Blake Echols; Imagination Stage
Nick Hernandez (center with headphones) is the source of the musical beats in Imagination Stage's latest production "P.Nokio."
Fri, Jan 20, 2012
Web Exclusive: Interview with Nick Hernandez of "P.Nokio"
A local producer never worries about how he’ll musically inspire kids, even when going old school.
Even though most of Nick Hernandez’s audience has scarcely heard of vinyl records, the hip-hop producer, better known as “Nick tha 1da,” finds his biggest inspirations from dusting off records he finds in dollar bins.
“If you listen to Top 40 radio today, at least 60 to 70 percent of songs are covers, or they use music from different genres and different times,” he says. “People tend to miss that—all artistic endeavors have some sort of influence from another artistic period.”
Blending new and old sounds is what Hernandez, 29, does best. To create works such as his production of family-friendly “P.Nokio,” which comes to Imagination Stage in February, he relies on his trusty records and another unusual source of inspiration: video games.
“I grew up with Nintendo—Super Mario, Mega Man and classic games like that had a huge influence on me,” he explains. “So I’ll play those games, and I’ll play records at the same time. So when you hear my music, you’ll see the influence from the digital video games and the classic [tunes].”
“P.Nokio” takes it to a whole new level, with the familiar tale of the puppet-turned-boy modernized with a video game setting and hip-hop soundtrack. It’s not the first time he’s done it; Hernandez produced the African tale “Zomo the Rabbit,” which was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award recognizing excellence in D.C. theater.
To create his hip-hop lyrics and music, Hernandez listens to records ranging from “Sesame Street” to John Coltrane to the Jackson 5. Hernandez, who developed his “alter-ego” in ’96, says he grew up listening to jazz and soul music from the ‘70s thanks to his musically inclined father, who played in local bands.
The musician whose first official solo CD for all ages, “Give the Drummer None,” will be released this year, says he wants to reach the digitized age of young musicians, whether that’s through his new tunes or when he’s giving music lessons at Words, Beats and Life, Inc., a nonprofit that links hip-hop with education fundamentals such as writing and reading.
“With technology and social networking, kids are able to do more research on Wikipedia or YouTube,” he says. “In the past, you’d mention Earth, Wind and Fire, and they wouldn’t know [the band], but now you’ve got kids Googling every topic imaginable,” he says. Hernandez believes technology gives him a big assist in bridging generational music gaps, and his role is to simply update everything. He also focuses on world music—including bossa nova and African and Latin rhythms—to open children’s ears to something a little more exotic than commercial pop.
“I would love to have a production reach overseas,” he says. “With children’s theater, it’s easier to translate and have adaptations for different countries.” He pauses before adding, “But all in due time.”
All photos by Blake Echols, courtesy of Imagination Stage