As a musician of any stripe, oftentimes versatility is key. As an emcee and producer, Nolan The Ninja has proven that he’s comfortable in many different lanes. He’s capable of vicious, gravel-voiced bars; nobody this side of DMX or Meechy Darko has the kid beat in terms of pure snarl. But with few exceptions, his breakout project – last year’s Fuck The Hype EP – was the gritty sprint leading up to he[art], his first full-length via Fat Beats and Left Of Center, which dropped just last week (July 8).
Even with appearances from established wordsmiths like Finale, Phat Kat, Red Pill, and Guilty Simpson, Nolan’s voice is gruff enough to stand on its own, even when he eases on the gas on the more intimate songs that make up he[art]’s 16 tracks. Nolan proves adept at swerving through both these R&B-laced cuts and traditionalist boom-bap, which would explain his trajectory toward making an album with a live band. “I have to do it, bro,” he told WatchLOUD. “I was raised on R&B. I don’t know when, but I’m hoping in the next couple years, I get a nice little opportunity.” Considering his relationship with artists like Black Milk and Will Sessions, that might happen sooner rather than later.
Aside from the music, Nolan’s got the skills to back up his guest roster and pedigree. We picked six songs from he[art] that showcase his lyrical talent. Check out Verse Behavior below!
“I’m never bragging on how real I keep it, the shit is secret/So tell me your top incentive, my only option is winning/Respect is a high percentage, no talking until I’m finished/I’m representing the mitten, primary mission is opulence/”
When I make albums, I always try to capture that essence from my favorite hip-hop albums like ‘[Only Built 4] Cuban Linx’ or ‘Illmatic’; when it comes on, I want you to know that it’s the show. I want you to feel the vibe as soon as it hit. I start the track off with “I never brag with how real I keep it/cause it’s a secret.” I kicked it up off the Nas because ‘It Was Written’ is another one of my favorites. When I wrote that verse, that was real shit. People tell me all the time that I’m real humble, but I do do ill shit; I’m not about to sit up here and brownnose myself or anything because this is art. I’m out to inspire people and not be on the braggadocio all the time; the same way Nas, Raekwon, and others inspired me, I wanna inspire other up and comers.
Opulence is being happy. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with finance because I’m happy right now. A few years ago, I was at FedEx sweeping up garbage, and now I’m in New York with my man Def Dee blowing crud. It’s just a blessing and a privilege, which is why I never take it for granted. Opulence is happiness, elation, and being able to reflect on your path. And I’m still climbing. I just wanna be happy, man.
My man Pig Pen did the beat for “opulence.” I remember we were at his crib going over beats and he played that beat. With the keys and everything, it just sounded like some mafia don shit.
“epitome (feat. MAHD, L.A.Z. of Clear Soul Forces, & Supa Emcee)”
“Fuck your opinions, I’m insouciant/Interest is limited with the phony business, I keep it corporate/These niggas snoring, I’m transforming to high importance/co-signed by many sources, what your point is?”
“But hey, money talks, bullshit it runs that marathon/Lyrically, I’m upper echelon, killing metronomes/Speak on the greatest with the epic tone, abstract with epic poems/Yet only few can consume, it’s like that.”
I love that verse. I open it up with “Fuck your opinions, I’m insusiant.” Like, who out here is using the word insusiant in their songs?
My favorite albums always have that one possee joint; even Jay Z had it on “Reasonable Doubt.” I just wanted to unite and fuck with other elite MCs in Detroit. I heard about MAHD., who’s Black Milk’s brother, in 2012, so he was down. L.A.Z. from Clear Soul Forces. I met the group [Clear Soul Forces] when I was 17 and I have a great relationship with them. Supa MC, who’s a vet from the Almighty Dreadnoughts, that’s the OG. He was the last one to turn his verse in before I had to turn the album over to Fat Beats (laughs).
5ynot killed that beat, and I remember he was about to give it away. He almost gave it to some kid out in Germany, but I told him don’t send that to your mans (laughs). The outro is a Del The Funky Homosapien clip where he’s just talking about unity in hip-hop; we ain’t all gotta fuck with each other or like each other, but let’s push this culture forward. I felt like it was a great thing to end the track with because it embodies what the track is: dope MCs coming together with bars and having fun.
