Innosphere is a collaborative project between legendary producer Kenny Keys and soul songstress Nina Rae. Keys and Rae initially met while working together in a local hip-hop band (Just Infinite), and they were instantly able to establish creative ground. The chemistry, too magnetic to ignore, quickly led to a series of projects including what would be the duo's eventual debut single, "Me & You."
The combination of Kenny's instrumentation and Nina's vocals makes for the finest cosmic soul that hip-hop has heard in years, matching predecessors like Erykah Badu and Georgia Anne Muldrow. The duo plans on releasing a seven-song, self-titled EP under the TruSoul Entertainment imprint, and if the single is any indication of things to come, Chicago should be very excited. Centerstage sat down with Keys and Rae to hear how it all came together and what the immediate future holds in store.
Innosphere is an interesting name, what's the significance?
Kenny: The meaning of the name is defined exactly how it's spelled: in-no-sphere. We don't place our music into any particular genre. We will venture into any territory that the music takes us. So, the name represents that ideal: no boundaries, no restraints, no fear, and 100-percent real.
When you go into a song do you have clear intentions or are you on the organic side of things?
K: We talk about stuff, just kick it together, listen to music, beats, just pass ideas back and forth. Then, we get inspired and we work. Sometimes it starts lyrically, sometimes with beats, sometimes from the root up.
Kenny, this project seems to be taking you a bit outside the realm of straightahead hip-hop. Is this marking a new creative movement for you?
K: Nah. This album is not really taking me out of the hip-hop aesthetic. I'm still on the beats; it's just letting me show a little versatility. Like when we did some cuts, it was off beat CDs-hip hop cuts for my fellas to check out. This is one of the most simplistic, beautiful albums I have ever produced. It's a whole new place that I've flirted with, but never fully went there before.
Nina, can you tell me about your background as an artist?
Nina: I'm a writer first. My writing pursuits took me to Gallery 37 as a teen, writing for the New Expression teen newspaper, which was distributed throughout Chicagoland. I began singing in a trio as a teenager after being selected as a vocalist with the Chicago all-city chorus. I went on to perform with various girl groups and perfecting my craft as a writer. I started to infuse my poetry writings into my music and my singing style. I eventually became a member of Just Infinite, where I would eventually meet Kenny. Aside from this musical project, I am also working on a book of short stories.
Tell me a bit about the EP.
N: It's a very real EP. It's a journey through happiness and sadness, but centered around curiosity. Every song has a sense of exploration. It's a relatable piece of work that touches on the human experience, moral issues, being true to one's self, dimensions of love, urban street life, family and intimacy.
Are you going to have a tour for the album?
K: We are currently working on show dates. Who's booking? Listen to us at sonicbids.com/innosphere and check us out.
When can we expect the full length and what other projects do you have in store for 2009?
K: Look out for the full length Innosphere album this fall. I'm going to be dropping an instrumental album this summer, and working on a project with another dynamic Chicago producer, Tall Black Guy. Look for some music from the producing duo, Black Keys (Tall Black Guy & Kenny keys) later this year. Nina Rae will be a huge part of that as well.