The best Young Nudy songs are suspended in a state between sleep and waking life, a haze of bass and speech fragments. Take his studio debut, Anyways, released early last year on RCA. By the middle of its second song, the primary vocal track—a verse delivered in crisp double time—and its competing ad-lib track begin to weave back and forth, into and across one another, each eager to be the scaffolding on which the other can build something distinct. Nudy’s frequent collaborator, the producer Pi’erre Bourne, makes beats that are often compared to video game soundtracks. If this is true, the MC’s raps are like your friend’s dubiously sourced cheat codes that make the screen bug out and the system start to smoke.
Nudy, now 28, spent his early childhood in West Atlanta before moving to the city’s Eastside, where he listened to contemporary local artists, turn-of-the-century Southern staples from the Cash Money catalog, and, he stresses, tons of the Memphis duo 8Ball & MJG. His own writing includes short vignettes and detached details of urban decay and shocking violence, yet those, like everything else, get delivered in a Technicolor lilt and in a constantly shifting series of flows. This gives Nudy’s verses a levity that can be disorienting. The effect makes him well-suited to the horror movie kitsch he has mined since his early Slimeball mixtapes—and has turned him into one of the niche’s sharpest critics: on the phone with me, he laments that movie executives have replaced his favorite avatar with “that little fake-ass, robot Woody-looking-ass Chucky.”
DR. EV4L, out last month, is a smart, widescreen expansion of that early work, strange and sinister and entrancingly weightless. While it sports some marquee guest names—G Herbo, Lil Uzi Vert, his cousin 21 Savage—Nudy does not reach for rap radio, though one imagines it might meet him halfway. “Friends love it, fans goddamn super love it,” says Nudy, whose interview is at one point interrupted by a passerby telling him which of the just-released songs is his favorite. “Me, I love it ‘cause they love it.”
You’ve said in the past that you really like recording on the run–you cut Faded in the Booth in a series of motel rooms. I assume DR. EV4L was made during quarantine. What was that process like?
Anyways had hit, then coronavirus hit at the same time, so I couldn’t really promote [that record] or do shit with it. At the time, everybody wanted me to drop some music while coronavirus was going on, but I was really like, “Fuck that shit, I’m straight.” I wasn’t tripping about money. I wanted to give myself a little break and think of some different type of shit. I wanted to go through comments and read what type of [music] my fans were looking for. They kept saying they wanted Slimeball 1 type of shit. Some rough shit. And I’d already been watching a lot of scary movies, so all this just played into it.
Did you make a conscious decision to go back to an old style?
Nah, I ain’t trying to go back. A n***a changed. I just wanted to be on that level; you feel what I’m saying?
You’re someone whose flows have evolved so much over the course of your career. How do you find new ones––does it all come in the studio? Do you have an engineer run through beats while you look for new pockets?
I’ll just play around in the studio, try to find a new flow that nobody’s [tried] before, so nobody’s sounding like me. I got different flows, but they all sound like me. I don’t want to be like everybody else, where they have one flow and keep rapping the same way on every beat. So then n****s get to saying, “All their shit sounds the same.” I never wanted to be like them. Like I said, I’ve got six different flows. So I just start rapping to whichever one I’m feeling, and bop to that bitch. If I feel like that’s the flow I should go with, I’m going with it.
And what about writing–are you doing that at the mic, in the studio, at home?
All this shit off the head, man. This shit real life.
Are you somebody who freestyles for a long time then cuts it down with a producer or an engineer, or do you build the song more deliberately?
I just go in that bitch and do what I do best: ask the engineer how long the song is. I ain’t rapping for 15 minutes and then trying to create some shit [from it]. I’ma do two minutes, and within two minutes I’ve got everything I need.
For coming off the top, your verses have some very specific imagery. Are you ever surprised to hear what’s coming out of your mouth?
Yeah, sometimes. When I go in the booth, I evolve–I turn into a rapper. You could put a mic in front of my face right now, and that shit wouldn’t hit. But when I go in the booth, it just be something about the energy of the studio… it does something to my body. That shit makes me transform into a rapper. When I’m back out the booth, it’s back to reality.
Once you were a teenager and had moved over to the Eastside, which rappers were you listening to?
When I came over here, we would listen to Gucci [Mane], OJ [da Juiceman]… but the majority of the time, it was Gucci. And Jeezy’s shit too. We bumped to Jeezy too. I don’t give a fuck; I’m gonna keep that shit a brick.
So it wasn’t a situation where you and your friends felt you had to pick one side of the beef?
The younger generation, we weren’t hip to what the older n****s had going on with all their beefing and shit. We didn’t give a fuck about that because ain’t no older n****s from our neighborhood fuck with us anyway. You feel me? So we just liked the music.
When you think back to your most recent studio sessions, what are you getting better at?
In my eyes, everybody rap about the same shit: everybody rap about pain, everybody rap about the streets, everybody rap about Black Lives Matter. Everybody raps about the same shit. It’s just different flows.
By Paul Thompson for Audiomack