By Amir Bagheri
With age, my relationship to HipHop and Rap has become more complicated. Some days, I feel nostalgic for the sounds that came out throughout the 90s and early 2000s. On other days (especially on days when I feel old, and no longer relevant) I open myself up and listen to all the new sounds that are coming from women and men much younger than me.
One of these young and talented artists, whom I first heard of in 2016, is Nasty C. It was almost impossible to avoid listening to his hit “Hell Naw”; every radio station was playing it, day and night.
A lot has changed since then. The biggest news for Nasty C, however, came this year when Def Jam announced that they have signed the South African artist onto their record label, and just a few months later, Nasty C released his highly anticipated album Zulu Man with Some Power. The album includes guest appearances from T.I., Ari Lennox, Lil Keed, Lil Gotit, and Rowlene.
Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with Nasty C, talk about the Zulu man himself, life, music, fashion, and Japan.
Amir: I am more interested in you as a person and I just want to know what your story is… who is Junior? How did he startup? Why do you make music?
Nasty C: I’m a kid from Durban, South Africa, from a township called Illovo, way down South. I really started making music when I was 9 years old. There was a bus I used to take to school every single day and they had like a TV on the inside, like a little drop screen thing, upside down, that type of thing. They used to play a lotta music videos. I never really paid attention to any of them until this one random day when they played a TI song. That’s my first musical memory, I guess. I don’t know man, from that day I just wanted to make whatever I heard that day, you know. And I wanted it to look like what I saw on that screen. I wanted to have those cars, those chains, and all that. I started immediately, I didn’t waste any time – I had a computer at home and my big brother had this software. It didn’t really take me that long for me to kind of grasp the idea of it. I started messing around with it, re-making songs like Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop”. I used to write these lyrics and twist a couple of words, make it sound like it was mine. Just trying it out to get my tongue used to it. Yeah, I really just kept to it, man. I never stopped doing it. When I was 16, I think, that’s when I started taking it seriously and I really started to pay attention to developing my skill and find my sound, and all that stuff.
Amir: You mention at age 16 that you started taking this a bit more professionally. Was there a specific moment or a crucial point that you were like, “Man, I’ve got to do this and take this onto the next level”? And if there was a specific moment, what was that moment? What were the inspirations? What were your thoughts?
Nasty C: I think it’s just because at that age, you’re just about to finish high school so I already had this. I don’t know, I was a little nervous about my future, you know. I know the spoils of being in high school and having your parents look after you and give you money to catch the taxi and go to school and pay your school fees and this and that. That was about to run out in like a year or two. So, I had to get my own stuff together. I had to pick. I had to decide. Do I wanna be what my father wants me to be and just carry on taking the academic route and become a doctor or whatever? Or do I wanna do something that I actually love, even if it means me taking a knock for like a year or two years and just being broke and just hustle it out. I chose that. I chose that over the medical route, and I think that’s what really pushed me and motivated me because I couldn’t afford to lose. If I lost- my father made a deal with me- saying he’s gonna give me one year to try it out. If it didn’t work, I had to go back and do everything he wanted me to do. That means going to school and studying what he wants me to study. It wouldn’t be my life anymore. I took that chance and I’m grateful that everything worked out. That was the push that I needed.
Amir: We are here to talk about your new song Zulu Man that you released this morning, and the album that’s coming up, The Zulu Man with Some Power. Tell me a bit more about it, specifically this song and the entire album- the concept. What is it all about? What inspired it? What are you really aiming to achieve by it?
Nasty C: So, the song is basically about the struggles that I had to go through coming up where I came up and doing what I do. You know, it’s not a common thing where I come from to be a rapper. Especially a rapper that raps in English at THAT age. You know, it was a very bizarre thing. So, you get a lot of obstacles and whatever. I’m just reflecting on that in the coolest way I could. I did it in my home language just so it resonates with the people from where I come from just a little bit more. You know, so it really sounds like I’m speaking the language I was speaking back then, so I’m not making it sound any fancier or whatever. That’s what that song is about. It’s pretty much just a salute to my culture and to everyone who is Zulu; before I take a stand to be an ambassador to them, worldwide, because that’s pretty much where I’m going this time. It’s like I’m taking on a responsibility of some sort.
