Atlanta’s next generation of artists have taken the rap game by storm. Even those that haven’t caught wind of the talent ripping through the ATL have probably heard a couple rappers who sound like they’re from the 404. While Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert saw their careers take off in 2015, a red-headed ticking time bomb named Nessly accumulated buzz that couldn’t be written off as an Internet sensation. It was the type of buzz that made Drake and his associates keep their ears even closer to the streets, ultimately landing a few of Nessly’s songs on OVO Sound Radio.
Everything about Nessly gives you reason to believe he’ll be around for a while. For starters, he already has. It’s hard to label an artist who was making music before Soundcloud’s 2007 inception as a Soundcloud rapper. The 21-year-old MC has been recording for 10 years, but it was a miserable college orientation that made him realize he needed to take rapping more seriously. Music is no longer just a hobby for Nessly and the rest of his 24 Karats squad, so it takes more than a shared area code to land a collaboration these days. Nessly says he’s not trying to be the one Atlanta rapper that every other artist in the city has a song with. His longtime friends Lil Yachty and Burberry Perry are two of the few artists Nessly’s worked with.
Overnight success has become the formula for many, but for Nessly, longevity is the end goal. Nessly’s ability to push his sound from song to song proves that he’s in it for the long run. “Giddy Up” which was produced by a Dutch producer appropriately named Outtatown, makes use of drums that literally sound like there’s a horse galloping on the track. Nessly wants consistency—he’s looking for his next in-house producer, not the next buzzing artist to collaborate with. This type of mindset is what sets Nessly apart from the rest of his Atlanta contemporaries.
We got a chance to speak to Nessly about almost deleting a song that later got the OVO cosign, the muse behind his album artwork, the moment he decided to take music seriously, and of course, his red hair. Check out what he had to say below.
CJ RUCKER: How was SXSW? I know you performed there last year, but what was it like going there with a lot more buzz this time around?
NESSLY: Oh my god, it was unreal bro. I’ve been making music for a minute so to have this sudden energy around me is so new. Everywhere I went, kids stopped to ask me for pictures. Stuff like that isn’t a completely new experience but the level and the amount of people approaching me is definitely a new thing. I probably did 10 shows and I had more scheduled but I just couldn’t do them all. I’m not used to that magnitude of performances in a small schedule so I had to pick and choose and be very particular with what I did.
Did you do a lot of unofficial shows while you were there?
Yeah, I did. Usually there’s more unofficial shows than official ones especially when you’re indie. It was mostly about being out there and being able to be face-to-face with my fan base. A lot of kids can’t afford the SXSW wristbands and stuff, so the unofficial shows were pretty lit too.
You’ve been in the game for a minute, I’ve seen tweets between you and Young Thug that date back to like 2012. How does it feel to be in a position where it’s your time now?
Man. [Laughs] It’s weird because I feel like my time—even though it’s just now starting—might be a really big thing. I feel the longevity growing because I’m not necessarily overshadowed, but I’m not 100 percent in the forefront. I’m being reached out to by people I never thought I’d talk to.These people in my messages are people I listened to while growing up. They know who I am, I’m on their radar and I’m just now approaching 10K followers on Soundcloud. I’m not major, but it feels good to even be where I am right now. I appreciate it because I’ve been doing it so long. By 2012, I had already been rapping for a long time. This is all new to me, it’s fun.
Somebody on Twitter called you the best “Soundcloud rapper” and you had an interesting response. Can you expand on that?
I don’t think a lot of the artists who are are labeled as “Soundcloud rappers” are really Soundcloud rappers. A lot of people who use that title are much bigger than Soundcloud. I look at them in a whole other way; I don’t view them how I view myself. I’m humbled by people even saying that. I respect those guys who are called Soundcloud rappers, but I don’t necessarily agree with that title. I don’t know if they give themselves that moniker or not, but I don’t take the Soundcloud rapper label as disrespect.
cause soundcloud is only my platform to release, i don’t let it box me in like a lot of others https://t.co/s0Z9YVfcgj
— nessly (@nessly24k) March 23, 2016
In every era, there were Youtube rappers and MySpace rappers. When I replied to that tweet, I meant that I use Soundcloud as just one tool for exposure. The people who deserve that “Soundcloud rapper” title, bank on only Soundcloud. They don’t do shows, you don’t really see them, you don’t know much about them. You have guys like me and [Lil] Yachty who use Soundcloud, but it’s not the only way to reach us. There’s a whole group of people who don’t worry about anything other than Soundcloud. They don’t put their music on iTunes or anything like that. When you have your foot in more than one door, it makes you look at things a lot differently. I don’t claim that title. I’m not a Soundcloud rapper, I’m a rapper who uses Soundcloud.
