By Ann Marie Trietley, Music Columnist:
Amongst the industrial landscape of downtown Buffalo, a diamond in the rough is glittering in the form of Nickel City Records (Facebook
), a recording studio situated high up in a building on the corner of Oak and South Division. Jake Sabers, one third of hip-hop crew Natural Ingredients, stands looking out at the street below from a giant window frame on an uncommonly sunny February day. He is nursing a head injury, thanks to a reckless driver who collided with his car last week, but that hasn't slowed Sabers' pace. He helps to run Nickel City, alongside James "Jamie" Catania (also of Natural Ingredients), and the label's CEO, Matt Newman. There is also graphic designer and producer Brandon Pace, online promotions coordinator Jim Doyle, and Anthony Graziano, their third emcee.
Two years ago, Newman founded NCR with his friends and signed some local artists . This past December, a breakthrough was made - they discovered their own urban studio space to call their own.
"Everybody who walked in was loving it," Catania said.
But in order to get a full view of what Nickel City Records is all about, and what makes it so special, one must look to the hip hop trio known as Natural Ingredients. Sabers, Catania, and Ian Logalbo comprise the group, and they are all cousins as well. The group is slated to release a double album titled "Night and Day" this spring. It's important to note that while the three members of Natural Ingredients are musicians, there is much more to them than that. While helping to run Nickel City Records, they are bringing a resurgence of young creative energy to our city.
Catania makes beats for the crew, and also tirelessly promotes Natural Ingredients and Nickel City Records on Twitter and on foot.
"The golden age of hip hop - the 90's - was when true lyricism was going on," Catania, who is only 21 years old, declares. "Those boom-bat beats, that's what we're trying to bring back."
Logalbo writes his own lyrics and raps, as does Sabers. Sabers also is head of the downtown studio. The trio vibe off of each other's energies similar to hip hop crews of yore, like Wu-Tang and Bone Thugs n Harmony, while similarly celebrating the city they hail from. Two months ago, Natural Ingredients officially settled into 133 South Division, along with other Nickel City artists like Cooli High and Brett Mikol.
"We were always on the same page with how we wanted to make music, from the start," Logalbo said. "It wasn't just messing around; we've always had a meaning to what we were doing."
For their upcoming release "Night and Day," Logalbo took the "Day" side, perhaps due in part to his sunny disposition.
"I want to wake people up to what's going on, and what I've got to say," Logalbo said. "It was a big unity and come together kind of thing. [Buffalo] is a big scene, but it's still a little divided. Everybody is working on their own projects and everybody isn't mixing it up as much as we could be. We want to bring people downtown and make it a focal point [for collaboration]."
Both sides of "Night and Day" are sonically different, and Sabers describes his "Night" side as "visceral". Sabers has been producing music since age 12 and saw an opportunity for Buffalo's hip-hop scene to evolve.
"We're all related, and I've been doing this for a long time and saw an opportunity to do something new [in Buffalo]," Sabers said. "I do all the mixing and mastering."
Songs are being leaked on Soundcloud now, and "Night and Day" will be officially coming out in Spring, like a reawakening of the senses - just as Nickel City Records is reawakening downtown and bringing about new life. There has been a local interest in Nickel City on the part of local musicians, and the demos are always being mailed to their studio.
"I'm from Buffalo, so I love the city," Sabers said. "Downtown is awesome. Everything about it inspires me. That area needs more attention. Elmwood and Allen get a lot of attention and they're great, but we need something more, for people to create a revival. After five, downtown shuts down. We're hoping that if we plant a little seed, someday it will thrive."
The space on South Division features a sun-drenched recording studio with quality equipment for Nickel City -signed artists to use; a conference room with a long table for chats, meetings, and planning sessions; and also a jam room/practice space for the musicians to wile out in and express themselves. The high ceilings are resonant and provide strong acoustics, and the windows let the sun shine in. Exposed brick walls lend an industrial, urban flair to the overall aesthetic of the place. The moving-in stage isn't fully complete, but the recording space is fully operational right now.
Over the course of the spring season, several Nickel City mixtapes will be gradually released.
"We want to give people a plethora of free, high-quality music, to let them know what we're all about," Sabers said. "It's a big quality over quantity thing [for us]. The hip hop industry right now is quantity over quality. We have a firm belief that a craftsman takes a long time to master his craft."
For more information, check out the Nickel City Records and Natural Ingredients Facebook pages, and on Twitter (NtrlIngredients). There will also be a Nickel City showcase at DBGB coming up in April.
Photo: Catania and Sabers