Amir: Before the release of Zulu Man, there were a few songs that you dropped as part of a project called “Lost Files” which I think was more or less the first time you were showing the more personal side of your life to your audience; or what do you call it: The IvySon.
I am interested in one specific song which I thought was really personal and not many of your fans had much of a context in understanding it. I thought I would use this opportunity to ask you to elaborate more on that song. It was the song you wrote about OG. Tell me more about that song. What inspired it? What do you want your fans, the Ivy Sons, to take away from that song?
Nasty C: That was really just to say my thank you to my brother. That guy was like my brother. He’s the one that helped me come to Joburg; like the first time ever coming to Joburg! He was the guy that organised the place that we were gonna stay at, the meetings with the people he was tryna hook us up with- there was a guy called Sam who I have a good relationship with now and that’s all because of him. I was heartbroken when I found out how he left us. What could he be going through that he didn’t reach out to us, and like, ask us for help before making that decision. Then, there’s the guilt that comes out, like “oh maybe we’re not even that close to him or he doesn’t consider us good friends like that, [for him] to reach out to us”. I don’t know, man. It’s just like all thoughts started rushing in at the same time. It was a dark place, but I tried to do the same thing that I always do when I go through those times. Just trying to transcribe it and turn it into a song or whatever, So, I captured a little moment. Yeah man, that was a good friend of mine. That was my DJ at some point. He’s the guy that used to let me into the club when I was underage and had no tags and shit. He used to sneak us in and stuff like that. I did this song for my brother, man.
Amir: I hope the song inspires the same feelings and thoughts for everyone. You know, appreciating our brothers and sisters who have helped us along the journey. And that was certainly the feeling that I received from the song. So, thanks a lot for that song. I love those really personal touches and stories. At Odd Magazine, we believe in storytelling and The Lost Files, to me, were really special because they were telling a story that was close to your heart, and its narrative made it very close to IvySons’ heart as well.
Speaking of IvySons, I know the story behind it. For our international readers and listeners, I want you to elaborate more as to what IvySon stands for and why you’ve named your fans after this specific name you’ve come up with.
Nasty C: IvySon is a name that I came up with, I took it from my mother’s name. My mother’s name was Ivy. I don’t know man, I feel like she’s my guardian angel, man. I never really got the chance to know much about her. She passed away when I was like 11 months old so I kind of use her as like, this little, this thing that helps me and guides me through all the shit I go through in this industry and stuff like that. It’s just like the one person I turn to. I wanted to dedicate and do everything in her honour. I named my first company after her; my tour is called the “IvySon tour”. It’s a thing my fans always respect me and recognize me for. I already shared this special thing with you guys anyway so why not call you guys “IvySons”.
Amir: We want to talk about the international stages and everything that is ahead. I’ve already told you, I believe in storytelling so I’m going to tell you a quick story and then dive deep into the Def Jam deal.
I think, 2016 after you dropped “Bad Hair” that was when I jumped on the Nasty C wagon. I couldn’t stop listening to that record. I was also sharing it with my wide network of music lovers across the world. I remember sharing “Hell Naw” with my homies in the US, Canada, Australia, UK, Japan and everyone was like “Wow, this guy is insane! He is so good “. So, when this year Def Jam signed you it was kind of a reassuring moment for those of us who were following your work in the dark, like “Oh my God, he broke into that international stage, where we were all kind of waiting for”.
Tell me, what are your goals and objectives with Def Jam? And where do you want the IvySons to be in 10 years’ time?
Nasty C: Well, first off man, thank you for that, I appreciate it. I wanna become a global artist that really makes a difference… I wanna be the person who inspires a lot of kids that come from these dark places where they feel like having a big dream, having a big goal, is stupid and you’re not worth it. I wanna tell people to set their own ceiling. I wanna be known as THAT guy. The guy that tells you that the ceiling set by you, or society, or your parents or whatever, doesn’t exist. It’s not your reality. If you didn’t conclude and set that as your reality then it isn’t. You can set your own goals and cycle at your own pace. No pressure from anybody else. No external validation. None of that. I just wanna be known as that guy. Yeah, I’m just taking my fans with me. I’m glad that they see what I’m trying to do. They use all that inspiration and motivation to do something. Some of them are becoming videographers, some of them are becoming artists, painters, and they’re starting to know there’s more to this music business than just being the artist or the rapper. A lot of people get that twisted. A lot of people don’t understand what to do with their passion for music. Like they think if you have a passion for music then you have to be a musician. When you actually don’t. I’m making them understand there are many things you can do. For my tour, I hire them as promoters. I give them jobs. I give them unique jobs for them to go do and practice being a person that works for whatever they want. Just to make them understand there are more layers to it, there’re more fields that help sustain the brand that everybody idolizes. There’s the manager, the sound guy, this guy, that guy, I wanna be known as THAT guy.
Amir: You know after you signed the Def Jam deal, one of the major things you were talking about… and I realised not a lot of people were dissecting it a bit deeper, so I want you to be THAT guy right now.
After you signed the deal, the one thing that you very clearly said was “Guys, I’m gonna be a billionaire”. My question is: why do you want to be a billionaire? Outside of the chains and the cars and everything you mentioned, why do you think that Junior, Nasty C, needs those billions?
Nasty C: I don’t know, man. There’re so many things I wanna do back at home, in my neighbourhood and just in my city and all those things cost a lot of money. I don’t have that kind of money right now. You know, so I need it. Also, because we have a lot of these ideas that we think are like life-changing but we don’t have the backing to do it. We wanna be able to go off our own shit and not have to cut a whole chunk of it and give it to someone else, just because they have the cash. You know what I mean? I wanna be THAT guy, bro!
Amir: Now, onto a more exciting project of yours- your record company: Tall Racks. Where is Tall Racks right now, and how do you envision it to be, especially now that you’re connected with Def Jam?
On top of that, who should we be watching out for coming out of Tall Racks, in the coming months, years, who knows?
Nasty C: I’m pretty much using Tall Racks as a way to channel all these thoughts and ideas that I have to help others. There is a thing we like to say, and we did a whole project, the title of it: “Lift as You Rise“, you know what I mean. So just pass the rope back. As you are climbing up, pass the rope back to somebody else and let them climb up. We’re stronger if we penetrate whatever market, or whatever industry, altogether as a unit. So, I’m just using Tall Racks as that, man. I give these kids stages; I give them studio time. I give them clout. Whatever it is they need to take whatever they do a little bit more seriously. I have one artist at the moment. Her name is Rowlene. An amazing vocalist. I met her about 5 years ago. Me and her have been making music for like the longest time. She’s wrapping up her album right now actually, her next single and stuff like that. She’s amazing! What I just plan to do is make her go as big as I go. As I am getting all this access and making all these connections., I’m just passing them down to her. Make her use them too, you know what I mean, at a lesser expense.
Amir: I can’t wait to hear her sound because anything that ends up being the legacy of Nasty C would be a good one not only for the country but the region as a whole, and eventually globally, at a later stage.
I’m going to ask you one last question, and this is for me, it’s a more personal one. Then, I will ask you questions that our audience has put forward.
I lived in Japan for a couple of years and I also know about your love and passion for that country as well. Tell me more about Japan. Why do you love it? How has it inspired you over the years? Would you visit again?
