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How Chicago’s DIY Community Shaped Nnamdï Into One Of Its Most Dynamic Figures

Written by on April 28, 2020

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Photo by Tim Nagle

You might recognize the Chicago singer, rapper and multi-instrumentalist from our In Rotation playlist, but you’ll never be bored when diving into his discography. One of Nnamdï’s goals is to never put out the same art twice.

His musical – and personal – style is as loud and colorful as it has range. He bounces and crashes between genres, vocals and phrasing with confidence and unabashed pleasure. Now, he’s back with his self-written and engineered album, BRAT. An unequivocally respected figure in the Chicago music scene, Nnamdï speaks to us about the experimentation of being alone, Chicago’s DIY community, and molding a bigger picture with BRAT.


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Photo by Tim Nagle

How would you describe your work?  

I wouldn’t normally describe my work…I just leave that to the listeners and consumers. But one description I’ve liked is Art Pop. My music is an amalgamation of my thoughts, emotions, and experiences; a mixture of unhinged hedonistic pursuit, vulnerability, over analyzation, and creative but uniting songwriting and production.

How did you find yourself in Chicago? 

I was born in the Pomana/LA area of California, lived in Ohio for a brief stint, and then moved to the south suburbs of Chicago – Lansing, IL, which is like a half hour south of the city. Thats where I spent most of my childhood. It was a chill, small, suburban vibe [with] majority lower-middle class folks just hustling. A lot of the time I felt the heat of being a first generation Nigerian living in this area. I didn’t feel like I had a lot in common with folks, but my parents both struggled and worked really hard to make sure all the kids were good.

I started playing music in the school band and eventually started making [my own] outside of school with friends, so they were definitely very formative years. When I moved to West Humboldt Park in Chicago I was already in college.

How has Chicago’s music scene influenced your work? 

When I was in high school I was really into a lot of Chicago bands, and eventually began driving up for shows when me or one of my friends had access to a car. I started going to a lot of basement and house shows and that whole DIY community definitely inspired me to get more involved with shows like that in my own way. I’m influenced by so many folks from Chicago. Theres a lot of creativity and also a lot of very passionate people.

You wrote, performed and engineered your new LP, BRAT. Why is it important for you to maintain that amount of creative control? 

I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years that were fully collaborative efforts…my own music stemmed from those in-between times. I already have the collaborative fulfillment, so working on my own music is just a natural thing that happens when I’m alone. It ends up being a more personal, almost therapeutic thing for me. Being alone also allows complete unabashed experimentation.

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Photo by Tim Nagle

You’ve said “A lot of emotions, a lot of love and a lot of time,” went into making BRAT. Can you speak about where the idea for this album was born? 

The album came over the course of a few years. I write and record a lot with no specific intention in mind. When I begin to notice themes in the songs I’m working on, I group them in their own folders. I noticed a theme of selfishness, over analyzation and the pursuit of wants and needs in a lot of the songs I was writing during this time, and it hit me to take some of those and mold them into a bigger picture.

The lead single is “Wasted,” and it’s as gorgeous as it is glossy! What does this song mean to you? 

Wasted is about communication and vulnerability. It’s about caring for people enough to really listening to someone so it can lead to you having a productive dialogue.

What do you think is missing from today’s music landscape? 

I don’t think there’s anything necessarily missing from the music world. If you can think of it, then some version of it exists…it may just not be on your radar. I do think there is always room for growth and the creative possibilities are endless. I’d say there is definitely a lack of representation in popular music when it comes to black folks who live outside of Hip Hop and R&B.

Who are your biggest influences musically? 

Right now I’ve been going back to nostalgic things from my childhood, which for me include things like Sum 41, The Police, Nelly, Destinys Child, the Beatles, No Doubt, Busta Rhymes.

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Photo by Tim Nagle

What other mediums, genres, or art forms make up part of your creative identity? 

I’m inspired a lot by visuals, paintings and drawings. Music videos are also very important to me. Connecting music to a visual aspect has always been so cool to me and I I’ll watch music videos for songs I don’t even like just to enjoy the visuals.

How has the COVID-19 situation affected you as an individual and as an artist? 

It’s definitely put a damper on my plans. It happened right as my album was coming out, so its felt a bit strange at times to promote my art when it seems like the world is on fire outside my door. I knew it would be helpful for some people to have some new art to hold on to during these times, so the digital release continued as planned.

I had to cancel my release show and the tour I had planned. We even had to push back shipment of the physical products. It’s been a whirlwind for everyone, so I’ve been doing my best to check in with folks and try and help in areas I can where people were hit harder than me.

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Photo by Tim Nagle

How is creativity helping you cope during this anxious moment? 

It all comes in waves. When I feel a wave of creativity I try and ride that until my body tells me to relax. There’s a lot of time and uncertainty, so I’ve had to teach myself it’s okay to not be going 100 percent, creating at every moment. I just enjoy when those moments come and try and be productive on my own terms. Pacing is also very important in reducing anxiety and maintaining sanity.

What’s next for you? 

I’m gonna keep creating. My goal is just to continuously keep my creativity up and never put out the same art twice.

Nnamdï has put together a list of songs deeply meaningful to him. Listen here:


Follow Nnamdï On His Website, Twitter, and Instagram!

Interview Edited For Length & Clarity By Shelby Kluver