Nikki Lynette: Today, Music; Tomorrow, The World The singer and rapper has accomplished a lot without a record deal; she's sung on commercials, and her music is featured on MTV reality shows. Her musical breadth has already helped propel her career to impressive heights.

Nikki Lynette: Today, Music; Tomorrow, The World

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Now, as we mentioned, the hottest spot for narcissism on TV these days may be "Jersey Shore." But the MTV reality show is not just the home of me-centric personalities like Snooki and The Situation. Its soundtrack has become a launching pad for some pretty intriguing musicians, and one of them is Nikki Lynette.

(Soundbite of song, "The Strong Survive")

Ms. NIKKI LYNETTE (Musician): (Singing) I really, really want whatever I want, 'cause the sky's the limit if you give me what I need, babe. I really, really want...

CORNISH: This is a track from Nikki Lynette's new EP, "The Strong Survive." She's at member station WBEZ in Chicago.

And, Nikki, welcome to the program.

Ms. LYNETTE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So, from what I've read, it seems like you're technically an unsigned artist. You're not with a particular label, and you're pretty much kind of scrapping away up in Chicago. So how did you come to the attention of MTV?

Ms. LYNETTE: Yeah, that's a long story. I'll try to give you the brief version. I really love this website called ourstage.com. Artists go on there, they submit their music and then you compete in these different competitions. I got selected from thousands of people across the nation. And I was the only female artist, the only black artist and the only solo artist to make it to the finals. So they flew me out to L.A. during Grammy week and I got to perform and I ended up winning second place in the nation, at this competition.

CORNISH: And up until that point, had you done any kind of national performances or tours or anything?

Ms. LYNETTE: No. The only thing national I had ever done at that point was like, commercials for McDonalds and Nationwide and Secret deodorant.

CORNISH: Can you sing anything from one of those commercials?

Ms. LYNETTE: Sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNETTE: (Singing) I'm ready for a change, gonna dress up this place. With a click, click, click, got a whole new face. Ba-da-ba-ba-ba, I'm loving it.

CORNISH: Oh, my gosh. You're loving it. You're the loving it girl.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNETTE: And I'm a vegan so it's really like, what am I doing?

CORNISH: Well, what is it like doing that kind of - very commercial work, and the kind of music you want to be doing?

Ms. LYNETTE: You know, it's funny because I'm kind of all about the mainstream. The fun part of it, to me, is getting the mainstream to accept my edgy, kind of different take on things.

(Soundbite of song, "The Strong Survive")

Ms. LYNETTE: (Singing) I wanna tell you something that I bet you never hear, I wanna tell the truth if you promise me your ear. Sometimes you have a friend closer to you than your kin, but what do you do when those who close betray you in the end?

CORNISH: And I'm not even going to try and describe your music here myself. I want to use the term The Root - that website - used about your recently. They described you as a Chicago afro-punk rapper. And at its core, the music is hip-hop. But if you hear any one song, you hear a lot of different influences: rock music, electronica, even a little old-school soul. I mean, has it made it more difficult for you since you don't fall into the traditional hip-hop categories, R&B categories?

Ms. LYNETTE: Earlier in my career, it did. There are a lot of people that really had a problem with the fact that I could not be easily put into a particular genre. But people these days don't fit in one category anymore. How many of us only have black friends on our Facebook page or white friends on our Facebook page - or people who are like, upper-tier, you know, make a lot of money. Like, I do really - I call myself a laptop celebrity because I do really well online with people that understand that the world is bigger than just where you're from, and who you know.

CORNISH: I'm talking with Nikki Lynette. Her new EP is called "The Strong Survive."

Now, Nikki, one of the songs that really struck me on this album is called "Make It Back Home," and it's about your brother's decision to join the military and go fight overseas.

(Soundbite of song, "Make It Back Home")

Ms. LYNETTE: (Singing) So if you hear me in the East, if you're on the front line, please don't hurt the boy with the face like mine. 'Cause if you take him and you kill him, me a civilian who livin' in the shadow of a waving flag and the Statue of Liberty. Please don't hurt my brother, he's the only man who loves me. No conditions limit in the things he does for me. 'Cause if he wasn't with me, there'd be no man left to trust, so I perish in the earth in the gust of wind and dust. But if you...

CORNISH: The lyrics are just really excellent there. And frankly, I don't think I've heard a song recently that's talked about this subject matter, that's talked from this point of view. Can you talk about writing this song?

Ms. LYNETTE: I remember when I got the call - when my brother told me that he was going to the military. In his eyes, because when everything in your life is going great - like at that time, I was getting all of this press, and all these people wanted me in different places. And I was about to go on my road trip and it was like, you know, I was really excited. And I was speaking to him about it. And he's like, well, that's awesome. And guess what? I'm going to the military.

And I was floored. I didn't know what to say because he had already signed up. So I couldn't say no, don't do it, you made this horrible mistake - because this is family, and you have to support them no matter what. But it's amazing to think that there's a possibility that someone would chase my brother - my wonderful, sweet, kind, adorable, funny brother - with a gun. It astounds me to think that somebody would shoot at him.

But at the same time it's like, we're in this war, and we can really do nothing about it as citizens because our family are the people who are going to fight this war. So you're forced into being a patriot. I can't even say like, OK, well, whoever's writing this, I hope they win. Like now, I specifically have to want America to win. I don't want anything to happen to my brother.

CORNISH: Has your brother heard this song?

Ms. LYNETTE: Yeah, he heard it. He was moved by it. And, you know, like, he's 24; he calls me, like - man, you're the coolest sister ever.

(Soundbite of song, "Make It Back Home")

Ms. LYNETTE: (Singing) Come home. Come and make it back home. Come home.

CORNISH: You put out a mix tape a while back, and we actually have some of it here. And since we haven't really focused on your singing voice yet, I want to play some of the song "Liberation Time."

(Soundbite of song, "Liberation Time")

Ms. LYNETTE: (Singing) I'm so tired, it's been so long struggling. Was having a party days, hey. And I'm gonna go right on believing that you will die. I'll put it to the wind, beginning of the end. Just keep your head to the sky.

CORNISH: Now, do you get an emotional release of singing versus rapping?

Ms. LYNETTE: It's an entirely different thing. With rap, it's very cerebral. It's all about kind of slick talking, finding a very clever way to say something while still making it so that people can understand. For a long time, people told me oh, you shouldn't sing; you should just rap. You're really good at it. And I was really discouraged because I wanted to be able to sing the R&B music that everybody else was singing - but I don't feel I have a sexy voice. I don't feel I have the prissy, quintessentially girly voice. And now, I don't mind just doing like, rock and funk songs because that's where my voice goes.

I love being able to belt. I love to be able to have the type of voice that people train to get. So it's a different feeling, and I feel very fortunate that I was blessed with the ability to sing.

CORNISH: So there's a lot of great buzz going on about you, and I have to ask: When am I going to see you with your own clothing line or your own sitcom, or your own vodka?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LYNETTE: I don't drink, so the vodka thing will probably never happen, unless there's a huge revolution in my life somehow.

CORNISH: Well, after the McDonalds thing, I had to ask. I expect your licensing empire and world domination to begin in five, four, three...

Ms. LYNETTE: That would be awesome. I'm in no rush. I'm really trying to build the music empire and then take over the world from there.

CORNISH: That's Nikki Lynette. Her new EP is called "The Strong Survive."

Nikki, thanks so much.

Ms. LYNETTE: Thanks for having me.

(Soundbite of song, "Liberation Time")

CORNISH: For Saturday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. You can hear the best of this program on our new podcast, Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Subscribe or listen at npr.org/weekendatc. We're back tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night.

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