This article first appeared in The Alt on May 17, 2018.
Photo by Tyvonne Butler
Sitting on a grassy hill of Washington Park, Jorim Motley is quietly watching passers-by on the bridge, grinning at dogs and grimacing at the bumblebees that hover over patches of dandelions. He’s a reserved and thoughtful other half to his expressive alter ego Pink Nois.
In his two years in Albany, the 19-year-old beatmaker, rapper, singer and musician has dipped his toes into the hip hop and neo-soul world, releasing five dynamic albums, a string of instrumental beat tracks and most recently, a pair of singles called Pink World.
In terms of musical projects, he has his hands in as many as possible. Pink Nois recently connected with fellow neo-soul and R&B scenesters The Age and NXNES and now the trio is in the works to cultivate an local neo-soul DIY collective.
“Albany is starting to cultivate a really rich hip hop scene and that’s normally what I do but I’ve been into neo-soul and jazz for a really long time,” he says. “You can sing or talk about anything inside of it and it’ll still sound so smooth.”
His musical range is pretty expansive, frequently collaborating with fellow Rose Record Label experimental and hip hop artists like Lone Phone Booth and soo do koo or contributing guest vocals and writing credits folk-punk band NPK’s EP Short, Bitter, and All Over the Place and Dan Paoletti’s well-received Out of Water album.
Formerly known as MISFORTVNE and Scott Free, Motley was in class studying the color spectrum of noise when he was inspired by something new. Carrying an equal amount of noise energy per octave, the “shade” of pink noise sounds a bit lower than white noise and is said to have a calming effect, like standing near a waterfall.
“I liken that to my life,” Motley says. “I go through a lot of things that are crazy but at the end I just want to make something that can calm me and other people down.”
His discography tells a developing story about that internal conflict, starting out with FORTVNE, an expressive and cathartic retelling of a breakup, unrequited love and a bad trip while taking an edible a movie theater.
“For the duration of creating that album I was kind of stuck in this,” he says. “If I wasn’t having trouble breathing or knowing that I was a part of physical reality, I was just kind of depressed. I feel like I wrote myself out of it with that album and a lot of people heard it and connected with it. I wanted to continue the narrative because I saw how it was helping people…I just kept chronicling my life because I know I’m gonna mess up but it’ll be alright.”
It’s an explorative and notable project. In “Drown In The Sound,” Pink Nois (then MISFORTVNE) channels the low tone of Tyler the Creator and playful skit format of hip hop playmakers in which he competes on a fictional game show with a gut-punching flow. “For your grand prize, peace of mind,” the goofy host awards him. “Wow, thanks Nick, that’s exactly what I needed,” he answers.
Playing through his albums, it’s easy to pick out his train of influences. He was raised on gospel music and Stevie Wonder. In his early teens he drew inspiration from the artists in the “same vein” like Michael Jackson (“I would dance and dress and talk like him all throughout middle school.”), The Weeknd (“I wanted to hate him but I couldn’t.”) and Frank Ocean (“Blonde? Wow.”), who comes in strong in Pink Nois’ crooning, soulful work.
“I would just emulate all of their styles and then put whatever twist I could on that. They’re really in the same vein if you look closely,” he says. “Put that together and add some weird stuff to it, that’s who I am.”
Motley started playing the piano at 8 years old and writing his first songs when he was 10. By 14, he discovered an affinity for rap. He took on the guitar, saxophone, harmonica and started dabbling in drums. All hell broke loose.
“Four years passed by and I had probably 60, 70 songs. They weren’t crazy, not like, ‘Oh my god, he’s a savant!’” he laughs. ”But it all came out so quickly and that didn’t ever change. It just got more heightened as I started learning more about music and going through things.”
With Pink Nois, whom he refers to in third-person, the artist has been able to draw himself out and play with two different worlds: pop-centric bops and soulful ballad-like outpourings of the heart.
“I feel like Pink Nois is way more confident and established. He knows what he wants to say but he just doesn’t know how to put it all together,” Motley explains. “I’m a klutz and I’m awkward and that’s really different from the Pink Nois that does the stuff he has on iTunes and Spotify.”
The Spotify tracks, like “Toblerone”, “Still” and “Young Void”, are catchy with Instagram-caption worthy hooks that still have an emotional significance. It may not be where he is able to express his true self, but Motley can see hip-pop’s worth.
“I don’t like parties but if you take me to one, I’ll dance,” he grins. “If you put on some Drake? It’s over, catch me on the dance floor. I like making music that can do that to people. I like to see people turn up but I know, at the end of the day, that there’s more. I need to realize it for myself and help others realize it as well.”
The multitasking musician is currently in the process of making an album that tackles the duality of Pink Nois: his battle between commercial power and artistic exploration.
“It’s basically the difference between what I do,” he says. “What I’m putting out in my music and what I’m doing at house shows, not being able to find the proper balance of both.”
Performing live, he’s lightning on his feet. There’s no planned set, he just sings what comes to mind and sets a scene. Rhymes flow out effortlessly, his vocals sleek and lustrous, occasionally catching the warp or playful spit of beatboxing. He’ll crack a joke mid-song just to keep listeners on their toes and all of it meshes beautifully as he glides his fingers across the keys. It’s mesmerizing and it’s all off the top of his head.
“There’s this place that I go to when I play music. It looks like space but all the stars are pink,” Motley says, staring intently as if waiting for me to call bullshit. He laughs. “That’s so fucking stupid but it’s like that. When I’m playing, I can see it and that doesn’t necessarily happen when I’m making mainstream shit. When I’m in that place of free thought, neo-soul will come out. I’ll do opera out of nowhere, I love opera. I can have a really intimate, internal discussion with myself.”
Neo-soul has become a communicative tool for the artist to deal with anxiety, depression and his ever-moving thoughts, acting as a funnel for him to playfully express internal battles without having to nitpick or dwell on them. Catch him onstage and he’ll pull you in like a human tractor beam. The air will start to feel a little different. You’ll laugh. You’ll melt.
After a recent show at The Canadian Embassy, an audience member approached him.
“I almost cried listening to you,” he said.
“Dude, I almost cried too. You were with me. Wherever I was, you were there,” Motley replied.
“Whatever I make next, I want that to be able to happen,” he says now. “I just need to find that balance, then I’ll be straight. I’ll be unstoppable.”
It’s almost impressive that Pink Nois isn’t famous yet, but by divine manifestation or sheer will, he knows he will be influential.
“I’m not trying to be cocky when I say I know I’m supposed to be doing something bigger than I am doing right now. I see myself in front of hundreds and thousands of people,” he says, squinting in the sun. “I don’t know why but I already know it’s going to happen. I just need to make that real and I know I can.”