Nems is making the most of his second lease on life. “There was a point when I was the grimiest person in New York City,” he tells HipHopDX via Zoom. “It was really fuck your life, but all that shit leads to nothing.”
During some of his wilder years, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Coney Island ended up doing a bid inside NYC’s most notorious prison Rikers Island. But that life of crime was put behind him 13 years ago and he hasn’t looked back since.
Whether you’ve heard of him through the viral “Bing Bong,” a saying he coined that was co-opted as a rallying cry by the New York Knicks last year; his hilarious Don’t Ever Disrespect Me series, where he takes over the streets of Coney Island with Sidetalk; or because you’re a fan of his gritty rhymes, Nems doesn’t care how he got your attention — just so long as he can keep it going forward.
With the spotlight on him burning brighter than ever, Nems knows it’s a pivotal time in his music career to take another step in his ascension. Next up, the internet sensation is teaming up with fellow New Yorker and Grammy-nominated producer Scram Jones for The Rise of the Silverback.
The multi-faceted entertainer expects the long-awaited album to finally arrive by mid-September prior to him taking the stage at Rolling Loud NYC. It’s set to include features from some of New York’s finest, such as Fat Joe, Dave East, Sheek Louch, Ghostface Killah and more.
Damn.. this album i'm bout to drop w/ @SCRAMJONES is really good.
— NEMS YORK CITY (@NEMS_FYL) July 7, 2022
Until then, Nems will be keeping busy as host of The Crew League and his Fuck Your Laughs comedy show in Brooklyn on August 11, and he’ll also be performing at the Styles P and Friends Irving Plaza show on August 18.
Here, the New York rapper speaks to HipHopDX about his upcoming new album with Scram Jones, meeting Travis Scott, his time on Rikers Island and more.
HipHopDX: How was July 4 in Coney Island?
Nems: I had a great time. They had the glizzy-eating contest and I’m sunburnt. I had family over and went in the new pool and shit. Then I went back out and hung with Travis Scott. Not a bad fucking Fourth.
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HipHopDX: When you liked with Travis Scott at his Coney Island show, did he know who you were?
Nems: I wasn’t going to go to the event [at Coney Art Walls] because I had family over at the house and I was like, “Fuck all of this.” My man told me to come back because Travis was out there and he wanted to meet me. I was like, “Get the fuck out.” I was chilling and he came off stage and came up to me and was like, “Why is your energy so low?” He had big-ass security guards. Then I opened up like, “Welcome to Coney Island, fuck your life!” Then he started getting hyped. I didn’t know it was his first show since his hiatus. He was a genuine mad cool dude. I fuck with him heavy. The fact he came up to me and knew who I was off-rip, I appreciated that.
HipHopDX: It’s gotta feel good to get that kind of respect from one of the biggest rappers in the world…
Nems: I been fighting for that my whole career. And especially when it’s an event in Coney Island. Now they have a couple venues where artists come through. I don’t want to say check-in, but when they don’t say what’s up, that’s wack. So that was pretty cool.
HipHopDX: When is your project with Scram Jones dropping?
Nems: It’s coming out mid-September. We changed the name to The Rise of the Silverback. We’ve been working on this for a while. We started right before the pandemic and when the pandemic hit, we didn’t link for a couple of months. We also wanted to wait it out. We just took our time. We’re in the finishing phases of mixing it. I started a preliminary thing where I like to put songs in order and when I’m rocking in my truck, I just listen over and over. By the time people hear my album, I’m already sick of it. I just did it for the first time the other day. I was like, “This is a very fuckin good album.”
HipHopDX: What is the direction of the project and what features do you have on it?
Nems: I started the project right after my two cousins were killed. I wasn’t in a place to do music, but I didn’t wanna tell Scram, “Nah.” The beginning was anger and it was an outlet to get my grief and anger out. Now there’s different layers with real songs and festival songs that we could do.
We got a track with Gunplay, he’s always been one of my favorites. I always wondered why he didn’t get more love. We got a joint with Uncle Murda and Dave East. We got Fat Joe on it. An incredible singer in Tish Hyman, who I’ve known her since we were young and grinding in the early 2000s. The last feature we’re waiting on is Ghostface [Killah]. It’s all on Ghostface right now. Sheek Louch is on the title track.
HipHopDX: How does it feel to re-emerge as an artist and have this moment two decades into your career?
