Why this Producer You May Not Know, is also Your Favorite Artist's Favorite
Evan Dale // April 11, 2021
Sometimes a grandiose chunk of music itself seems to be ahead of the curve. Sure, there’s always an underlying web of movements and independent artistry experimenting and pushing the boundaries of music, art, and culture at large to places it’s never been before, but under certain circumstances – circumstances that always require a certain artist making certain sounds bound to be so certainly necessary to music’s future – a layered web of underground, emerging, and established names together have no choice but to hop on board to further and quicken the rise of an already rising talent. From the West Coast with an undeniable amount of skill behind the curtain of production; with an undeniable knowledge of music’s past – particularly that of hip-hop, soul, and R&B; with an undeniable influence already on music’s future, comes Nappyhigh. And with him comes an almost indescribable, intangible California aesthetic that – per his three full-length releases through the last year – not only stands the test of time, but continues to defy it altogether.
Beneath the mire of jazz and soul samples of the past, funky key progressions, West Coast synths à la Dre’s genius, and the entangled mosaic of his many featuring modern guest artists, exists Channy Cardenas. And Channy Cardenas is a product of his environment. Born in Fresno, raised in South Central Los Angeles, and residing in Palmdale, his was an upbringing of the same environment that raised many of modern hip-hop’s most notorious influences. Everything about that seems obvious in his sound today. A modern producer boasting an unavoidably permanent nod to the West Coast’s past signatures, Nappyhigh is a bridge in two directions spanning from hip-hop’s roots in LA, to its future as a genre-defying mega-stage defined by neither place nor time, and back again in harmony.
And if this is the first time that you’re hearing about him, you’re in luck, because over the course of the last calendar year, he’s released three projects with a wide-ranging swatch of artists – some if not most of which – you certainly know by name by now. Influenced by a childhood home where Al Green, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Aaliyah soundtracked the day-to-day, he’s now working with silky R&B vocalist, Iman Omari, retrofuturistic Golden Era Renaissance man, Devin Morrison, and unknown but beautifully should-be, Maggie Kiing. Growing up influenced by the wide range of hip-hop and rap that come in tow behind the likes of Ice Cube, Wu-Tang, and Slum Village, he’s now working with Chicago wordsmith, Mick Jenkins, Baltimore’s enigmatic Dizzy Wright, LA’s lovechild Casey Veggies, timeless street poet Conway The Machine, Boldy James, Sy Ari Da Kid, and many, many more.
Why? Because Nappyhigh offers the wide-ranging artistry who call home to the grey areas of hip-hop, R&B, Neo-Soul, funk, jazz, and beyond, something they’ve never had a chance to pursue before. And that something is to exist sans the constraints of time and genre at all. Everything about Nappyhigh’s three albums to date – WeekDaze, Villain, and now Yellow – feels so very of a certain era of music’s past, that depending on the age of readers reading this and listening to Nappyhigh’s illustrious and impossibly young canon, brings back a whole lot of reminiscence to a simpler time. And yet, Nappy’s aesthetic – not only as foundation and building block, but also as glass ceiling shattered – feels so very modern in a new era of production. Think of other modern producers who fold the prominent names of music’s mosaic into a cohesive realm all of their own invention, and what names come to mind? KAYTRANADA. Knxwledge. Maybe the Free Nationals. Now take Nappyhigh and put him in that same conversation.
Like KAYTRANADA who took his Haitian roots and French-Canadian upbringing, blurred the expectations of his background if any existed at all, and redefined an era for house music to continually intersect hip-hop, neo-soul, R&B, and beyond; like Knxledge who took his technical genius and his affinity for the beauty in the relatively minimal so he could redefine how production could play with front-manning rappers and vocalists; like the Free Nationals who blossomed from their roots with Anderson .Paak into an orchid of collaborative boundlessness; Nappyhigh is taking his foundational affinity with the oldies and the analogue texture that made them timeless, painting over it with the environmental impact of his South Central upbringing, and utilizing to this day the connections he’s made through the dynamism in his own work, and that with collaborative partner, Memnoc (together they’re BlueNotes), to spur an evolution in production and in the producers behind it.
There is a reason why Nappyhigh is probably already your favorite artist’s favorite producer, so he should be yours as well.
And to form that argument into concrete, just take a listen to his newest collection, Yellow. On the heels of January’s 14-track, Villains – his longest album to date – Yellow is another fiercely prolific undertaking. And that’s because it’s not only an album by its definition as a collection of tracks, but by the expectedly old-school expectation that it tell a story; that it soundtrack your own, too. Yellow – like WeekDaze, like Villains – is a project that plays effortlessly and seamlessly beginning to end. Hop in a car; hop on a bike, hell – just take a walk or take a seat – and let it play. You’ll find how simultaneously quickly and slowly the time can pass. A run-on composition that, given a listener’s mental state, can flood the senses and inundate with emotionality, or can simply soundtrack a drive to the beach during golden hour, the project itself feels pulled from the golden era, and indicative that at the hands of Nappyhigh, we may be entering a new one.
Through hard-hitting rap verses from Blu and Memnoc, silky vocal runs from Devin Morrison, Iman Omari, and Maggie Kiing, Nappyhigh feels all the while like he’s digging through crates, reinventing the texture of vinyl in a digital age, and putting it all so necessarily and successfully to the test. Get to know him.