In April of 2011, Karmin’s Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan ignited the blogosphere when they posted a cover of Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” on YouTube. The clip instantly went viral, racking up millions of views after being Tweeted by such hip-hop heavy hitters as The Roots’ Questlove, producers Diplo and Jermaine Dupree, and rapper The Game, each of whom marveled at the astonishing spectacle of Amy spitting Brown’s, Lil Wayne’s, and Busta Rhymes’ raps at warp speed.
“People look at Amy and expect her to be a straight-up pop singer, but she busts out a rap and she just slays it,” Nick says. “I also think the attitude is what throws people, she completely embodies it.”
Both Amy and Nick were raised modestly in small towns, which probably accounts for their down-to-earth friendliness. Amy grew up in Seward, Nebraska (pop. 6,000). Amy was accepted to Berklee on a scholarship to study songwriting, performance, and business, and worked as a wedding singer at night and on weekends. “My mom was like, ‘You’re going to make $125 a night singing with a wedding band in Boston?’ It was like I’d made it.” Meanwhile, Nick, a chiropractor’s son from Old Town, Maine (pop. 7,840), was working his way through his parents’ collection of classic rock albums, everyone from Billy Joel and Elton John to The Beatles, Queen, and The Doors. When he was required to learn an instrument in fourth grade, he chose trombone because no one else did. “My big thing was I could play really high, loud, and fast, especially for a little guy,” he recalls. After winning several awards, Nick was also accepted to Berklee on a scholarship. He performed with such luminaries as Paul Simon and Herbie Hancock and seriously considered becoming a professional Jazz trombonist. After the two graduated, Amy tried her luck with a girl group and kept performing as a wedding singer until it finally dawned on her and Nick that they should be making music together.
With Amy playing a guitar her dad had gotten at a pawn shop and Nick banging out the rhythms on a wooden box because they couldn’t afford a drum kit, Karmin began writing their own songs — acoustic-driven hip-hop originals — before they decided to try to grab people’s attention by re-arranging the biggest hits of the day — songs by everyone from Adele and Lady Gaga to Kanye West and Eminem — each week on YouTube. n short order, the Boston-based duo (who met as freshmen at the prestigious Berklee College of Music) were invited to perform with The Roots at Tufts University and appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and On Air With Ryan Seacrest, which led to their subsequent signing with Epic Records, now headed by veteran talent spotter L.A. Reid. “We performed several of our original songs for him live, just us and a piano, and we knew right away,” Amy says. “It was something about his energy. He felt music the same way we did.”