Nems: I love it. It reinvigorated me and I feel like a new artist all over again. It’s validation for years of hard work. As an artist, you put in that much time in the game and sometimes it gets tiring. You start to question yourself. I knew something was gonna stick eventually having worked that hard for this long. I’m loving every day. It’s a great feeling. Even with family asking, “When you gonna make it?” Yo, I just put an album out. Now, the family knows.
HipHopDX: You’ve nailed it from a branding standpoint too. Speak about how important that is for you.
Nems: The music is just an avenue for the rest of the stuff. Music gets people initially interested, but after that unless you’re a Drake or Kanye, streaming money is nothing. It can’t sustain the living I’m accustomed to so you have to be multi-faceted with other hustles. Just the name of my shit goes good on t-shirts, “Fuck Your Life.” I knew how this was from day one. If you’re not wearing your shit, why you think other people would want to? I’m the model of this brand. I don’t want to make shit that I wouldn’t wear myself.
HipHopDX: Speak to your relationships with a couple of late NYC Hip Hop legends in Sean Price and DJ Kay Slay.
Nems: Sean Price was my actual friend. He was a great person to be around. As an artist, you had to be on your A-game. If you didn’t come correct with your bars, he was gonna body you on it. I’m from the era where ain’t nobody bodying me on a song. He would say, “When you surround yourself with dope artists, it’s like steel sharpening steel.” He would tell me, “When you get on a track, I know I gotta bring my A-game.”
When I was doing Fight Klub, he was one of the first rappers I got cool with that I grew up listening to. I thought it was the illest shit. Through the years, he became a good friend before he passed. Now, his daughter and all the kids love me.
As for Kay Slay, he was the DJ for the artists. He broke a lot of artists. If you were a spitter, he was giving you a shot. There was no politics involved with Kay Slay. If you were putting in work, he was having you on his show to give you his platform. A lot of DJs don’t do that; so Kay Slay was super vital to the industry. I hope that other people see what he was doing and try to emulate that. There’s not too many like Kay Slay. He was really for the culture and he’s missed.
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HipHopDX: Do you feel any pressure on yourself to not just let this moment pass and be known as the “Bing Bong Guy” years down the line?
Nems: I think about that but I don’t feel pressure from it. I feel like the work I put in leading to this, I have a nice catalog. There’s a lot of people that don’t know I rap and I like that. At some point, they’re gonna look into what I’m doing and see that I really can rap. It might take a day or a fucking year for others. Eventually, you’re gonna see that I’m a real artist. I don’t get nervous about it, but it is in my mind.
The work I put out is gonna speak for itself. The main thing I am is an artist. The “Bing Bong” shit and funny content is just an avenue to bring back to the music. Every follower should equal a dollar. And that’s not in a bad type of way, I put out quality merch and dope music. Eventually, you’re gonna tap into what I’m doing. You gotta know how to finesse that.
HipHopDX: How did the Don’t Ever Disrespect Me series come together?
Nems: Totally organic and true. When Congo dropped last August, I had a distro but no budget to promote. I thought the album was coming out in a week and so every day I would promote myself. It started seven days before the album dropped and I turned the camera on and said, “Don’t disrespect my shit coming out in seven days.”
By the end of that week, the feedback from the fans was that they didn’t want the album to come out because they didn’t want the videos to stop; so I kept doing it. It has just snowballed into what it is now. People thought I was gonna be over after “Bing Bong,” and as that wave slowed down, this shit went up. It showed people I’m no one-hit-wonder. I come up with fly shit all the time. It just comes naturally to me from the days of growing up in New York roasting each other.
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HipHopDX: Does your past ever come back to haunt you?
Nems: It doesn’t come back to haunt me because I’ve been clean for probably 13 years at this point. My life has changed so much that people have trouble believing that I lived that life. I was really out there robbing cabs every single day. The person that I am now when people see me, they have a hard time believing that was me. All the shit I did back then made me the man I am today.
At the end of the day, it’s about putting out good shit. I wake up and I still look back on that life. It gives me a positive attitude when I go outside. I made it through all of that so I’m not gonna fuck this second chance at life up. When I look back, I don’t know how I survived. My mind is just so twisted that I make it funny.
HipHopDX: What are some things the average civilian wouldn’t know about Rikers Island?
Nems: What surprised me is it’s not what the movies make it out to be. Like, you’re not gonna get raped, that’s more if you do a life bid. Rikers Island is dangerous because everyone’s coming down to the city to do cases. So it is dangerous because you got somebody doing life with someone who hopped a fucking subway turnstile. It’s all different classifications of criminals. The lifers will take advantage of people.
Nems’ new album with Scram Jones, The Rise of the Silverback, is due out sometime later this year.