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    Lakin Starling
July 22, 2011  | by: Lakin Starling

Nikki Jean

With delicate features and a voice even softer, Nikki Jean, born Nicholle Jean Leary, has finally released her debut album Pennies in a Jar. Most were introduced to Nikki from her feature on Lupe Fiasco’s single “Hip-Hop Saved My Life” in 2007 on his album The Cool, but the singer has been around for quite some time. With roots in Minnesota, Nikki currently resides in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, fusing both environments into her indie/soulful sound. On her new album, she collaborates with veterans like Burt Bacharach, Bob Dylan, Carly Simon and Carole King, just to name a few.

Nikki has always been a singer, but she has stepped outside of her vocal abilities to take an even more active role in her creations by devoting herself to writing her pieces, as well as displaying her musicianship. One of the things that makes Jean so unique is the fact that she has already written with some of the best songwriters in music without having a mainstream career. Looking at her, one might make assumptions and group her with the typical R&B female artist, but her inspirations stem from alternative/folk/indie musicians not often associated with “black” music. Jean’s tunes have no complexion; her free spirit paints the colors.

New Album Cover

Nikki explained to Spinner that she is a “song lover” before anything. Her love for songs was quite evident when I saw her perform in September of 2010 in Atlanta’s Chocolate Bar. There she was, with her keyboard and microphone in her “Living Room” showcase series, singing her heart out and making sure to speak to her audience in-between each song. Jean appeared so humble and strikingly ordinary. Having the privilege of hearing some of the tracks on Pennies in a Jar early at this showcase, she told the story about how each of the songs came to be.

The journey to creating the album and writing all of its pieces was not an easy one. Jean drove her car from Philly to Martha’s Vineyard, Los Angeles, Nashville, Washington and back to meet with co-writers,  using her tenacity and charm to open up these opportunities for herself. When asked in her Spinner interview how she got all the legends to work with her, she laughed and said, “Well, first you take three years of your life, then you throw away all your fear of rejection, and then you do everything you possibly can.” Words of courage and motivation from the 20-something songstress who has been grinding out her craft for years and now finally has her moment in the spotlight with her debut album.

I have been a huge fan of Nikki Jean for quite some time now, of course because of her amazing talent, but there’s more to it. She’s humble, and she has a versatility that doesn’t come around often these days. Her diversity comes from her knowledge and exposure to another realm of music that adds dimension to the music coming out of the industry. Jean is open to her fans, having devoted much of her time being in touch with them and creating intimate opportunities to make sure that she is able to see her impact. She’s a neo-classic artist. Something like an old soul with the face and voice of a young beauty.

Step outside of your box, and take some time to download the album Pennies in a Jar.

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