“Flow like a thing of the past, so vintage”
The heads in the packed BK Circus clothing store bobbed in unison as headphones glowed a blue hue; as if purposely exuding a calm through the audio. Screw-faces were plentiful as the crowd was hit with tantalizing one-liners and Genius worthy entendre. There were no distractions. For an hour there wasn’t a person soliciting a business card nor was there a “let’s connect” conversation. There was just rap and a slew of people that loved every bit of what they were listening to.
“And that ladies and gentleman, is Return of The Cool. I’d love your feedback”
The object of our attention was Nick Grant, who grinned a proud smile as the room erupted in applause. We were weeks away from the release of his debut album, and supporters and wonderers alike were gifted a first listen. Grant’s quest for feedback was as humble as his attire; simple and unexpected for a young rapper about to embark on the road to superstardom. Answering every question and addressing each person in the room that reached out for a handshake or hug, his magnetic personality dominated, creating new fans with every introduction. “But I think I love him” one female attendee cooed.
The Walterboro South Carolina native has come a long way from his pre-teen memories of reciting his first rhyme in a friend’s basement. His freestyles on Sway In The Morning, BET Hip Hop Awards and more have catapulted him into the spotlight; quickly becoming the best rising pen in the game.
“Oh my God man, if I could find that…….I would feel so complete as an artist cause that’s like the moment you take the training wheels off of your bike.” The emcee reminisced about the old notebook housing the lyrics that made him the artist he is.
His appeal stems from the vintage flows he so frequently raps about. A self-proclaimed product of the Bad Boy era, Grant’s fans are those that love heavy lyricism and nineties sounds. It’s no surprise that those fans include hip-hop prodigies Nas and Andre 3000; as his trigger finger unloads a clip of straight shooting punchlines and complex metaphors whenever you press play.
His impressive introductory mixtape ’88 set a high bar for the Culture Republic/Epic Records signee and ultimately set the tone for the rapper’s swift moving career trajectory. The dynamic project boasted features from Big K.R.I.T., Killer Mike and Young Dro keeping Grant’s name in the center of every “who’s next” conversation of 2016. It’s the mixtape that dubbed him hip-hop’s new golden child, yet Grant is ready to move on from it.
“‘88 was to grab people. [But] I want people to grow with me… People tend to get caught up with what they fell in love with first. I want people to listen, understand and grow because my lyrics only get better but if you’re only caught up with this one body of work you know, your not gonna get the picture every time. You might miss something. You might miss an important part of the movie. But everything is a set up for something else. ’88 was a set up for Return of the Cool. You know ’88 to corporate standards was was just something that we did, a mixtape that we just put out. But it’s still something that I look at as an album [necessary] to create the album I just put out.”
Appeasing corporate expectations is not uncommon for new artists, as many face the arduous task of making music to get the attention of the fickle public. For 2008 J. Cole, the emcee diverted from his boastful mixtape raps and released “Workout”, his radio record that would get him on the charts- but far from his best work. For Nick, that record exists in “Get Up”, Return of the Cool’s lead single.
Uptempo, catchy and memorable, “Get Up” is a record for mass appeal- but it is far from indicative of Grant’s lyrical skillset.
“It’s the one that got people paying attention. To be honest with you….I was 70 percent in love with that record you know and I feel like it wasn’t me 100 percent. But it was some of the stuff that I grew up listening to and fell in love with; James brown and some of the stuff that is reminiscent of this record.
If I keep making records from ’88, I’d have the same people just loving my music. When you’re an artist it’s kind of hard to balance the music business because you’re so worried about the art and the best way to get your point and your feelings across….You gotta step out your box and make records like “Get Up” and “Work Out” to get other people to pay attention to you and get other groups of people in…you know? It’s a gift and a curse, I wouldn’t have been on Colbert if it wasn’t for that record let me say that.”
On Return of the Cool, Grant delivers 11 tracks of incomparable bars and a rhyme style that outperforms the current cohort of rappers on the rise. He jabs at pop culture 200 on the car dash with a trunk full of Ye while flexing over Jazz, and Soul beats boasting slinky snares and booming basslines. Each track was seemingly hand crafted for him; he masters every track as if he was the last man standing. From his in your face opener, to the Flex-Bomb worthy standout “Drug Lord Couture”. It’s bars over everything on this album.
“This the life I’m posed’ to live, tell a hoe don’t comment
Yellow gold like a wine-o’s eye rolls of jaundice”- Drug LORD COUTURE
“I was in the room every time something was being created. It was like, if I could use the Maschines I’d have done it the exact same way. If I could use the equipment I would be a producer and rapper but you know, I was only blessed with being a rapper so I gotta be in the room and co-producing. Telling people.. when I need to hear the snare or how I want the beat to drop. the production is still like what….60 percent me.
For Nick Grant, being on the rise right now can be seemingly challenging. As we usher in a new age of mumble-rappers, hip-hop consumers sit at the intersection of dabbing on every record while simultaneously wanting that old thing back. The question of if there’s room for an advanced spitter like Grant is a popular one. The answer, if you ask me is absolutely.
The division between sub-genres is one that will seemingly always exist in hip-hop. We’ve had the artists that made us dance, while we championed those that made us reflect. It’s that ability to create balance that makes the overall culture stand the test of time in a fluctuating industry. For every Wu-Tang we needed a Kris Kross. For every Desiigner, we need a Nick Grant.
Nonetheless, with great notereity comes with great responsibilty and that is where Grant feels musicians are failing.
“When I die I want something to mean something, you know. When I die I want my words to mean something. I don’t wanna be a here today gone tomorrow kind of dude. I don’t do it for money, I don’t do it for accolades, I do it to changes lives. You know everything cant just be bad for you, everything cant just rot your brain, you need nourishment so, that’s why I tend to focus on that cause there isn’t enough of that. God gave me this gift for that and I don’t wanna use it the wrong way…But I indulge in that [Trap] too.”
“I can be Future and Malcolm x.”
As Return of the Cool heads into its second month of shelf life, Nick is already preparing for the release of his follow up project Sunday Dinner (released later this year); a more reflective and personal effort from the rapper. In the interim, he’ll be touring with Joey Purp and blessing stages at SXSW and Broccoli Fest with his lyrical dexterity.
Whenever I’m ready to turn the radio down and my headphones up, it’s the boastful bravado and unequivocal entertainment of Nick Grant that I’ll be listening to. His reign as hip-hop’s newest boy wonder continues.
“I’m not underrated. I’m just not for everybody.”
Me: What was the pit, of making Return of the Cool?
Nick: Someone stole my laptop with my whole Return of the Cool project on it. They took my laptop, my bag, my hard drives with everything on it. Fortunately, I backed it up and left it at the studio one day.
Me: So we almost didn’t have this album…
Nick: I would’ve been pissed.