A dope emcee is a dope emcee. But what is it about Detroit that breeds such a large concentration of them year after year?
Much of today’s talent credit the city’s coarse climate and lack of opportunity in the formation of their individual styles while a select few were lucky enough to benefit from a close friend or family member’s early exposure to hip-hop’s golden age artists.
One such promising young talent is Nolan The Ninja, a young emcee/producer whose “ill sh-t” ensures the creative juices will continue to flow far into the future. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble got Nolan on the phone last month to discuss his die-hard dedication to the culture and the promising future he’s built for himself.
What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop?
It’s funny you ask me that. Not to go off subject, I just had an interview with TheBeeShine yesterday, and he asked me that question, and I had to think about it.
No, it’s cool. It’s cool. My earliest memory of hip-hop would probably have to be…I gave him a different answer yesterday, but when I thought about it, I know now.
So, I get the real answer.
You get the official answer. See, I had time to reflect and think about it. You know what I mean? My earliest memory, to be honest, I don’t remember it, but it’s on home videotapes and everything. A lot of people don’t know this, but my very first words as a baby were, “Hey…ho” by Naughty by Nature, “Hip Hop Hooray.”
I swear to God on my mama, and it’s funny because every time I see my relatives at a family reunion, they try to tease me, and they’re like, “Hey…ho!” Especially now that I’m doing music, they’re like, “Yeah, you was rappin’ when you were a kid.” But yeah, that’s my earliest, early, straight from the origin memory of hip-hop. My very first words were from a hip-hop song. You know, “Hip Hop Hooray” came out in ’93, so I was like around one or something like that.
Yeah, it’s crazy. I was telling my mom, “Yo, we need to find those tapes because I want to use it in one of my videos. Show people this hip-hop shit is real!” I’m looking for it. I need that tape. It’s like a bunch of tapes she has of me as a kid. It’s somewhere on there. It’s like me walking under tables. The shit is weird.That’s actually a really good segue. How were you introduced to hip-hop?
Well, you know. I grew up on the west side of Detroit. The hood just naturally kind of just pushes the hip-hop culture in your face, and you just kind of embrace it by default. But how I really got into it, I would have to say probably through my cousin. My cousin, he’s from California, and he came to stay with us during his teenage years. So, he moved to Detroit, and he lived in the basement.
Now, our basement, it looks like a basement. You know what I mean? It’s not done up. It’s like real…I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It has cement as the ground and shit. It’s real basement-y if that makes sense. So, he stayed in the room down there, and I just remember….Like I said, he was a teenager. So, he had all types of posters and stuff like that. I remember he had a Redman tear-out from The Source magazine. He had the Lil’ Kim Hard Core poster of her like kneeling with the pink panties.
He had that big blow-up on his wall around when it first came out. He was like sixteen or seventeen when it came out. I remember he had the official poster. So, through him, I really got into and really started understanding hip-hop and understanding the culture and realizing how much of an impact it had.
I learned about Wu-Tang through a video game. Remember the “Shaolin” game they had on PlayStation? I thought that was just a video game, and he told me they were really rappers. I remember he had a tape when “Cream” was on there because he used to tape the video shows back in the day. So, I remember “Cream” and remember Method Man and Mary J. Blige. This was a long time ago, so I’m giving you some vague memories.
But yeah, so, through him, that’s when I really started to understand hip-hop, and then, as I got older, I just took the knowledge that he gave me and just started building from there. I would watch a lot of BET back when they were actually playing music before these reality TV shows and shit. They used to have countdowns every Saturday. It was called “Top 25 Countdown,” and every week there was a different celebrity host. I remember they had Jermaine Dupri, and I remember they had Bow-Wow. Anybody that was hot in the early 2000s, that’s what they had.
And every time they had a countdown, it’d be a lot of their stuff, but it’d also be a mixture of like some old school stuff. Like, I remember Jermaine Dupri. He played “Money Ain’t A Thing,” and then the next one would be like Kris Kross “Jump” or something like “Bonita Applebum” by Tribe. So, in those countdowns, I learned about the older videos that were about ten years old at the time obviously.
And Q-Tip. Like, I remember seeing the “Bonita Applebum” video on the countdown and being all, “Yo, that’s the dude from Prison Song!’” Cause the Prison Song movie used to come on BET a lot, so I thought he was an actor, but it turns out he was a rapper or whatever. And then “Vivrant Thing” and all that shit and that whole era.
