'Even though you know I’m from the West Coast, I make a sound that screams diversity, but it’s not forced. It’s who I am'
Evan Dale // April 22, 2020
If you don’t yet know Nappyhigh, you’re about to. Not just through the length of our conversation with him here, but through the undeniably West Coast yet indefinably wide-ranging aesthetic in his signature sound, the LA-rooted producer, DJ, musician, songwriter, and rapper finds himself today at the cusp of greatness alongside a short list of other talented names whose refined sounds attract any and every rapper and vocalist to be a part of the sonic worlds he builds. Those worlds – four albums – WeekDaze, Orange, Villains, and Yellow – have all come to fruition since the onset of 2020, immersing listeners in a dynamic mosaic that blends the eras of milk crate vinyl shops and 90’s R&B with the timelessness of raw rap and a modern twist on funk, house, Neo-Soul, and more. NappyHigh’s sonic texture is broad to say the least.
But it’s also necessarily refined. Over the course of the last year, he’s worked with an insane list of collaborators turned friends, the names of most if not all, you surely already know. And with an ever-emerging presence in music and a reputation as one of the most unique up-and-coming names in production, what’s still to come is even bound to be a greater exhibition of genius than the one he has shown so far.
RNGLDR: You’ve discussed having made music for 11 or 12 years before you finally started releasing it to the public in 2020. What changed in your life and in your mind that made it the right time to finally start sharing your solo art with the world?
Nappyhigh: To be real my G, tragedy struck in my family and my moms passed away. So during that time period of me creating music and really finding my sound, I figured it was time to just let go and release who I am, just musically. In fact, all the homies & homegirls growing up just called me Nappy. Once I released my first project, I added the “HIGH”, just for the fact I felt alive and free from any background noise of who people think I am. In fact, I couldn’t really give a fuck. I felt high and this is who I am, as a person, an artist, and a man.
RNGLDR: Your first release was WeekDaze – an 11-track project that by your steady hand and the influence of featuring names – transcends the broad reach of sounds and styles that seem to influence you. How did it feel to finally release a debut project after so many years of making music?
Nappyhigh: Yeah man that album is crazy, aha. To be honest I was really nervous, in fact, I felt like nobody was going to even listen, which I was coo wit. It was more a personal battle within myself to just do me, make the music I make, and release it. Every single track on that album is not an afterthought or a beat or song I settled with. 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 to show support. It wasn’t about the clout, fuck that, it was just a personal battle I had to release.
RNGLDR: WeekDaze is an exhibition of the range your production ability is able to corral. Was that the original vision for WeekDaze? And if not, what was?
Nappyhigh: Absolutely yes. From the start of the album, I wanted to showcase how many styles I incorporate to myself. At the same time though it wasn’t as if I was thinking about making a track that sounded like this or fit right here. Every beat I literally made in my bedroom studio and just created. It was an afterthought which songs to use on the album. In the fact the album was an afterthought, aha. Felt like that helped the creative process so much that when it was done, I never realized how much versatility was expressed throughout that album.
RNGLDR: For a debut, WeekDaze sure is stacked. Curren$y, MED, Sy Ari Da Kid, and Mick Jenkins alone would be a masterful guest list of artistry to cosign your introduction to the world. How did you vet the veterans for the project?
Nappyhigh: Man, sometimes people ask this and I answer the same: I just asked. Sure, sometimes you get through to an artist personally, maybe build a relationship like I have with Blu and Mick, or deal with managers… whatever. In any predicament, it starts with just asking, and to be real all of them just fucked with the beats. So that gave me confidence that maybe I am on this level… maybe I could be this great. I just fed off that confidence and the rest is history.
RNGLDR: On an undeniable WeekDaze standout, Time, Iman Omari and Devin Morrison utilize their Golden Era reminiscent R&B vocals to help you craft a silky gem. Like yourself, Iman Omari and Devin Morrison are much more influential than people yet realize. Can you speak a little to each artist’s unique grip on modern music and why both of them work well together and with you?
Nappyhigh: Damn man, ahah, I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m as influential as Iman and Dev but that’s pretty amazing to hear. To me Iman Omari changed the game in Neo-soul – vibey, wavy, R&B music. I remember my summer of 2012 and his album, Energy literally changed my life, so for me to work with Iman almost regularly is truly humbling. The dude is a genius and now a Grammy winner alongside Kaytra. That’s amazing. His effects and synths are just sooooo funky and soulful but at the same time it bangs heavy as fuck. The dude is amazing. As far as Devin Morrison, mark my words: he is up next, he is the one that will make a hit that is reminiscent of old school R&B, yet contemporary. So, to say Redbone or Paak. & Bruno Mars' new track. He’s going to have a hit and win multiple Grammys; he’s destined for greatness and it’s undeniable. At least to my ears I just know. Bussin is literally one of the greatest R&B albums I have ever heard in my life. Dev is the truth.
