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INTRODUCING: Nolan The Ninja On “Fuck the Hype” And How Music Saves Lives

Journalists and musicians alike have been going back and forth recently about so-called “microwave journalism” in the wake of rushed internet responses to new album releases. For better and for worse, especially where music is concerned, the solidity of our opinions tends to take a backseat to the traffic-chasing race to be the first review to pop up on your timeline. “The internet’s a blessing and a curse, dawg,” Detroit MC Nolan The Ninja says. “I don’t really be paying attention to forums and stuff like that because I feel like that’s a real tight culture and you really gotta be into that kinda community. I just make the music, put it out, people receive it how they receive it, and I move on. I don’t really get into reading reviews and stuff like that because you don’t wanna get trapped. People are gonna have opinions regardless. Fuck the Hype, do your thing. Who cares? The right people will fuck with you.”

And the right people all seem to be flocking to the 23-year-old MC/producer. Nolan, born Nolan Chapman, has been making noise in the Detroit hip-hop scene since at least 2013, switching ably between grimy hardcore, smooth soulful production, and early Spike Lee worship. His Fuck the Hype EP, released last Thursday via DJ Soko‘s imprint Left Of Center, is an 11-track head-dunk into the same sewer waters that Onyx and Redman soaked in, but with a decidedly Midwestern rawness added to the mix. You can practically smell the blood emanating off the mic after his verse on “Cultivation (Cldgme).” Nolan’s hip-hop fervor has pulled in the likes of MCs Hassaan Mackey, A-Minus, and Detroit legends Finale and Phat Kat to go bar-for-bar over production from DaG, Just Pieces, 5ynoT, Jay P, and Nolan himself on this latest release.

Determination and raw passion have set Nolan apart from the pack as his star continues to rise with Fuck the Hype, and he sat down with watchLOUD to talk about the EP, his top five favorite Spike Lee movies, and how hip-hop culture saves lives across generations.

WL: Talk to me real quick about the Fuck the Hype EP. What’s it all about?

NTN: First of all, I’ve always been a show and prove type of person. Growing up, I was a chubby kid in the hood, but I always played all the sports and in all the PALs and the AU leagues for my schools and shit; but I was always slightly doubted ‘cause of my weight or people just thought I couldn’t do it, but I was really ill, at least for my age. From then, I’ve always been so willing to show that “yo, I can do this, too.” The guy that y’all are rooting for and brownnosing? Trust me, he ain’t shit (laughs). I’m on that kinda tip. Ever since I grew up, that’s always the mentality I’ve had. Building up self-confidence and believing that I can knock down any obstacle and prosper, and that’s what the EP is about: being yourself, following your heart, knowing your path and following it, being persistent, and not feeling unworthy if you’re not doing what everyone else is doing. Fuck the Hype is straight to the point, raw, uncut, and refreshing. 

WL: How did you meet up with DJ Soko and get involved with Left Of Center? 

NTN: I met this guy about five years. It was a spot downtown in Detroit called Freshman Clothing that my man Phil [Simpson] owned. It’s not there anymore because it closed in 2011, but that was the spot. It was a clothing store, but we would hang out there, me and my crew and whatever. And one day Soko came in, and he obviously knew Phil prior to coming in there. They got to talking, and I don’t remember exactly how we got introduced, but I think Phil just broke the ice by saying “He makes music, too.” And of course, Soko was a little reluctant at first like, you know, everybody raps, so show me something. 

Soko: I was quiet. 

NTN: You was quiet! 

Soko: I’m always quiet. 

NTN: Yea, real quiet and nonchalant, and that’s what’s up. At the time…he was just about to leave for Europe to tour with Apollo Brown and The Left, and before he left I built with him and we exchanged information; we followed each other on Twitter, so as I’m seeing stuff of him on Twitter in Europe, I’m thinking “Yo, this nigga’s official,” (laughs) I remember I was asking Phil what was good with Soko, and he said that he works with the *real* niggas, and from there, for the next two or three years, I was doing my own thing and self-releasing my music on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, you know, just grindin’ and tryin’ to get my name out there the best way I can alone. Soko was just paying attention over time and watching me develop and mature and get older, and then a year or two ago, he told me “Once I get my foot in the door, I’m gonna reach my hand out,” and I thought he was gassing for a minute because he kept telling to wait on it. I was a little impatient, but after a while, everything came together and he introduced me to Dart Adams, and then we did the beat tape with him, and then we strategized this campaign with the EP, and now we have an album coming out in the spring. So that’s pretty much it; met him at a clothing store, and a few days later we’re in New York at WatchLoud’s office and at Shade 45 and shit. 

Soko: And I had him on my Domino Effect project, too. 

NTN: Absolutely!