With all the changes that Soundcloud is making, it looks like not letting Soundcloud be your only platform was a smart decision.
Yeah, we always try to always be ahead of the game and know what’s next before it’s even next. Whatever social media is next, we try to create an account and market ourselves on it. As far as Soundcloud goes, it’s my biggest reach, but in the upcoming months we’re going to try and put stuff on YouTube. You can’t really sleep on any network. I have songs on YouTube that have 30,000 plays and I thought that was impossible. We’ve had a couple music apps that are still in development reach out to my manager. I’ll always have a loyalty to Soundcloud as of now because of my following on there, but who knows what can change.
Your song “Giddy Up” was premiered on OVO Sound Radio last month. I know OVO tends to keep things under wraps but what can you tell us about your relationship with them and the support Drake and his manager, Oliver, have shown lately?
The first time I heard anything to do with OVO was on December 23rd—people were tweeting they heard “Crying in Codeine” at the OVO store in Los Angeles.
So this was around the time you dropped “Money Over You”?
Yeah, this was around that time. I had dropped “Money Over You” like two weeks before then. “Crying in Codeine” came out after and that was actually the first thing that got attention from OVO, but people don’t know that because they played it in their flagship store in Los Angeles. The only reason I knew about that is because I got a couple tweets from people saying, “Oh my god, I just heard Nessly in the OVO store, that’s crazy.” I was actually unsure as to how it all happened, but my manager, Angel figured out that Oliver actually picks what plays in the OVO store. So we figured Oliver had some involvement but we didn’t reach out, I just took it as a blessing and kept going. Then two weeks after that, they spun my first record on OVO which was “Alive” produced by Richie Souf. Souf is a big producer here in Atlanta but we’re actually just friends. It’s pretty rare that we’ll create, but when we do, it’s impactful.
Yeah, you can tell just by looking at the artwork on “Alive.”
Yeah, definitely man, we got that one in but I don’t know what made OVO choose that song in particular because it was honestly almost a forgotten song for me. So when they played it, I was like, “What the fuck? Out of all songs?” But at the same time I thought it was cool as hell. I actually considered deleting that song at one point, so I’m just grateful I didn’t.
From there on, Oliver followed me on Instagram and Twitter first and I was like, “Woah, what the fuck, this is Oliver.” I was already familiar with who he was prior to all that, but I actually got him and 40 mixed up. I was like, “Wait, I thought this guy made beats.” But yeah, we exchanged a couple DMs and we were going to meet up in Canada because I go pretty often, but it was NBA All Star weekend. Drake is the ambassador for the Raptors so he wasn’t really available but he did look out for me. He sent me over to the OVO store and the security expected me and all this shit, it was tight. They were just like, “Pick out whatever you want,” and I picked up like a thousand dollars worth of clothes. I felt like I was pushing it, bro! [Laughs] I left shit out on and they were still like, “Yo, just put these in there.”
Besides that, Oliver does actually reach out to me, just to say what’s up and stuff like that. It’s cool though, because small talk from your average person is normal but it’s a little different when it comes from a person in that position who I know probably has a very busy life. He asks if I have music I want them to play. With “Giddy Up,” I actually reached out to him. I asked him if he was interested in playing my new record and he was 100% down. Oliver really does support the youth and people who really have something going. OVO really knows what to invest in because they’re smart. They see where the sound is heading, they know who the new leaders will be at some point and they want to be a part of it in a way. They help contribute to the growth of artists as well. I haven’t seen a huge spike that directly correlates to that, but it’s definitely a good backing when people stumble across my page. I work with artists that they’re related to, so it’s lowkey like a circle for me at this point.
I’ve always felt like OVO does a great job of figuring out which artists will have longevity in this industry, so how does it feel to get recognition from dudes who tend to know what’s up next?
To be honest, I always knew that at some point OVO would kinda rock with me because my music can be looked at as a cousin to them; It could be in a related playlist. The only surprise there was how sudden it came. It feels good. I wouldn’t necessarily say I need it, just because of my work ethic, I thought they’d reach out maybe a year or two from now—but you know, there’s nothing wrong with an early start.
Can you talk about how you linked up with your producer, 16 Yr Old?
