There’s a kind of woman who just needs you to get the hell out of her way. You’ll know her when you see her, smoldering with swagger and sex appeal. Holding her back would be like lassoing a supernova— good luck with that.
Spend even a few moments with Nikki Williams and you know that’s exactly what you’re dealing with: an unapologetic, balls-out truth-teller, an old soul at 24 with a killer set of pipes and the attitude to match. A natural born storyteller and a gifted singer-songwriter, Williams is the personification of Newtonian law: a body in motion will stay in motion. “I was born to do this,” she says. “There is no Plan B. This is it. You don’t ignore an instinct.”
Williams’ earliest memories as a young girl in bustling Port Elizabeth, South Africa, feature her performing—belting it out in church at four years old, providing the evening entertainment for her parents and their friends at age 7. But hers was hardly a picture-perfect youth. When post-apartheid crime ravaged her hometown, Williams’ parents decided to pack it in and start anew elsewhere, in Nashville of all places. (“My family grew up listening to country music, so why not?”) At 16, Williams found herself over 8,000 from home, a flame-haired Afrikaner in the land of the Grand Ole Opry. The transition was as tough as it sounds. “It took me a long time to adjust,” she recalls. “Everything from the size of the fast food portions to the fact that people didn’t understand what I was saying. I always had to repeat myself 10 times.”
Not long after the move, her parents divorced—she and her kid sister stayed with her mom in Nashville, while her dad returned to South Africa. Williams took their split hard. Who can blame her for falling in with the wrong crowd? “I didn’t see their divorce coming,” she says. “I started rebelling, hanging out with an older crowd, drinking Southern Comfort, going out to bars.”
In a city thick with teased-and-tousled glam-girls, Williams, a Ravenwood High School hellraiser, looked like she’d arrived to Nashville by way of CBGB with her heavy eyeliner, ripped tights and combat boots. But she found respite from her turbulent youth in writing. Every day after school, she’d deep-dive into marathon country songwriting sessions and quickly discovered she was brilliant at it. Influenced by a gamut of old-school and contemporary country-Western icons, from Alan Jackson to the Rascal Flatts, Dolly Parton to Taylor Swift, Williams poured her restlessness and soul-searching into her lyrics.
By her junior year in high school, she’d locked up a publishing deal with Sony ATV. By 18, Williams was supporting herself. Her song “Fly Away”, which was featured in Country Song (starring Gwyneth Paltrow), was inspired by an older boyfriend who helped foster her career and confidence. She co-wrote “Like My Mother Does,” which was performed in 2011 by American Idol finalist Laura Alaina. Over and over again Williams was approached by Nashville heavyweights eager to cut a deal. She rebuffed them all. “I never wanted to be a country artist,” she says plainly.
Williams relocated to Los Angeles when she was 21, and shortly after signed with Breyon Prescott of Chameleon Entertainment (a joint venture with the Island Def Jam Music Group). “Working with Breyon Prescott along with Aaron Phillips is literally the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Williams says. Under their guidance, she has emerged as a sultry new voice on the pop-rock scene. She has already notched collaborations with a string of Grammy-winning hitmakers including Sandy Vee, Dallas Austin, and Rodney Jerkins.
In the spring of 2011, Williams made headlines not for her music, but her blink-and-you’ll-miss-it marriage to musician Weston Cage (son of actor Nicolas Cage). The union lasted all of 10 months and was marred by allegations of domestic and alcohol abuse. Despite their brief, tempestuous marriage, Williams insists the pair are still close. “I love him to death. I thought he was my prince, but I just wasn’t ready for marriage.”
In the months following her divorce, Williams threw herself into her work, exorcising her pain and sadness in the recording studio. The results are achingly beautiful. She first released “Kill, Fuck, Marry,” a haunting single by Sia and produced by Stargate, which has already captured the attention of critics and fans alike. (“Nikki Williams...is poised to be a breakout star,” declared Cosmopolitan Magazine.) Her as-yet-untitled album, slated for release this spring, is already generating buzz among critics and music bloggers as one of the mostly hotly anticipated new releases of the year. “Glowing”, her first single, is a chest-thumping dance floor anthem that showcases the many sides and powerful vocals of Nikki Williams!
Williams is currently on the road, sampling her music before a voracious crowd hungry for her trademark candor and explosive stage presence. She’ll be hard to pin down for a while, she says, but that’s a good thing. “I’m still working stuff out,” Williams confesses. “But if you want to find me, I’ll be in the diviest bar of whichever city I’m in.”