Nasty C: Yeah, definitely. I have plans to go back there. I have good friends back there now: fashion friends, artist friends, all that type of stuff. That’s a place I’ve always wanted to go to because, 1- they’re fashion-forward. They are like the hub of fashion in the entire world. They’re like a place that I’ve always wanted to go to just to go soak up some game and upgrade my whole fashion sense or whatever. Also, they’re big on the anime scene. I’ve been sketching and drawing since I was a kid, before music. Since I was 7 or 8 something like that. Yeah, they’re also the hub of that. They’re so advanced bro. I’m a geek. I like technology, I like drawing, I like art, that type of stuff. It’s like a playground for me. The whole country is a playground for me. I feel like I’m a kid in a candy store.
Amir: I know exactly what you mean. What did you think of the culture, the people and the food? Did that leave a mark on you by any chance, like it did with me? Or not so much?
Nasty C: Yeah, no it definitely did. There’s a little doccie that we shot that I’m putting out. You’re gonna see it. We got all emotional when it was time to leave. Like, we got so emotional. That place is something else, bro. The culture on its own, the way people treat each other. It’s almost like there are no social standards also, you know what I mean. You’ll find the richest person with Birkin bags and Chanel shoes in the same train as somebody else who has like three jobs and they treat each other with mutual respect. Seeing that type of thing kinda changes the way you think. As somebody who’s coming from SA where someone who drives a certain car looks down on someone else who drives a cheaper car. It was like a life lesson. It made us look at life differently.
Amir: I’m a social scientist, Junior, so I think about these issues quite often and one of the things I always think about after living in Japan is the concept of “development”. This is actually really needed when we think of South Africa and its future. Development doesn’t necessarily mean everyone being able to afford Ferraris and Maseratis but everyone being able to use the same public transport; to do whatever it is they need to do. Development, to me, is understanding and upholding of collective ethics, and a sense of togetherness in pursuit of the same goals as a nation. So when you talk about the lessons that you and I learnt from Japan and bring them back to South Africa, I can also be so hopeful for what the future holds and what this entire country has to offer globally and you being one of the ambassadors.
Nasty C: I hope we learn from them. I hope we do.
Amir: I received quite a few questions from our fans. I didn’t mention that we’re bringing you in because I didn’t want the questions to be specifically targeted at you. I wanted it to be more holistic.
Question #1: Other than music as a medium, what other artistic mediums and platforms inspire you?
Nasty C: Definitely creative arts. I’m a crafty person. I like creative arts. I like fashion. I’m more into the artistic side of fashion, not just putting on matching colours but rather cutting stuff up and really making a piece out of something; out of a couple of items. Cutting them together, piecing them together and expressing something through an item. I like that type of stuff. I like reading. I won’t lie, I’ve kinda fallen off. I haven’t had the time to. I like reading. That helps me with my storytelling when it comes to the deep songs and stuff like that.
Amir: I totally hear you man, and if you ever need any extra inspiration, that is Afrocentric and speaks about issues that young South Africans and Africans are dealing with, then I’d recommend you read Odd Magazine actually.
Nasty C: I will. Definitely.
Amir: Thanks, that means a lot!
Question #2: This one comes from one of our fans in Japan. She asked when do you know your music is finally done and ready to share? At what stage do you say “shit! this is it! this is the one that needs to get out”. What is that moment like?
Nasty C: I guess it’s when you listen to it over and over again and don’t feel like anything is missing. That’s when you know you have to let it go. As an artist, if you listen to it forcing yourself to find something to fix, you will find something to fix. Chances are you’re not fixing something. You’re just making it overly complicated and too creative. Sometimes, you can go too crazy with creativity, you can go overboard. When you listen to it and it sounds like nothing is missing and sounds like a song you’d play, even if you didn’t know who it was by, then it’s ready.
Amir: That’s all that I had for you. Thank you so much for making the time. We’ve got a couple of minutes. Is there anything in your heart or your mind that you want to share with the people out there?
Nasty C: I just wanna thank you, bro. I just wanna thank you. This was a dope interview. You asked amazing questions.
Amir: I really hope we get to do this in person and just put it on video the next time as well.
Nasty C: Send me the link to the magazine, bro. This was dope.
Amir: 100% I will send it to you.