Actually one day, 40OzVan tweeted out a remix that 16 Yr Old did to “Stuntin Like My Daddy” by Lil Wayne and Birdman. That’s always been one of my favorite songs, it took me back to a long time ago. I felt like if somebody tweeted that out in 2015 it must be one hell of a fuckin remix, so I listened to it and I was really impressed. So I reached out to him and we figured out that we had mutual friends from when we were much younger—16 Yr Old is 18 and I’m 21. The first track we did was called “Thirsty Hoe.” He did a melody, sent me a file, and I created the 808s, kicks, snares, and all that. The beat is pretty simple but that’s how we linked up and got that first record done. From there, every other record has been organic. Maybe we’d Facetime and I’d hear him making a beat and I’ll be like, “Yo stop it right there, that’s perfect, send me that.” Different songs work different ways with us.
Where’s 16 Yr Old from?
He’s from Cleveland.
“I LITERALLY HAVE A TIMESTAMP IN MY HEAD OF WHEN I REALIZED I NEEDED TO TURN THIS SHIT UP.”
Have you guys had a chance to hit the studio together?
No, I’ve been trying to get him to meet with me but since he’s young, school and all that gets in the way. I’ve even tried to fly him out but he’s been having scheduling conflicts. It’s just a matter of timing but I do plan on getting in the studio with him and possibly doing a project with him. His involvement in my music has played a good role. Number one, we make good music, and two, it would only be right to do a project with him. Maybe like a small EP or something.
Were you recording while you were in school or did you give up school to really focus on the music?
I used to record every day in middle school and high school but I was doing it like it was a hobby. Now that I do it now, I feel the difference between doing it as a hobby and doing with the mindset: okay people have to hear this. I got a degree in college, it was some shit I didn’t want but my mom really wanted me to do it so I did it. Bro, I literally have a timestamp in my head of when I realized I needed to turn this shit up. I went to Georgia State University for orientation where they make you take your ID picture and all that. I took one look at the fuckin’ ID and I had the worst look on my face. I will literally take a picture of the ID just so you can put it in this article. I look so mad. I remember being so upset.
Me and my mom used to argue about school all the time—I’m talking every single day. Even if I’m out doing a show in Canada, I’ll call her and see how she’s doing and she’ll be like, “What’s up with school?” At the end of the day, it’s just because she wants the best for me, obviously. I’m starting to prove to her that things are coming into play. It’s just not an overnight process. It felt reachable but now it feels in reach. Then, I just knew it was a very big possibility if I move right.
Nessly’s college ID that made him realize he needed to take music seriously; “I took one look at the fuckin’ ID and I had the worst look on my face. I will literally take a picture of the ID just so you can put it in this article. I look so mad. I remember being so upset.”
How comfortable are you working with guys who make the type of music you wouldn’t normally create?
I’m pretty open. It just really depends. If it’s not one of my go-to guys, and just a random submission, it has to be extraordinary. Not saying the beats I get already aren’t extraordinary but I have an idea when I see a certain name in my email like, alright this is gonna be fire. If somebody doesn’t have the potential to be one of my everyday producers, I usually don’t even work with them.
So you’re looking to build long-lasting relationships even when it comes to submissions?
Yeah. At the end of the day I want to present opportunities for the people I work with as well. Some of the producers I work with present opportunities for me too so I want it to be an all-around beneficial thing and come up with the best product. With “Giddy Up,” the producer was this kid named Outtatown. He’s 16, and I think he’s from the Netherlands. He doesn’t have production credits with anyone with major plays so when he sent me some stuff, it didn’t click with me all the way but I definitely saw potential.
What’s your recording process like?
It’s all freestyle for the most part. Sometimes I’ll go line-by-line or maybe four or so lines. The only time I’ll write is when I can’t get myself into the mood but I still feel the vibe. Generally speaking, I freestyle, so it’s all based on my mood at the end of the day. If I’m not feeling upbeat, I probably can’t put something out unless I force it and it’s written. Since I’ve been freestyling for so long, my writtens are kind of lack thereof because I’m so used to freestyling.
How did your red hair come about?
It’s totally random, bro. I had a show on December 26th and my mom had some blonde dye. I had already been blonde too many times and when I looked in the mirror, I was like man there’s so many fuckin blonde rappers. I told my mom and she was like, “Well I have some red,” so I said, “Just do it.” Red is my favorite color too, so I instantly loved it.
What’s the inspiration behind some of your album artwork?
