A solid portion of my life involves hearing, "Yo, you really need to check out this new artist," and then when I check out said new artist I leave underwhelmed. It's not necessarily that the music's bad. It's that they sound like they could one day make truly good music, maybe even great music, but that's one day. Right here, right now, there's more potential than product, and of course. There's just no short cutting the 10,000 hours to greatness rule.
Alxandr Nate is the very rare exception. He had only started releasing his very first songs just a few months ago, and according to Google he didn't exist at all. And yet when Brendan insisted that I needed to listen to this "Noah's Town" joint and I relented, I heard an artist who sounded like he'd been developing for years, not emerging for the first time. The production, the mixing, the concept, the vocal delivery, he sounded like a grizzled veteran.
And then I listened to his El Dorado album and was even more impressed. The project was filled with live instruments, united by a concept, the work of an artist who sounded farther along in their career than someone so new had any right to be. In other words, he felt like a prime candidate for our Top Prospects series, and so just a few weeks later I found myself on the phone with the enigmatic artist.
I didn't want to be that much of an enigma, that wasn't the plan, it just kind of happened.
You should know that while it's currently impossible to find an image of Alxandr Nate on the internet and his social media is completely devoid of any indication of who he is as an actual person, a monumental accomplishment in 2016, he's not one of these artists deliberately cultivating an air of mystery as a marketing ploy. Believe it or not, it very genuinely sounds like it simply hasn't occurred to him that he should market himself at all.
In order to believe that you need to understand just how obsessed he is with the El Dorado story, and to understand that you need to understand where he came from. He grew up in Virginia with a Christian mother who paid for piano lessons and preferred for her son to listen to clean, wholesome music, which gave him an appreciation for a wide range of genres. He cites Gavin Degraw as a hero, but this also meant he listened to hip-hop favorites like 50 Cent and Juelz Santana on the sly. "I learned early that good music is good music, it didn't matter where it came from," he said.
He went to college with plans of making it at least look like he had college graduation plans, but truthfully all he wanted to do was make music. Crucially, he had no plans of stardom or living the life of a professional musician, he had just been developing a story linking together his life and the mythical tale of the lost city of El Dorado, and he felt unstoppably compelled to get that story out of his head and intro music.
The story, it parallels the reality of what I'm doing in real life, and the story of Alxandr. Each song correlates with where that character's at, and my journey from leaving home, going to LA. Everyone has that El Dorado in their mind, the place they dream of reaching, and it's all about whether or not you're going to go for it.
But as hard as he tried, working with local musicians just wasn't producing the music he heard in his head, so like so many before him, he decided he needed to move to New York City. A bus trip and a cheap apartment later and he was connecting with like-minded artists, and then by chance connecting with Nate Fox, best known as Chance the Rapper's frequent production partner and a Social Experiment founder. Music passed back and forth lead to actual collaboration and trips to L.A. to record, which incredibly landed Nate in L.A. at the same time SoX were recording Surf. "I remember seeing the bulletin board in there," he recounted. "Working with him and that crew was so organic."
The creative energy was contagious, and with Nate Foxx teaching him the ropes El Dorado quickly began to take shape. And that's how you end up with a debut album from an artist that's never released so much as another song that sounds like this:
We've always chosen our Top Prospects because we felt that they were making music that both deserved to be listened to and showed the promise of a bright future, regardless of if that future would ever mean large commercial success, and in Nate's case it's especially true.
When I ask him about his plans for the future I mean it in the sense of his plans to build a career, his thoughts on signing to a label versus staying independent, but those considerations are apparently buried so deep in the back of his mind they don't occur to him. Instead, he immediately launches into his plans to continue telling the story of El Dorado. "It's more important to tell the story than talk about me, I don't care about selfies," he says. "The rest of the story is mapped out in my mind. I'm hyped to write it all out, but I can't even begin to determine when it could end."
And as long as he has a story to tell, we'll be here, listening.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.