Midtown Manhattan is getting hit with a slimewave—specifically the Theater District.
It’s an overcast afternoon during the last week of May, and Young Nudy is cutting through the gray in a vibrant, multicolored flannel, streaking up Eighth Avenue like a mischievous force as he pranks unsuspecting tourists, bearing a similar visage to the gleaming Avianne-crafted Chucky pendant dangling from his neck. The idea that Nudy stealthily pocketed baby carrots from the Complex green room earlier and is now launching them like projectile missiles at New Yorkers is hilarious, as is watching him cross 46th Street and pin his building guest sticker on a man’s back in one fluid motion. But, really, it’s just nice to see Nudy unbothered and unburdened.
Four months ago, the Atlanta rapper’s situation couldn’t have been more different from what I’m witnessing right now. On Super Bowl weekend, Nudy, born Quantavious Tavario Thomas, was arrested alongside a group that included his cousin 21 Savage, whose detainment by ICE and threat of deportation garnered the lion’s share of media coverage. But reports imply that Nudy was the feds’ initial target. He was arrested on aggravated assault and gang-related charges, and he’s currently free on bail and maintaining his innocence. “I don't even want to talk about that shit,” Nudy says, his typically jocular Southern drawl now clipped. “You know, I'm free. That's about all I can say.”
At the moment, the pedestrians of Times Square are safe. We’ve reached our destination, seated in the back corner of the Theater District’s famed Broadway restaurant Frankie and Johnnie’s Steakhouse. Nudy is seated at the head of a table alongside five members of his team, quizzically eyeing my Old Fashioned (“That looks like too much for me”) and sipping a glass of Don Julio instead (Frankie and Johnnie’s does not, regrettably, have D’Usse or Hennessy). Nudy would rather not talk about anything. He began an earlier video interview back at the Complex office by endearingly admitting his disdain for interviews—his lanky frame hunkered down as he used his long dreads to curtain half his face. But at lunch, sans cameras and surrounded by his team, he’s much more at ease. “I don't be with this shit,” he says, respectfully indicating that he doesn’t mean for me to take it personally. “But, you know, you got to do this shit.”
Yes, when you drop a project as objectively good and critically acclaimed upon release as this past May’s Sli’merre, you do have to do shit like come up to New York for two days of press. Nudy may not like it, but in February, he saw what the alternative is. “It just pushed me to get out and stay busy,” he says of the arrest. “I don't want to be in that life. I want to stay busy.” And so he’s on the road at the cost of exiting his comfort zone, but he’s staying out of trouble and eliminating those who might bring it. Nudy’s DJ is newly minted, taking the position after the previous guy “fucked up.” How did he fuck up? “He did some dumb shit,” is Nudy’s straightforward retort, doubling down with “stupid shit.” With Nudy’s star on the rise now and so much at stake, there can be no room for error.
“No. Hell nah.”
I’ve just asked Young Nudy if, should someone ask him to, he could freestyle right here on the spot, in the back of this restaurant. “You [tell] me to freestyle, I can't do it. That shit… I don't feel right. I can't do it. I be lost. In the booth, I just transform.”
Once Quantavious Thomas steps inside the booth, loosens up the tie, and becomes the Slime, it’s light work for him to unleash all manners of mischief, murder, and mayhem. A gun-toting Chucky doll aptly graces the cover of all three Slimeball installments; the homicidal horror icon is something of a spirit animal for him.
How long does it take you to make a song like “Extendo?”
“Loaded Baked Potato?”
“Ah, man, that shit was so easy,” Nudy says casually. “I probably made ‘Loaded Baked Potato’ in two minutes or some shit like that. For real, for real. So when I first met [producer Buddah] Bless, he brought the beat in, and I'm gonna keep it all the way real with you: I didn't even like the beat. I just met Bless and I fuck with him now, but [at the time I was like], ‘Let me get the nigga out my face. We gon’ make this song.’ They pulled the beat up and I went there and demolished that shit.” The song, from 2017’s Nudy Land, was arguably his breakthrough track, but Nudy couldn’t be more ambivalent towards both crafting it and talking about it later, which also goes for the two aforementioned Sli’merre standouts. That’s how it goes when you speak with Young Nudy about music: He’s not indifferent to his art, but if he’s enthused, he’s too cool to show it.
“I pick all the beats motherf*ckers hate.”
Music comes so naturally to Nudy that it’s almost an afterthought at times—so much so that his cousin had to push him into the game in the first place. On “Mister,” a Sli’merre cut he shares with Savage, Nudy opens with, “All my life I’ve been a hustler, cap peeler, street young nigga,” before he rattles off his different descriptors on the hook. Mister Slimeball. Dopeboy. Mister Get-My-Pack-Back.
