Wara From The NBHD is a rapper/producer from Atlanta who's doing big things on his new "Kidnapped" project. HNHH recently got the chance to catch up with him.
Atlanta. Just a mention of the city in hip-hop circles conjures up thoughts of trap (and maybe crunk and So So Def-style bass music if you're a bit older), a sound that's been dominating the region since T.I. first hit the scene over a decade ago. But some artists from the A don't fit into that box, opting to cut their own path rather than getting swept up in the prevailing current. Wara From The NBHD, a producer/rapper who's lived in the Southern Rap hub since he was nine, is one of them.
Ever since catching our ears with the Ill Street Blues mixtape that dropped last year and featured work from Childish Major and Two-9's Curtis Williams, Wara has been holding it down for concept-driven, musically explorative hip-hop. On Tuesday (August 12th), he'll release Kidnapped, his first entirely self-produced project. As we've been digging the few leaks we've gotten from it, we caught up with Wara on the phone this week to discuss the new material, its Pharrell-inspired sound, his fondness for character-driven storylines and his take on the current ATL scene.
HotNewHipHop: How would you describe your music to someone who’s never really heard it?
Wara From The NBHD: For people that never heard of me, I would definitely say I’m not the average artist. I’m like a question mark, because I’m always changing my sound and I’m always doing different things with my music. As far as what I’m talking about lyrically, and my sound, I’m constantly switching it up, because i just feel like I don’t really have a genre, a box that people can put me in. I’m always studying different things, and that’s really what’s gonna come out in my music. You’ll never know what to expect with my music, but I can guarantee you’ll always get some good quality though.
HNHH: For Kidnapped, it’s very clear that one of the artists you studied was Pharrell.
Wara: For the most part, I always felt like Pharrell and The Neptunes was always like the eyeballs of music as far as production goes. I always liked how when the industry had a certain sound, they always still kept it left-field, and they made the industry adjust to what they was doing. When Kidnapped came into play, the whole sound I was going with at first was a nostalgic sound, kinda hard like my song “98 Rockafella,” but I just found myself getting back into the In Search Of... album , and I was like, ‘Man, I want to tap into this, but I want to bring my own light to it.’ With that being said, I actually talked to Pharrell on Twitter.
HNHH: Oh, for real?
Wara: Yeah, he followed me on Twitter, and I just reached out to him. He was telling me that he liked my raps, he thought my shit was different. So once we talked, I went back in and sort of changed up the whole sound of Kidnapped to what it is now, because I felt like, ‘Well damn, if he’s actually listening to my music, I appreciate his music, and I hope that I can create something that he’ll actually like.’ You know what I’m saying? Like I have music that I personally listen to because I like it, and I hope that that album will be something that he can sit down and listen to just because he wants to listen to it.
HNHH: Speaking of your own listening habits, you said your last project (Ill Street Blues) was informed by Biggie’s Ready To Die. What is it this time?
Wara: During [the recording of] Kidnapped, I was into a lot of Radiohead’s Kid A, I was listening to In Search Of..., I was into a lot of the Bon Iver shit… just a whole bunch of different genres, but Radiohead and N*E*R*D for the most part. When I was making Ill Street, I was going through some of the same things that I felt Biggie was going through in his life. It wasn’t really supposed to come out like that, but that was all I was listening to, so that had a heavy influence on me.
HNHH: Yeah, I can definitely hear the rock influence on Kidnapped, what with all the live instruments. Do you play those yourself?
Wara: Most of the analog stuff, I use Logic, I play most of that myself. But a lot of times, it’s stuff that I can’t really get out of a MIDI and a computer program, so that’s why I bring in live musicians. With live instrumentation, the music can be expressed way more… I could sit there on the computer all day and try to make these sounds come to life, but it’s still not the real deal. Being that a lot of the music I’m into is based around live instruments, I’m like 'Well, I might as well bring it into my shit too.'
HNHH: Kidnapped is a very piano-heavy album, and centers on a character named “Piano Lessons.” Do you have a background in piano?
