Nikki Jean

Nicholle "Nikki" Jean Leary (born August 25, 1983) is an American singer-songwriter and occasional actress from St. Paul, Minnesota. Aside from her solo career, Jean was once a part of the Philadelphia-based music group Nouveau Riche. She first gained major recognition in 2008, when she was featured on Lupe Fiasco's single "Hip-Hop Saved My Life", from his second album The Cool. In 2011, she signed as a recording contract with indie record label, S-Curve Records. In 2011, she released the concept album, Pennies in a Jar. The lead single, "Steel and Feathers (Don't Ever)" was co-written by Bob Dylan.[1] As an actress, she performed in the award-winning independent film, On the Outs. In 2018, she signed a recording contract with Rhymesayers Entertainment for the release of her new EP.[2]

Nikki Jean
Birth nameNicholle Jean Leary
Born (1983-08-25) August 25, 1983 (age 37)
St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • pianist
  • actress
Years active2004-present
Associated acts

Life and careerEdit

Early Life and career beginningsEdit

Nikki Jean was born on August 25, 1983, in St. Paul, Minnesota, United States. She moved around with her mother spending time in both South Dakota and Minnesota. She ended up attending High School in both St. Paul, Minnesota, United States and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. During her years as a child actor in the Minneapolis theater scene, she spent two years under the musical tutelage of JD and Fred Steele. The Steele family are pillars of the Minneapolis gospel scene and were back up singers for Prince, and she credits them with her sense of harmony and vocal arrangement. She attended college early and graduated from Howard University with a degree in Sociology. While at Howard University, she was invited to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and would soon join the band Nouveau Riche as the lead singer.

2007–2009: Philadelphia and Lupe FiascoEdit

In Philadelphia, she began posting music online.[3] As her fanbase grew from the acoustic music she posted on, producers Chris & Drop discovered her and reached out.[3] They would in turn introduce her to Lupe Fiasco while he was working on his second album The Cool. She would write the hook and feature on Hip-Hop Saved My Life and guest feature on "Little Weapon".

On the day The Cool was released. Nikki uploaded a video of her opening the CD for the first time.[4] The video exploded online and she was subsequently interviewed on CNN.[5] From April 16, 2008 to August 6, 2008, Nikki Jean was part of the Glow in the Dark Tour with Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Rihanna and N.E.R.D.

2009–2012: Pennies in a JarEdit

While on tour Nikki Jean was introduced to producer Sam Hollander and the two came up with an idea for a concept album based around Nikki Jean's songwriting ability. She would travel the country writing with some of America's best songwriters.[6] Nikki Jean co-wrote each song with a writer in the Songwriting Hall of Fame. In the process Nikki wrote with over 30 hall of fame songwriters including Thom Bell, Luigi Creatore, Lamont Dozier, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry, Carole King, Bobby Braddock, Paul Williams, Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Carly Simon and Bob Dylan.[7]

The Concept was shopped to a few labels and she eventually signed with Columbia Records. Although they liked the concept Columbia decided not to release the album. The album Pennies in a Jar, was released on July 12, 2011 on S-Curve Records/Universal Records. Lupe Fiasco returned the favor by appearing on the album's second single "Million Star Motel", alongside Black Thought. She was invited to open for Mayer Hawthorne, on his nationwide concert tour.

Her single "My Love" reached number eight in Japan on Hot 100 Singles chart and she toured Japan and Australia in support of the project.[8] On July 14, she performed "How To Unring A Bell" on the Late Show with David Letterman to promote her album.[9]

2012–2014: Surgery and Champagne WaterEdit

While recording Pennies in a Jar, Nikki Jean realized it was getting harder to sing every night on tour. When she returned to Philadelphia she was informed by her doctors she had nodules on her thyroid. While they were not cancerous they did affect her ability to maintain her vocal training. She decided to have a Thyroidectomy at Johns Hopkins University.[10] Utilizing a brand new nerve sensor, the doctors were able to remove the thyroid and nodules without damaging her vocal chords and associated nerves.

With brand new control over her voice Nikki Jean set out to complete her next project. She moved to Los Angeles, California and ingrained herself in the burgeoning scene there. She has since collaborated with Ab-Soul on his critically acclaimed These Days... and was featured on Lupe Fiasco's new album Tetsuo & Youth, on the tracks "Little Death", "No Scratches", and "Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)".

On October 22, 2014 Nikki Jean released "Champagne Water", the first single off her Champagne Water EP. It features a guest verse from Ab-Soul.[11] Upon release it skyrocketed to the top of the Billboard Magazine Real Time Charts.

