For Los Angeles rapper Nocando, the road to success thus far has not been clean-cut, but it is definitely justified. Honing his skills by participating in Project Blowed, Hip Hop’s longest running open-mic workshop, Nocando quickly moved up the ranks within cypher circuits around Leimart Park during his teen years. After reaching the summit of freestyle battling in 2007 with a victory at Scribble Jam, he decided to throw his time and energy fully into becoming a recording artist. Since then, Nocando teased his devoted fans with project after project before finally unleashing his debut album Jimmy The Lock on Alpha Pup Records early last year.
Jimmy The Lock has Nocando firing on all cylinders, providing listeners with tales of late night theatrics, crushing break-ups, and boastful lyrics that would belittle any competitor had they been used for battling. And though the album is not picture perfect, a notion Nocando acknowledges, it’s honest music from a man offering something different to Rap fans who crave originality.
Prior to the beginning of 2011, DXnext got the opportunity to speak with Nocando about his upstart imprint Hellfyre Club, his new project with fellow Blowedian member Busdriver as Flash Bang Grenada, as well as his future sophomore effort due out this summer. He also discusses his dissatisfaction with the current climate of artists on the West Coast, who he believes have lost their edge with the new digital age. Any name come to mind? That’s who he’s talking about.
Exclusive Audio Listen: El-P f. Nocando “Time Won’t Tell (Remix)” .
Influences: “I had like three waves of influences. I started really getting into Rap when I was 14, when I lived in Fairfield. I had a lot of alone time then, it was a really small town. And people that I was around trading CDs and tapes, that was when I discovered Bay Area Rap, like Brotha Lynch [Hung] and Spice 1. I was soaking a lot of it up, soaking a lot of it in. When I moved back to Los Angeles I ended up going to a new school and got into a lot of new shit. I was into anything between DMX and Eminem, at the same time I was into Slum Village, and anything that Rawkus [Records] was putting out. Rawkus to me was iconic for fuckin’ being different, especially to a kid on the west coast. My influences later on ended up being really just other guys within my rhyming grid, because they eventually helped me grow. So there was this fantastic beginning where I was into Brotha Lynch and E-40, then it was Eminem and DMX and Slum Village, then it got to this ground level where it was dudes I knew who I thought were just as amazing as these other guys.”
Cyphers, Cliques & Cash: “The Weird People were me and my high school homies; A-Ok, Y-Not and Nocando was the crew. We had similar names, similar rap styles, we were about the same shit. But there was a generational divide ‘cause it was like Aceyalone and the older dudes, and a little bit younger than them was Busdriver and 2Mex, Pigeon John, all those dudes. And then there was these kids who were 17 and pretty much all the best of the young kids were us. And we were like, we should just start our own fuckin’ crew. And we named ourselves Customer Service just from the type of jobs we were all working. Store clerks, waiters, bus boys. And the whole time that was going on, I loved to freestyle and I loved to battle so I was catching every cypher I could and taking every battle I could. When I was 19 I had a daughter, so I was battling because I could win money. I was working like 40 hours a week and then getting into every battle that was going on. This was the early 2000s and there were a shit load of battles around California. I pretty much paid for all of her diapers off of battle money at the time.”
Balancing Rap & Relationships: “It’s all me. I’m never gonna be like, ‘It was her.’ Having a healthy relationship and then being an artist nowadays is like damn near impossible, ‘cause you don’t work a nine-to-five. You’ll be gone for like five months out of the year. Times when I should take my girl out for a date or spend some quality time, I gotta do shows on those Friday and Saturday nights. Or my studio sessions go until like fuckin’ five in the morning and shit like that. No matter how much a girl loves you, there’s not enough stability as like somebody that works a nine to five and you’re there when that person needs them.”
Pangs Of Growing Up: “I really go back and forth. The fact that I made a record called ‘21’…On my 21st birthday I got drunk, had a hangover and had to wake up and change my daughters’ diaper the next morning. I don’t ever allow myself to get old ‘cause I grew up so fast back then. So every once in a while I do wild’ out and feel like I just turned 21. That song was about thinking back on those times, and it reminds me of that song with Blink-182, when ‘nobody likes you when you’re 23.’ It’s about being a young man and not knowing exactly when you’re supposed to grow up because nobody tells you. Life just kind of nudges you that way.”