RNGLDR: As a producer, your sound is particularly timeless. So much beckoning towards milk crates filled with vinyl; towards eras of hip-hop, R&B, Soul, Jazz, and Funk come and gone; and towards a Renaissance in all of music that, too, calls for Golden Eras of the past. So, who are some of your most important influences, past and present, that can provide us a glimpse into the soundscape you paint today?
Nappyhigh: I mean I think it’s a given that Dilla, Madlib, Ye, Pharrell, & 9th have influenced me tons. There are just so many more influences that have molded not only into music but into who I am. Nujabes definitely was important in my life. Atmosphere, little brother, The Internet, Alchemist, Nas, Wu Tang, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Santana, The O’Jays, Flylo, Tyler, Hi-Tek, Jamiroquai, Boon Doc, Tool, Lord Quas, Outkast, Patrice Rushen, Diana Ross, N.E.R.D, Dre, snoop, Quik, & Pac. I could go on forever, foreal.
RNGLDR: Amongst producing beats that feel timeless in their stylistic makeup, another trait that defines your music exists in your roots. An upbringing and continued life spent in Southern California is one that tends to leave a signature stamp on a musician’s sound. In your opinion, what is it about your sound that makes it so anthemic for the LA area?
Nappyhigh: I think Los Angeles for sure has a unique sound and probably more so than any other city. Let me tell you why: seems like every other city such as Atlanta, Houston, New York, whatever has its own distinct sound, right? Everyone hears W$G they know he from or at least near New York; Young Thug you know he from Atlanta. But with artists in Los Angeles, I actually get surprised they from here. You got artists like People Under the stairs, YG, Dom you know they West Coast wit it. TDE when they first came out was it really West Coast? It had hints but we didn’t know where they were from. What about odd future, Alchemist, or Pharcyde? Literally so unique as artists from Los Angeles that work with literally everyone. With a unique diverse sound that frankly, sometimes you don’t know where they from. Pharcyde with Dilla? Alchemist with Mobb Deep? I feel like I’m in that category. Even though you know I’m from the West Coast, I make a sound that screams diversity but it’s not forced. It’s who I am.
RNGLDR: And who are your biggest influences when it comes to the curation and creation of the West Coast auditory soundscape?
Nappyhigh: Ah man.. so many! Dre, Snoop, Nip, Warren G, RBL Posse, Too $hort, Eazy-E, Quik, Nate Dogg, Devin the Dude, Ice Cube, Mack 10, Cypress Hill, Blu, Buddy, & People Under The Stairs. Just so many that molded me.
RNGLDR: Your own soundscape is one of the most unique in music. Alongside some other key modern producers like Kaytranada and Knxwledge, and alongside bands that do the same, like the Free Nationals, you’re building a platform on which a most unique blend of established and up-and-coming rappers and vocalists want their sound a part of. What do you think it is about your own aesthetic that draws other artists to be connected to it?
Nappyhigh: Sometimes it’s crazy as fuck to me people compare me to two of the greatest producers of this generation. But, man… I don’t know – that’s a good question. I think what it is mostly in my opinion, is that I make music that makes artists come into my world. Not the other way around. Also, that the beats just fit so right with the artists. No matter who it is or what they doing, I just have a vision that a certain artist has to be on it. I mean has to. I explain this to them that I picture no one else, otherwise I wouldn’t release the song with anyone else on it.
RNGLDR: And what do you think it is that’s provided in the soundscapes of producers like Kaytranada, Knxwkedge, and yourself – about the soundscapes of bands like the Free Nationals – that are becoming mainstay pillars in a new generation of super-collaboration producer projects? What do you all provide music that was missing before the last couple of years really put this formula on the map?
Nappyhigh: You know, I’m not sure, but it’s pretty interesting. Back then, a producer was literally just someone who made the beat/composition and that’s it. Their names aren’t really remembered because the voice is literally what the naked ear listens to the most. Now artists like those you mentioned – including myself – are the front artists, with other artists making their presence felt but within our world. It's beautiful. I think we all provide a formula that shows we aren’t afraid to make what we like, and just having an artist added to it, so to say as an added instrument if you may. Its fucking fire, my G. The real vocalists and lyricists understand this. But it works so well, and people have always loved collaborations, including myself.
RNGLDR: On the subject of collaboration, we run a series called Collab Elation exploring hypothetical collaborations that we want to see in music. So, as a practiced collaborative producer who has worked with so many great names already in your young limelight career, who is one artist of the past or the present that you would want to work with the most, that you haven’t worked with already? Why?
Nappyhigh: Man there’s plenty, believe me, but Erykah Badu, Kaytranada, Madlib, and Freddie Gibbs are some of my big ones. I feel that it’s only a matter of time before me and Gibbs meet and work, but yeah man. Those are some that I could think of off the top of my head. Got to throw in Kdot as well.
RNGLDR: Removing yourself from the equation, who are two modern artists – a producer and vocalist or rapper pairing – that you want to see making music together? Why?
Nappyhigh: Good question. For me I think something between Madlib and Tyler would be amazing. Also Mndsgn & SZA. I always loved that producer/vocalist collaborations but ones that are opposite yet similar. That makes sense? So, something on those lines between those artists would be amazing. I feel like they would feed off each other’s energies because they aren’t going to change for one another. It’s more that they are naturally standing out in their own sound but just on the same song. Love those strong powerful collabs that way. Nobody is stepping down for each other yet, it’s fiya. Amazing.
RNGLDR: Back to your music. 2021 has been prolific for you. With the releases of first, Villains, and now, Yellow, you’re already two projects in this year, and four since the onset of NappyHigh releases just a year or so ago. Can you speak a little bit to your creative process, and to how it allows you such a prolific rate of release?
Nappyhigh: To be honest, my creative process is always the same, man.. live life, chill with fam and homies, chill wit some bitches. Maybe get fucked up, maybe play playstation. Maybe chill at my pad in Hawaii. But once I feel the urge to make music or make an album – an idea I been having – I just create that shit. All four albums just been like that.
To be honest I feel like I haven’t been dropping enough, ahah, Griselda just making us look bad. Roc Marciano and all them foos just too good, too consistent. I guess I work differently. I may overthink too much on my albums like Villains, but I just work that way. Kudos to those other cats… killing the game.
RNGLDR: On the subject of Villains, it feels like your most pointedly hip-hop oriented project to date. Where there is usually balance in the give and take between the rapped and the sung in your collections, the entirety of Villains – even Iman Omari’s vocal spot on Real – feels like a project pulled from the epochs of South Central’s illustrious rap roots. As a producer whose featuring artists span so much stylistic range, how do you think certain production of yours lends itself to the certain stylings of particular artists? And is it something you’re conscious of before you even start making a beat?
Nappyhigh: That’s a great interpretation. Villains was a bit different in theme, I guess. It was way more thought out than the other three, including ‘Yellow.’ I wanted it not to just be good, not great, but memorable and classic. I wanted every verse to be memorable, along with the beat, the cuts… everything. I knew what beats I wanted to make on it, but I never once sat down in the studio and said, “I’m making a beat for Villains today”. I would make music, and the artists on it were an afterthought. Once the album kinda started coming together is when I noticed that damn, I’ve got something here.
RNGLDR: On the subject of hip-hop specifically, you seem to work with one rapper more than any other. Talk to us about Memnoc, and why we should all be paying more attention.
Nappyhigh: Maaaaaan, ahaha, let me tell you sumn about Memnoc: that dude is the best emcee I know out the antelope valley. Dude is real raw talent. Known him since after high school, but his emcee skills are just elite, and I’m not being biased. He’s on my albums because he’s a great lyricist, not because he’s my homie. His lyrics speak for themselves, but this dude’s producing skills are getting fucking crazy. Dude gone surpass me, ahaha, but it's all love. He deserves more recognition. I’ll do all I can to make sure. Pay attention to his beats. You’ll vibe out wit yo homies sippin’ or wit a fine ass bitch getting some head type shit to his beats. You never know. His lyrics and flow are elite to begin with.
RNGLDR: Most recently, you released Yellow. How did the latest in your string of projects to date come to be? What was your vision for the project and how is that vision different from the rest of your canon?
Nappyhigh: Damn, well during the promotion and release of Villains, Yellow was already 3/4 of the way done, I’d say. 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.
RNGLDR: For us, even though all of your projects bleed of the Southern California aesthetic, Yellow feels particularly designed for palm-tree laden drives. Does a transition between the colder months and the forthcoming summer affect you as a producer, as it has for so many West Coast rappers releasing anthemic Summer soundtracks through the years?
Nappyhigh: You know one of my homies Young Jimmy used to bring that up, and I never really noticed. But in the Summer it is more of a color series project. Winter it’s darker, more full length gangsta shit, so that’s pretty interesting. It’s not intentional that’s fa sho. If I was to make a beat so to say for Dom or Larry June I wouldn’t think I need to make a summer LA anthem, probably would just happen off feel. It’s fa sho natural just like Yellow was. Glad I could make people come to LA just by listening.
RNGLDR: Last year around this time, we wrote up the significance of Dom Kennedy’s From The Westside With Love II on the idea of Summer hip-hop soundtracks. What’s your favorite West Coast Summertime album?
Nappyhigh: Favorite West Coast Summertime album? Got to say at the moment: Keep Going by Larry June.
RNGLDR: You told us recently that the ‘next one gone be crazy.’ What can you tell us about Nappyhigh’s next project?
Nappyhigh: I ain't going to say much. But Griselda, Wu, Blu, etc. About all I can say.
RNGLDR: And aside from the project, what’s next for Nappyhigh?
Nappyhigh: Shieeeeeeeeeet man, where god wants to take me. Music is coo, but I miss doing the shows too. Been doing a little modeling that shit always coo too. Interviews are nice. Just being me, man. Where god take me, walking by faith. Good lookin, G.