Music We Love: "City Roots" by Nikolai Rya

With Nikolai Rya’s new five-song release entitled “City Roots,” he’s showing a new depth to his prowess as an artist. While previous releases have highlighted fun-loving ways and a zeal to better himself by constantly learning and improving, Rya’s newest tracks show that he is an artist whose talent—and worth—is evident and earned, and he won’t settle for anything less. Slow, atmospheric rhythms with punctuated beats underscore Rya’s near-growl on each song, as he recalls his musical journey and the talent he is once again sharing with listeners. 

“Pressure: Exposure” is the first track, with Rya and T Steezy providing a commentary on both this very artistic project and on the times we as a society find ourselves in. The five songs are “out of my hands, it’s been done” according to Rya, as he goes on to talk about the inevitable trajectory of his music to this level of success and how he has no time for his dissenters. References to injustice and people’s oversimplification of serious transgressions that we’ve been seeing played out in society come up shortly after the two-minute mark. All in all, the subject matter of the song and its delivery set up an abrasive tone that carries throughout the rest of “City Roots.” 

The next track, “Involved,” takes you through a brief sojourn of Rya’s music career thus far. He and Vbstrvct flow about getting involved with just about everything starting out, and learning through trial and tribulation. Then, Rya makes getting involved with the best his end goal, something of a personal mantra that guides his music in many ways. It relates with the thoughts of not trusting others and knowing one’s artistic worth that run true to the theme of the EP. 

“Time’s Out” is the one song I’d be most excited to see at a packed house venue. It’s an intense yet approachable look at themes introduced in previous tracks, while also bringing up Rya’s legacy point blank and how some just want it blacked out. Billy Nelson and Kosh’s contributions are quick and fun. 

The fourth track, “Ride,” looks at loyalty, the first track that isn’t totally cynical about the artistic process. The loyalty Rya, NikkoNostalgia and Mr Vicc talk about is lifelong and one that truly runs deep. The success is shared, the experiences are shared, and the products are equally great.

“Manifest” is a word with multiple meanings, and I think this song encapsulates many of those definitions. Rya talks about the Genuine collective along with his brother, Elijah Heaps, and Chromat!k, and make it clear that they are a talented group bound for success and money. They actively manifest those thoughts through their constant completion and performing of new material, too. This is the final statement on the project, and it makes an important point: expect big things from all of us, and we will continue to be successful. 

Bottom line, the Nikolai Rya on the single “My Worth” and on every track of “City Roots” is an evolution. Rather than a cohesive five-track project, it is a meticulous case study of Rya’s sojourn as a young artist who is an active learner and is just plain talented. Those who produced and featured on each track leave their own marks, without distracting from Rya’s messages and instead further validating his sentiments on “Ride.” It’s a journey that is marked by a healthy, if still angry, bit of cynicism, knowing and owning your art, letting the finished product speak for itself, and leaving the haters in a cloud of their own jealousy, apathy, and ennui. 

Header image design by Brittany Keeton