Nikki Jean

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Nikki Jean
Background information
Birth name Nicholle Jean Leary
Born (1983-08-25) August 25, 1983 (age 32)[1]
St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
Genres Soul, hip hop, pop
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, pianist, actress
Instruments Vocals, piano, keyboards, guitar
Years active 2004-present
Labels Columbia records, S-Curve Records
Associated acts Ab-Soul, Black Thought, Brother Ali, Lupe Fiasco, Nouveau Riche

Nicholle Jean Leary, better known by her stage name Nikki Jean, is an American singer-songwriter and occasional actress from St. Paul, Minnesota. Jean was once a part of the Philadelphia-based music group Nouveau Riche. She first gained major recognition in 2008, when she was featured on Lupe Fiasco's single "Hip Hop Saved My Life", from his second album The Cool. In 2011, she signed as a recording contract with indie record label, S-Curve Records. In 2011, she released the concept album, Pennies In A Jar. The lead single, "Steel And Feathers (Don't Ever)" was co-written by Bob Dylan.[2] As an actress, she performed in the award winning independent film, On the Outs.

Life and career[edit]

Early Life and career beginnings[edit]

Nikki Jean was born on August 25th 1983 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] Nikki Jean co-wrote each song with a writer in the Songwriting Hall of Fame. In the process Nikki wrote with over 30 hall of fame songwriters including Thom Bell, Luigi Creatore, Lamont Dozier, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Carole King, Bobby Braddock, Paul Williams, Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and Carly Simon.[8]

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 Ja was released on July 12, 2011 on S-Curve Records/Universal Records. Lupe Fiasco returned the favor by appearing on the album's second single "Million Star Motel", alongside Black Thought. She was invited to open for Mayer Hawthorne, on his nationwide concert tour.

Her single "My Love" reached number eight in Japan on Hot 100 Singles chart and she toured Japan and Australia in support of the project.[9] On July 14, She performed "How To Unring A Bell" on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote her album.[10]

2012–2014: Surgery and Champagne Water[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.[11] 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 was featured on Lupe Fiasco's new album Tetsuo & Youth, on the tracks "Little Death", "No Scratches", and "Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)".

On October 22, 2014 Nikki Jean released "Champagne Water", the first single off her Champagne Water EP. It features a guest verse from Ab-Soul.[12] Upon release it skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard Magazine Real Time Charts.

Vibe magazine online premiered the new EP by Nikki Jean on November 19, 2014. It is also available for free download on her personal website.[13] The project features collaborations with Ab-Soul, Kevin olusola (Pentatonix) and includes production from Donnie Trumpet, Nate fox, Peter Cottontale, Like (Pac Div) and double-0


Nikki Jean performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with Lupe Fiasco and The Roots (band) on Feb 25th, 2015 (WATCH) [14]



  • Pennies In A Jar (2011)


  • X-Mas EP (2013)[15]
  • Champagne Water EP (2014)[16]

Guest appearances[edit]

  • Ab-Soul - "World Runners"[17]
  • Lupe Fiasco — "Hip Hop Saved My Life", "Little Weapon", "Haile Selassie",[18] "Little Death", "No Scratches" and "Madonna (And Other Mothers In the Hood)"
  • 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"

See also[edit]


Year Title Role
2004 On the Outs Malia


External links[edit]