Soko: We dropped the video a week before the first single [for “Concoction”]. A little while after we’d met, I moved out here, so we would build over the phone and Twitter, but every time I’d come home, we would get lunch, hang out, and play music. It was more like whenever I was in town, we’d hang because I wasn’t out there anymore. 

NTN: And that’s another thing, the Domino Effect record definitely helped people get hip to me. And then like he said, shortly after that was when “clockers” came out…and we shot a video for [Concoction] too, and after a while, people started connecting the dots. Next thing you know, once a month I’m dropping a new single, and it’s been crazy. 

WL: Right, because you put out a whole bunch of these songs on Soundcloud before the EP dropped. Maybe about seven or eight of them? 

NTN: Yea, and that was just me finding myself over the years and slightly experimenting, too That’s why you’ve got chill loops, and I did some stuff on there with Illingsworth that never touched a project, and remixes I did with beats and shit. But now I’m at the most comfortable stage I’ve even been at in my life; not too comfortable, not content, but as far as seeing how career is progressing. 

Soko: What was that shit you tweeted last year about being at Fed Ex? 

NTN: A year ago, I was sweeping floors at Fed Ex. I remember at the time, DeJ Loaf was just taking off. I don’t know her all that well, but I know her well enough to see someone from my scene come up, so I just took that as motivation. A year ago, I was sweeping floors trying to figure shit out, and now I’m in New York with a scheduled itinerary, doing press for my EP. I’m blessed and honored to be here.

WL: Speaking of your Twitter, I saw you tweet out about Mobb Deep and Queens/41st last night. Who are some of your favorite NY MCs?

NTN: How much time you got, bro? (laughs) Everybody. Nas, the whole Wu [Tang Clan], Mobb Deep, Tribe [Called Quest]…Royal Flush, Mike Geronimo. It’s endless because New York’s the Mecca. Before I got hip to the Dillas and stuff going on in Detroit, east coast music was more what I was hip to. I listened to a Premier or a Pete Rock before a Dilla because they were placed higher in the underground, whereas with Dilla, you had to do your research and digging to understand his legacy. I’ve got much love for the East Coast, and not just New York, but Philly, too. Black Thought’s in my top three MCs of all time. 

WL: How does it feel to have Phat Kat on your record, dude? 

NTN: It feels incredible, bro. I always tell him, Guilty [Simpson], and Finale whenever I see them “Y’all don’t realize I used to listen to you on Youtube, and now I have y’all numbers and emails, and I can say ‘yo, I’ve got a joint for you,’ and they’ll hit me back. Last time I saw Phat Kat was when he had a record release party in Detroit…and we just chopped it up from there. It’s always good vibes ‘cause it’s OGs. They give me advice and they also give me motivation and inspire me to keep pushin’. It’s always organic advice, especially considering that I’m younger. Whenever you have an OG on your side, that’s a good way to be ‘cause they’ll never steer you wrong.

WL: The whole EP is bursting at the seams with grimy boom-bap production, but talk to me about why you decided to end the EP with the song “Reel Shit.” As much as I love it, it’s such a slowdown.

NTN: For one, it was the last cut added to it because we was on a deadline, and Finale had just went to Europe with Korona to tour, so he was real busy. He kept telling me “Bro, just hold on, I got you, I got you, I got you,” so we was just holding on…that’s why I said it was a bonus track because it was a last-minute joint, but I wanted to put it on there and represent; I wanted to give people a nice little extra feel because I make the gritty shit, but I don’t want people to always box me as that. Everything’s gonna be gritty, but of course “Reel Shit” is more on the experimental side than a “Cldgme” or a “clockers.”

WL: I’ve noticed that as a producer, you’ve never stayed in one particular box to begin with. You have hard beats, you have smooth beats, you’re all over the place. I appreciated it because it caught me completely off guard. I knew it was coming, but I was still shook like “Am I listening to Soundcloud?”

NTN: (laughs) Word, like how Soundcloud will automatically go to the next shit.

WL: What was your favorite song on the EP that you *didn’t* produce?

NTN: Um…probably “clockers,” just ‘cause it’s so heavy. My man DaG laced that up perfectly, and it’s funny how I got the beat. DaG is also a DJ, so he’ll DJ local parties and things like that; so one night, I was at a party and it was intermission, but instead of playing a radio record, he played one of his beats. I was like “Damn, I’ve never heard this record in my life,” so I headed over to the booth and asked him what it was called, and he said that it was some shit in the chamber. I said “You did that?” He said “Yea,” and I said “Bro, I need that.” We were homies before, so it’s not like we just met that night…so that’s why I just went up to the booth. He sent the beat to me a day or two later and we got that shit cracking. That’s the same way I got the other beat he did on here for “26.” We were smokin’ and he played that and I said “Maaaan, hit me with that. Quit holdin’ onto the joints, DaG.” But I’ma say “clockers.” That’s my opus right there.

