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.

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