Zerricka Burton aka Nina Tech is a young woman on a mission. We're premiering the Chicago native's newest single “Fuck Around” below, and when I speak to her it’s clear she absolutely does not. Fuck around, that is.
At just 18 years old and juggling a burgeoning rap career with a biomedical engineering degree at Purdue University, Nina Tech has clearly mastered the art of time management. It’s evident during our conversation that she has a definitive plan; to fulfill her dreams and find success not only as a musician but also as a scientist. This month, alongside the premiere of her latest single, she also stars in Viper Magazine’s Barely Legal issue. Championing young up and coming artists, Nina tells me how Lily Mercer—founder of Viper and whose Rinse FM show I have to thank for my own discovery of Nina Tech—has been supportive from the start of both her music and her personally.
“My dream was to be a famous singer like Beyonce”, Nina says, before confessing that this was problematic because she can neither sing nor dance. Song writing progressed to poetry which, she explains, was too personal to perform. From there she tried her hand at rap alongside best friend and past collaborator Killavesi which led to being invited to perform in Red Bull Sound Select as Nina Tech.
Despite her understated confidence and eloquence, Zerricka is down to earth and very personable; we laugh about how weird it can be to listen to yourself on record (albeit my own experience is listening back to voicemails rather than tracks with thousands of plays) and she tells me how she picked Nina mainly because “my real name is complicated and people always call me weird stuff.”
Produced by BigBoyBeats and with artwork by Blunt Blesser, “Fuck Around” is the second track to follow Nina Tech’s debut EP Lady Tech which came out last October. Written after a disagreement when she felt like people were trying to play with her, “Fuck Around” is a clear indicator that Nina is not one to be messed with.
When did you start rapping?
At first it was just Killavesi and I writing songs to beats that we found on YouTube, then we met Malik Ismail. Usually I record and he mixes all my songs. He gave us our first beat, for “New Casket” which Lily Mercer played out on her Rinse show. Originally I wasn’t super serious about it, I was always school oriented. Then I got my Red Bull show and my first live performance and that was it, I was like “I have to do this, I can do this forever.”
What made you decide to go out on your own as Nina Tech rather than continuing with Killavesi?
We’re just really different people, with a different style. We complement each other but we’re too different. She’ll always be my best friend, and we’ll always support each other, but it got hard to make songs that were true to ourselves, we knew we were holding each other back. There’s no hard feelings, we just realized it would be better for us to become solo artists, and now we’re both flourishing.
Your lyrics tackle not compromising yourself for the sake of other people, as well as superficiality. What do you think are the subjects that inspire your music the most?
Society is full of people trying to fit into a label. Everyone wants to put each other in a box and if they can’t do that then they shun them and make them feel bad for being who they are. I really don’t like that. Honestly, everyone should mind their own business. If everyone did that then everything would be okay. People always feel like they have to uphold an image to the point where they would sacrifice their own happiness in order to look a certain way to other people. There was a point when I was that way, but I’m not anymore, and I want people to know that.
Society is full of people trying to fit into a label.
How are you finding balancing your degree with your music career?
It’s not easy at all! Music isn’t my only dream. I really do love science and I love learning, I’ve always been really good at school and I just think it would be a waste of my mind not to expand on that. Then I also love music so I’m just going to work really hard so I can achieve both.
You wouldn’t necessarily expect someone that’s scientifically minded to be really creative too, have you found like minded people at college or is it two works that you keep really separate?
People from school know I rap and they’re really supportive, but they just aren’t rappers, you know? At Purdue everyone is really focused on their studies, you wouldn’t select a school like that otherwise. Their dream is to do what they came to school for. It’s almost the opposite environment to Chicago. But the difference is good. I can learn how to interact with people who are different from me. If this music thing blows up then I’ll be interacting with all kinds of people. I think school is preparing me for that.
What’s your creative process when you’re making music?
DJ Karaoke [producer on 3 of 4 tracks in Nina’s Lady Tech project] is from Norway and sent me lots of beats. Usually when I work on a track I’ll listen to the beat and if I can start writing to it immediately then I know it’s going to work. DJ Karaoke’s beats were the ones I was feeling the most when I was deciding what to use on Lady Tech. I get the beat and then I listen to it over and over, writing as I go. It doesn’t take me that long usually but I’ll go back and edit. It took me a while to perfect the voice I wanted to have in my music, listening back and adjusting my tone.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
My favourite rapper of all time is Chief Keef so it would be him; a beat made by him and a verse by him. Michael Jackson because I love him but I don’t even know how a Michael Jackson and Nina Tech song would work! Zaytoven, he makes great beats I always like, it would be cool to get on one of his tracks.
Who would you say are the artists you're most influenced by?
Chief Keef. Lil Kim in her prime; she was always herself. She broke down barriers and didn’t care how she was perceived by the media. Her fashion was on point. The obvious female rapper for me to look up to would be Nicki Minaj; not necessarily for her style but in the way that she has become a brand. She’s more than just a rapper, she’s set herself up so that even if she never drops another song she’ll be okay. Tyler the Creator too. He’s been unapologetically himself his entire career which is something I hope to emulate. It’s easy for people to change for the media. I want to stay 100% true to myself. I like artists who are business people as well.
The obvious female rapper for me to look up to would be Nicki Minaj; not necessarily for her style but in the way that she has become a brand.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
I’m loving Big Body Fiji. He’s an up and coming rapper from Chicago and I think he’s really gonna blow up. Kaytranada, Father, D.R.A.M., The Internet. Also Solange’s A Seat at the Table, I love that album. I’ve been listening to Rihanna lately too. I also listen to a lot of old school music.
Finally, what's your plan for 2017?
I’m trying to make this year my year. I’ll be dropping better visuals and better songs. I’ve become really picky with my music so everything is exactly how I want it to be. I’ll be doing more shows this year too and hopefully some Nina Tech merchandise. I think it’s going to be a really good year.
The year of Nina Tech.
I want to tell everybody to follow their dreams, no matter what.