Then, from there continued to build. And, of course. YouTube came into play. In high school, I was the kid that would come home and just be on YouTube just all evening doing nothing but watching videos, listening to instrumentals, watching old-ass interviews, VHS clips, all types of stuff. Like, “Yo, you want to go to the movies this weekend?” “Naw, I’m chillin. I’m going to be on YouTube.” I was that type of dude. Not like a geek per se, but I was just learning.
You can be a hip-hop geek. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Oh, there’s nothing wrong with being a geek, but I was just saying I was on YouTube for the love of hip-hop. It wasn’t necessarily me just watching random cat videos. I was watching old-school videos and stuff like that. I did that for several years. I still do it to this day pretty much. I did a lot of research on my own. You know what I mean?
You touched on it a bit, but do you feel living in Detroit where so many hip-hop heavyweights hail from influences your sound at all?
I wouldn’t say influences the sound, but it definitely….I feel like Detroit has molded me as far as confidence goes, as far as the persona that I bring. What I have learned over the years is that a lot of people are…not competitive like “Yo! Yo!” Everybody just has this attitude like, “Yo, fuck you. I’m better.” You know what I mean?
So, we all have that attitude, like me, Guilty or whoever. It’s just a confidence that I feel Detroit has given me. I grew up here. So, I grew up on Schoolcraft, and I still live here. Like, I’m over here on Schoolcraft and shit. A lot of dudes in the hood, it’s like you play basketball, everybody thinks they the best. You rap. Everybody thinks they the best.
You’re always just in a competitive mindstate, but it’s subconsciously though. It’s not like, “Yo, I’m trying to battle you.” It’s kind of like, “Yo, you know, I got the juice.” And then it’s like, “No, I got the juice.” So, now you’re battling for who got the most sips.
Yeah, well you need to have some level of confidence.
Absolutely. But what I will say has influenced me was definitely the drive, like seeing guys like Guilty and Phat Kat or even younger guys around my age group like Red Pill. Seeing these guys like Red Pill….
I interviewed Red Pill. Real good guy.
Absolutely. Yeah, that’s the homie. Word, word. Like seeing them going overseas and rocking ill crowds and just doing their thing. Over the last few years, I’ve just been looking up to them and just observing how they move and how they play their lanes. And now, it’s ill because now I’m doing kind of the same stuff that I was admiring from them.
I got a European tour coming up with Soko in February. I got a record coming out with Fat Beats and Left of Center. And it’s just all types of stuff that I was looking at them like, “Man, that’s so crazy.” They would always tell me, “You’ll get there.” So, stuff like that was great because I always took that as motivation and continued to push. Now, 2015 was like the bomb.
Yeah, word. So, your fuck the hype EP was included on Watchcloud’s “50 Best Underrated Rap Projects of 2015” and Deadend Hip Hop listed it as one of their Top 10 For 2015. How does that make you feel?
It’s incredible, man. It’s very humbling, and it’s humbling because I was a fan of these sites beforehand. Like, I was going on YouTube and watching their YouTube channel, especially Deadend Hip Hop and their album reviews and stuff like that and their interviews.
And Watchloud, I don’t know if you remember the Slaughterhouse series with Marv Won. I used to watch that. And now it’s at the point where they recognize me for my work, and it’s just crazy. I actually went up to the Watchloud office when I was in New York for the EP, which was incredible. I actually met the editors. It was just crazy.
This year, a lot of dreams have come to fruition. I know a lot of people, they have dreams like “I just want to have millions and drive nice cars and have a nice house.” For me, it’s like, building with legends and shaking hands with people who I’ve looked up to or who I was watching on YouTube at one point, and now they’re face-to-face with me and actually giving me compliments for my work.
So, it’s incredible, man. When I saw those lists, I was just happy. And I believe they both happened within the same week. I didn’t know about either of them, so it’s not like they tell you, “Yo, you’re gonna be on the list.” It’s just kind of like, you get a tweet or whatever.
And I literally just made another list like two hours ago. Metro Times here in Detroit, which is probably our most credible newspaper. They included me in their Top Ten of 2015. It was me, Guilty, Boldy James. It’s crazy. This shit is just incredible ‘cause a lot of this music that I pump out, I pump out in this room. My room. So, to take it from the room to as far as Europe, or take it from my room as far as New York or whatever, this shit is just incredible. It starts as an idea and then it branches out to be an impact. So, it’s an honor. I’m humbled by everything that’s going on and beyond grateful.
When did you become involved with the Left of Center label?