Vibe Magazine online premiered the new EP by Nikki Jean on November 19, 2014. It is also available for free download on her personal website.[12] The project features collaborations with Ab-Soul, Kevin Olusola (Pentatonix) and includes production from Donnie Trumpet, Nate fox, Peter Cottontale, Like (Pac Div) and double-0


Nikki Jean collaborated with Lupe Fiasco once again and contributed writing and vocals to five songs on his album Tetsuo & Youth. It was released on January 20, 2015. Jean performed "Little Death" on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with Lupe Fiasco and The Roots on February 25, 2015. (WATCH).[13] Nikki and Lupe Fiasco closed out Season 1 of Hannibal Burress Comedy Central Show Why? with Hannibal Buress.[14] In 2017 she began recording a new project. At the end of the year she signed a deal with Rhymesayers Entertainment for its release. The first single "People & Planes" was release April 24, 2018. She was also featured on Fiasco’s 2018 LP “Drogas.” [2]




  • X-Mas EP (2013)[16]
  • Champagne Water EP (2014)[17]


As lead artist
List of singles with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Title Year Peak chart positions Album
"Take You Out"[18] 2013
"Champagne Water"[19]
(featuring Ab-Soul)
2014 Champagne Water
"—" denotes a title that did not chart, or was not released in that territory.
As featured artist
List of singles with selected chart positions, showing year released and album name
Title Year Peak chart positions Album
"Hip-Hop Saved My Life"
(Lupe Fiasco featuring Nikki Jean)
2008 120 Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
"Fallen Angel"[20]
(SYLK130 featuring Nikki Jean)
"Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)"
(Lupe Fiasco featuring Nikki Jean)
2014 Tetsuo & Youth
"Dark Shapes"[21]
(Kronic (DJ) featuring Nikki Jean)
"—" denotes a title that did not chart, or was not released in that territory.

Guest appearancesEdit

Title Year Other performer(s) Album
"Five Alarm" 2007 DJ Deckstream Soundtracks
"Little Weapon" Lupe Fiasco, Bishop G. Lupe Fiasco's The Cool
"Exit Sign"[22] 2009 DJ Deckstream Soundtracks 2
"Favorite Song"[23] Traphik Rush Hour
"So Far So Good"[24] Muja Messiah Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy
"Say Yes"[25] Tu Phace N/A
"Tell the Truth"[26] Oddisee Odd Autumn
"Shine On"[27] 2012 Brother Ali The Bite Marked Heart
"Sweet Temptations" Freeway Diamond in the Ruff
"World Runners" 2014 Ab-Soul, Lupe Fiasco These Days...
"Haile Selassie"[28] Lupe Fiasco Lost in the Atlantic
"Little Death" 2015 Tetsuo & Youth
"No Scratches"
"Madonna (And Other Mothers in the Hood)"
Haile Selassie
Sun God Sam & The California Drug Deals
Stack That Cheese
Quotations From Chairman Fred

See alsoEdit


Year Title Role
2004 On the Outs Malia


  1. ^ "Nikki Jean discusses recording her album, songwriting & Bob Dylan [Video]". SoulCulture.
  2. ^ a b "People & Planes". Retrieved April 30, 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Nikki Jean: Sunshine". Clutch Magazine. Archived from the original on January 19, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  4. ^ LUPE FIASCO -THE COOL featuring NIKKI JEAN. December 19, 2007 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ "Buy & Sell Websites & Domains Marketplace".
  6. ^ "Nikki Jean, "Pennies in a Jar"". Billboard. July 29, 2011. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  7. ^ Andy Kellman. "Pennies in a Jar". AllMusic. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  8. ^ Andy Kellman. "Nikki Jean". AllMusic. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  9. ^ "Video: Nikki Jean "How To Unring A Bell" Live on Letterman". Okayplayer. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  10. ^ Patrick Carney (October 22, 2015). "Nikki Jean Has Thyroidectomy at Johns Hopkins". Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  11. ^ Zach Frydenlund (October 22, 2014). "Listen to Nikki Jean's "Champagne Water" f/ Ab-Soul". Complex. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  12. ^ "Premiere: Nikki Jean 'Champagne Water' EP". Vibe.
  13. ^ "Lupe Fiasco: Little Death". The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fellon. NBC.
  14. ^ "Why? with Hannibal Buress: A Musical Performance From Lupe Fiasco". Comedy Central. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  15. ^ "Pennies In a Jar". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  16. ^ "NIKKI JEAN - XMAS EP (REMASTERED)". Audiomack. Archived from the original on November 29, 2014. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Take You Out - Single". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  19. ^ "Champagne Water (feat. Ab-Soul) - Single". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  20. ^ "Fallen Angel (feat. Nikki Jean) - Single". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  21. ^ "Dark Shapes (feat. Nikki Jean) - Single". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  22. ^ "DJ Deckstream – Deckstream Soundtracks 2". Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  23. ^ "Rush Hour". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  24. ^ "Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy". iTunes. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  25. ^ "NEW SONG! Say Yes Feat. Nikki Jean". Blogger. February 2, 2009. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  26. ^ "Odd Autumn". Oddisee. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  27. ^ Rose Lilah (February 13, 2012). "Brother Ali - The Bite Marked Heart". Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  28. ^ Rose Lilah (October 24, 2014). "Lupe Fiasco - Haile Selassie Feat. Nikki Jean". Retrieved January 18, 2018.

External linksEdit