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nombreKARI Is Inspired By Chicago’s Past And Present On Debut Full-Length

Written by on January 6, 2022

“There’s no ‘new’ without pre-existing ideas, and I think that speaks to the importance of music history.”

– nombreKARI

On debut full-length mixtape, nombreKARI proves to be a rising voice in the Chicago music scene — drawing inspiration from adolescent experiences and the city’s rich cultural history.

In the five years since he began performing as a 16-year-old, Bronzeville rapper nombreKARI has caught the attention of Lyrical Lemonade, collaborated with artists all over the city and, in October 2021, released his debut full-length mixtape. Children Play With Fire is filled to the brim with electric beats and features from fellow Chicago artists like Sydny August, Serena Isioma, Hatesonny and WemmyMo. The mixtape centralizes on themes of growing up in the inner city, and KARI credits much of his inspiration to past creators’ contributions to Chicago’s musical and cultural legacy.

The second-to-last track on Children Play With Fire, “NEON BOMBS” — featuring Hatesonny and WemmyMo — was selected as one of Vocalo’s “In Rotation” tracks for December 2021. We got the chance to chat with nombreKARI about collaborating with other Chicago artists, Children Play With Fire and the importance of building new ideas off of past innovation.

You told us your sound has roots in Chicago’s musical history. Why do you think it’s important to have an understanding of music history in order to build something new?

Music history allows us to understand what helped inspire the current landscape of music across genres. Historically, music has evolved through the adoption of pre-existing ideas. There’s no “new” without pre-existing ideas, and I think that speaks to the importance of music history.

In your own music, how do you build off of old ideas to create something that’s your own?

I feel like as an individual, making something that I can call my own comes down to how I interpret what it is that I’m drawing inspiration from. There’s no one experience exactly like mine, so I think that contributes to my ability to build off of old ideas to make something that I can call my own.

What do you love about the Chicago music scene?

I love the fact that the Chicago music scene is pretty centralized. It feels as if everyone who’s making music is connected, in one way or another.

What’s something you wish you could change about it?

Speaking to the business of music, I wish I could bring more infrastructure to the city. More resources to support emerging artists, more production spaces and more press opportunities, to say the least.

You’ve worked with a lot of other local musicians — like Serena Isioma, Sydny August, Hatesonny and WemmyMo, to name a few. What does it mean to you to be a part of a community of artists so willing to work together?

I’m honestly really grateful to be a part of a community of artists whose music I actually enjoy. Outside of music, we’re all friends and it feels good to collaborate with people who not only share a common goal, but actually genuinely support each other.

What do you look for most in a potential collaborator?

I look most for them to be open-minded and ego-less.

Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate with others? Why?

I honestly prefer collaborating with others, for the sake of being able to see things outside of my own perspective. I love working with different instrumentalists, vocalists, etc. Whether I enjoy collaborating with someone or not all depends on the chemistry, really.

How does your creative process differ when working alone versus working with others, if at all?

Sometimes I’m at my best creatively when I’m working with others, and other times I feel so much pressure to the point where it’s difficult for me to commit to an idea. When I’m alone, I feel comfortable to say anything, sing any melody or try out any idea. I always look for the input of others when I’m collaborating. So, for me, the difference is how self-critical I am of early ideas as I’m making a song.

You released your debut full-length mixtape Children Play With Fire this year. What’s the meaning of the work’s name? What prominent messages do you want to convey through Children Play With Fire?

With Children Play With Fire, I wanted to express what I feel is the essence of being Black, growing up in an inner-city, experiencing the joys of it while also navigating the dangers — but not being completely removed from participating in it.

I wanted to convey the sort of nuances of adolescence, what it’s like growing up in a neighborhood like Bronzeville and the cultural significance of growing up in Chicago in general.

Could you tell us a little bit about your writing and recording process throughout Children Play With Fire?

Honestly, I wrote a lot of my verses while being in the studio as the music was being made. Most times I was able to map out the ideas in my head. From there, I’d meditate on how I wanted to carry it out. There was a lot of re-writing and re-working. Most of the songs were recorded at myfriendnate and Gus Chvany’s home studios. A lot of late night and early morning recording sessions for sure.

What motivated you to start making music and performing as a teenager? Looking back on your first couple of years performing, how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist and a performer over time?

Jay-Z had a huge influence on me wanting to pursue making music. I remember being four years old and seeing the Fade to Black documentary, and just being so in awe of everything about him being a rapper. From that point, I knew I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. Along the way there were other people that inspired me, like Kanye, Common etc. I was 16 or 17 when I started to be presented with opportunities to perform, which was something I always wanted to do, so I kinda took it from there. I feel like my performance etiquette and overall skill set has grown over time.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022? Should listeners be on the lookout for anything?

I’m gonna be campaigning for Children Play With Fire for a while. I’m excited for warm weather. I’m excited to connect with people outside of the internet. I’m gonna throw my first headlining show this year, so I’m really looking forward to that. Yeah. This year I’m gonna release more music than I have in recent years, so I’m excited to show people how I’ve grown musically. Also, I’m planning to drop an EP in Q3, so we’ll see how that pans out.

This year is about elevating and being more open with my art.

Follow nombreKARI on Twitter and Instagram, and stream his music on Spotify below.

Interview edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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