Nessly has been releasing music for half of his life. He's only 22 years old and admittedly still evolving as an artist, but he's got 11 years worth of music to look back on, and he's not proud of it all. "I am critical of a lot of it and I’d say it's trash," the Atlanta rapper explains, before switching gears into the forward-thinking perspective that he seems more comfortable with. "I am always looking to reinvent. Someone will ask me about one project and I will already be describing the qualities that make up my next two or three project ideas."
Lately, his ideas are coming together nicely. Nessly is making melodic, hook-laden hip-hop well suited for 2018's soundscape, but he packages it differently from his peers. A lot of young rappers are utilizing melody, but normally it's most effective in unpredictable flourishes, often over lo-fi beats and placed among intentionally disheveled arrangements. It's the contrast that makes things interesting, but Nessly doesn't rely on that contrast. His songs, although mainly made up of freestyles, are pieced together like pop songs, with polished production, structure, and everything in its right place.
Maybe his approach can be explained by the rising artist's goals. Nessly doesn't aim to be an underground hero. That's a coveted role in hip-hop right now for anti-industry rebels, but Nessly, who is signed to Republic Records, wants world tours and Vogue covers. During a time of indie rap stars and internet celebrities refusing to adhere to formulas or structure, Nessly is meticulously working on perfecting his. And it's paying off. His mixtape Wildflower, executive produced by TM88 and Take a Daytrip is coming February 28.
Hear the premiere of Nessly's "Make It Right" featuring Joji (watch our Music Life with Joji here) below, and read out interview with Nessly under that.
Do you consider yourself a rapper? Youre definitely blurring some lines between genres.
I definitely am a rapper, though the term is viewed as a turn-off by many recently. I don’t understand how you abandon the genre you are a part of. If you make punk it’s still rock, so to speak, right?
How would you describe your music to someone who's never heard it?
I would describe my music as something that constantly evolves. Its definition may change tomorrow. I am always looking to reinvent. Someone will ask me about one project, and I will already be describing the qualities that make up my next two or three project ideas.
What I love about songs like "Back 2 Life" and "WHOHASIT" is these really effortless melodies. Where does that come from? Is that natural for you, or did you have to learn how to do that?
I feel it sounds so organic due to freestyling yet not allowing any mediocre takes to make the final cut. I understand when something is subpar during the creative process and won’t allow it to see the light of day. If the total amount of lines in my song comes up to, let’s say, 64 bars—a four-bar hook repeating twice, three times in the song, and two 16-bar verses—I probably shuffled through 400 bars to make that song. Then there are three or four variations of the same idea, removing words or pronouncing words in a certain way to fit aesthetically. It keeps it natural, maintains a groove. You never want the listener to feel you are reading from a sheet of paper.
I’m working for arenas and world tours. Put my fat ass on Vogue damnit.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
My father mainly listened to rock. Beatles, Tom Petty, Santana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and softer things I would favor like Sade. My mom was more into mainstream pop and soft rock. Growing up in Atlanta, rap is extremely influential so I got my introduction watching TV and listening to radio. Lil Wayne was my favorite and is still very influential as far as Auto-Tune and freestyling goes. I would watch all the in studio videos on YouTube. Then I started to discover artists, being an artist myself on social media, from the Myspace era all the way to now. I would listen to a bit of everyone. Ever since his real break Drake has always been one of my favorites next to Kanye, Future, Thug, and Travis. It all depends on my mood.
Why did you decide to sign to a label? How has that changed things for you?
Solely a leap of faith. We’ll see how things go forward with the project. I know no matter who I am with, I will trust myself first and foremost.
Have you remained close with Yachty?
Yachty is a super busy guy but he will always be my friend. We crack jokes from time to time and keep up with each other mainly online with our Insta accounts. We used to always trade music before releasing to the public—we just respect each other’s ear. We have been in the studio recently and played each other our albums prior to releasing—Wildflower and Lil Boat 2—and have worked on a few new records.
You've already had some cool collaborations: Killy, Yachty, Ski Mask, AJ Tracey. How do you decide who to work with?
To work with someone, I have to genuinely enjoy what they can create. A vibe is important, but sometimes with the internet we have to run things through email for a faster turnaround. A unique voice, witty lines, and ability to juggle flows on a beat are key to my work process with someone. You have to have each one of those traits. I also have Joji, 24hrs and Hoodrich Pablo Juan on Wildflower.
A unique voice, witty lines, and ability to juggle flows on a beat are key to my work process with someone. You have to have each one of those traits. I also have Joji, 24hrs and Hoodrich Pablo Juan on Wildflower.
What’s it like working with TM88? How did you two originally link up?
I used to DM TM88 as a fan of his production maybe since 2014 or so. He had been following me but I couldn’t seem to get a response. Timing is everything. He messaged me completely randomly and asked for my email and within 15 minutes packed me with beats. We got booked for the same event in New York and he told me to link up, so I sent him the location to the studio I was working out of, which is where he originally proposed the idea to work on a joint project together.
If you could collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Michael Jackson maybe. I feel it’s a bit cliché but honest. The opportunity to work with Michael was a rarity during his life, so now that he has passed I feel there isn’t anyone I could pick beside him. The video would be crazy, from the outfits to the treatments. Everything crazy. I would rent zoo animals and jet packs and shit.
You’ve joked before that the reason you’re not famous is because you’re fat. That made us laugh, but in all seriousness do you believe that your physical appearance has held you back?
I definitely believe it plays a factor. Fat is not seen as fashionable. Even though I care for my health, I want to show innovation in fashion and music. I have to break barriers and set examples. Nessly is not meant for small club events and mixtape series. I’m working for arenas and world tours. Put my fat ass on Vogue damnit.
Lil Wayne is one of your biggest inspirations. Why do you think so many of today's young rappers look up to him?
Lil Wayne will always be one of the greatest. And many of the artists we appreciate now have adapted methods that Lil Wayne has either created or popularized. He has challenged many of us to practice our artistry with attempting to recreate popular songs better than the original artist, a strong example of competition. A lot of artists I know also freestyle, which I know many others do, but I feel Wayne inspired a lot of my generation to try the same.
Sade is another artist you’ve cited as a favorite artist. What's one thing you've learned from Sade and applied to your own music or life?
Sade keeps me calm and keeps me in tune with myself emotionally. I feel she speaks to me and I always understand her message. It’s just her approach, her words, the production. I don’t think there’s anyone who does it the way she does for me. “Long Hard Road” is one of my favorite songs by her because it reminds you though there is so much in the distance, so many road blocks, that you can find peace and clarity.
What's next for you? What are some of your goals for 2018?
I want 2018 to be my year. I want 2019 to be my year. I want every year to be mine. My main goal is to put out Wildflower, tour, and grow as an artist. Perfect my craft and expand my fan base.
What's one thing people don't know about Nessly?
People don’t know I’ve put out mixtapes for the past 11 years. It sounds good, but I publicized a lot of my evolution and growth online. I am critical of a lot of it and I’d say it's trash. But honestly, I may say the same about this stuff in 10 years.
If you could go back in time and give 12-year-old Nessly a piece of advice, what would you say?
Don’t rush the process, trust it.