Of all the Hip-Hop producers out there, Nicolay is arguably the finest at taking the listener somewhere with his music. His “City Lights” series has always been ideal for late-night listening, in turn getting those creative juices to flow in your brain as it digests the intricacies of each instrumental. Volume 3 is similarly satisfying, due in part to the theme of Soweto, a South African town close to the heart of Nicolay, following a tour there as part of The Foreign Exchange, his project alongside former Little Brother emcee Phonte.
This isn’t solely devoid of vocal performances, with the likes of Carmen Rodgers (previously reviewed) and Tamisha Waden making rare appearances. I say rare, as each time they perform, it’s only for a few seconds and admittedly, it adds little to the overall package. Nicolay is that gifted that the music almost speaks for itself. It’s hard not to wax lyrical over Nicolay without sounding like a ponce-y Pitchfork reviewer, but there’s a lot to unravel in each track. Without having travelled to South Africa before, I can’t tell whether the moods generated from listening to “City Lights Vol. 3” are accurate, but the fact that the music evokes a memory or a feeling each time I line this up on a playlist, says a lot about the power of Nicolay’s production.
There are curveballs thrown at the listener that take us off the usual, laid back vibe a Nicolay record often covers. “It’s In The Way That You Smile” is an upbeat party jam you can see Pitbull getting his rocks off to, but highlights why you don’t need a repetitive hype man rallying listeners to ‘get up’ or ‘get down’. It’s these more upbeat offerings from Nicolay that provide the best moments, as towards the end of the project the mood drifts towards the sombre, sleepier side of Hip-Hop production. “There Is A Place For Us” is the quintessential track for driving home from the airport at three o’clock in the morning, while the epic (and arguably the best of the bunch) “The Brightest Star” is a house-driven foot-tapper that will set any evening off right. This mix of moods and variety that is on show helps make this one of the more accessible records in Nicolay’s acclaimed catalog, and while some will continue to sneer at instrumental Hip-Hop, and others will sneer at those who do enjoy instrumental Hip-Hop, stop all the sneering and lock yourself in a room with a copy of Nicolay’s “City Lights Vol. 3” and feel what one of the best in the business can do.