To be honest, about six months ago. But me and Soko, we’ve always been cool. That’s like my brother. We’ve been cool since like 2010. He’s known me – I’m twenty-three now – he’s known me since I was about eighteen. So, when I first met him, we chopped it up or whatever. We built. And I just always told him that I rhymed. At the time, he was with Apollo Brown and Journalist. So, he was moving. He was just going to Europe. They were about to go on tour.
So, he gets back and he’s like, “Yo, let’s stay in touch. Here’s my email and my number. Hit me up if you need anything, some advice, some feedback.” So, over the next couple years, we just dealed. I would send him tracks that I was recording, and he would give me feedback. He moved to New York. At the time when I met him, he was just about to move, so every time he would come back to Detroit, we would kick it. Just on some homie shit, we would link up and go digging or go grab a bite to eat or something just casually just chilling.
So, once he got his record done and his deal with Fat Beats solidified, he was like, “Yo, I’m ready to help you out. What you got up?” And at this time, like I said, I was still sending him music. So, at this point, he probably had two to three projects worth of music from me. He was like, “Yo, we’ve got all this great music. Let’s do something with it.” And I was like, “Yo, I’m with it.”
And then from there, we just built, and I can honestly say, these last six months have been the most significant of my career per se. Soko has definitely helped me cross a lot of bridges that I definitely probably wouldn’t have been able to do on my own. So, it’s definitely love for Left of Center.
Like I said, we just put out the EP like six weeks ago, and I’m making lists and was on “Toca Tuesdays” and shit like that. Like shit like that was like a dream six months ago. You feel me? So, this shit is just crazy. And Huffington Post and shit. This shit is wild. It’s like a kid from the west side of Detroit, and we’re breaking new heights.
This shit is kind of unheard of for my age group ‘cause nobody in my age group here…and this is not to say nobody doesn’t make the type of traditional aspect of hip-hop that I’m on, but nobody in my age group is really on that tip. Everybody that’s on the tip that I’m on is kind of older, like five to ten years older.
So, you’re headed out on tour with Soko and Noveliss in 2016 in Europe. Do you know if you guys have any plans to tour in the US?
I always have shows in the Midwest or whatever, but as far as touring the US or anything like that, there’s nothing in the works right now. That’s not to say that it will never happen because shit, I didn’t know this tour was gonna happen. It’s funny because the game that we’re playing is kind of like spontaneity, so you never know what’s gonna happen.
A month from now, I could get a call from Def Jam on some random shit. You know what I mean? I don’t know what’s gonna happen. All I can do is create the music and just stay focused, so when shit does happen, I’m ready.
I believe the first stop is in Holland. Amsterdam is in Holland, so I’m trying to get over there because I believe weed is legal over there?
Pretty much everything is legal over there.
I’m definitely trying to indulge in some marijuana action over there. If weed is legal, people are doing some crazy shit.
Do you have anything else going on in 2016 that you want to share?
Like I said, spontaneous, man! Of course, obviously, I have goals and things like that, but I don’t know what can happen. I know I have the album coming out. The EP was the prequel to the album. The album is coming out in the Spring. It’s coming out on Left of Center, manufactured and distributed by Fat Beats. I’ll announce that soon.
There’s also another L.O.C. artist. His name is a Minus. He was actually featured on fuck the hype. He was on Track 26, and he’s releasing his solo project on Left of Center sometime in 2016. We’re probably going to say towards the end of 2016, and I’m executive producing on that along with Soko, and I’m also producing the majority of it.
So, that’s kind of like my first project where I’m actually behind the scenes, and I’m overseeing the project. I’m excited about that because eventually I definitely want to branch out. I don’t want to rap forever.
So, eventually I definitely want to branch off and brand my production company or just do other things. Like, MC Serch has Serchlight. I want to be that type of guy eventually. Hell, within the next five years. I’m going to say within ten years, I definitely want to be on that type of level where the music is still out there, but I’m still making movements on another thing.
I’m not saying I’m gonna be Jay-Z big and owning NBA teams and shit, but, at the same time, I feel like I have a knack for recognizing great artists. I feel like I’ve experienced enough on my own to help mold other artists or develop other artists.
There’s young guys in Detroit who are like fifteen, and they’re nice, but if you actually put the business in their face, they wouldn’t understand it. And I will always tell them, “Yo, man, give me like five years. I’m going to come back for you. Just keep doing what you’re doing.” In five years, I feel like I’ll be ready to take them under the wing, and I feel like I’ll have enough accomplished to help another person.
So, yeah, that’s all for 2016. Obviously, the music is still gonna come out. I don’t know, man. Spontaneity, man.
Do you have anything else that you want to add or promote?