“ecology (feat. A-Minus)”
As I sit back, relax, blow a black to some Floetry/And reminisce, on when this shit was copacetic, cuz nowadays, nig-gas wreck-less/Even the adolescent carry some protection cuz the block is something sketchy/It’s a war going on outside, no man is safe from/Battlegrounds are loaded, so it’s nowhere to run/Nowhere to hide, no escaping out this fuckin’ mazing/Either you’re rolling or you marked for prey, niggas is animals/No solution or antidote, all they seek is money & greed/Just for flashing & for feeding they seeds, brainwashed, shit is evident”
It was all the shit that’s been going on. The cops are getting away with killings that are caught on camera, bro. The time I wrote “ecology” was the summer of 2014 when Mike Brown was murdered in Ferguson. I write based off of life and experiences and media and shit, and I don’t speak about this kinda thing every day because it’s a trashy thing to think about, but at the same time I wanna use my art to speak on it.
Me and A-Minus, who’s also featured on the song, had a couple joints on the rough draft of he[art], but I was like “Bro, I need you on this shit.” And he did, man. He has a son right now and a daughter on the way, so his aspect on the situation is totally different from mine because he actually has kids; I don’t have kids, but this shit is making me wonder what’s gonna be going on in the world a decade from now, 15 years from now.
“The world is yours, fuck whoever tells you otherwise/cuz people love despising what they can’t understand/And hate is even bound to come from your mans, keep it vigilant/And cautious, no matter what the fuc-kin’ cost is/shit is real upon the battlefield, and I’m a witness to the bullshit in existence/Causing me to be existential, it’s high concerning for the public/Niggas caught up in judging through daily corruption, that’s why we losing substance/Cuz when we youngins, our dreaming’s realistic but as we get older, the elders try to edit the limits/Yet we fight for the impossible, battle the obstacles/Cuz to them, imagination is nothing but obtuse, am I speaking the truth?”
That’s one of the few calmer records on the album. Again, I just wanted to show diversity and different realms. I’m an MC and I can make *music*; not everything has to be rappity-rappity all the time (laughs). I’m calm and getting it straight across, no ad-libs. I just wanted a song that embodied the entire message of the album and it was fitting that this became the title track. “The world is yours, fuck whoever tells you otherwise.” That’s what “he[art]” is about, at the end of the day: following your path, understanding yourself, and not letting people tell you that you can’t do shit. There was people in Detroit telling me to switch your sound up because no one was really gonna fuck with that. Ironically, those same people are calling me up asking how much for features? (laughs)
I pride myself on being great-ness, apply myself despite the cases/And play the hand that I was dealt with, Lauryn taught me on ‘Miseducation’ that love is sacred/So, me & music ain’t splitting until we sell our soul, which is unlikely/This permanent bonding, we joined at the hip like a Siamese body, spiritual connection/An eye for eye, I got your back, your beef is mines, relationship is mutually inclined/Only a special service make me feel worthy, I could find my own smiles, but shit, your blessing is worth it
That’s another special record. MOSS produced that record; when I was out here promoting Fuck The Hype EP, every place that I went, I was showing up when he was leaving. That joint just gave me a real triumphant vibe with the way the horns are. One thing that people might not pick up on at first is that “amour” is a love song to hip-hop; kinda on some “I Used To Love H.E.R.” shit, but a little different. The first verse, I’m talking specifically about music, and I wrote the second verse while I was with my girlfriend, so she definitely inspired that one. We were coming home from her school in Ohio and I wrote that shit in 10 minutes.
It’s mad real in the jungle cuz growing up, we struggled/So we demand dollars in bundles, reparations/It’s out for the taking, all of us could make it/But some are lazy & so they use others to gain the paper/And seek the easy route for 40 acres, I gotta get mine/Word to Breed, I’mma shine, put that on my Mom, one time
The first time I heard this beat, it gave me the vibe of “Be Faithful” by Fatman Scoop (raps “Be Faithful”); some shit that if you played it at a block party, there’d be money in the air and bottles popping. Just like “ecology” is a song dealing with social issues, I wanted to make “40 acres” as a way to say that we can rise above the bullshit and enjoy life. 40 acres is also another way of claiming yours, whether it be money or a position at your job or whatever.
That’s A-Minus, Simi, and my man Davis on the intro. They were just in the studio shooting dice and we figured we should get it on the track because we had to cut the original intro.