A crush. The girl that I use is a Parisian model but I don’t really say her name on record because it’s a little devious plot to reach out [laughs]. Not even because I feel like I’m going to date this girl but I think every artist has their own aesthetic. I don’t think anybody else is doing that, so if anyone ever uses that model for their artwork someone is going to say, “Oh, you got that from Nessly.” I don’t think anyone has used the same model for every song. I just save different Tumblr pictures and I use the ones that match the vibe of the song.
Artwork for “Crying in Codeine“
What else do you think separates you from everybody else especially coming from a city like Atlanta that’s filled with so much talent?
I think the biggest thing that separates me is beat selection. My approach to songs is definitely different. Another thing that now works to my advantage but probably held me back is: I don’t just collaborate with everybody from Atlanta just because they’re from Atlanta. These guys are still my friends and stuff. I respect what they have going on and I want to keep what I have going on. Maybe I’ll create with them at some point, but I’m trying to make it Nessly featuring Nessly. There’s a couple artists I’m working with right now that I’ll put stuff out with in the future, but it’s not a priority.
Is there a sense of competition when it comes to making music in a city like Atlanta?
I believe there is for others, but I feel so separated in terms of the creative process because like I said, it’s usually Nessly featuring Nessly. I get that sense from other artists when I watch them. I don’t know if people ever feel like, “Damn, why isn’t Nessly a part of this?” But I don’t see myself as a part of what they have going on.
You know how everybody in Atlanta has a song with that one artist. There’s always one or two artists that everybody has a song with. I’m the artist who, if you have a song with, everybody knows it was personal because I don’t really reach out. Sometimes I have to deny a collaboration request because it just doesn’t fit what I’m trying to do at the moment. It’s not that I don’t like the person’s music but I have a vision and I’m trying to execute it.
I get that vibe from your song with Lil Yachty, “Christmas Lights.” What’s your relationship with him been like?
Oh man, that’s one of my really good friends. Yachty has been my friend for a minute. He used to reach out when I was like 17 and I’m 21 now. We just used to communicate through the Internet. He wasn’t even rapping yet, he had like one or two songs. I don’t even think he was Lil Yachty yet. He was RD but he had just turned to Lil Yachty. That was his screen name but it wasn’t what he went by. I had a show at this pop-up shop and we met that day. I was actually with Burberry Perry because he used to live at my house for like a year.
We were talking and I told him to come by if he ever wanted to record so he came by with another artist named JBANS2Turnt and we did a song called “The Run Around.” “The Run Around” was produced by Perry and this was the first time Perry and Yachty met. I taught Perry how to make beats so I always wanted him to shoot higher. I felt like he needed an artist to work with and Yachty and Perry instantly gravitated. It was the perfect match. I put them in talks and they just started doing their own thing. They got shit moving and created “1Night.” Me and Yachty recorded like a mixtape worth of material. Me, him and K$supreme were coming out with a mixtape but everybody’s career just took off.
“IT WAS JUST MORE THAN ME AT THE TIME. WE ALL WANTED TO CHANGE OUR LIVES.”
How has it been seeing what started off as a hobby turn into a job even as an independent artist?
I started when I was really young; I was 12 when I first started recording. I always thought I was the shit at recording but then I had a reality check when I got out of a relationship at 19. I realized that I wasn’t really putting the focus that I probably should put into it if I wanted to be serious. One day, I reached out to one of my old classmates, Colby Crump. He took a bus to come see me—this man walked in the rain. Since we had this family way of moving, it was just more than me at the time. We all wanted to change our lives. My sound was still a little bit different, I was still developing. Something just sparked in my mind and I said, “Yo, we need to really turn up, it’s possible.” It wasn’t me seeing other people do it, it was just the fact that I had been doing it for so long that my hunger was through the roof. I was like, “Yo, if I don’t make it soon, my mom’s going to kick me out the house and I’m going to be homeless, hungry, or whatever the case may be.”
In the past four months, I’ve seen so much growth, it’s crazy. I went from getting 40K plays a month to 200K plays a week to 100K plays in 10 days on “Vogue.” Bro, I literally have screenshots from my Soundcloud page when I only had 100 or 200 followers and I thought I was doing good. I’m sitting here emailing Complex and The FADER telling them to post me but I just started not to give a fuck about all that and now these same people want to hit me up now. I’m not salty because now I know I did it right.
I’ve always felt like the blogs and all that will always come.
Yeah, they definitely come when it’s time. It’s just about waiting your turn and instead of waiting in silence, make a boom. I feel like that’s where we’re headed—we’re making a boom. It’s crazy to get all this support. I’ll open my Snapchat and get shit from people in Japan and Switzerland. It’s not just one person, it’s all day. I’m just taking it all in stride.