Nudy gravitated very quickly to The Life. Even at 26, he describes the Super Bowl incident as par for the course. “Well, shit, I've been dealing with this type shit all my goddamn life,” he shrugs. “They not getting rid of me. It's just new to the world. TV shit, you know how that shit goes.”
Nudy cites 2015 as the first time it really dawned on him that he might be able to run with this rap shit for a living. “My first time performing for my own show, I got paid, like, $500,” he remembers. “I performed ‘Yeah Yeah’ for the first time, and that shit went crazy in that motherfucker. There was so many folks. That was when I was really excited.”
“Yeah Yeah” was produced by Pi’erre Bourne when he was still a struggling engineer. Nudy posits he’s the first rapper ever to hop on a Pi’erre beat (“I discovered him,” he jokes). A couple of “Magnolias,” “Yikes,” and “GUMMOs” later and he’s quickly becoming a rising star in the new class of hip-hop producers, but he still saves some of his best material for the guy who gravitated to his production when they were both figuring their careers out. Sli’merre, a 12-track collab project produced entirely by Bourne, is a continuation of Nudy’s upward trajectory, arguably his best tape to date, following well-received projects like 2018’s Slimeball 3 and 2017’s Nudy Land. It is the apex of his prolific partnership with Bourne, who has credits on virtually every Nudy project prior to this one. But their first time uniting for a full-length highlights just how much they heighten each other’s skills.
“Sounds,” Nudy explains when I ask what he looks for in a beat. “I like noises. I just love that shit—especially weird noises.” He doubles down: “I pick all the beats motherfuckers hate.” Indeed, even though only one of his projects has an amusement park title, most of Nudy’s beats have a funhouse-like, demonic carnival feel to them. Nudy’s technical style has often been described as one that melds in perfect harmony with the beat, with his voice often complementing the production rather than overpowering or standing out against it. He agrees.
“Man, that's what it's all about,” he says. “Me and the beat got to be one. There ain’t no, ‘Oh, the beat harder than him.’” Pi’erre knows how to create for that mindset above all others, crafting soundscapes that Nudy can smash in (according to him) a mere five minutes. “I'm really more like floating,” he says of his delivery. “I like to flow. I'm like the water; I'm just flowing. I ain’t doing too much.”
The majority of Sli’merre was recorded in Miami, and Nudy reasons that different states offer him different vibes, so he likes to travel to catch one and see where it goes. But his preferred recording setting? Motels. “Yeah, just nasty, ratchet-ass motels,” he reveals, easily the most passionate he’s been during our conversation. “I just be psyched out, zoned out, thuggin’, wildin’. All the vibes just be original.”
The fact that Young Nudy feels most comfortable working out of a downtrodden Days Inn might come as a shock, but it’s just another extension of his lo-fi aesthetic. His only piece of jewelery is the aforementioned Chucky pendant, and if it weren’t gifted to him by 21, he wouldn’t have bought one on his own. (A huge Chucky fan, Nudy is just as anxious about the Child’s Play reboot’s prospects as the rest of us, though he is considering renting out a theater to watch with a handful of lucky fans.) Tattoos? Zero. Clubs? “I’m not a party person; I don’t go nowhere. I be in the house.” He wants his fan base to be organic, no fairweathers allowed—which is to say, if you didn’t know Sli’merre was the second tape he dropped this year, following Faded in the Booth (which he casually released to SoundCloud in April), you can’t get your Nudyland pass stamped just yet.
Nudy didn’t care much for his experience at a recent BET Awards: “That shit is fake. Shit is scripted—you gotta act. I wasn’t fucking with that shit.” And he has even deeper disdain for clout chasing, figuring most photos that rappers take with each other are the product of about “five seconds of conversation.” He doesn’t even like to highlight his connection with 21 Savage, always referring to him as simply “my cousin” in conversation. “I don’t want to be around my cuz,” he explains. “I got my own life and my own shit going on, you feel what I’m saying? He got his shit going on, but I ain’t behind him. He doing his thing and I'm doing my thing.” Still, he allows that a joint Young Nudy and 21 Savage project is in the making for some time down the road: “When we do it, it’s gonna be big.”
Young Nudy may not be going out of his way to fraternize with other rappers, but that hasn’t stopped some big names from coming to him. He was among the initial invitees to J. Cole’s much-hyped Revenge of the Dreamers III recording sessions back in January. When the first song from the project, “Down Bad,” a posse cut assembling Cole’s top artists, finally dropped in mid-June, Nudy’s was the first voice we heard.
“He reached out and I was shocked,” he recalls. “He reached out to me.” The invitation served as confirmation that the way Nudy’s been doing it is the right way. “That made me like, ‘OK, shawty know who I’m is. Drake followed me on Instagram; I was shocked. I don’t care about that shit, but it’s like… Shawty know who I’m is, you feel what I’m saying?” If the rumors are correct, there’s also a Cole-Drake-Nudy track waiting in the wings as well. But for now, Nudy would rather not confirm or deny it and “spoil the surprise.”