WL: So you mentioned the song  “Clockers” when you guys first came in, and obviously it’s based on the Spike Lee movie. What’s your favorite Spike Lee movie?

NTN: I’ma say Do The Right Thing…you know what? Alright, listen; I’m gonna name my top five (laughs). Do The Right Thing, He Got Game, clockers, I like Malcolm X a lot, and probably She’s Gotta Have It, his debut film. I like that because it was his first film and it was so raw and uncut and it was black-and-white for most of the movie. That’s my top five, but I’m gonna have to say Do The Right Thing. My man Mookie (laughs)…he’s coming out with a new joint Chiraq, right?  

WL: Yea, he is! Have you seen the trailer yet? 

NTN: Nah, I haven’t seen the trailer yet, but I’ve seen all over the web that people aren’t really pleased. The Midwestern area isn’t really pleased; I saw something about a bad song in the movie, but I haven’t seen it myself yet. 

WL: He premiered a video of a pastor playing a song that’s basically about black-on-black crime and people just don’t wanna hear that shit. He premiered another video today with Nick Cannon, and let’s just say it’s weird (laughs).

NTN: [Spike Lee’s] a genius, dawg. He’s just in his own world, feel me? But that’s how you gotta be when you’re innovative. Just like the Chiraq movie and people saying that’s gonna be bad, he just did the story for [NBA] 2K16 and it’s phenomenal. He’s definitely up there with my favorite directors, like him, John Singleton, John Hughes, my mans that made Kids and Gummo…

WL: Harmony Korine? 

NTN: Harmony, yes. I love that shit.

 WL: As a “new school” artist who has an appreciation for the old-school, there’s been a conversation about the generational gap in hip-hop, especially because of 90s nostalgia. There’s been a lot of talk about appreciating older music and all the younger people not appreciating older music, while conversely older fans tend to not be receptive to newer stuff. A: Do you think there’s a generational gap in hip-hop and if you do, what do you think we can do to bridge that gap?

NTN: First of all, everybody just has to stop being so tight-minded…You have people who listen to nothing but Golden Age shit, or people who only listen to Future or Drake…I could write a book on that type of shit. Me, I’m 23, so I did my research to get an appreciation for stuff from back in the day, but I still hear the Futures and the Rae Sremmurds by default. One thing that I think needs to happen is that the OGs need to start embracing the younger guys. I see it a little bit, and it’s cool every once in a while. You’ll see someone like Lupe Fiasco say that he supports the Migos, being like we would rather have y’all young dudes doing music than doing some other shit. And that’s another thing; music saves lives. What would you rather have: Future in the streets being reckless, or talking reckless in the studio? It kinda helps us. Our generation is so reckless. Who knows what would’ve happened to Chief Keef if he didn’t get the deal? (laughs) He’d probably be in a casket. I think the OGs need to understand that hip-hop isn’t just a culture, it’s a life-saver, because if you ask a lot of people what they were doing before rap, more than likely it’s not gonna be good.

 WL: Did you start rapping or producing first, and which one do you prefer? 

NTN: I started rhyming first, for sure. I didn’t start producing until a few years after I started rhyming. It’s weird because I’m in more of a production phase and digging around more and making a lot more records…I have phases, because right now I’m on the rhyming tip. I can go a couple weeks without producing and just stay writing, then producing and not writing, but I love ‘em both, because they both help me. Production also gives me that extra bonus component…That’s why I appreciate people like [Big] K.R.I.T. or even Lord Finesse for being their own in-house producers, because it takes a lot of work. I feel like a lot of people don’t see it like that. I know K.R.I.T. produces 98% of his shit, so he’s making sure the beat’s right sonically, *and* you’re coming up with ill ass rhymes on top of that? You’re doing double the work. I fuck with it all, man.

 WL: What inspired the cover for the “gusto” single with Mike Tyson flaunting the money?

NTN: It’s crazy, because when we decided we was gonna put it out as a single, I knew I was gonna make the artwork. Whenever you think of gusto, you think of money, and that’s the underlying meaning in “gusto,” like don’t settle for scraps. So I kept thinking of that infamous Tyson fight, I think it was the ‘92 fight.

WL: Do you remember who he fought?

NTN: I’m not even sure. This was back when he was fucking with Don King, so it was early 90s. And I remember after the fight with the press, he just had the bands of money. And I’m not trying to say that I remember the footage, ‘cause I was born in ‘92. I’ve just seen the pictures, and he’s holding up bread and shit with the belt on, and that’s the gusto: “I’m on top of the world, you can’t fuck with me.” That’s the feeling I got from the photo, so I said *this* is “gusto.”

Check out Nolan’s freestyle on Shade 45’s Toca Tuesdays:

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