Ron Obasi means business. The 26-year-old MC, born and raised on the East Side of Nashville, is one of the city’s most promising up-and-coming artists. With a steady string of releases, Obasi is making a name for himself in a town known best for country music.
Ron Obasi’s latest EP, Notes on a Scale 2, released April 16, is the artist’s third over the last two years. The four-song gem deserves every ear it can get. The project leans heavily on jazz-influenced soundscapes full of introspective horns, purposeful keys, and driving basslines. These instrumentals are perfect for putting Obasi’s effortlessly compelling delivery on full display. When the Nashville-bred storyteller gets on the mic, he commands our attention.
“I always did poetry, I was always someone speaking in front of large groups or becoming a captain of my team,” Obasi explains over the phone. “It never bothered me to have a sense of conviction because it all comes from a real place.”
NOAS2 showcases a wide range of Obasi’s artistry. On “Good Rapz II,” the Nashville rapper delivers his opening jab. The slow-building introspective joint places his lyricism at the forefront, making clear Obasi privileges the written word over all else. Meanwhile, on “Crack the Code,” alongside RyAnne and Jordan Xx, Obasi deploys a change of pace in the uptempo posse cut. Finally, “Mo’ Luxury,” with a guest appearance from Jxdece, finds Obasi navigating a lo-fi instrumental with a breathless flow.
On the EP’s closer, “Write(ous) Men,” Obasi remits an emotional standout atop a bed of somber horns and an underlying head-banging drum pocket, as he taps into the inner voice that so often gets pushed away in daily life.
“I was writing from the standpoint of, ‘I might not have everything that says I’m the one or I’m the person that millions of people will hear, but I have this feeling inside,’” Obasi says. “If I say that out loud, people will look at me like I’m crazy. But it’s real.”
Though he’s standing at the beginning of his rapping career, Ron Obasi knows precisely where he wants to end up: “I want to be considered one of the best. I’m the type of person that wouldn’t have the inclination to do this if I didn’t want to be remembered as one of the greatest ever to do it.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Nashville, of course, is known worldwide for its country music scene. However, the city’s rap scene is beginning to turn some heads, too. How has coming up in Nashville influenced your music?
Ron Obasi: Nashville has been more of an influence on me in the present day because of the [current] artists but, growing up, it had its influence. I’m from the South, and most of the local rappers didn’t sound any different from what I was listening to from the mainstream, so the influence was shared. It was never just Nashville. Because of the music, my pops was bringing in the house, I was just listening to his music, and maybe Lito and Buck. As I got older, I started to realize [all] the [Nashville artists] I never came in contact with. I was not necessarily sheltered, but their music never reached me.
There is a real community feel amongst artists like yourself, Brian Brown, Chuck Indigo, JordanXx, and others. What are the benefits of having a supportive community of creatives to lean on?
The benefits come in all different kinds of facets. Iron sharpens iron. Those are all great people and great artists that you named, so as they grow and come in contact with resources, they supply [it to you]. You have access to things that, in the past, other Nashville rappers haven’t had access to, and I don’t even mean that [from] a business standpoint; I mean, literal quality things. Like, one of them could introduce you to a great music engineer that could [improve] your sound quality. They’ve probably done things before you, too, so they can show you how to do things. It’s a learning community. It’s always a reach-one-teach-one.
In 2019, you released two EPs: Cashville Alien and Notes on a Scale. Then, earlier this month, you released another EP, Notes on a Scale 2. What is your mindset behind releasing EPs rather than full-length projects?
Honestly, it might seem strategic, but, for me, that’s just the music. Cashville Alien might’ve been the only project that, from front to back, was the only body of work I was focusing on at the time. Both Notes on a Scale EPs came in the midst of a longer project I’m working on right now.
On one side, it’s me getting better and mastering my sound before I put out this longer body of work that’s very, very important to me. And that’s not to say the EPs aren’t important. They’re just great music I can give people in the meantime. So, it’s not intentional as far as consumption is concerned. I guess from a fan interpretation, it’s more like, here [are] four good songs, and here’s what space I’m in. It’s an easy listen. It’s 15-20 minutes, and they don’t have to do any deep [diving]. They can just enjoy the listen.
Your music incorporates a lot of jazz-influenced sounds. Why?
Jazz is influenced [heavily in my music] because when I first started penning my raps in college, it was to jazz pieces. It was either jazz or boom bap beats. It was the easiest thing to practice flows on because jazz pieces don’t have—they have structure, but it’s mostly playing from an emotional standpoint. So, the pockets on there are challenging, but once you realize you have free range [within them], it gets you into the motion of when a producer is making you a full beat. It becomes easy to pick a pocket [to] manipulate and breathe for a second.
How did you find your voice as an artist?
When you first start, it is always hard finding your voice. In my opinion, [my fans] might’ve already felt like, when they first heard me, that I had already found my voice. But that just comes from having that conviction [in me] for as long as I can remember. I always did poetry. I was always someone speaking in front of large groups or becoming a captain of my team. It never bothered me to have a sense of conviction because it all comes from a real place. But, [my delivery] is polished from practice, for sure. That’s something I worked on, my breathing, and just getting my words across [clearly].
On “Write(ous) Men,” there’s an especially moving moment in the beginning when you rap: “I’m grabbing hold to the wall / I’m grabbing hold to my thoughts / I feel special inside but when I yell it, I’m wrong.” Can you speak about your writing process here?
There’s moments when I go to write, and I’m writing from that voice that nobody uses when they talk out loud. It’s that initial feeling you get when you’re making a decision or when you’re getting ready to say something. A lot of people are good at saying whatever comes to their mind first, but a lot of deep thinkers, people who think about what they’re going to say before they say it, shy away from that actual voice.
So, the writing process came just from speaking from an artistic standpoint. There’s a lot of people who do what they do and sometimes feel smothered because there’s not a lot of spaces for somebody to yell, “I was gifted this talent, and it’s special!” without someone trying to make them feel like that’s an egotistical thing; like they have to earn the right to proclaim that. So, I was writing from the standpoint of, “I might not have everything that says I’m the one or I’m the person that millions of people will hear, but I have this feeling inside.” If I say that out loud, people will look at me like I’m crazy, but it’s real.
What is your “Why” behind making music?
It’s my voice. If I can put it in simple terms, I’m a real inside-my-head person. Music was gifted to me to be my voice, and that comes from a place of wanting to be a dad. That’s a strong why. Parenthood is a driving force behind why I do this. I can’t not do it. It’s [been] on my heart for as long as I can remember. That may be a cliche answer, but it’s always been a burning passion. If I’m doing anything other than music, I can’t even function.
Right now, you’re standing at the beginning of your career. At the end of this, when all is said and done, how do you want people to remember you?
Legacy is important; [it] should be important to everyone. So, considering [music] is my voice, I want it to be one of the biggest voices people have ever heard, and I hope it inspires people forever because I’ve got a lot of inspiring to do. I want to be considered one of the best. I’m the type of person that wouldn’t have the inclination to do this if I didn’t want to be remembered as one of the greatest ever to do it.