Los Angeles’ Nana is well on his way to happiness. He says as much on the intro of his 2020 release, Save Yourself. The 30-something rapper, who began his informal career journey at age 10 after hearing his sister playing Ruff Ryders’ Ryde or Die Vol. 1, has a measured and classic sound. His stories balloon and exude soul. His name, which translates to “King” in Akan, signals Nana’s stature in music.
Originally going by Blaison Maven, Nana’s pivot to his given name is a moment of shedding ego and accepting himself, which drives Save Yourself. He levitates across the EP, tackling difficult topics of rage, assault, and all manner of pain with a deft hand.
Nana’s career really kicked off 11 years ago, at age 20, when a guest pastor “prophesied over my life. He’s saying stuff only I know, not even my mom knows.” Inspired by Nas and The Game, hearing the pastor speak to Nana’s near-death in the face of getting “into some crazy shit,” the artist began to pursue music seriously. Per his bio, Nana is on a mission to inspire and “be the light in the midst of all the darkness.”
Save Yourself features REASON and Blakk Soul, and production from Kal Banx. Stories of struggling to make rent and going back to dealing, feeling the devil at his door—it all coalesces to Nana declaring rap is the only thing keeping him alive. The passion is obvious. Nana was called to rap.
You have a really soulful and classic rap sound. How long did it take you to find your voice in hip-hop?
It took me time. About a good six years, just trials and tribulations. I used to be insecure about singing and my vocal tone until I played some early work for a friend and was experimenting and stretching my voice. “Yo! That actually sounds good.” That gave me the confidence to test out what I feel like I sound good on.
One major thing with me is beat selection. If it doesn’t move me, I’m not gonna jump on it. The process guided me in terms of direction and figuring out what my sound is.
What was the most important lesson of those six years?
To not care what anybody else is gonna think. That’s the main thing. You get in your own way when you take what other people may think into consideration. Whatever you feel, let it flow. The most important thing is feeling in the moment. You can never recapture that. Go with how you feel in the moment, regardless of if it’s nontraditional. Try new things! If you feel it in that moment, do it.
You have a great song, “On My Momma,” on the new record. What’s your relationship with your mom like? How did she, or your family, support you in this career?
I have a great relationship with my mother. My parents are from West Africa, and I come from a cultured household. They brought me up, trying to direct me to go to school. When I started doing music, I hid it from them because I didn’t know what their take on it would be. I thought they were gonna be like, “We don’t want you to do music!” When they found out, they were very supportive—my mom and my dad. They are part of the village that has been supporting me to this point, on top of my friends and my team.
Save Yourself reveals you to be a natural-born storyteller. Who inspires you as a writer, and which story on the project is most special to you?
Nas inspires me as a writer, the way he tells stories. “Rewind” is one of my favorite storytelling songs of all-time. I can’t even wrap my mind around what possessed him to tell a story backwards. Some people can’t tell a story straightforward and keep people’s attention. That inspired me to push the limits and find creative ways to expand on different concepts.
The story that moves me the most is the last song on the album, “Save Yourself.” That’s real. The first verse is about a girl I know, the second is a guy I know, and the third verse is me. Each one of us had to find different ways to save ourselves. In the first verse, my homegirl, her mom came in right when she was about to OD. My homie, on the second verse, was saved through having a son. Me, the last verse, me being saved through faith. That was the most personal story on that project. Really moves me every time I hear it.
Beyond the serious music, you’ve also got some lighthearted moments on Save Yourself. You clearly know how to have fun. Why was it important to include those moments of levity on the project?
At the end of the day, we’re not all one way. We like to have fun. I would be doing myself a disservice as a human being to not showcase my various personalities. We all have a fun side, a serious side. There’s a time for everything.
That’s one of my biggest things: We’re all human beings. All these songs, we can all relate to. The fun side of “New Benz” and then the seriousness of “Out My Mind.” It’s my account of the human experience. Myself or you, we go through different struggles, but at the end of the day, we go through the same things in that sense as well.
As a rising force in Los Angeles, who do you hope to inspire?
Young Black and brown kids that come from where I come from, that don’t have the voice to tell their stories. I’m not only telling my stories, but I’m telling the stories of those that come from where I come from.
Are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far? Have you allowed yourself to feel good?
That’s the best thing anybody’s asked me in recent memory. Yes! In 2020, it’s all about finding things to continue to make yourself happy, especially given this situation we’re all in with this pandemic and everything taking place.
Save Yourself is about finding a happy and healthy escape—a happy and healthy way to allow yourself to feel good. I can honestly say this is, despite everything going on, the happiest I’ve been in a long time.
Photos by Jimi Stone.