As rap grows into the most dominant genre in the world, various sub-genres have attached themselves to rap. Today, rap can mean everything from mumble to rock rap. However, there still exists a segment of rappers who continue to focus primarily on lyrical ability and storytelling.
Nana, an independent rapper based out of South LA, is at the top of the latter group of emerging artists. Nana is not a novice to the rap scene in LA. He was signed briefly to Red Bull Sound Academy three years ago and has steadily dropped music since. His music has evolved into some of the most inspirational music out there that will make you question who you are while giving you hope for a better future.
In early 2018, Nana dropped his self-titled EP and from this body of work it is clear that Nana has the entire package: lyrical ability, flow and production. This year, Nana is gearing up to drop a second EP, so we sat down with him to get a sense of why he has decided to stay independent and where he hopes to go in the next year.
California Smoke Music (CS): I’ve seen a lot of artists come and go, so I was surprised that you stuck around through the indie route.
Nana: For sure. It’s a tougher route and I’m just grinding honestly and seeing where it takes me. My options are never closed off, but I enjoy [the indie route] because it allows me to connect with people that are dedicated to me as an artist: people who buy merch, go to the shows, put their friends up on what I’m doing.
CS: I feel like your material has changed over time since you changed your stage name from Blaison Maven to Nana.
Nana: That was a growing stage for me. Under my old moniker, I felt like I was just rapping, but I didn’t feel like I was really connecting. Everyone was like you’re dope, but I mean, there’s a million dope rappers in the world.
How are you changing someone’s life? How are you opening up someone’s eyes to see something that they may not see within themselves?
So when I was looking into my life and the things I was going through, I thought I’m a human being that is going through real shit just like everyone else is and I need to share this with people, because someone out there needs it.
CS: When did you start feeling that?
Nana: Around last year. In my mind, I always wanted to change my name because this is my God-given name. But in terms of content, late last year I was just listening to all the stuff I put out and starting to think what am I doing this for. Honestly, I’m glad because not only did it make sense for me and the person I am, but my parents are able to listen to [my music], enjoy it, and connect with it. I come from a spiritual family. My father is a bishop and it was really motivating and big for me to hear him say that he likes my music. [My father] listening to secular music is a big deal since he’s a bishop, so for him to connect to the music meant a lot. Because outside of everything, he’s still a human being that has feelings and is going through things.
CS: It’s interesting because it doesn’t sound preachy?
Nana: Yeah exactly. I don’t ever want to come off as preachy because at the end of the day, even the people that come off as preachy…those people are not excluded from having thoughts of sin and being sinners as well. Because at the end of the day, we all do good. We all do bad.
CS: I like “No Way Out” off of your first EP?
Nana: It was so hectic recording that song because I have never actually sung before that. It was just trying something different – not only what I’m talking about, but also how I’m staying it. It’s a very mellow song, but it’s very welcoming. It was hectic recording the song though. It took me like 10 sessions to finish that song because I probably did it over and over again.
I knew that song was going to be one of people’s favorites, because when I played it for one of my friends, they just broke down and cried. That’s something that meant a lot to me: seeing something that I put together, my words and what I’m talking about affect somebody.
CS: I never heard someone say something like that in that way. I feel like it was directed towards females? Like I was affected by that shit.
Nana: For sure, hundred percent. I think especially with women in this day and age, you really would never know. Like there are women that are out there going through real shit in their relationships – abusive relationships – and they don’t speak about it. My sister was one of them. Years and years ago, when I was in middle school, my older sister was going through an unhealthy relationship and I felt the need to speak on that because a lot of women feel like they’re stuck – like they don’t have a way out of the situation, like they have to be loyal to that situation. But you don’t.
CS: Did she get out?
Nana: Thankfully, she did. But there are millions of women out there going through shit like that and I felt the need to speak up on it because not only was I directly affected by it, but I have female friends that are going through the same thing.
CS: How old are you now?
Nana: I’m 28.
CS: From the content of your music, it seems like you were struggling with growing up. Like your friends doing things and you not wanting to do those things anymore and kinda getting pulled back into it.
Nana: Growing up in the inner city, my situation was always different from my friends. I grew up with both parents in my household and the majority of my friends didn’t have their fathers around. So, I’ve seen how that can affect a guy. There are certain things that a father is around to teach you and I feel like a lot of my friends who didn’t have father in their lives lacked that love, so they looked for that love in different places. So, they joined gangs and they felt like they needed to belong to that. Obviously that wasn’t the right path, but I understood it. And I was like these are my friends, so their issue is my issue and at a certain point, I just had to decide this is not who I am. This is not what I need to be a part of. They’re still my friends, but I’m on a different path. I can’t throw my life away because I have a greater purpose on this earth.
CS: I was recently going through a lot of artists I’ve kept my eye on through the years and most of them get to a certain point of notoriety, let it get to their heads and cannot go through the ups and downs (of being an growing artist).
Nana: It’s tough. On an everyday and personal level, one of my favorite artists is J Cole. Because the most successful he’s gotten, he’s scaled back…
CS: …gotten more introverted?
Nana: Yes, hundred percent. It just allows you to stay grounded because even though I’m not there, I’ve been around people who’ve gotten to that level, let it get to their head and lost themselves. They don’t know who they are anymore. They got rid of the people they came up with. It just sucks to see because selling your soul is compromising your integrity for money. A lot of them know this, but are okay with it. This one artist I know is making all this money off of pop music they’re like I know this isn’t conventionally what my core fans like me for, but it’s making me a lot of money, so I’m going to do it. In the midst of that, they lost themselves. It’s sad honestly.
CS: Are you going to sign to a label?
Nana: There are a couple of situations I am going to enter into in the new year. I am looking to expand, get more eyes on me for sure. I’m exploring different options, but I’m a firm believer in owning all my shit.
Nana: My parents came from Gana and they own all their shit. My mom owns a beauty supply store and my dad runs a church. I come from that lineage. I’m like, yo, I make this fucking music. I understand the business side of it, but a lot of these suits couldn’t write a song if their life depended on it. Why should anybody own any of my stuff?
Nana’s second EP Save Yourself releases March 26, 2016. Check out a couple of singles off his new EP, as well as his first EP below.