It’s an unusually rainy morning in Los Angeles, and Nicole Richie’s home garden is blooming. “Let's see, tomatoes are starting to come in, and sugar snap peas. We’ve got some eggplants, some garlic; rosemary and thyme, all the time,” she tells MTV News by phone, listing off what could be a near-complete grocery list. The 36-year-old House of Harlow designer and actress, who became a household name in the mid-2000s for her role alongside socialite-heiress Paris Hilton in the reality series The Simple Life, added amateur farmer to her extensive resume nearly a decade ago when she began cultivating a small plot with friends. “We started working on an edible garden, just one or two things, some strawberries, some blueberries,” she explains. “I just fell in love with it. It’s just so cool!”
Inspired by Oprah’s recurring #HarvestDay hauls, Richie shares aspirational photos of her own harvests on social media. One post depicts a handful of blushing, pink eggs pulled from her private coop. (She guiltily notes, as if being asked to choose between children, that she has two favorite chickens from her flock, Popsicles and Dixie Chick. “I don't know what breed Dixie Chick is, but she's just so tiny and cute, and she has a very cute face,” she says.) Another picture flaunts a bounty of purple carrots and lush, green mint cradled in a woven basket, while the caption calls out a demand system that creates unnecessary food waste based on produce’s aesthetic qualities (“Everything in this basket would be thrown in a landfill... Doesn’t seem right”). United by the hashtag #NikkiFresh, the images have quickly earned the reality star a cult online following, with fans flooding the Instagram feed with records of their own journeys toward healthier living.
Now, the moniker that became a movement has evolved once again, this time into a fully fledged identity: a rap star by the name of Nikki Fre$h. Documented in the Quibi series by the same title, which launched the video-streaming platform last week (April 6), Nikki Fre$h is Richie’s musical alter-ego, the unlikely product of the reality star’s dueling passions for ’90s hip-hop and communing with nature. Spitting rhymes about saving bees from extinction (“Bee’s Tea”), clean water access (“Drip Drip”), and the healing power of crystals (“The Gem Song”), the artist has invented the entirely new genre “Parent Trap,” which encompasses exaggerated, socially conscious bops written for “teachers, rabbis, Virgos, but mostly moms and gays,” she explains in the series’s premiere.
“Wellness has a new voice,” Richie declares in a pitch to Good Charlotte’s Benji Madden and her husband Joel Madden. The brothers run the production company MDDN, which oversees the show’s music, and the scene marked the couple’s first time acting on camera together. “Joel has no problem being on stage, but being on camera is not his favorite thing at all. So, I had to do a little bit of convincing,” Richie says, revealing that the moment was based on a real meeting that, despite being married to the producer, she had to schedule beforehand. “You know when you talk to your husband at home, it's like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ So, I made an appointment at their office,” she explains. The mission? To negotiate a comedy-rap album. “I met with them and about four other guys. I brought a Rupi Kaur poem to read to start off — [her book] The Sun and Her Flowers was a big inspiration behind this.”
Fre$h’s mission is two-parts comedic and one-part educational. Each episode is under 10 minutes long, per Quibi’s universal format, and sees Richie and her sidekick-assistant Jared (Jared Goldstein) engage with a different issue — like clean water access, or food waste — and meet with experts in the wellness space (Bill Nye, for one) to provide humorous blips into potential avenues for bettering one’s mind and body, and getting in tune with environment. Every episode culminates in a couture-clad music video, with a song that speaks to the theme, all of which will be collected and released as a nine-track album, Unearthed, later this month.
Richie collaborated with songwriter Sarah Hudson (who’s worked with Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Dua Lipa, on her recent album Future Nostalgia), as well as her husband, an experience she describes as "intimidating, and terrifying, and exciting, and frustrating.” “But once we found our groove, we just had the best time,” she adds. Serving deadpan vocals over a rolling trap beat, Fre$h’s sound is a dilution of Richie’s ear for Jay-Z and Eminem, as well as the pop icons, like Britney Spears and Mariah Carey, on which she was raised. “I hope that people... turn me into the female Snoop Dogg,” she says. “I'm going to make music about what sits in my heart and my soul. Crystals, eating well, broccoli, chickens, and my eggs.”
According to a 2018 report, the wellness industry, which includes activities like yoga and healthy eating meant to promote physical and mental well-being, is worth more than $4.5 trillion globally. Though some critics have denounced the trend as dieting by any other name, and while Richie is but one of its numerous celebrity ambassadors — like her friend Gwyneth Paltrow, the actress-turned-lifestyle guru and star of Netflix series The Goop Lab — she is adamant that her endorsement comes from a place of authenticity. While not altogether critical, Nikki Fre$h is a self-aware look at a lifestyle, and the material culture that surrounds it, that serves its star well. “If it’s making fun of anyone, it’s making fun of myself,” she says. “Being connected to the earth, being at one with the universe, and the importance of eating good food: Those are things that are really important to me, that I really do value and put at the front of my priorities in my life.”
In fact, many of the situations depicted in the series are dramatizations drawn from Richie’s own experiences. In the third episode, a standoff over homemade honey between her and her father, the musician Lionel Richie, was modeled after a disagreement the two had over backyard-beekeeping. “I had surprised my dad with two hives. They were actually my beehives. I just was too scared to have them at my house, so I put them at his, and wrapped them up in a bow, and said it was a gift to him,” she says. The moment is documented in Richie’s 2014 reality series Candidly Nicole, from the same team behind Nikki Fre$h, and through which she met her current beekeeper. “I got a call saying that the bees were starting to sting people, and they had to be removed. But, here's the thing: I know my bees. My bees would never sting people. They're sweet, lovely, and hardworking females. They just don't have time to do that.”
But the decision to launch a comedy series in the middle of a pandemic was not one Richie took lightly. A devoted mother to 12-year-old Harlow and 10-year-old Sparrow, she’s adapting as best she can, by cooking veggies from her garden, sticking to a schedule, and spending time with those closest to her. “I didn’t know what Zoom was until three weeks ago. Now, I’m some sort of expert,” she says. “I’m trying to find, for my kids’ sakes, the small pleasures. We’re watching movies, we’re reading.” She recommends the memoir Untamed by Glennon Doyle Melton. “We’re going outside when we can.”
“It feels like the universe is just demanding stillness from us,” she adds. “Just take a moment to feel all of the feelings, and have those feelings be OK, and not be able to run away from them.” She hopes that viewers will find a brief escape in Nikki Fre$h, as well as to inspire the same passion for Mother Nature that she’s instilled within herself. “I hope that people find laughter. I also hope that people are inspired to connect with nature, to reconnect with nature, to connect with it for the first time, and to really understand that we are a part of nature, and we're not above it.”
So, even though it’s raining in Los Angeles, and even though the world is a storm, Richie would encourage you to take off your shoes, step out onto the grass — a full 6 feet from others — and look up at the sky. “We should get back out there and have our feet in the sand, our hands in the dirt,” she says. And until then, Richie will continue sharing photos of her fresh kale and perfectly imperfect carrots. “You feel at peace. Because we are a part of nature.”