Tag Archives: Nas

On “YEN,” Rapper Nolan the Ninja Takes the Next Step in His Career

Nolan the Ninja

Trends come and go, but the ability to spit ferocious bars over dusty, head-splitting beats will always be a benchmark of talent for a certain type of hip-hop fan. On his latest record, YEN, released on DJ Soko’s imprint, Left of Center (LOC), Detroit’s Nolan the Ninja offers ample evidence that he’s got both of those abilities down to a science. On YEN, Nolan doubles down on an element that’s often lost in contemporary hip-hop: the art of storytelling. YEN doesn’t rely on catchy hooks, trap beats, or the glorification of party culture. Instead, it’s a combination of fierce rhymes and hefty beats that reflect Nolan’s life experiences and personal perspective. We spoke with Nolan about the meaning behind the record, his growth as an artist, and his musical influences.

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The Best New Hip-Hop on Bandcamp


This month’s crucial hip-hop picks include indie rap veterans who are embracing their years in the game, video game fiends paying tribute to the late, great Frank White, and a rapper who at one time had the whole Internet convinced he was actually an alias of Nas. In a break from the normal U.S.-based selection, we also take a detour to Auckland, New Zealand where a whole bunch of rap cats are mustering up their own brand of creative hip-hop.
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Album of the Day: Various Artists, “The Land (Music from the Motion Picture)”

As skater culture has spread from its suburban-Cali pool-carver origins to international inner-city street style, the accompanying soundtrack has shifted along with it. Nowadays, it feels more closely tied to post-backpacker hip-hop than it ever was with the hardcore or crossover thrash of skateboarding in the ’80s. Steven Caple Jr.’s film The Land takes full advantage of this, and not just by its association with executive producer Nas. The soundtrack for the film, in which aspiring young Cleveland skaters’ petty crimes spiral into something more ambitious and dangerous, gives the film’s place in hip-hop a deep focus. The soundtrack isn’t exploitatively star-packed, nor is it overly reliant on trying to break unknown indie favorites. It’s more of a mood-setting companion piece to a film uninterested in easy triumph.

The big names get a decent amount of shine: Machine Gun Kelly, who appears in the film as a convenience store employee, fits the vibe well, even if the hesher-rock simplicity of “Dopeman” won’t win too many skeptical converts in the “real hip-hop” set. And the beatless orchestral moodiness of “This Bitter Land,” a teamup between Nas and Erykah Badu (who has a small role as a sex worker in the film), is an allusive, impressive display of both artists’ respective vocal chops. But even with big-name artists pulling the weight—there’s a Kanye-featuring French Montana cut and a Pusha T/Jeremih collab—it’s the artists closer to the skate-rap underground who make the most of it. Fashawn’s character portrait “Cisco’s Theme,” the chest-collapsing bass panic of Jerreau’s “Looking for Something,” and the Dilla-via-Carpenter drones of Nosaj Thing’s instrumental score come closest to nailing that sense of rootless, teenage dread.

—Nate Patrin