Nana and New Beginnings
Within seconds of “Problems,” the opening track of Nana’s debut EP, you realize it’s something remarkable. The LA born-and-raised rapper is channeling a fiercely authentic brand of hip hop storytelling that owes itself to the greats of the genre—people like Nas, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar. It’s a method that, to a layman of the hip hop world, doesn’t seem all that popular despite those respective names’ superstardom. For an artist so young, to be focused so strongly and so successfully on telling real, identifiable stories is no small feat.
Though he’s been rapping for a number of years, this is his first project under the Nana moniker. Raised in Crenshaw and coming from Ghanaian roots, this is the first time Nana has gone by his birth name—Ghanaian for “king”—and the confidence displayed on this six song ep certainly feels like assuming a rightful place. Every aesthetic decision is strong assertion of identity—as if this is the way things should have always been.
His incredibly masterful lyricism, too, stands out immediately—whether it be a powerful statement of self (“Problems”), a questioning of the world we live in (“Question Everything”), or the way we do things (“Him & Her”). Throughout, Nana keeps an incisive, critical eye on how we all work—prodding and cajoling and pointing out the internal hypocrisies and oxy morons we tell ourselves or use to excuse our own behavior. He doesn’t keep himself from this critical eye, either—always using his own experiences first as examples.
Its a bold, confessional approach that honors the legacy of Crenshaw, Inglewood, Los Angeles, and their respective music scenes. Keep a weather eye on the horizon for more from Nana, because without doubt it’s going to be something to watch.
I got a couple moments with the rapper to ask him some questions, read the interview below;
- Changing your project name to a name that honors your parents and your heritage is such a deliberate choice and there are so many touches (from your video to the album art) that honors your roots--what drove this change and this decision?
To be honest I really wanted to just give people an introduction into who I am. Growing up I was self conscience about my name and being teased about it because it was different..But once I realized and understood the meaning of my name being King I said I’m gonna own that because that is what I was born on this earth to be.
- Your video for Problems has this really victorious, jubilant feeling to it--it's such a warm, welcoming image that feels so much more authentic than most popular hip hop and rap videos. Who were your collaborators for it? How did you conceptualize the video to begin with?
Well my brother Warren and I put together the concept of something that was organic and authentic. He directed it with the help of Thor Wixom..everybody in the video is family and I’ve known for years..What’s presented in the Problems video is an authentic depiction of me just living my everyday life with the people closest to me.
- Growing up in Inglewood and in the LA area you must have seen so much change, particularly right now with the new stadium going in and encroaching gentrification, yet Inglewood maintains such a distinct, vivd identity. Is it in danger of losing that identity? How do you see the changes that LA has gone through?
I actually grew up in the Crenshaw district of South Los Angeles, But the same thing thats happening in Inglewood is happening there. Leimert Park to be specific..I will say that it looks a bit different than what it used to look like when I was in school. Hopefully it can keep its identity and culture as years progress. There is no other place in Los Angeles that is as rich in African American culture than Leimert Park is.
- So many of your songs on this EP come from a really vulnerable, real place. Being somewhat of a layman when it comes to rap and hip hop, I see most lyricism in new, popular rap going only two ways--superficial extravagance or overly-emotional cloudrap, but you maintain this outside perspective that isn't beholden to these and feels so authentic. Where do you see yourself in rap's narrative? Where do you want to be/go?
I had to look in the mirror and ask myself Are you rapping just to rap? What are you doing to help change peoples lives for the better? I feel like my purpose on earth is to be used as a vessel by God to speak to people and help them through whatever it is they are experiencing. At the end of the day It’s therapeutic for me as well because when I’m going through something I can go back and listen to it and it helps me grow through what I’m going through as well. I wanna be able to continue to move in a direction of helping people and the only way I can do that is to make music that everybody can relate to.
- Your video, as i mentioned, has the really warm feeling of almost brotherhood and certainly the LA rap scene is historically pretty fertile--is there a scene or community right now of other artists that you draw inspiration and support from? Or a particular place?
My neighborhood and the people in it. The Crenshaw District..I always have and always will…Ghana is another place I draw inspiration from as well. I went when I was 15 years old and my goal is to not only go back but to give back when I’m in a much better position to do so. I was born and raised in LA but that is home.
- Are you playing any dates around LA anytime soon?
Definitely will be doing some dates in LA, it’s in the works as we speak.