Nikki Jean

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Nikki Jean
Nikki Jean
Background information
Birth name Nicholle Jean Leary
Born St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
Genres Soul, hip hop, pop
Occupations Singer-songwriter, pianist, actress
Instruments Vocals, piano, keyboards, guitar
Years active 2004-present
Labels Columbia records, S-Curve Records
Associated acts Lupe Fiasco, Black Thought, Nouveau Riche, Brother Ali, Ab-Soul

Nikki Jean born Nicholle Jean Leary, St. Paul, Minnesota, United States is a singer-songwriter, musician, and occasional actress. She was a part of the band Nouveau Riche, and is featured on Lupe Fiasco's second album, The Cool, as a lyricist and vocalist. As an actress, she performed in the award winning independent film On the Outs.

In 2011, she signed as a recording artist with indie label S-Curve Records. She released the concept album Pennies In A Jar. Nikki Jean co-wrote each song with a writer in the Songwriting Hall of Fame. The lead single, "Steel And Feathers (Don't Ever)" was co-written by Bob Dylan. The album contains the track "Million Star Motel" which features rapping from Lupe Fiasco and Black Thought.[1] On July 14, She performed "How To Unring A Bell" on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote her album.[2]

Early Life and Career Beginnings[edit]

Nikki Jean was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. She moved around with her mother spending time in both South Dakota and Minnesota. She ended up attending High School in both St. Paul, Minnesota, United States and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. During her years as a child actor in the Minneapolis theater scene, she spent two years under the musical tutelage of JD and Fred Steele. The Steele family are pillars of the Minneapolis gospel scene and back up singers for Prince, and she credits them with her sense of harmony and vocal arrangement. She attended college early and graduated from Howard University with a degree in Sociology. While at Howard University She was invited to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and would soon join the band Nouveau Riche as the lead singer.

2007-2009, Philadelphia and Lupe Fiasco[edit]

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania she began doing posting music online.[3] As her fanbase grew from the acoustic music she posted on, producers Chris & Drop discovered her and reached out.[4] They would in turn introduce her to Lupe Fiasco while he was working on his second album The Cool. She would write the hook and feature on Hip-Hop Saved My Life and guest feature on "Little Weapon".

On the day The Cool was released. Nikki uploaded a video of her opening the CD for the first time.[5] The video exploded online and she was subsequently interviewed on CNN.[6] From April 16, 2008 to August 6, 2008, Nikki Jean was part of the Glow in the Dark Tour with Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Rihanna and N.E.R.D.

2009-2012, Pennies In A Jar[edit]

While on tour Nikki Jean was introduced to producer Sam Hollander and the two came up with an idea for a concept album based around Nikki Jean's songwriting ability. She would travel the country writing with some of America's best songwriters.[7]The Concept was shopped to a few labels and she eventually signed with Columbia Records. Although they liked the concept Columbia decided not to release the album. The album "Pennies In A Jar" was released on July 12, 2011 on S-Curve Records/Universal Records. Lupe Fiasco returned the favor by appearing on the albums second single Million Star Motel alongside Black Thought. She was invited to open for Mayer Hawthorne on his nationwide tour.

Her single "My Love" reached Number 8 in Japan on Hot 100 Singles chart and she toured Japan and Australia in support of the project.[8]

2012-Present, Surgery & New EP[edit]

While recording "Pennies In A Jar " Nikki Jean realized it was getting harder to sing every night on tour. When she returned to Philadelphia she was informed by her doctors she had nodules on her thyroid. While they were not cancerous they did affect her ability to maintain her vocal training. She decided to have a Thyroidectomy at Johns Hopkins University.[9] Utilizing a brand new nerve sensor, the doctors were able to remove the thryoid and nodules without damaging her vocal chords and associated nerves.

With brand new control over her voice Nikki Jean set out to complete her next project. She moved to Los Angeles, California and ingrained herself in the burgeoning scene there. She has since collaborated with Ab-Soul on his critically acclaimed These Days... and will be featured on Lupe Fiasco's new album Tetsuo & Youth. She is readying the release of her own EP for Fall 2014.[10]

Guest appearances[edit]

  • Ab-Soul - "World Runners" [11]
  • Lupe Fiasco — "Hip Hop Saved My Life" and "Little Weapon"
  • Brother Ali - "Shine On"
  • Freeway - "Sweet Temptations"
  • DJ Deckstream — "Five Alarm" and "Exit Sign"
  • Muja Messiah — "So Far So Good"
  • Sylk130 — "Fallen Angel"
  • Tu Phace — "Say Yes"
  • Oddisee — "Tell The Truth"
  • Traphik — "Favorite Song"


  • Pennies In A Jar (2011)
  • X-Mas EP (2013) [12]

with Nouveau Riche

  • Nouveau Riche Longtail EP
  • Free Money EP


Year Title Role
2004 On The Outs Malia


External links[edit]