Q&A: Student music producer Nissim breaks into Chicago music production scene


Source: Sam Friske

McCormick sophomore Nissim started producing music three years ago. He recently produced a track, “Barcelona,” on Mick Jenkins’ album “Pieces of a Man.”

Andrea Michelson, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Aaron Senfeld doesn’t want to be put in a box. The McCormick sophomore is creating his own degree in engineering design, entrepreneurship and management sciences. In his free time, he produces experimental hip-hop beats. The Daily sat down with Senfeld, who goes by “Nissim” in his music career, to talk about how he broke into the Chicago music production scene.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

The Daily: When did you start making music?

Nissim: I started producing three years ago, but I’ve been making music since I was a baby. All my toys were musical. Then I started playing piano when I was five … At first, I really loved it, but it became tedious. I don’t like playing other people’s stuff, and my mom wanted me to have a classical education. So it was kind of downhill from there until I started improvising. Once I discovered that, it reaffirmed my love for music. And that whole journey led me to producing.

The Daily: When did you discover hip-hop?

Nissim: I went to sleepaway camp when I was in fifth grade. This one kid had an iPod with just one playlist, and that was all we listened to the entire summer in the cabin. At first I hated it, but by the end, I knew all the songs by heart. Half of the playlist was Lil Wayne, the other half was Kid Cudi. So that was kind of my introduction to hip-hop, but I didn’t actively dive into it until later, when one of my friends put me onto Odd Future, and that kind of thrust me down the rabbit hole.

The Daily: What makes hip-hop “experimental”?

Nissim: “Experimental” is a reflection of where that music stands in relation to everything else. People that were experimental 20 years ago aren’t experimental now. Shit, people who were experimental 10 years ago aren’t experimental now. Like back when the Low End Theory was starting out in LA, they basically started modern EDM, which is ubiquitous in popular music now. So it’s not necessarily experimental now, but it was experimental then.

The Daily: How did you get into the Chicago music production scene?

Nissim: What’s really specific about the Chicago scene, is if you’re friends with people and you’re in the room, then you’re privy to a bunch of different opportunities and collaborations. But unless you’re friends with people, you can’t get into the room. I would play in live settings like Open Beats, and then people would come up to me and be like, “Wow, that shit was crazy.” And then they’re like “Hey, come work with us.” And I’d pick the people whose music was cool, and those are my friends now.

The Daily: What’s Open Beats?

Nissim: Open Beats happens one Friday a month at Cafe Mustache. It’s one of the few open mics for producers in the country. It’s just a really warm environment to test out new material, and meet up once a month with a bunch of cats who have all gotten to know each other.

The Daily: You produced one of the songs, “Barcelona,” on Mick Jenkins’ album, “Pieces of a Man.” How did you make that connection?

Nissim: I became friends with his tour DJ because he heard my music, and he was like, “Oh shit, this is crazy!” And he brought me into the studio one day, and I cultivated that relationship. I love Sllime, he’s like my Chicago uncle.

The Daily: What does experimental hip-hop mean to you?

Nissim: When you talk about hip-hop from a production perspective, the emphasis is not on the lyricism or on the rapper, it’s on the production. To me, philosophically, it’s like, if you’re not going to have a rapper on this beat, can you play it for a bunch of people and will they find merit in the music?

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @amichelson18