Two decades ago, OutKast member Andre 3000 got on stage at the 1995 Source Awards and let the East Coast and West Coast know his region’s rap scene is about to make a major statement. 3 Stacks declared, “I'm tired of folks, them close-minded folks. It’s like we got a demo tape, and don’t nobody wanna hear it. But it’s like this - the South got something to say!”
Fast forward to 2016, and Atlanta-based emcee Nick Grant is ready to once again reinforce Andre’s famous quote. Except this time, Grant wants the world to understand that Southern Hip Hop is more than just mumbled melodic hooks and mentions of sipping promethazine.
Over the course of his rap career, the Walterboro, South Carolina native released music that went mostly unnoticed, but those missteps occurred before Grant connected with Grand Hustle co-founder Jason Geter. Now with Geter’s Culture Republic supporting his movement, N.G. is reestablishing his brand to showcase his undeniable talent.
“I’ve witnessed his grassroots development and improvement since we met in 2010,” states Geter. “As a rapper, he’s got verses, he knows how to choose beats and put songs together, but what I now see is someone that has the potential to grow beyond just the music.”
The first major move from the Nick Grant/Culture Republic partnership comes in the form of the 13-track mixtape ‘88. Grant’s new collection draws inspiration from his musical influences such as OutKast, Nas, Jay Z, Scarface, Snoop Dogg, Erykah Badu, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder. In addition, ‘88 features appearances by notable performers Killer Mike, Big K.R.I.T., Young Dro, BJ The Chicago Kid, and Stacy Barthe.
AllHipHop.com caught up with the #ATLRiseUp alum to discuss his stellar new release. Grant breaks down a few of the tracks on ‘88, and he offers his thoughts on being a self-described “new king” for this era of Hip Hop.
[ALSO READ: #ATLRiseUp: Nick Grant Is A Student Of The Game That’s Earning His Way To The Head Of The Class]
Can you explain the significance of the mixtape’s title?
1988 was the year I was born. When I was coming up, they said 1988 was a great year for Hip Hop, so I got the title from that idea - the coincidence of me being born in 1988 and that being a great year for Hip Hop.
I tell people don’t go into this project expecting to hear beats from the 80’s. What I wanted people to take from that was people had fun and people made lyrics rewindable back then. You could hear the hunger in the music, so I wanted to bring that back to Hip Hop.
I found it really powerful for you to open the mixtape with Andre 3000’s famous speech from the ‘95 Source Awards.
I think people forget the South has real lyricists. I want to bring that back as well. Not just being a rapper, but being a southern artist who really has talent. Not saying anything about anybody else, but I want to place more importance on content and substance in my music.
There was another vocal sample at the end of “Jungle” where you added the Chris Rock racism bit. What was the decision behind adding that sample?
I actually had that Chris Rock sample for another record. I wanted him to touch on something we all think about, which is racism. I wanted to make it not so serious, so that’s why I put the Taxi theme under it. You know? So people don’t take it too serious.
I wanted to do that, because that’s where I was at the time. Seeing all these black kids on TV getting killed by cops at record numbers, I thought that was something very important and something that had to be touched on. I put it in the form of a skit, so people can digest it easier.
The mixtape went from that skit and then transitioned into “Gold Chains” which is talking about modern-day mental slavery. A lot of times in today’s music, proper sequencing has become a lost art. What was your process for deciding which songs you wanted to include on the project and then how you would order the tracks?
I chose the songs with the most content, the most important things I wanted people to understand about myself. Like with “Somethin To Say,” it was like here’s this artist from the south that has something to say. Then it goes into a lot of deep topics in the music, and then you want to end it on the same thing. It’s kind of like writing a paper with an introduction and conclusion. As long with what feels right, I think that’s very important.
That’s an interesting analogy referring it to writing a research paper. It’s sort of like telling a story.
Absolutely, you have to do that. It might not make sense right away, but subconsciously people will catch on to that. Whether it’s a year from now or 10 years from now. I think that’s what makes it special, when people catch things 30 or 40 years later. There’s stuff Biggie said on Life After Death that I catch today.
The project features some big names - Killer Mike, Big K.R.I.T., Young Dro, and BJ The ChicagoKid. What was it like creating with those guys?
Yeah, and Stacy Barthe too. I just love everybody for helping me put it together. I put so much pressure on myself to be great, and it was kind of relieving to see these guys have fun with it. I think that’s the most important thing I learned from all of them. It’s a serious thing, but they still had fun with it at the same time. That’s what I needed to keep me sharp but not put so much pressure on myself.
There’s quite a few references where you present yourself as a “new legend” or “new king.” Hip Hop is very competitive. Would you ever be willing to engage in a lyrical battle with another emcee?
Absolutely, to be the king you have to be willing to go to war. That’s with whatever. I am definitely willing to engage in whatever. I’m not going to provoke anybody, but I’m definitely not going to back down either.
I feel like I’m one of the greatest of today, and it’s going to take time to get other people to see that. I’m ready to be consistent and put out the best work. I’m just ready to be great. I feel like I’m going to be here for the next 10, 20 years. Or next 50. I’m ready.
You seem like you have your eyes set on your legacy, but I noticed there was a line on “I Want The World” where you said you feel like rappers like you rarely blow. What did you mean by that particular lyric?
When I was coming up, the dopest rappers that I loved and watched - I feel they didn’t get their proper respect or just due. The cloth that I come from very rarely slips through the cracks and become these big megastars. I feel like I made it through the cracks, because I have this remarkable team to execute everything I’m trying to do with the music.
Your career has advanced a lot over the last year. What advice would you give to other up-and-coming artists that are trying to break into the business?
The advice I got from K.R.I.T. was just to stay working. He felt like I was in a good place. He just told me to keep working and don’t compromise your art. I will always remember that, because he didn’t have to do that. Advice ain’t free, so I respect it when anybody gives it to me.
On the track “The Fire,” you talked about “double cups” f*cking up your generation. A lot of artists are rapping about drinking lean and taking pills. Do you think the heavy amount of drug references in a lot of the music is really damaging to people?
Absolutely, I’m fortunate to see Biggie be cool and have dope scenes in his videos. So I feel bad for the kids coming up and see [the drug references] and think that’s all it is. They don’t get to experience that excitement of waiting until 6 o’clock to watch your favorite video. They don’t get to see real art or hear real music. I grew up listening to Dr. Dre and Timbaland. These were the producers of my time. For these kids to not see these people in their prime is real sad to me.
This is like the debut project under the rebranded Nick Grant. What does that mean to you and how did this journey impact your life?
As far as impacting my life, I learned how to move and surround myself around the right people. That’s really how the up-and-downs and disappointments impacted me. I appreciate those moments as much as I appreciate the good times.
I’ve been in a lot of situations where things didn’t go my way, so I feel like this is the rebirth. I get another chance to put my music out for people to see me for who I am. The best part of it for me is that I’m better than I’ve ever been. So they get to see me hungrier than ever and more lyrical than ever. I’m making the best records of my life.
Now I'm allowing people to grow with me, and I got more music coming that’s 10 times better than ‘88. I can promise you that.
Download Nick Grant’s ‘88 mixtape at datpiff.com.
Stream Nick Grant’s ‘88 mixtape below.