Radamiz raps as if his life depends upon the craft. The 26-year-old New York emcee has a penchant for the pen and a barking delivery that grips our ear. His newest album, Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes, releasing Friday, October 4, is a meditation on mortality and legacy. Packed with passionate and breakneck raps, Nothing Changes is just as obsessed with the anxieties of making a lasting impression, as it is captivated by heritage and lineage. One minute, Rad is paying tribute to his city, and the next, he’s thanking the women in his family for smacking him up with books and wooden spoons. There are talks of rising from the ashes, and there are talks of processing pain into art. With Nothing Changes, Radamiz has developed his most mature and enthralling project to date.
“The biggest thing is understanding music is my key to immortality,” Rad tells me over the phone. “It’s the only thing that’s concrete. Being an artist, I don’t look at music as a disposable thing. I don’t look at music like it’s something to be released—here’s a barrage of 100 songs a year, trying to get hot. I look at it like, if this is the last thing I leave earth with, that’s what people will know me by.”
If Nothing Changes is Radamiz’s last project, he wants people to know he went for it—and he did it. The rapper’s passion-turned-obsession is rooted in coming from nothing and making high-stakes art. Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes is an ode to the first-generation immigrant experience; an ode to starting below zero and rising to a platform that promises good days ahead. Radamiz feels the weight of his influence on his family and his community. He knows he is a beacon for the people around him. He’s carrying everyone on his shoulders gleefully; this is his legacy.
“I gotta be that guy,” he explains, summing up all the spheres of identity that make him Radamiz. “I gotta be the one that represents that wholly and makes sure other people know their voices are being heard and uplifted. I don’t want my parents disappointed in what their son stood for.”
“People who know me know this was made from nothing,” he stresses. “I’ve never quit. I’ve never looked at my mistakes as roadblocks. They’ve always been insightful. I make mistakes, and I learn from them. I never let them hinder me, ever.” Amen.
Our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
The new album, Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes, deals a lot with mortality. Is that something you wrestle with?
A majority of the time, [I’m] trying to deal with it, one way or another. Sometimes, it’s a celebratory thing. The biggest thing is understanding music is my key to immortality. It’s the only thing that’s concrete. Being an artist, I don’t look at music as a disposable thing. I don’t look at it like it’s something to be released—here’s a barrage of 100 songs a year, trying to get hot. I look at it like, if this is the last thing I leave earth with, that’s what people will know me by.
That gives me a sense of urgency to make sure I’m not wasting anybody’s minutes. This album is setting up a great platform for here on out. Like, yo, I am gonna die one day, but it’s not a morbid thing. It’s not a depressing thing. It’s a realization to take action now because this is all I got.
You sound like you’re rapping for your life.
Yeah! That’s how I figure out a lot of things. I’m not even nostalgic on the album. It’s from a place of right here and now. I have to grapple and think about some things, like my friend on the first song. I don’t know if you’re alive or in jail. That’s real. I haven’t thought about it until it was time to write that song. Rap is where I’m clearest. I’m not good on Twitter or Instagram; it’s not my thing. It has to be in the music.
You sound possessed by passion. Has it always been that way for you, or have you had to overcome a lack of inspiration?
“Possessed with passion” are great words. When you have nothing else working for you, and this is the only thing that has some influential, upwards mobility in your life—that’s the thing that saves the bad days from being terrible days. It’s instinctual, kind of. This is all I have. I can’t wait for the perfect moment. I have to make every moment as perfect as possible; that’s where the passion comes from. It’s not about what anybody else has done. It’s more like, “Yo, as great as you can be today? Go be that.”
Would you consider yourself obsessed with hip-hop, and how does that impact your work-life balance?
Obsession, life-calling, and seeing the value of your work, it’s all kind of in there. It’s an obsession because it has to be. It’s budgeting and money, quitting your job. It’s not hanging out with friends because the verse isn’t done and you need some peace of mind to think about what’s next. I’m not the artist who sits back and let executives get the job done. I’m aware of the pieces that make an artist successful. So it ends up becoming an obsession.
There’s a backlash. My mom’s gotten used to it as I started to make more money. My sister doesn’t have an older brother around, but now she’s used to it. My girl? We’re still figuring it out, too—that relationship between love and career.
This album is anxious in some places. The Nuyorican interlude delves into the anxiety of legacy. Does legacy drive you crazy?
It makes me crazy for sure because I’m one-of-one. I would’ve quit a long time ago if I saw myself already on the charts. The New York voice, first-generation immigrant child that still has ties to the Dominican Republic and the experiences I’ve had… I’ve had the lowest of lows. I know people that have killed people, and I talk to pastors. I know the institutionally educated and the street smart. I know the fashion kids and the aspiring politicians, and we all somehow find mutual ground to speak on.
Outside of that, I come from a family that has not made their name in the world. They made their name to me. And I’m from the hood. So, I gotta be that guy. I gotta be the one that represents that wholly and makes sure other people know their voices are being heard and uplifted. I don’t want my parents disappointed in what their son stood for.
How do you create while dealing with all those bubbling responsibilities?
I don’t hang out with people all the time. I’m social, I’ve had teas and dinners, but I make sure I spend time with myself. Sometimes, I just shut everybody out because I have to meditate and pray. I pray a lot, and I’ve been praying more and more, which is why I feel my life is getting better. Even if you don’t believe in that concrete idea of God, you’re still vocalizing and bringing out your innermost thoughts and insecurities, your worries and aspirations, your passions and happiness. Bringing that out to the front is a solo mission. I come back when I know I’m gathered.
The other major theme of Nothing Changes is heritage. You pay homage to your family and New York. Why is lineage so important?
Lineage is important because it provides such a spiritual foundation for when you start finding yourself. It’s one thing to be raised in Bed Stuy; it’s another thing to know about the art that came out of it. The same thing with the DR. That’s a clean slate for me, and I have the opportunity to create what that means to a world outside the Latino market. I look at myself more like a documentarian than anything else. We need information and advice passed down, so the next person has much more to learn from for their individual experience. That’s why I have to rep my flags.
Last one, kind of heavy. If you pass today, what do you hope you leave behind?
That I tried, I went for it. People who know me know this was made from nothing. We don’t come from shit. None of my friends were JAY-Z’s nephew. None of my cousins work at these labels. I’ve had a job since I was 11. I started working in delis and shit. I went for it, you know? Not only did I go for it, but I’m getting it. Even in the face of adversity… I’ve made mistakes in my life, I’ve done wrong… I’ve never quit. I’ve never looked at my mistakes as roadblocks. They’ve always been insightful. I make mistakes, and I learn from them. I never let them hinder me, ever.