Nolan the Ninja is a rapper from Detroit whose experiments with lyrics and samples seem like they skipped the last of 20 years of hip-hop history. He pays homage to his influences by sampling them in songs and videos alike. Nolan’s debut album he[art] comes out on July 1 via DJ Soko’s imprint Left of Center/Fat Beats. On “Dianetics,” the first single off the new project, Nolan delivers a savage flow over an eerie beat, rattling off bar after effortless bar. The video, premiering right here on FRANK, comes to you straight out of the fuckin’ (literal) dungeons of rap. We talked to him about finding samples, the appeal of classic rap interviews, and dreams of writing in a hammock.
You produce a lot of your own beats and use a lot of samples. How do you find new ones?
I definitely dig a lot, like for actual vinyl and wax. I’m always in record shops in my spare time. I spend hours in there just finding shit. When I go through the record a lot of times I don’t have the beat set in my head. I know some producers know what they want to go for, but I just kinda take the sample, run it into my system, and it’s spontaneity from there. It could end up as a smooth joint, it could end up as a hard joint.
You also use samples in your videos, like on “Fuck the Whack.” Where do those come from?
I just love to watch interviews and just hear artists who have made a mark in hip-hop, or whatever genre, and hear their perspective and where they come from. A lot of times the audience, what we do is we always hear the artist, but most of the time we don’t hear the character or hear their personality or hear their true feelings on matters. And that’s coming more to the forefront because it’s 2016 and you have outlets like Twitter and Snapchat, and you can see how an artist is living or what they’re doing at the drop of a dime. But a lot of the clips I use are from back in the day, and obviously Twitter and social media wasn’t around, so those interviews are really rare. And those rare times that they had those interviews they spent saying something really meaningful and significant rather than just fooling around.
What is the writing process like for you?
I definitely gotta be in the mood to write. I have to feel inspired. I know some people sometimes write when they’re feeling blue, but if I’m feeling down I don’t feel creative. I just have to have that motivation to create some ill shit. Like this morning I woke up and the sun was shining in my face on some Rocky Dennis shit. And I started writing. I’ve got visions of writing in a hammock on a beach or some shit. That’s the type of vibe that I want. I live in a fucked up neighborhood, I’m around fucked up shit all day, so essentially I’m always fucked up, because I’m dealing with this shit every day.
I’ve got tons of shit to talk about, but the way I want to format it and how I talk about it, I’ve got to be in a mood to do that. My mind has to be open. You’ve got a train your brain. That’s why I always read. Right now I’m reading a book by Tricia Rose called Black Noise. It’s about rap music and black culture in America. My mom is a teacher, so she always taught me to keep my brain trained. So that’s how I have to be.
What made you want to rap?
Honestly, it was just the only thing I felt like I was really good at. Growing up I played sports, and the sports situation didn’t go really how I planned, coaches fronted on a nigga. But at the end of the day, when I was playing sports, I’d always dabble in rhymes and shit. I would be in practices and shit and my teammates would be like, “Yo, kick a rhyme!” And I would fuck around and spit some shit. So it started off as me just rapping for friends. When the sports situation really died down, and I got through high school battling niggas in the cafeteria and doing all this extra shit, a friend of mine was like. “Yo man, what’re you going to do after high school?” I said, “Shit, go to college, I guess?” I didn’t really have a plan, I was just going to do the normal shit. Like go to school, get a degree real quick, you know what I mean? But he was like, “Yo man, you should really push this music shit.”
Earlier in high school I was battling niggas after school in the cafeteria, taking niggas money, like it was crazy, but after he told me that, I was like, “I’m gonna give this shit a shot.” So senior year of high school that’s when I started going on the Detroit scene and really trying to build with people. That’s how I met everybody to this day: Marv Won, Royce da 5’9, Apollo Brown, everybody, bro. It really just started as something for play play, but I had a few people tell me, “Yo man, maybe you shouldn’t play around. You’re older, maybe you could really do this as a career.”
What was the first rap record you remember buying?
I always say Get Rich or Die Trying, but I have a feeling it was Joe Budden’s first album on Def Jam. It was the clean version. That came out when I was like 10. I remember when I bought it I was with my mom at Target and I remember I grabbed that shit. At the time Joe Budden had a song on the radio, the “Pump it Up” joint. That was my shit as a kid, I knew every word. I remember the video used to get me and my cousin so hyped. And that one joint at the end of the video, I think it was called “Focus,” me and my cousin, we used to bug over that shit. We were young niggas and we were like, “This beat’s fire!” Low-key I saw that [record] a couple weeks ago in the basement.