By Rod Bastanmehr
Arts Reporter

Niam isn’t a name you would probably recognize — at least not yet.

A Bronx native, Niam, was raised in the roots of hip-hop culture. Now, at 22, Niam is trying to throw his hat into the ring, hoping to compete with the names that have inspired him.

“I was raised on music because of my mother’s collection,” Niam said. “I was always a fan of music.”

But it wasn’t until DMX’s first album, “It’s Dark and Hell is Hot,” that Niam came out of his shell in his desire to pursue music.

While Niam also credits artists ranging from Jay-Z to NaS as lyrical style influences, it was acclaimed hip-hop producer Dame Grease who became a primary influence on his production style.

“I grew up on Grease’s music,” Niam said. “A lot of my favorite songs I followed growing up were his … I knew which direction I wanted to go musically.”

In fact, Grease was the producer on the very DMX album that catapulted Niam’s foray into the industry. As a result, Grease became more than an idol — he became a mentor, thanks to a prestigious internship that Niam was able to attain in 2004.

“I ended up tracking [Grease] down my senior year of high school,” Niam said. “The internship lead me to learning everything I could understand about music without having him teach me physically with his equipment.”

While Niam fulfilled office duties in his internship, he nevertheless learned about production.

“The most important thing Grease taught me was to follow my ears,” Niam said. “It doesn’t matter what you use as a producer. As long as you know how to control what you’re trying to do, you can pull off anything.”

It was in 2004 that Grease exercised his own advice and trusted his ears when hearing potential for a budding new artist: Niam. His internship suddenly became a protégé effort, resulting in Grease taking his young intern under his wing and helping Niam develop his own producing skills.

After several years of honing his craft, Niam finally burst on the scene in late 2007 with his self-produced remix album of Jay-Z’s “American Gangster.”

“The remix project to me was my biggest achievement so far because it was my first solo project,” Niam said. “I had all the control and I wanted to do something 100 percent original. … It was all me, from track one to track 16.”

It was that kind of rugged underground quality that had the album go from unknown exercise to a sudden critical success; the remix album was well-received, garnering praise from various hip-hop outlets, including websites, blogs, and magazines.

Still, Niam remains humble.

“I thought it was crazy,” Niam said. “I’m new to everything right now, so any type of exposure or praise I get just makes me smile more then anything else.”

And this is just the beginning, said Cynamin Jones, CEO of Soul Pitch Media.

“Hip-hop needs alteration in various places,” Jones said. “The artists of today need to listen more, study the craft, and redefine hip-hop with an edge. … Niam has taken time to study the craft, [and has] created a unique style from listening and studying.”

Jones, who Niam credits as one of his co-workers and best friends, sees Niam as a throwback to the classic stylings of hip-hop’s yesteryear, while still maintaining the edge needed to redefine the genre.

“Niam’s music is classical hip-hop, but what intrigues me is the sounds of the chords,” Jones said. “He is setting himself to make a change in hip-hop — I can attest that only time will tell.”

Already Niam’s music has made its way from the Bronx to the UC Santa Cruz campus.

“I heard about the album through various hip-hop mediums,” said Toryn Cooper, a third-year music major.

Cooper, who considers himself a hip-hop connoisseur, became aware of Niam’s stylings through various hip-hop media to which he regularly contributes.

“I kept on hearing all of this positive [praise], and I decided to check it out,” Cooper said. “It ended up going over and beyond the hype … Niam has the potential to be the next big thing, without a doubt.”

And although he credits CEOs like Jones, producers like Grease and artists like DMX, Niam brings the thanks back to an unlikely source: the Bronx.

“It really has been a big influence on my music,” Niam said. “I was raised where [hip-hop] all started … it makes me happy to know that I began from the place where it all began.”