There’s just something different about Southern California-based Chicago native Nez. The rapper started blowing up online a couple of years ago thanks to banging tracks like “Wild Youngster,” and even back then it was clear that there was something fresh happening here. His lyrics are sharp and incisive, sure enough, but it’s the house-influenced tunery that frames it all – the blend of genres and beats tying it all together – that convinces listeners that Nez is special.
It’s been a long time coming. Nez says that he’s always been writing and performing, even as a kid.
“I’ve just always been into music,” he says. “I’ve always had an interest in it. Whether it was performing as a drummer in my church at the age of 8, it’s always been around. I think in terms of it becoming something serious, that happened within the last few years. I was producing prior to performing, and I started producing professionally around 2011. Within the last couple of years I found my sound, and something that I felt interested in putting out. So yeah, I’ve only really started my journey as an artist in the last two years.”
Yep, before he was a solo artist, Nez was a part of the Nez & Rio production duo. That got him started, before he began producing outside of that partnership, and then eventually working on his own music. He says that he took inspiration from all of the artists that he worked with.
“I’ve learned something from everyone that I’ve worked with throughout the entire way,” Nez says. “That’s the dope thing about producing – you get a chance to be a fly on the wall. Sometimes you get a chance to grow with artists depending on when you meet them. Sometimes, you meet them on the way up and you get a chance to see their development. Sometimes, if you meet them and they’re already big, you get a chance to see how they do things.”
Now that he’s flying, Nez describes his sound as a “gumbo mix.” It’s rooted in house and techno, blending hip-hop, R&B, pop and funk. The artist prefers to let other people describe it. But the fact that he was in Chicago and had family in the Chi-Town house scene, with Detroit techno not far away, clearly had an effect.
“House music has always been something that’s been around,” he says. “And you can’t help it – Chicago’s a house city. On the radio growing up, even to this day, you’re going to get house music. So those are things that we were always playing growing up. Second nature.”
Based on his high-energy output and blur of genres, it feels entirely appropriate that his new EP is released in partnership with the video game Grand Theft Auto.
“What’s interesting is that I’ve always been into digital music, from Kraftwerk even to what’s going on now in techno and avant garde,” Nez says. “But I always grew up playing Grand Theft Auto, too. It was always dope, and I always paid attention and knew that their soundtracks were dope. So when I got the opportunity to make some music for it, it was just like perfect for me because I’m already a fan of the game, and I listen to the music on the game. It’s a dope piece of history to be part of.”
The artist says that he didn’t write music specifically to tie into a narrative on the game – it wasn’t that literal. But he did know, from his experience playing the game, what he wants to hear blasting out of those car radios. That said, the people at Circoloco (the record label associated with Rockstar Games, the creators of GTA) gave Nez total freedom.
“I like working with them because they literally gave me total freedom,” he says. “It was literally just like, ‘We want you to do what you do.’ So it was perfect for me. I loved working with the Circoloco team because they gave me free rein to do whatever. The first ideas that I gave them, they were like, ‘Yeah, this is it. Develop on that – this is cool.’ So it worked out perfectly.”
Nez was working on this project during the pandemic, and he says that the lockdown had a big impact on him, shifting his process.
“I had to go out of my way to make creative spaces for myself,” he says. “So I would rent out Airbnbs, and completely decorate them to make me feel like I was somewhere else. It really allowed me to dig deeper in my creativity, just because I was making things that I wanted to exist. There was a long time where I couldn’t even go out, and I’m making dance music! So it’s a little bit weird. But it allowed me to go further into this whole concept of escapism that I’ve been really embracing.”
At least he had the good weather. Nez has been living in L.A. for nine years now, inspired to move because of his work with South Central rapper Schoolboy Q.
“I felt like, if I could just be closer to a lot of the artists I was working with, and they were all based in L.A., there’d be a lot more room for growth,” he says. “I love L.A. Something about this city allows me to dream. I think the weather helps. The culture. And also just being around other creators. I’m always inspired going into somebody else’s studio. Even creators in other fields of art, fashion designers, film makers – it’s really dope seeing people going after their dreams and evolving.”
With the GTA EP coming out soon, Nez hopes to be getting out on the road (COVID-permitting).
“I’m looking forward to going out and experiencing this on a live stage,” he says in conclusion. “I hope everyone’s being safe.”
Rapper Nez’s GTA tunes are no game: Nez’s new EP is out now.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting Irvine Weekly and our advertisers.