Rapper Gabe ‘Nandez moved to New York for good in December 2016 after a childhood that saw the city as one of many stops for the bilingual MC, who also grew up in places like Haiti, Palestine, and Tanzania. Though he was born in New York and lived there sporadically, he initially started getting attention as an artist while at school in Montreal, and despite loving his hometown’s sound, he understandably didn’t feel connected to its music culture at first.
“I guess I would say I’m part of a scene, that would be the indie, underground New York music scene,” he explains. “I don’t even know if I should say rap, because the lines are kind of blurred.”
Though he’s warm and genial in conversation, ‘Nandez describes himself as something of a “lone wolf,” which is partially a deliberate choice and also a reflection of how it can be difficult to break into a scene when you don’t have relationships that run decades deep or a sound that allows you to easily fall in with a bunch of like-minded artists.
“A lot of people that are doing big things, whether it’s in New York or elsewhere, they’re cliqued up, based on relationships they’ve had," he says. “For me, moving around all the time, those aren’t necessarily bonds I formed that deeply with people.”
Though he admits to feeling “pretty dolo” in his approach to music, there’s an undeniable New York grit to his raspy delivery and the heady beats that populate his standout project Diplomacy. ‘Nandez, who came up on artists like MF DOOM and Wu-Tang, is one of several exciting artists bringing candid lyrics and murky production back to the city, alongside acts like MIKE, Deem Spencer, and Medhane, as well as ‘Nandez’s collaborator Tony Seltzer. Still, he’s quick to note that his sound isn’t directly connected to theirs.
“I’m not making lo-fi music, but I’m also not making A Boogie-type music. I’m kind of in the middle, and there’s no real group of heads that are doing that together,” he says. “Not that I’m looking for that, because I’m not, but people do flock to movements.”