So many of rap’s biggest songs today hinge more on specific sounds contained in a five or six-second snippet than a soaring hook or memorable verse. Call it the TikTok effect or decreasing attention spans. Still, it’s produced some of rap radio’s most unexpected forays into sound design: a creaking door, a Bach sample, a pitch-corrected whistle.
Jacksonville’s Nardo Wick has this process down to a science. The ear candy that might be lodged in your head right now is his stomping in the viral hit “Who Want Smoke,” an audio trick he achieved by spontaneously holding the mic to his feet while punching in. And throughout his small catalog of singles, he’s done it again and again. There’s “mmm mmm, aye aye,” on his song “Aye Aye”; the Jason Voorhees-inspired “Shhh shh shh shh, ha ha ha ha” on “Shhh.”
These sounds naturally fold into Nardo Wick’s dark yet playful world. “I don't chase after that at all—I just make the music,” Wick says. He’s like Florida’s answer to 21 Savage with his deadpan and sense of humor: “You know I don’t talk a lot, Nina, that’s my translator / Claiming he was solid, heard ‘life’ and turned to Fantasia,” he raps on “Shhh.” His menacing rapping combined with the sound effects reminds me of how pioneering Chicago drill rappers like Lil Durk and Chief Keef cut through their bleak lyrics with loud, often absurd ad-libs. But on our call, the soft-spoken 19-year-old is still figuring out how to navigate the industry and life back home in Jacksonville.
Where are you right now?
Right now, I’m in Atlanta. Just working. I’m just tryna not be in my city right now.
What’s it like when you go back to Jacksonville?
It’s love, it’s a lot of love, but it’s hate, too. But you ain’t gonna notice the hate. My people don’t want me there.
You’ve been putting out music for about a year now, but have you been rapping longer than that?
Yeah, I’ve been rapping [for] about a year and a half, two years.
Did you get a lot of love locally when you were starting out?
Nah, the only love I was getting was [from] people who know me. I didn’t start getting love from Jacksonville until recently, probably like five months ago, when they started catching on.
Is that how it goes in Jacksonville?
Kinda. It always is your circle that messes with the music. People who know you. But the city really caught a whiff of it when [G] Herbo was reppin’ it.
Growing up in Jacksonville, did you feel like there was a music scene there?
It wasn’t a music scene. The music scene just got created. The first rappers from Jacksonville was Foolio and Soulja K. It was just them for a long time. Then Lil Poppa. Now it’s starting to pick up, the people of my generation.
Who were the rappers you looked up to outside Jacksonville?
What about that music resonated with you?
The reason I messed with Kodak and YoungBoy so hard was they were around the same age I was, and what they was talking about—they were more relatable.
What was going on in your life at the time when you were 14,15?
My momma had just got out of prison. I was back and forth with her and my daddy. I was just a kid, going to school every day, chilling.
When was it you realized you wanna be a rapper?
When I was 14, I just said I wanna rap. ‘Cause it was easy, I always knew how to do it. It clicked for me. I had an epiphany—I gotta know how to rap.
Did you have access to recording equipment at that age, or were you just writing?
I was just freestyling on my phone. I used to type in my Notes and have Voice Memos. I made like 30 whole songs in my Voice Memos, but I never let anybody hear it ‘cause I was shy. It was just a cappellas.
Are you still a writer?
Nah. I freestyle. I punch in. When I was [writing], I wasn’t in the studio, so I just typed it on my phone.
When did you start leveling up?
When I got in the studio. I been freestyling since I recorded my first song, so since I was like 17. I was studying rap music, putting a plan together, and I felt like it was time to do it.
Do you remember the first song you recorded?
Yeah, I still got it. I never dropped it. I just respected my craft getting better.
What do you think about those old songs?
I always had it. I didn’t have to find it all the way. I just had to find the confidence, delivery.
Do you typically finish an entire song in one session?
It just depends on the mood I’m in. But the majority of the time, I finish it.
Is that how “Who Want Smoke” went?
Yeah, I did “Who Want Smoke” in like an hour, hour 30.
I’ve gotta ask about the stomping.
I just did it! That’s what came to my mind. I like doing creative things.
I was also gonna ask about “Shhh,” which has that Friday the 13th-sounding thing. It’s like ear candy. Is that always going through your head, finding those moments?
Yeah, I try to do something. It doesn’t have to be every song, but I always think of something.
The type of beats you choose has that horror-inspired, menacing feel. Is that a specific sound you’re after?
I’m real picky. I don’t know; it’s just the energy of the beats. If something comes to my head when I first hear it, that’s all it is. If I can mumble something to it, that’s what it is.
You got that Herbo co-sign. When you found out about that, how did that make you feel?
It felt good. I feel like he a real nigga for doing that. ‘Cause when he did that, I had like 10,000 followers. Nobody knew who I was. Then he wasn’t being bougie; he was acting regular. He wasn’t acting Hollywood. He wasn’t acting like he was better than me.
What’s cool about Herb is he’s real, and you keep it real too; the way you stay quiet, you don’t go posting random shit. Do you stay off social media for a reason?
I just gotta find a better way of expressing myself. I don’t post a lot. I just be chilling. I know [social media] is part of being an entertainer. I don’t like posting unnecessary stuff, though. I post something I gotta post. I don’t live for the camera.
You mentioned Jacksonville’s a place you love, but it’s hard to navigate. Is that a place you want to go back to?
For sure. I’m gonna always go there. I ain’t see no hate yet, but that’s what people say. The hate always gonna be in disguise, so you never know when something’s gonna happen.
Are there any older rappers giving you advice on that?
Nah… I ain’t really got no real relationships with a lot of rappers besides Herb. He the only rapper I talk to.
That’ll change, though, as you meet more people in the industry.
For sure. It’s me, too. ‘Cause I’m not really friendly. I gotta open up a little more.
By Mano Sundaresan for Audiomack