“Nah, you gotta puff-puff-puff-puff.”
Nudy is urging me to keep the blunt for more than the customary two pulls. “We don’t do puff-puff-pass; just don’t smoke that motherfucker out like he did,” he says, nodding to Rico, his driver. We’ve abandoned Frankie and Johnnie’s to drive around Midtown Manhattan, seated in the back of Rico’s suburban, discussing the Game of Thrones finale, which Nudy liked. “Bitch had to go,” he says plainly of Daenerys’ controversial death, countering, “It be like that. Her dad was crazy,” when I argue that her heel turn was too abrupt. But he didn’t like that his boy Jon Snow didn’t get the throne. “That’s the best part about it,” he says, agreeing that the finale was polarizing. “That’s what’s going to make people watch.” (He’s also a Drogon-Daenerys-reborn truther: “Think about it: The dragon flew out with the bitch. She already got these old magical-type powers where she can't get burned by fire. Ain’t no tellin you’, dragon flew out somewhere. Bitch might come back alive on some crazy shit.”)
Earlier, when the issue of opening up about his life on wax arose, Nudy agreed he’s been a cipher, but intentionally so. “A lot of folk don't know too much about me. My music’s bigger than my face,” he says. “I’m quiet as hell; I don’t let folks in like everybody else. They go through some sad shit and they want to put it on Instagram, but I don’t be with that shit.” Why? Well, he isn’t sure how he’d deal with a stranger asking about his business. “Somebody come say the wrong shit to me about my personal shit—might be a fan or something—I don’t know how I’m going to react. So instead of putting myself in that position, I just don’t put that shit out.”
“Nudy built his whole career off his music—nothing else. He ain’t do nothing else but rap. That’s all.”
The conversation turns contemplative as we discuss Nudy’s present and how it’s going to inform his future. If he’s going to keep going with this rap thing, then interviews, award show carpets, meet-and-greets, and open dialogue with fans are going to inevitably become the norm. “Sometimes you’re put in a situation where you don't have a choice,” he says. “You [either] go with the flow or you chicken out. And I ain’t never backed down from shit. No type of situation or obstacle. I can’t. I wouldn’t feel like myself if I did.”
Nudy sees stardom and all the uncomfortable situations that come with it down the line, but he’s not rushing. He won’t even call Sli’merre his quintessential, elusive “perfect” album, acclaim notwithstanding. “Hell no. I told you I’m taking my shit slow,” he says. “A lot of them popping so fast that they going to die out fast.” The slow burn, and every setback or delayed opportunity that comes with it, is just fine with him. “I always remember, sometimes shit don’t go your way, and you’re probably not meant to make it in the end.”
Young Nudy might be the most zen 26-year-old you’ll ever meet, which he credits with hanging around mostly OGs during his come-up. Still, he’s already begun the next stages of his evolution. Sli’merre represents the first time he’s ever truly sought out guest features, handpicking DaBaby, Megan Thee Stallion, and Lil Uzi Vert to join him and Pi’erre. They’re all artists whose talent he respects (and in DaBaby’s case, additionally, his authenticity, as he laughs about the infamous mall fight video). He’s also getting more comfortable with critical attention. Sli’merre is Complex’s pick for the ninth-best album of the year so far, to which he responds, “I can’t wait to be in the top five. I wouldn’t mind being No. 1, but I ain’t going to be No. 1. I'm a realistic nigga. But I care about being No. 3 or 4. You know, or 5. I be No. 6 for my zone. Straight up.”
Five years from now, Young Nudy wants to be retired, the kind of OG that new jacks go to for a coveted feature, while he maintains a label with three or four popping artists, on “some entrepreneur shit.” But for now, the thesis Nudy would like you to take away about him is simple. “Nudy built his whole career off his music—nothing else,” he says in the third person, as if he’s reciting a biography passage 10 years from now. “He ain’t do nothing else but rap. That’s all that Nudy did—rap.”
For now, he’s back on the road. “I stay out of trouble and keep myself busy,” he explains. “Just keeping me away from a lot of shit, you feel what I'm saying? But even though you're not doing shit, the environment you’re around still brings trouble, you feel what I’m saying? I do try to keep myself from being around some type of dumbass people.” So far, so good. The media is taking note, and so are his A-list peers. Creating that perfect album is within his grasp. “That shit gonna be so fucking hard, because I'm gonna have too many songs to pick through, to where I can just pick all the most perfect songs.”
“No skips,” Rico chimes in from the driver’s seat. “No skips,” Nudy affirms. “I ain't scared of shit.”
Young Nudy: Mister Traphouse, Mister Dopeboy, Mister Slimeball. Mister Rap Star?
“I’m excited for you,” I tell Nudy, passing the blunt back to him. “Yeah, me too, man,” he replies, reclining back in his seat and taking a puff with a deep sigh.