Heights NS: Studio wizard pushing hip-hop's boundaries
(Welcome to tbt*’s Ultimate Local Music Guide! All week we’re spotlighting 10 of our favorite local artists of the past year. Today: Rapper, producer and multi-instrumentalist Heights NS.)
Heights NS is the musical moniker of Tampa multi-instrumentalist and all-around studio wizard Philip Carre, whose interesting (and intelligent) approach to composing music is to take elements of different genres and create hybrids, resulting in something new and unique. Heights NS does so by blurring the lines of conventional popular music with cross-pollination of musical genres.
His unconventional approach results in a gumbo of highly melodic vocals and raps, uptempo beats, Curtis Mayfield-esque guitar leads and atmospheric soundscapes (think TV On The Radio) — ingredients that all lend to a unique listening experience.
His early musical interests were piqued by an older brother’s playlist: N.W.A., Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and similar artists of the era.
“He was a pretty decent musician,” Carre said. “He used to play keyboards, so he used to introduce me to s---, like a lot of rap music. And around my school, a lot of people listened to everything like alternative rock and stuff like that. Then N.E.R.D., Pharrell’s group, I remember I listened to it, and it just blew my mind. For some reason, that record just hit with me.”
At the time an aspiring DJ, Carre had turntables, and one of his cousins bought him a stack of records produced by the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams’ production team. The N.E.R.D. album “made me pick stuff up, and start recording and playing different instruments,” he said.
“I started with keyboards, ’cause I wanted to make beats, and that’s the key: have a keyboard, MIDI and a computer,” he said. “With the keyboards, I used to just play one-note stuff, but I found these chords — you hit three notes at the same time, if they all mix, it makes a beautiful sound.”
After learning that Williams played drums, Carre picked up some drumsticks, and later, he added guitar to his repertoire. His self-penned instrumentation is what sets Carre apart from most hip-hop acts. He spends a majority of his time in his home studio honing his craft, tweaking sounds and modifying and manipulating drum timbres. On his website, he describes his music as “genre-less.”
“A big thing I noticed with a lot of rap, especially early rap, is they sampled a lot,” he said. “I didn’t really like sampling. I used to just make beats. I started finding the roots of it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is all instruments, melodic stuff — the sources of the samples. It would be cool to bring that back and bring back instrumentation in rap.’”
He cites the Roots as an inspiration. “They’re recreating it instead of just sampling it,” he said. “I found that when you pick up certain instruments, you (would) look up, ‘Who’s the king of this instrument?’ You start playing guitar and digging, and finding different people.”
The deeper he dug, he said, the more he kept getting turned on to new styles of music, from rock to soul. “It sucks that a lot of people are stuck in one genre, because it’s all the same,” he said. “It’s four beats, it’s all pentatonic, it’s all the same kind of music. It’s just little things that divide it — styles, basically. ... I just started finding that you can rap on rock beats, soul beats, anything.
“That was the basis: Wow! You can rap on this! Radiohead’s The National Anthem: Wow! You can rap on that. If you listen to the beat, that would be a cool rap beat.”
-- Aaron Lepley, tbt*