His name is Nicky, but you can call him Dre. You may also call veteran San Francisco rapper Andre Nickatina maestro.
In two concerts Saturday produced by Empire Records, the San Francisco Philharmonic will play orchestral arrangements of his greatest hits over a 30-year career in the Bay Area’s independent hip hop scene.
Fan can expect to hear songs like “Baking Soda in Minnesota,” “4 am Bay Bridge Music” and “Pisces” as well as a Tony Montana-themed medley performed by a separate band.
SF Philharmonic founder, conductor and San Francisco Opera scholar-in-residence Jessica Bejarano is elated about the collaboration.
“I love my work as an opera and orchestral conductor, but to be able to collaborate with people like Andre is super important,” says Bejarano. “It pushes the agenda of inclusivity. These guys are talented musicians, but they’re also wonderful human beings. This is for everyone.”
SF Phil debuted in 2020 with the intention of taking symphonic music “off the pedestal” and demonstrating not only the diversity of orchestral musicians, but also that symphony audiences do not necessarily consist of communities traditionally alienated from the genre.
“The SF Phil is truly a diverse institution—Andre and his team did their research. I think that resonated with them and what they’re trying to do with this concert,” she says. For concertgoers, whether they’ve been to dozens of symphonies or none, “They’re going to be exposed to Nickatina and his music with a symphonic, orchestral twist. It’s gonna be really cool for people to see and hear the marriage of how music can melt into one art form, one genre, one experience.”
Bejarano grew up in East Los Angeles in a predominantly low-income and Latino community, but her music taste was expansive, spanning her mother’s Spanish songs to Dr Dre and Depeche Mode.
Though she’s lived in the Bay Area for 15 years, this collaboration was Bejarano’s catalyst into Nickatina’s body of work. She says Nickatina’s team approached her about the opportunity, and that he was very particular about working with a group that aligned with his homegrown values.
Nickatina was born in San Francisco in 1970, growing up in the Fillmore district amid worsening gentrification and the war on drugs. First going by the name “Dre Dog,” Nickatina makes music in the subgenre of “cocaine rap,” exploring both material rewards and personal and social ramifications of drug use, drug selling and its culture. His popularity stems from his zany wordplay and eclectic beats, many of which lend themselves easily to an orchestral arrangement.
“I always looked up to the independent nature of how he did things,” says Empire founder and chief executive officer Ghazi Shami in a promotional video for the concert. “He’s a serial entrepreneur, he always has ideas…[that] embodies the spirit…of San Francisco as a whole. A lot of things we do here are ahead of [their] time.”
Nickatina has worked with Bay Area royalty, including collaborations with San Francisco rapper and activist Equipto, an album with Mac Dre and hits with San Quinn, The Jacka and E-40, among others. Nickatina has alluded on Instagram that this may be his last show. But for Bejarano and his legions of fans, his legacy will endure for generations to come.
Andre Nickatina Reimagined by Symphony Part 2 performances are at 7 and 9:30 p.m. June 24 at the Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. Tickets are $100-$150 at cityboxoffice.com.