Inspiration For Nickname: “For the origin of the ‘Jimmy the Lock’ nickname, let’s go back. For a while in the Los Angeles Rap scene, I won a shitload of battles. Like let’s say I won ten straight battles. I win ten battles, then some guy would beat me and he’s like, ‘I got the game on lock! I am the ultimate!’ And he didn’t beat me; it was a debatable win with a biased crowd. But he just said he’s got the game on lock so I must be the lock, you know [laughs]? I must be that dude.”
“Then me and my homie Kail, we used to pretend we were fake mobsters but we never had names, so I became ‘Jimmy the Lock’ because it sounds like a mobster name and he became ‘Billy Balcon.’ And together we became Lock The Balcony. [Laughs]”
On Jimmy The Lock: “You know what, I limited myself because I didn’t know what kind of records I was supposed to make. I didn’t know what I wanted for myself, I didn’t know what people wanted from me. I mean, I had a kid telling me that he wanted me to be like Jay Electronica. This is somebody that I grew up with, you know? People had all these expectations of me and then I started giving a fuck about those expectations.”
“I went through some fucked up shit in the summer of ’09 and then I had to move into the Bay Area like in August. I had to be separated from everybody and what the expectations were. And I had a lot of alone time and that alone time just got me to fuckin’ spread my wings and write whatever the fuck I wanted to write without caring about other people’s expectations.”
Creating A Musical Path Between Projects: “There’s a connection in all of them, and if you would have asked me when I finished Jimmy The Lock I would have said there isn’t any connection. But everything I’m working on I look at as like stepping stones. “Paint Me Impatient” is the same kind of song as “Hurry Up & Wait,” not the same song content, but the moral of the story is the exact same. And that’s the very first song on The Impatient EP, which is basically my demo that I did in like 2004. Walk the Void is pretty much what got me on my whole electronic-sounding beats kick. Working with [producers] Subtitle and Thavius Beck, I started to dig that style. L.A. Vs. Hollywood, that’s when I realized I got out of my ‘backpacker for the sake of being a backpacker’ mindset, and I was like I can rap over these mainstream-sounding beats. So that’s what got me open enough to even rap over things like “Hurry Up & Wait.” The Patient EP was pretty much songs that would have made Jimmy The Lock if I put a bit more love into them, if I would have nerded out on them a little bit more. What followed after that was the …Is A Virus EP where it was pretty much just all love. I didn’t want to do what I did with The Patient EP, I was willing to write my fucking heart out. Jimmy The Lock is pretty much what I learned to do and what not to do from all those projects in one album.”
“This might be the downfall of it as well as the upside too, but Jimmy The Lock never really forces the listener into a one-life facet of my personality. It kind of just shows all my little nuances and personality changes and different sides. So it can go from turning 21 to a heart break song to a “Hurry Up & Wait,” it zig-zags all over the place because I wanted it to do that.”
Still, A Lesson Learned: “[Jimmy The Lock] was not everything I wanted it to be. I wish I would have put more records of me just going in and treating it like a mixtape at some point and not being so calculated. Also, the downside of working with beat scene producers who have their own solo careers is they make these beats, these compositions, but they don’t necessarily produce for vocalists. So like in certain songs I would have liked a little bit more molding of the track, like beat drops and beat changes, things like that. And I wish I would have highlighted songs like “Flight Risk” a little bit more, maybe have done one or two more songs that are more human and more emotional than a lot of the braggadocio that is on there.”
On Touring: “Touring is a breath of fresh air. It’s actually less pressure because there’s nobody in front of you trying to like shake your confidence or fuck up your energy. And if there’s a heckler in the crowd, since I come from the world of Battle Rap smart asses, I know how to turn the whole crowd against them easily. I did that few times on tour with Murs. On the Blockhead tour they were more peaceful, they just wanted to dance to some beats. But yeah, the battling scene definitely helped me confront larger crowds.”
West Coast Losing Its Originality?: “The west coast rappers now have no roots in anything that’s west coast whatsoever. Like some people sound like they’re from Detroit. And if that brings up any name, that’s them. Somebody sounds like they’re from Chicago, and if that brings up any name, that’s that motherfucker. A lot of them sound like they’re from New York, and a lot of them sound like they’re from the south. If you think of any names, that’s that motherfucker. The only people that sound like they’re from the west woast and sound like they rap around people in the west coast that are from Los Angeles are Nipsey Hussle and me. I can’t listen to those other guys and say, man, this shit is reminiscent of fuckin’ Compton’s Most Wanted. A lot of these dudes are bedroom emcees and they’re totally fueled by what’s coming at them from the Internet and that’s they’re scene. Their scene isn’t street at all, and I’m not saying street like ‘hood’ and you gotta gun clap, nothing like that. I mean like the real world [they live in] is not there. Their influence comes from the Internet, and then they write it down and record it…Bottom line, these nigga’s don’t sound like they’re from Los Angeles.”
