NIGO and Steven Victor’s Shared Vision and Energy Paved the Way for ‘I Know NIGO’

The dream team opens up about creating the KENZO creative director’s first music album in almost two decades.

Music 
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The dream team of NIGO and Steven Victor was always written in the stars. The fashion luminary and veteran record executive had built a solid friendship over the years, and it only seemed instinctive that the creative energy that reverberated between them would kickstart a working relationship.

It was a dinner at NOBU Tokyo in 2018 that triggered the shift; Steven had flown to Japan to ask NIGO to design the logo of Victor Victor Worldwide, his record label that went on to become the home of the late Pop Smoke. The pair’s interest in each other’s work was instant. “As far as working with Steven,” NIGO states, “the switch was on.” But as is the case with many powerhouse collaborations, the duo shared an eagerness to pursue more than just their original plans. Victor and NIGO’s enthusiasm to continue their contributions to the culture led to I Know NIGO, the latter’s first album in nearly two decades.

This project is all our favorite rappers paying tribute to NIGO’s contribution to the culture.

The combination of the pair’s personal and professional relationship, their commitment to their shared vision and their mutual trust built the foundation of I Know NIGO. What was initially meant to be a project with a few tracks gradually transformed into a fully-fledged album. Like everything they share with the world, Victor and NIGO always aim to deliver the best while enjoying the creation process. There were no creative hurdles the two needed to overcome despite the lengthy gap, as NIGO sees 2005’s NIGO Presents: Return of the Ape Sounds as an expression of the era as he perceived it, and I Know NIGO as the experience he’s gained since then and his interpretation of the now.

The only problems they faced were ones brought about by the pandemic and its effects on a project that is global in nature, but “timing and enthusiasm” helped pull the pieces together, allowing them to shoot two music videos for the album. Victor continues, “We knew what we were setting out to do here was different from NIGO’s 2000 Ape Sounds album. While that project is predominantly an instrumental and sample-driven genre-blending experience, this was always going to be a compilation of many friends.”

These “many friends” are, unsurprisingly, hip-hop royalty. With the growing relationship between fashion and music booming in recent times, it only seemed right to see the likes of A$AP Rocky, Kid Cudi, Tyler, the Creator and Pusha T (whose upcoming album, Victor confirms, is “coming out soon”) — artists that NIGO has a direct relationship with — as I Know NIGO’s guest features. The tracklisting and these guests needed to make sense for the project as, from Victor’s perspective, the album is a body of work that represents NIGO, his ear and his aesthetic. “Pharrell and Rocky in particular have been instrumental in shaping the album: sonically, visually and feature-wise,” Victor adds.

But it was the name of a group whose last album was released 13 years ago that piqued the interest of many: Teriyaki Boyz. The return of the prodigal Japanese hip-hop group of Ilmari, Ryo-Z, Verbal, Wise and NIGO was never far from the DJ and founder’s mind, and he knew for a fact that he wanted the five-piece to reunite with frequent collaborator Pharrell. “I was always thinking about it — I always have an idea of ‘from Japan to the world’ in what I do, after all,” NIGO reveals. “I believe that ‘Tokyo Drift (Fast & Furious)’ is the most streamed song by any Japanese artist. I’m thinking that we can get that excitement back.”

Excitement was also evident in NIGO’s debut as KENZO’s Artistic Director. The brand’s Fall/Winter 2022 show at the Galerie Vivienne in Paris — an important space as it also served as the location of Kenzo Takada’s first show (“Jungle Jap”) back in 1970 — was almost a return to form, “The KENZO show was about going back to the essential idea of fashion itself being a source of excitement. Using these new sounds for the show was not planned at all. It was more of an accident.”

“This project is all our favorite rappers paying tribute to NIGO’s contribution to the culture,” Victor concludes. I Know NIGO perfectly exhibits the power of collaboration, capturing how organic relationships play a part in developing authentic, well-curated projects and experiences that benefit a wide range of people. Furthermore, it serves as a testament to the impact, importance and idiosyncrasy of NIGO as a multi-hyphenate whose creativity knows no bounds, and is only further aggrandized when surrounded by the same energy that is willing to give and take. “Finally,” NIGO says, “I was happy to present new music to fashion people and new fashion to music people.”

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