Evan Dale // Dec 29, 2021
Stop what you’re doing – even though that’s reading our article – and first listen to one of the four projects that West Coast producer and quickly emerging architect of his own blindingly unique soundscape, Nappyhigh has put out over the last two years. When you’ve inevitably drowned yourself in the other three, and likely bought a vinyl of your favorite (if there are any left), come back here to finish what you started with the new outlook on the possibilities in musical experimentation that his stellar canon christened upon you.
Nappyhigh – whose name is Channy Cardenas – is unapologetically himself. Born and raised in Southern California, the well-dressed, well-driven, charismatic producer boasts an auditory aesthetic that bleeds of the West Coast without wholly borrowing all of its storied motifs. Instead, his range is wide, his sound is his own, and his already apparent contributions to the lineage of West Coast beat making is a new and necessary chapter whose page is just now being turned. A decade of DJ’ing and producing unreleased beats granted him a foundation to discover his own sound pairing with an impeccably honed skillset. A merging between that which is clearly inspired by West Coast hip-hop and the more nuanced, transcendent mosaic sourced from elsewhere both geographically and stylistically defines the utter indescribability in his sound. What emerges is something in the grey area between the godfathers of hip-hop who used to scratch samples in the Bronx, the 80’s DJ’s from Miami who did the same with a groove-tinged and bass-ridden touch, and the modern web of house, hip-hop, funk, and soul transcendent producers whose soundscapes attract the most fruitful of featuring verses and hooks today.
When tragedy struck and Nappyhigh’s mom passed, he found the spirit to finally start sharing his music with the world in 2020, using his refined sound and skillset to instantly build opportunities of connection with a rangy collection of collaborative forces eager to have their own sound blended into his. WeekDaze came first. Dotted with names known globally, locally, or just really to Nappyhigh, ‘every single track on that album is not an afterthought or a beat or song I settled with,’ he said while explaining his process for the debut when we spoke with him earlier this year. ‘The way it’s sequenced is exactly the way I wanted it. When it dropped, I didn’t expect artists like Elaquent, Blu, Elzhi, or to be honest even people I know to show support. It wasn’t about the clout, fuck that, it was just a personal battle I had to release.’ Amongst the friends that did in fact show support, were those emerging and already storied artists who signed onto his debut album without any prior proof to what he was capable of. All they needed was a beat, and Curren$y, Iman Omari, Devin Morrison, Sy Ari Da Kid, Mick Jenkins, and a laundry list of further names were in. The result was a debut of genius, glimmering, too, with the genius of so many others.
It’s a trend of collaborative stardom that would continue through three more projects to date. With so many releases and so many collaborative artists with which to work, Nappyhigh’s ample room to continue experimenting and refining his sound exploded exponentially as his projects all took on identities undeniably tethered by his one-of-a-kind texture, but willing and able to diverge and dabble in concept and specificity.
‘I knew I wanted to do a color series here and there. A more R&B, house, disco, Neo-soul, kinda contemporary 90’s type shit, if that makes sense. Synth wave, big huge vocalists, vibey tracks… just like songs that make you feel... like a color. ‘Orange’ & ‘Yellow’ are just more vibey and I’d say wavier. It’s a series where I don’t get too into the theme or overthink. It’s fun and colorful.’ Blended into the schedule of releases that also includes WeekDaze and the rap-prominent, methodical soundscape of Villains, one begins to see just how omnipotent and effortless Nappyhigh’s process and product are.
It’s that process and finished product that speak to the space he occupies as one that’s of a master, and not of a rookie. And that’s because he’s not necessarily new. Sure, to all of us now lucky enough to be immersed in his ever-expanding wave, he’s a new artist – someone to look out for, keep an eye on, and for whom to always try to have radar. But his stellar soundscape is owed not to some chance happening across a successful sound, but a soundscape sculpted to imperfect perfection and raw genius for a decade. Once at the level of understanding and skill he felt was necessary to make an impact, he emerged as a blindingly unique, yet eternally reminiscent producer whose work transcends genre and epoch. Some of his tracks immerse a listener so firmly in the 90’s that it feels only right to have the R&B Golden Era vocals of Devin Morrison and Iman Omari on board. At other times, his lo-fi sampling and scratch nuanced mixes provide the most pristine of soundscapes for the lyrical dynamism of Memnoc, Conway the Machine, Boldy James, Casey Veggies, Dizzy Wright, and Mick Jenkins.
At all times, his sound breathes of the storied past of the West Coast beat narrative, and yet, his sound is also undeniably new. A new chapter for transcendent production that brings together a rangy scope of artistry across genre and era; that brings to mind the genius of other modern names like Kaytranada, Sango, and the Free Nationals. Nappyhigh is the kind of new artist so necessarily rooted in the past while willing to take liberty with it, that his impact will be greater than just about any other by the time it’s all said and done.
See our Comprehensive List of 2021's Best New Artists here: