Ron Obasi is Much More than Nashville’s Cool-Tempered, Rasp-Ridden Poet
Evan Dale // April 28, 2021
Tune into Nashville these days and find yourself immersed in an impossibly broad creative and stylistic spectrum, bending the arts and the culture to the will of an emerging class of skillfully transcendent rappers, vocalists, designers, photographers, videographers, educators, and community activists. Truthfully, it feels like not a sole contributor to Nashville’s hip-hop and Neo-Soul oriented underground does one thing. Instead, each is a multifaceted creator to their own extent. Producers rap, rappers sing, and vocalists also do both. Photographers publish magazines, managers design Nikes, and artists launch streetwear brands to the casual tune of a side hustle, yet with the elegance and class of a fashion house. Case and point: Ron Obasi’s position at the helm of his new streetwear project, Supreme Radicalz.
Black with red, the brand’s first collection and the site it’s bought through bleed with a dichotomy of near colorless simplicity and the complexity of self-created hieroglyphic branding that bends the Supreme Radicalz name into a logo. Understated at first glance, yet intriguing and artful on second, Ron Obasi’s new undertaking breathes of the nuanced layering in his already established one: music.
You see, first and foremost, Ron Obasi is a rapper, though at times the delineation of poet seems to be a better fit. His is a particularly individualistic auditory aesthetic, eternally tethered to the raspy words he crafts and the jazzy beats over which he does his thing. Dynamically interweaving thought-provoking penmanship that feels all too effortless for its thoughtful and landscape painting nature, Obasi has carved out not only his own slice of the exploding hip-hop scene that is Nashville, but of a larger hip-hop scene, Southern and beyond. With one listen, it’s easy to hear why.
Like most of the Nashville scene, Ron Obasi’s beginnings feel rooted in the not so distant past. His first singles came out a few years ago, and his first collection, Notes on a Scale, in 2019. And yet, his music also feels rooted in the beginnings of hip-hop, and even before that. A brash affinity for beats that brim with unendingly jazz-driven directionalism brings nearly all of his music to a space more distant and epochally boundless than we generally assume of hip-hop up-and-comers. Instead, his sound feels refined, practiced, and unique by the weight of its honesty to the artist itself. In short, Ron Obasi’s hip-hop is timeless. Fans of rap’s roots will find throughout his 2020 debut full-length project, Sun Tapes, an ability to storytell and craft vivid imagery with words. It’s immersive. Fans of hip-hop’s theatre will appreciate the sunny thematic directions of the project at its core. Fans of the vocal will appreciate Obasi’s vulnerability with his taking of melodic liberties. And fans of music at large will appreciate the jazzy and soulful undertones of the Sun Tapes. There is something for everyone in the timeless breadth of Ron Obasi’s ubiquity.
The same can be said about his latest project. There is again an at first understated, and then deep and imemrsive tone in the release of FOR THE FAITHFUL. A SoundCloud-only four-pack, the EP boils over with a more established, nuanced sound than most projects that most rappers these days spend much more time on, and marketing money to promote. But that’s not how it works in Nashville.
Obasi – a Nashville native – is also a member of Third Eye & Co. which folds together a number of increasingly talented and wide-ranging artistes to craft some of the most flow-heavy hip-hop, silky vocals, and cinematographically genial visuals by way of director, SECK. Someone unfamiliar with the crew would assume their financial backings are stiff and that their visionary audiovisual deliveries come from a massive team of established industry names. Instead, the vision of Third Eye & Co. – the vision of Ron Obasi – is a keystone nod to the boundless creative genius bubbling out from the floorboards of Nashvile’s expanding underground. It’s rare talent being brought together through the strength of collaboration in a small-market creative community, so that in Nashville, it’s not all that rare. But each is still unique.
One listen to FOR THE FAITHFUL, and a new listener is quickly made a fan. One listen to FOR THE FAITHFUL and an established fan is reminded of just how prolific the lyrical prowess and unique sound of Ron Obasi really is. A tumbling waterfall of effortless, thought-provoking lyricism, addicting, mellow choruses, and jazz-laden beats act as a bridge between the timelessness of rap’s foundation – of jazz and Soul’s, too – to of the modern confluence of hip-hop, R&B, Neo-Soul, jazz, and their surrounding cultures that is modern Nashville. The city is a hotbed, and Ron Obasi – one of its most prominent emerging names – is continuing to stoke the fire with a sound as unique, refined, and necessary as they come; with a vision more wide-ranging and important than we’re all yet to realize.
Hop on board, listen to FOR THE FAITHFUL, then move carefully and thoughtfully backward through his canon, purchasing yourself some Supreme Radicalz gear in the process, and supporting the genius you’re surely about to become a fan of.