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Album Review: The Specimen: Issue 00

Nickelus F, also formerly known as Nick Fury, is a 40-year-old rapper, songwriter, and producer based in RVA. Most people know Nickelus from BET,106 & Park, where he was claimed the "Freestyle Champion", as well as his collaborations with Drake on his first mixtape, Room for Improvement.


After a decade of taking a break from social media, Nickelus made a great comeback on July 9th. With people being excited to see the rapper active again, the hype became even more real when he slowly began to announce his first album in four years. Finally, on August 18th, Nickelus F dropped his album, The Specimen: Issue 00. This album contains 18 tracks and has a run time of 52 minutes. Additionally, it has a great mix of storytelling, artistry, and amazing beats. The best way to describe The Specimen is a comic book in the form of a hip-hop album. In this article, I will be reviewing the album, as well as sharing a few words about the inspiration and the creative process of the mastermind himself.




The first track on the album is Cryostasis, which perfectly sets the mood for what you're about to get into. It starts as a calm beat, then goes into the plot of The Specimen. This is one of the most important tracks because it's the opener. Additionally, it's one of the rapper's favorite songs: " It does a great job of world-building and priming the listeners’ mind for what’s to come. That song took a couple of weeks to complete and fully scope out, it went through many iterations but it was the first milestone for the project and marked the official start of my new venture." This track serves as a smooth transition as it goes into the song The Specimen, in which the character wakes up and realizes he is in the future. The beat is suspenseful and causes a nice build-up, perfectly fitting the character who just woke up and is in the middle of processing how he is going to become very powerful later on.


 

"What Inspired you to make this album?"


Nickelus F: "I made this album because I wanted to do something I’d be excited about. I’ve been making music daily for damn near 30 years now, starting in 6th grade. What inspires someone to stick with something for so long? How do you stay excited doing the same thing every day for 30 years? In my opinion, the secret lies within the heart. Having a real interest in what you’re doing and getting true joy out of it. And the one thing that captured my heart before music was a love of reading. This might sound weird to some people, but I grew up as a military brat. My family spent hours on hours in the car traveling from place to place. There weren’t smartphones back then. Sure, I had a Gameboy, but I also had a sibling, so that had to be shared. But I had no problem picking up a book and letting my imagination run free. And of course, that led me to comic books. I remember as far back as 4th grade drawing and making my own little 10-page comic books in school for a couple of years — up until I started writing raps. I’m now 40 years old, with kids of my own and a full-time job as an associate creative director for a software company. I live a very, very busy life. But I love to tell stories and I love making music, so if I’m going to carve out time in my crazy life to do this and serve the music fans, I need to be doing

something that excites me and can hold my interest. Initially, I wasn’t even an album. I just wanted to make a real comic book, as a bucket list sort of thing. But at the same time, I was working on music and had spent the past 4-5 years trying to find the direction I was going to take. One night while sitting in front of my laptop, eating dinner alone at The Hatch Local, an idea hatched. I’d make my album the soundtrack to the story I was writing. And boom, from there on I was off to the races".

 

There is no doubt that he created his comic book vision with The Specimen. I love this album because of the story and the excitement it brings the first time you listen to it. You can visualize what's going on and create connections with the characters that you meet through the songs.


The next song is Training Annex. This beat incorporates trumpets, a sound that I can only describe as lightsaber movements, and a sick background track. Something that I've noticed throughout this album is that Nickelus does a great job at using sound effects to enhance the lyrics in each song he writes. For example, when he says "Kick the door down", followed by a sword blade opening, "That's how my sword sound", it has a nice effect because it dramatizes the lyrics.


There are so many great tracks on the album, which made it hard for me to only pick a few to highlight. As I continue to discuss my favorite songs in this article, let's take a moment to discuss the rapper's most-loved tracks.


One of his favorite tracks, He Rose, speaks about The Specimen rising against those who tried to bring him down. He went from believing he had no power, to the world recognizing who he was and the great things he could do.


Nickelus F: "That was a beat I had made way back in 2020, and I have a completely different song I recorded to it back then. But Iove the sample on that song so I revisited it. And I knew I wanted to sing something to it. And the emotion behind that hook is real and still makes me feel a way when I listen to it".


His other favorite song on this album is Power Up. I'd have to agree with him and say that it's one of my favorite songs too. The lyrics are intense and powerful, while the beat is suspenseful. The rapper mentions that he "loves the imagery in that verse, the beat, the hook, etc. That song inspires me. I go on 3-5 mile runs daily, and every time it comes on I get a boost of energy and run a little faster and a little harder". It has dialogue in the background of the superhero gaining its powers and just as he mentioned, it makes you feel that energy boost that The Specimen feels.


What makes this album different from the music out right now is the movie-script aspect. This album follows a plot and with each transition, is a new scene of the story. There are even sound effects in the intros that bring the scene to life and make you envision the journey of the Specimen that you following. Some of the tracks in this album that are solely dialogue are The Headquarters, The Moon Lounge, The Shredded Women, A Change of Heart, and Explosion. Despite being songs where Nickelus isn't rapping or singing, these are necessary tracks to visualize what is going on.

"What was the process of producing this album?"


Nickelus F: "Producing the album was fun and forced me to learn new things. I always said I’d want to “score a movie” one day. And by the time I was knee-deep in outlining the project and thinking about the overall story, I realized I was essentially doing just that. And so, a lot of thought went into the production and how it should drive the narrative forward. I needed the production to set the mood and be as dynamic as possible. That also put me in the position of having to create a range of styles and song types. When you watch/listen to a movie you’re hearing an array of genres, tempos, and music types. I wanted to provide that same sort of experience."


 

One of the hardest songs on the album in my opinion is Xerxes. His flow annihilates the beat and gives you that bounce when you're listening. Once again, the attention to detail with the pause and then coming back on the beat even harder is something every listener appreciates. He goes "blowing out Hershey", *blows and exhales*, then the beat BOUNCES and he continues. There is no doubt this song is a fan favorite, as it's the most streamed song on the album.


Another one of my favorites is Bone Fragment and Yep, You Guessed It. Bone Fragment gives an old-school rap feel, while Yep, You Guessed It, is more RNB. As mentioned countless times, these tracks have amazing sound effects and production value that transform this album into a movie production.


An honorary track is the final track. The Baggington is more chill and less intense. It has the same RNB feel as Yep, You Guessed It. It's a great way to end the album because it represents the end of "the movie" when the hero has finished his battle and is returning to peace on Earth.


"What do you want listeners to take away from this album?"


Nickelus F: "I want people to walk away from the album feeling intrigued, and wanting to hear more of the story. I want people to be interested and inspired to take the next steps of buying the physical comic book, which is on the way very soon. I’m also hoping that people internalize the message of the album, which is to find who you are and become who you’re meant to be. And lastly, I want people to realize I’m one of the greatest unsung rappers/producers active today."


On that note, everyone should check out this album because it's unique, has phenomenal production, a crazy storyline, and makes you feel like a superhero. Also, a big thank you to Nickelus F. for letting me interview him. Below are his links to stream the album and follow him on Instagram.








Written by Kaitlyn Ley, @KaitlynnLeyy on IG

Follow MSQ on Instagram




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