Exclusive: Wara From the NBHD - The RAPstation Interview

Exclusive: Wara From the NBHD - The RAPstation Interview By Dean Van Nguyen Taking a giant step away from the huge cluster of mixtapes dropped last year by young rappers all eager to section off their own corner of hip-hop, Wara From the NBHD's ambitious project Ill Street Blues was less an unorganized collection of tracks, skits and scattered verses, and more a fully-formed day-in-the-life of the young MC and a window into his daily grind. Cinematic in its presentation, Wara proves an absorbing protagonist, inviting listeners to witness the good, bad and occasionally unsightly side of his existence, from flashy depictions of youthful energy ("Top of the World") to domestic disputes ("The Ill Street Blues"), tales of drug pushing ("Drug Traffic") and the welcome distraction of the local dice game ("Cee-lo Champs"). Unsurprisingly, much thought and planning went into the project from its author to ensure it was a unified work. "I was studying so many of my favourite artist's first albums and how they did they shit," the 23-year-old says, speaking on the phone from ATL. "I think with all that studying coming into play, it just helped me figure out how to make a tape mesh or make it sound cohesive - having a specific subject to talk about and kind of learn how to stick to that topic throughout the album." With the majority of its all musical and lyrical themes contributing to a consistent narrative, Ill Street Blues is reminiscent of Jay Z's own hustler's playbook Reasonable Doubt and plot-driven blockbuster American Gangster. But perhaps most crucially, Wara cites Ready to Die as a key touching point. Biggie's classic even inspired the cover, which features a striking image of Wara's infant son. "Ready to Die was a major inspiration because that was probably the album I was listening to the most when I was making it," Wara reveals. "I was listening to Reasonable Doubt a lot, but Ready to Die was a major influence like I said because it was Biggie's first tape and I feel like this is one of my favourite albums and when he made that he was going through all the same things I was going through. I was listening to that a lot and what Biggie did to me was he was just giving off the cinematic - like being very vivid with his lyrics and how he was talking about what he was going through. And the grittiness of it and kinda like the 'not giving a fuck' feel. I just tried to apply that to my shit the best way I could." Like Big, Wara spent his early life growing up in Brooklyn, but moved to Atlanta around the age of 9. "Honestly, I would say I had a great childhood," he says. "It wasn't too rough or nothing like that. I had both of my parents around until we moved to Atlanta [and] my parents separated. Then I really had to become a man for real." The son of a reggae musician dad, the young Wara was around music from an early age. But despite his father's influence, he points towards his brother as leaving the biggest impression on his burgeoning musical taste. "My brother was always playing all the latest Nas, Wu-Tang; all that New York shit," he explains. "Then coming up out of the Southern culture was always like Outkast, Ludacris. So as time came, when I started rapping, I didn't really know what my sound was. Even still to this day I still don't really know what my exact sound is because I don't like to put myself in that box." That influence can be heard all over his work today. While Ready to Die and Reasonable Doubt influenced him thematically, Wara also leans on the '90s for inspiration in his delivery - a clean, melodic flow that displays his accomplished lyrical dexterity - and production style. In that regard, he can claim to be a part of the '90s hip-hop resurgence often headlined by Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Statik Selektah and others. But Wara hasn't simply jumped on an en vogue style. He maintains a special affinity for the era. "I just feel like music back then was so authentic and it was clearly like such an ill time," he says. "The 2000s were really my time, but being in my youth and hearing all these random songs and all this music on the radio [during the '90s], it just felt like the golden era of music, especially in hip-hop." To get the sound he wanted on Ill Street Blues, Wara worked closely with up-and-coming producers like Lefthandmitch and Childish Major before laying their beats with live instrumentation. While giving each instrumental a more soulful edge, the method was also utilized to tie the entire work together. "When you're working with a whole bunch of producers you're working with you've got all these different sounds and it's kind of hard to make it mix," Wara explains. "So somehow you've got to figure out a way to bring all of them together or [the mixtape would be] all over the place if you really think about it. If you've got 10 different producers on the one tape, all those producers don't have the same sound, that's impossible. So it's kind of like you’ve got to try to make everybody be on the same page when you're making the beats." Ill Street Blues was meant with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from listeners. "The album is unique on many levels, set apart by raw lyrics, organic production and a plethora of established contributors," wrote Earmilk's Charles David, while Steady Bloggin' was sufficiently moved to post about the tape without hearing it in full, referring to snippets as "new school rap informed by old school sensibility." Wara himself has since stayed busy. His new song "98 Rocafella" dropped in November and was accompanied by an old-school kung-fu-themed video. ("The low budgetness of it was kind of like a tight thing to me so I kind of wanted to bring that to that video.") Maintaining momentum, he plans on spending the next 12 months traveling, connecting with his fans and working on new music. "I want to feed my creativity this year," he affirms. "I definitely want to get out here more as a producer. This next album is going to be my production debut." "Now I feel like it’s time to travel and truly become a better artist."