On Flash Bang Grenada: “[Laughs] Fuckin’ Busdriver is mad at me ‘cause I haven’t contributed as much as he has, but we’re working on that shit. That came about because me and Bus worked on a song for his album call “Least Favorite Rapper,” and he worked on a song for my album called “Two Track Mind.” We just have an excellent rapport. He’s one of my O.G.’s from Project Blowed, like one of my big homies that kind of…Like Project Blowed was like a fraternity or it was structured like an L.A. gang [laughs], and he’s the dude that I looked up to. He was touring when I was 17 and he was putting out his own tapes, so I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps and he taught me a lot of shit. I was hella happy when he was like, ‘Dude, we should do an EP together.’ I was like, ‘Excellent rapport, mutual respect, let’s do this shit, there’s nothing else to be said.’”
“We have a sick ass production from Nosaj Thing; it’s like the best beat I’ve ever rapped on. We have something from Free The Robots too, who’s another beat scene guy. And the thing about this Flash Bang Grenada project, with me and Busdriver, it just gives us so much fuckin’ range man, ‘cause the dude can sing his ass off and he can do really good double-time raps and really good slow weird stuff, but I think I’m there to anchor it down and keep it a little bit more working man. But the thing about it is, I can get heavy too, so I think we’ll be able to show different sides of ourselves. He’s kind of pushing me to do my more heavy shit, and I’m pushing him to do things that are more working man type stuff.”
Bomb Zombies Tackle The Radio: “[DJ Nobody and I] were playing around with [mainstream] ideas on Sincerely Yours. It comes out of a respect for that music. But people might hate that, like my cousin is a gangster rapper dude and he hates jerkin’ and he hates ‘the Dougie,’ he hates all of that shit. But I remember growing up in the late ’90s in Los Angeles, and because there was so much gang shit going on, we weren’t allowed to have fun. They can have fun because the climate has changed and what not, and I love it. We tried to make songs that are just like other contemporary rap. I found it pretty easy because I freestyled a lot of the stuff, I didn’t have to put so much brain power into it. The only song I did put a lot of brain power in was ‘Sincerely Yours,’ that’s the only beat I took home from the studio to write on and came back the next week and recorded it.”
“It was hard at some points for a dude that raps about a lot of conflicting stuff, like battle rapping or braggadocio rhymes about how good I am and what not, those are my crutches. For me to step out of that and just talk about a fuckin’ girl for 16 bars, or for me to go from like my mind going a mile a minute, and Nobody’s like, ‘Do a song where you count from one to eight.’ I’m like, ‘Why would I do that? How can I say everything I want to say in that 16 bar verse from one to eight?’ He’s like, ‘Shut up and do it.’ [Laughs] It was a little bit more complicated than I thought, and it gave me more respect for dudes that can pull that off because that shit is not me.”
On Creating Hellfyre Club: “Once I got the idea of starting up an imprint to put out my own music, it kind of brought me and my artist friends closer together. The whole crew thing that I lost in the last couple years, that started rebuilding because now we pretty much have an outlet whether or not anybody is getting signed or getting offered any money. I’ve created an outlet for me and my very talented peers in my scene to put music through. There’s no lack of content, and it’s also making people work harder because they know their shit is gonna come out and it’s not gonna be a street corner mixtape project.”
“Starting this label has created like a little tribe. There’s nothing like being able to call somebody and you’re like, ‘Hey I got this verse or idea, what do you think?’ Having that relationship with somebody, and it’s not an industry thing where you’re just trying to get a beat from somebody, but you’re actually like, ‘Aye we’re going to do this song and we’re gonna kill it together.’ It’s a friendship and a collaboration at the same time.”
New Album, Brighter Future: “I’m working on a new album, tentatively titled Tits & Explosions. I want to release that in like late June. I’m gonna be releasing an EP before then, maybe in February, with some really good songs and dope beats. And from all my travels and my mixture of alone time that I’ve had from touring and then coming home and having nothing but free time, I’ve been able to mold out what my next step is gonna be. And that’s what this record is. Sonically, I’m thinking more like a producer than a rapper now, so I already have an angle content-wise. I made one really great song and that song has sparked a bunch of ideas for the where the next year is gonna go.”
Follow Nocando on Twitter @MCNocando.