


After being welcomed in personally by Free and helped to plenty of finger food of Italian sausage rolls, barbecue wings and other tasty pleasantries, the school of fish who had heard only brief singles from JK were huddled into the main sound room.

Playful jokers and serious musicians all in the same frame, the session was primarily handled by Yves, the group's emcee and most notable face, considering his voice is the prevalent one on the majority of the tracks. He cracked jokes, remarked on how the first time Free got drunk wound up becoming a single of its own, how two guest features asked to pay but he turned them down (kidding), how he makes constant "NYC but I'm in Houston" references and more, truly in a purely anecdotal mood throughout.

Some interesting quirks that separate James Kelley from The Show:

It's Darker: From the opening rattle that is "War Eagle" on to "Magick," the crew refuses to let their foot off of the neck of the listener. Spaced-out and expansive, Cristolph and Free have obviously taken their production cues from the soundtracks and soundscapes that litter every other form of media not restricted to rap.

True, Free's love for boom bap and easy to catch beat-boxing moments are still there, but he and Cristolph have been sharing a batch of drugs you can't even describe to craft these tracks. There is no album from Houston sounding like this, not as luxurious or grimy and not as stacked.

It's almost as if they played reverse Jenga with every track, even those taken from when the group still called the Moody Towers at UH their home and built upon them for this exact album.

"War Eagle" is like taking Auburn's fight song and giving it a Molly, a bottle of Jagermeister and telling it to go out and win one. "Ain't Life Grand" came with an anecdote from Yves about the song being created around a track Cristolph gave him on 4/20 with sneaky 808s and floor-rattling vibes and this was sequenced before "Ari Gold."

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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell