Brooklyn-based rapper NAHreally makes hip-hop to kick back to. Forget trap bangers. Forget sizzling hit-hats. Forget overproduced vocals. This is music to hang out to. Bust out your Bluetooth speakers in a park, and you’ll have heads bopping along to his silky smooth beats and hyper-relatable rhymes in no time.
On his latest project, Loose Around The Edges, what stands out is his attitude. The way he shrugs his shoulders in the general direction of his haters. Or maybe they’re versions of himself that he has left behind. That seems the only explanation for lines like:
it’s a piece of cake to hate, it takes work to love,
and therein lies the rub,
that internalized lifestyle of living in a rush,
knee jerk jerks shirk the hard work and get worse
This is a lyricist who has taken time to build not only his ability on the mic, but also his perspectives on life. The mix of self-depreciation and honesty makes for rough-and-tumble bars that empower listeners to trust themselves and not be dragged down by what other people think. To my ears, he’s always finding new ways of repeating the oldest trick in the book, namely “you do you homie.” And it works because he does:
i try to keep my mouth shut,
people do stupid shit, so what?,
i might pull up with a bowl cut,
30 minutes late, but i showed up
from Bowl Cut
Those who listen for substance in hip-hop are always on the lookout for a sense of clairvoyance from their MCs. On standout track Civic, NAHreally hits us with truth. He takes a subtle dig at cancel culture by invoking R. Kelly’s failings, and our collective reaction to celebrities who commit crimes. Should you no longer listen to the remix to Ignition? Or is the real problem that you are letting the experience of experiencing music be tainted by the actions of the creator?
yo, i don’t need to be omniscient,
to know some of you still listen,
to the remix to Ignition, admit it
i’ve been embellishing intelligence since,
elementary. essentially i’m just good at spelling,
dwelling on the past is not compelling,
don’t send me clips of people rapping on Ellen
So I jumped on a WhatsApp video call with him to see if we could get some insight into the man behind the music. Here is what happened.
To kick things off, tell us a little about yourself outside of music.
I’m from Massachusetts, and I’ve lived in New York City since 2015 (Brooklyn for most of that time). I live with my girlfriend and dog and spend most of my time finding new music to listen to or watching the Boston Celtics.
What attracted you to making hip-hop?
When I was 15 or 16, my friend put me on to a lot of 90s East Coast hip-hop—Wu-Tang, Big L, Das EFX. I couldn’t get enough and eventually we started recording some not great music (not totally awful though), but it stuck with me. I rapped on and off until I moved to New York and started going to open mics at Nuyorican Poets Cafe. The idea of trying to make music had never left my mind, so I had to give performing a shot. The response was positive and I met a lot of great people, so I kept going.
Tell us about your process. How do you go about writing your songs?
I try not to overthink it. I don’t edit lyrics too much, so I try to make sure I’m happy with a line before I move on to the next one. I want to make myself laugh while I’m writing—not because it’s funny per se, but just because that’s how I know I like a line. It’s a lofty name to invoke, but I’ve always loved this DOOM quote from his 2009 New Yorker with Ta-Nehisi Coates:
“When I’m doing a Doom record, I’m arranging it, I’m finding the voices. . . . All I have to do is listen to it and think, Oh shit, that will be funny. I write down whatever would be funny, and get as many ‘whatever would’ funnies in a row and find a way to make them all fit. There’s a certain science to it. In a relatively small period of time, you want it to be, That’s funny, that’s funny, that’s funny, that’s funny. I liken it to comedy standup.”
I try to do the same with beats. Once a loop makes me want to rap, I start writing to it. Sometimes I don’t even go back to change anything once I get writing. If I wanted to rap on it, the beat must have been finished.
I read you made your own beats for this latest project. Where did you get the samples?
It’s mostly mid to late ’60s and early ’70s jazz with a little Brazilian music from the same period in there. Really standard hip hop stuff but hopefully not anything others have used already. I find samples online—no vinyl at the moment because of COVID and space/time constraints. I wouldn’t rule out a switch to vinyl though. I made the beats for LATE in Logic with an SP404 for effects, but now I’m working more with an MPC1000 for my next tape, so the process is always changing.
What does the future hold for you?
Keep going. I’ve put out a tape every year since 2016. Hopefully I can keep that pace or increase it. I don’t have a business plan or any other type of plan other than keep working. I’ll continue to rap and make beats until I don’t want to anymore.
Lastly, if you had to have three records spinning in your grave what would they be?
Bill Evans – Explorations (need some jazz in my afterlife)
Sublime – Sublime (I need some punk and some chill rock, and I think this covers both bases. I may be biased because this one just hit its 25 year anniversary though)
MF DOOM – Mm..Food? (Tough call between this, 36 Chambers, and Madvillainy, but I think I want to go with the more whimsical album)
Thanks for taking the time to chat with Undies! Hoping to hear more from you soon.