Nikeisha, Drake's dad/Dennis Graham and Elliphant on @therealdennisg.
This article was originally published on Noisey Sweden.
Earlier this year, rumors about Drake’s dad hanging out in Stockholm surfaced. People got confused. Upset. Even momentarily mad. Twitter, which normally isn’t particularly hot in Swedish, was suddenly on fire. Why would Drake’s dad want to hang out in Stockholm, Sweden? Why? What? WHY? Also, rumor had it he hung out at the Swedish Grammis! Without his son! OMG.
Turns out Drake’s dad was introduced to Sweden thanks to 22-year-old Swedish/Barbadian Stockholm native Nikeisha Andersson. At a time when most kids were smoking their first joints or vomiting from too much cheap vodka, at 16, Nikeisha was working professionally with video production. For the past seven years, she’s grown to become one of Sweden’s youngest and most popular music video directors. Not only has this girl directed videos for prominent musicians such as Elliphant, Sabina Ddumba, Zara Larsson, OIAM and Tove Styrke—to name a few—she’s also produced videos for major commercial clients such as UEFA Champions League and Swedish Idol. Additionally, she's in charge of the video concepts of Absolut and Malibu's brand new booze label. Also, due to some weird connection in the cosmos, she’ll soon be responsible for Dennis Graham, a.k.a. Drake’s dad’s first-ever (perhaps only?) music video.
I caught up with Nikeisha so we can put all the rumors about Mr. Graham's trips to Sweden at rest. Plus we talk about how Nikeisha ended up with her dream job, owning her own business, and being invited to Drake's house at an age when most of us still try to figure out the basics.
NOISEY: Hi Nikeisha! I know you've been making videos since you were nine years old, but how did all that start?
Nikeisha Andersson: My aunt, who took care of me when my mum worked shifts, was murdered by her karate trainer, which, well, caused me to feel like shit. I felt fucking horrible and pretty much lost hope on life. I watched a lot of TV like Charmed and music videos on ZTV. I thought it was pretty weird that someone who felt as bad as I did could laugh about something I saw on some old TV. So I was like, "Damn, if this thing [the TV] and the people working with this thing can make me feel this good, then maybe I can do the same for others." That’s when I first tried to understand what a video really is and like, started to use a computer.
I’m speechless… Your auntie was murdered?
Yeah, I know it sucks. It was a pretty big deal in the media so it was kind of difficult for me to go out ‘cause it was everywhere! It was pretty chaotic.
Did editing videos and experimenting with moving images become like therapy for you?
Exactly. I found something to focus on so I could move forward instead of isolating myself and not going to school and wanting to die. I don’t know if it was the good ol’ coincidence that put Charmed on TV or whatever. But I’m very grateful that I’ve found something to do that’s this great.
So if Charmed was the main thing and ZTV a little bit, how come music video production is your main thing now?
We only had a few channels, so my choice was pretty limited and ZTV with its music videos was pretty popular at the time so that’s what I watched like all the time. I remember it being like “She’s a Freak” by Infinite Mass, Shakira with “Wherever Whenever,” and like, Petter and “Ska Vi Riva Hela Haket” [“Såklart”] you know, like, that kind of vibe was like, WOW!
Did you ever think you could do it better, or did you look up to that kind of video work?
Nah, it was more that I got fascinated about the kind of feelings the videos provoked. You know I had kind of planned that I was going to die and then suddenly I got interested in music and images combined. It also surprised me that it could make me feel a tiny bit better. I thought that was absurd! I mean it’s this metal box that plays some sound and loops imagery!
I guess it all came down to that I’ve always been very curious about things, like, how does this work? How can you make this happen? So I guess that’s what triggered it all. And then a few years later I realized that people were uploading their own stuff online, so I began downloading videos and songs off Kazaa. Then I used Windows Movie Maker and started editing it all.
Nikeisha with her OVO necklace, which everyone in the OVO crew has.
And then you were discovered at 16?
Yeah. I changed school in second grade at high school, and that’s when I realized that, right, there are people who actually work with these kinds of things. So I changed to Cybergymnasiet from this private English school. And during that change, a friend of mine and I planned a flashmob for Shakira’s single “Waka Waka.” I was like the biggest Shakira fan ever when I was young. It was pretty insane when I think back at it! Anyway, so we filmed an intro to that flashmob and uploaded it on YouTube. And suddenly it was like 2,000 views per day! Sony Music got in touch and wanted to be part of [the main event] in some way.
We wanted it to be a thing for the people so we didn’t really want Sony to be a massive part of it if you know what I mean. And then more people than we could have ever imagined showed up on the actual day. It was like 600 people on Plattan [in central Stockholm] – it was bizarre! So I filmed and edited it all and then I didn’t want to send it to Sony at first so I sent it to SVT [Swedish Public Service Television] and they screened something from it. And then Sony got it. So they got curious about who had filmed and edited it and I was like, "I did!"
I've heard that you didn't like to do stuff without getting paid at that time?
Well, I did three projects for free, but then I realized that if someone needs my skills, they might as well pay for them. So I said no, and it took about a month before they got in touch again and offered me a salary. There's no reason to be an unpaid intern if a company needs you!
Word. So How come you left Sony in Sweden and went to LA?
I left Sony before going to LA. I started my own company at 19, which is when I got other clients such as Idol and UEFA, as well as Sony. Later, I turned into a bit of a rebel at around 19-20 years old maybe. I’ve been to LA several times. [Laughs]. You know when you’re really sick with everything and you think that if you get away you’ll come back as a new person. That’s pretty much what I was thinking. So I did just that. I had already met this girl, a stripper. She gave me my first-ever lap dance. [Laughs]. A friend and I wanted to have a bit of fun. We wanted to go to the States and drink beer, get tattoos, and hang out at strip clubs. I want to point out that the reason I got this lap dance was due to a misunderstanding, alright? But it turns out this girl was really nice and cool and was like, “Let me know if you need help with video locations and stuff.” She’s in loads of music videos by Kendrick Lamar… and you know loads of those guys.