Wara: No, actually my father was trying to get me all into that, but I was into sports and stuff at the time. I didn’t start playing until last year, when I started working on Ill Street, I was teaching myself how to produce. The good thing about the piano is that it teaches you certain notes and how to hear shit in different ways. I just felt like a lot of the things I wanted to do are gonna be based around piano. But just playing the piano can bring out different ideas, so I started working with this piano teacher I knew in the studio, he was teaching me a few things, and I’ve just been fucking with him ever since. I’m still getting better at it, but soon, I’ma be able to get on the piano and do whatever I want to do.
HNHH: So “Piano Lessons” is a character then?
Wara: Yeah, the album is based around that character. He sells drugs, and he’s good on the piano, but he never has time to focus on that ‘cause he’s in the streets and shit.
HNHH: You’re definitely telling a story on Kidnapped, as you did on Ill Street. What attracts you to that narrative style?
Wara: I just feel like the standard way of making music is not challenging to me. I feel like concepts and storytelling just brings out a better artist in me, simply because of the enigma, the fact that people can sit with it and try to figure it out is cool. Me just making regular songs is boring to me. The storytelling aspect is better for me, better for kids that’s actually going through that period — it’s like reading a book.
HNHH: That style of storytelling isn’t something you see a lot these days in hip-hop, which is also the case with the hidden track at the end of Kidnapped. What inspired that?
Wara: Like I said, I was listening to Radiohead, N*E*R*D, and I was into rock heavy. I started realizing that a lot of rock bands did that back in the day — I listened to a lot of Black Sabbath in the past — and you would think the album’s over, but then three minutes later another song just comes in. I just thought it was ill because “Gone Baby Gone” is the perfect ending to the story, but it’s not over. It’s leaves it to be open to interpretation: well maybe this character’s gonna come back on the next album or maybe he won’t, but it’s up to you to think about that. When you’re making concept albums, every single song has to make sense with the last one. It’s beyond just making music.
HNHH: So you’re clearly looking outside of hip-hop for many of these influences. What’s missing in the rap game?
Wara: I feel like a lot of artists are getting lazy. I feel like it's more so about the money now, about making those records that’ll get straight to the money, instead of making music that’s gonna be around for a while. I definitely see a wave of rock coming into hip-hop more, with major artists using live bands, but I just feel like there’s so many aspects missing in music. Making music is about having fun and making shit that will last forever. Everybody is rapping on DJ Mustard beats man, it’s a just a continuous cycle. Sonner or later, real ill music is gonna come back around, but it’s gonna be a struggle because that’s not what’s selling.
HNHH: With that being said, are there any other artists in Atlanta who you’re fucking with? I know you and Two-9 have been tight for a while. Anyone else that’s keeping things interesting and not being lazy?
Wara: I honestly don’t fuck with too many artists down here… I’m always with Two-9, we make music together, so that’s who I’m really good with. You got my homie Money Makin Meech, he’s a real lyricist. He’s very powerful with what he raps about. You got this one band called Indeed, they’re this funk/hip-hop band. There’s not too many though, to be honest.
HNHH: What about the collaboration with GrandeMarshall on “Raw,” how did that come about?
Wara: Well I met Grande at this radio station called Purple Tape Pedigree, Beat Box radio in Brooklyn. The day that I met him, we were both in there doing interviews, and we just connected and stayed cool. That song was long overdue, ‘cause we was working on that song while he was working on his last project. We was fresh off of SXSW, and I just went in and made the beat and I brought in a live trumpet player and pianist to lay down the live instrumentation. I just really wanted to keep that one gritty. Grande is my homie, we got more stuff coming.
HNHH: I saw last week that "Raw" cracked the top 10 on Billboard’s "Emerging Artists" chart.
Wara: That was definitely an exciting moment for me, and I feel like people are starting to catch on to the fact that I’m actually moving. Anytime people see everybody else fucking with something, they kinda catch on too.
HNHH: Awesome. Anything else you’d like to add?
Wara: Yeah, just Kidnapped is out on Tuesday and I hope everybody goes out and gets it. It’s gonna be a pretty big deal. I just hope everybody can enjoy it and sit with it, and just appreciate the music.