How come you met Drake’s dad?
I went to LA some time after that alone. [The stripper] had told me to get in touch if I ever came back. Like, “Come live with me!” You know that usual American politeness. So I went there and I lived with her and she brought me to loads of parties on all different kinds of levels. It was a lot like “Oh you’re from Sweden! I’m gonna show you around!” And then one day she started talking about how we were supposed to go to Drake’s house party. I was like “Yeah, yeah…” At that point I thought she was bullshitting me. But then later that night at like 3 AM or something, [her crew] were like “Sweden! Get in the car, we’re going to the after party!” We were going pretty far out to the middle of nowhere and I didn’t have any cigarettes, and was a bit like, you know, pretty sure I wasn’t going to get hold of cigarettes again that night… But anyway, we got there and we got to this massive door ringing on some doorbell or whatever and I was like “OK ladies, you’ve proved me wrong, can we go home now?” And just when I’ve said that this massive van drove up to us and this guy was like “get into the car.” I was like “Oh snap!”
He drove us to this mansion where the first thing I see when we get inside is A$AP Rocky playing pool. I’m like “OK, this is starting to get a bit too much now…” I needed to ask someone if they had cigarettes but it seemed to be only weed everywhere, which I don’t smoke. So this one guy said, “There’s a guy over there who smokes.” Which is this older man. I’m like, “Who is this dude?” But he seemed really cool and swag. I just wondered who had brought him along. And then he’s like, “Do you mind if I join you?” Which I was cool with but I made it pretty obvious that all I wanted was that cigarette. But then we started laughing after a while because everyone around us was pretty intoxicated. So we ended up sitting down having this major deep talk about humanity, music, film—and I still don’t know who this guy is—and we’re sitting there for maybe three hours on Drake’s terrace.
At about 7 AM I’m like, but wait, who is this guy? So I’m like, “Sorry to ask, but what are you doing here?” And he’s like, “Oh no! I’m Drake’s dad!” [Laughs.] So I totally panic because I’ve been sitting there and like undressed my mind to him about everything! So I was like GREAT. "I should probably leave."
So how come you ended up working with him?
I received a text the following day like “Hello Nikeisha, it was so nice to meet you. Me and some fellows are wondering if you’d like to come to the mansion and show us some of your videos?” And that’s pretty much how we started getting in touch. He had said something the night before about him wanting to do some video. But at that point I didn’t feel ready because I mean come on, it’s like Drake’s dad! Who’s a proper musician! I mean he’s been Jerry Lee Lewis’s drummer; he’s like, REALLY like…. I mean he’s the foundation of Drake! Maybe. I don’t know. But he’s been doing this for a very long time.
I had been doing quite a few things at that point, but I mean I was really fucking nervous about going to Drake’s house. So I edited together a show reel in the taxi on my way there, which I showed them, and well…. I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life.
It seems like it worked out pretty well. And then you ended up being buddies for the past three years?
Yeah. I don’t like to ask about things. And I thought it was a pretty big thing that he asked me if I wanted to do his video. And because it was such a major thing, I didn’t feel like throwing myself into it immediately without feeling like I was ready and that I was going to be able to deliver something that’s 100 percent. So I dragged out on it for about two years. In the beginning I just thought it was all talk you know, because he can get whomever he wants to do things with him! For a while I was like joking about it being all like, “Well let me know if you want me to do a video for you.”
So when did you feel ready and why?
It was in October last year that I felt like, well, damn I can do an awesome video for this guy! And I thought it could turn out excellent. So I called him and was like, “Should we do the video?” and he was like, “Yeah I’ve been waiting for you!” So I was like, well, “Let’s do this!” And there was this major hustle to make sure I wouldn’t leak the song, you know. He was a bit paranoid, beause who the fuck am I? We’ve mostly been talking on the phone, you know. We saw each other in LA another time when he introduced me to Drake’s management as a video director. But still, who am I?
Nikeisha and Drake's dad/Dennis Graham at the Swedish Grammis.
What’s up with Dennis hanging around at the Swedish Grammis?
A friend and I joked around about me going to the Swedish Grammis together with Drake’s dad. That entire thing was a big joke. Dennis is like an older brother to me and we're really close friends. I'm obviously fully aware of who Drake is so I had joked around with Dennis about him hanging out at Grammis. You know to see how people would react. But I never thought he was actually going to come. We went to the airport for fun and there he was and we were like, damn! [Laughs.]
"Drake's dad" was this major thing in Swedish social media around that time. Suddenly everyone was on about Drake’s dad but no one knew why he was here in the first place.
People think he was here to like party or whatever, but we shot half of the video during that week in Sweden. We’ll be shooting the second half later in May. The second time he was here was because Dante is sorting out a few bits and pieces in the song. And he really loves Sweden so we brought him here and hung out with him. I mean he’s like the nicest person in the world and he’s fucking awesome.
Nikeisha working on Drake's dad/Dennis Graham's upcoming music video.
Can you tell us something about the video?
Maybe… I can tell you that the video oozes of class. It’s original and classy and neat.
Does Dennis as a person or the song inspire the video?
Definitely the song! I think we’ve given the song the exact video it deserves. I think a lot of people think that Drake’s dad is riding on his son’s fame, but that’s not true at all. He’s a musician and he was a musician for a long time before Drake was even born. To be honest, I thought that for a bit, too. But then I heard the song, and damn! It’s fucking great! I called him and was like “I didn’t know you could sing?!”
Haha! Thanks, Nikeisha.
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