Chicago-based artist NNAMDÏ is known for his genre-clashing albums. His songs will often bring together elements of punk, hip-hop, electronic music, and more – all fused together with NNAMDI’s infectious and enthusiastic spirit. Recently he released a deluxe version of his 2022 album Please Have a Seat.
KEXP’s Dusty Henry wanted to get a deeper understanding of NNAMDI’s musical background. So when NNAMDI came to town recently for a show at The Vera Project, the two sat down to dig into NNAMDI’s all-time favorite albums to get a better understanding of his musical DNA.
Listen to the interview or read a transcript below.
Audio production by Emily Fox and Roddy Nikpour.
KEXP: So since we last talked – we talked around your 2020 album Brat – and in that three years a lot has happened, in general, but for you in particular. You've put out a bunch of different EPs. A punk EP called Black Plight, a Looney Tunes-inspired record called Krazy Karl, a drum and bass EP called Are You Happy? There's this incredible spread of styles and genres in those records. You've been kind of known to jump around in different styles. Coming off of all of that, where did you want to take your art with this latest record, Please Have a Seat?
NNAMDÏ: I wanted to make stuff that was more... that felt more communal. I think a lot of what I naturally gravitate towards might be jarring to a lot of people and maybe isolates people just because that's how I feel a lot of the time. So it just comes through in a lot of stuff I make. I think I've been trying to get away from that isolation and make things that are more uniting people in a more positive way. Just like kind of uniting people in art rather than like splitting it apart into different groups. Which I think... I think both can be cool! I love making super abrasive stuff that's like isolating and weird and stuff that's just for a certain group of people, you know? Like, I feel like there's beauty in all of it. But this past record, I was thinking about how to get my point across in the quickest way possible.
I was curious to learn more about your personal taste. So before we got together, I asked you to send over a list of some of your favorite records.
NNAMDÏ: It was so hard [laughs]. I have so many favorite records.
The first album you had on the list was Mars Volta's Frances the Mute. I was excited to see that. When did you first encounter that record?
NNAMDÏ: Oh, my God. It had to be either early high school or like end of middle school. I put it on in my room and I remember I had the lights off and I was like about to turn the lights on. And the song came in and I was like, "Oh my God." And I just laid in my bed in the dark and like, listened to the album all the way through and had like a spiritual experience. I was just like, "I didn't know that you could do any of this!" Like, I had so many questions after. I'm a drummer, so like when I heard that album, like a lot of what I was focusing on were the drums. And that made me go on a very deep dive to be like, 'Who played drums on this? What? Who are these people?!" Change my life for sure. Like, absolutely changed my life.
It is a cool album too because, kind of like what you're talking about with your latest record, it feels like it brings a lot of different styles together. There's prog, jazz, salsa, and ambient. But it feels very unified.
NNAMDÏ: Yeah. It's beautiful. Beautiful chaos.
So next on your list, kind of going the opposite direction, was Molly Drake's "I Remember."
NNAMDÏ: That song, that whole record. I remember putting it on and just the crackle of the old-timey recordings, that just immediately warmed my soul. But the lyrics on that is what I love the most. There's a line where she's – at the end of the song, "I Remember" – where she says, "I thought that we were we, but we were you and me." And that broke me! That whole song is about how she's with a person and they're together and at the same time they're having opposite experiences. Like she's having such a good time and being positive and the person she's with only sees like the dark negative things about what's going on. And she's like, "We were never really together because you're always kind of in your darkness."
It's so good. It's such a good record. And I think that whole record spoke to me because I think I do that sometimes where I'm not fully present, which is a lot of what my new record is about, is trying to acknowledge moments where I was present and just like, appreciate them. So I think that's why that record resonates with me a lot. Mostly that song.
Next up on your list was Busta Rhymes' apocalyptic album, Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front.
NNAMDÏ: Let's go! Yo, whenever I put this album on in the car, it's dangerous. I'll put it on in a school zone and I'll be somehow going 90 miles per hour. And I gotta be like, "Oh no!" It's that type of album. It gets me so pumped. Busta Rhymes is a legend just in his visual choices, too, like his music videos I was always obsessed with because he loved the fish eye lines. He always had, like, great props, but just his delivery, there's no one... he's like a singular, unique person. Like no one delivers like him. Just so unique, so funny, but still super heavy. Like super... I don't know. It just makes me want to throw shit. Oh, sorry...
You can swear.
NNAMDÏ: Oh, I can swear? Shit, butt, poop, fart! [laughs] Yeah, incredible album. The intro, or the second track – which is like kind of the intro – he's just like listing off cities. He's like, "Everybody waaaaah!" It gets me so hype. And it's got "Gimme Some More" on it, like the classic. It's got that song with Mystikal on it. Which is pretty heavy. So good.
Such a good record. And it's an interesting record, too, because, obviously, he's got this whole apocalyptic theme going on – end of the world, everything. But I also there's a sense of him having a lot of fun.
NNAMDÏ: Oh, he had the most fun in the studio! I don't think there's any other rapper that sounds like they're enjoying themselves as much as him while he's performing, which I love. Like, it's palpable. He's having a good time and he knows he's so good. He knows that there's no one like him. And you can tell every time he gets on the microphone, he's just like, "Yup, one of a kind." And I love that. That's the type of energy I'm trying to bring all the time.
You have like a ton of hip-hop influence in your music and you rap as well on your records. Are you drawing inspiration from Busta Rhymes when you're rapping?
NNAMDÏ: That's another thing where it's not like I'm not actively thinking about it, but it's there, you know? Yeah, it definitely leaks over. All the things I like leak over and create something that's like an amalgamation of all of them, you know?
Actually, that kind of goes nicely into the next one where I thought maybe I saw some similarities. Sum 41's Does This Look Infected.
NNAMDÏ: Soooooo, let's talk. Now we're getting into the good stuff! Now we're getting into the nitty gritty. This album is probably my favorite album. For a few reasons, for a few reasons. When I started learning drums, obviously you're not going to be able to play all of the freaky stuff. You're going to want to play like these regular beats, like play d-beat punk beats is like the first couple of things people learn. And this album, I feel like combined the easiness of like... Kind of like pushed me into being able to play drums. It was like a gateway from being like a beginner to getting intermediate, like playing along to this record.
Also, All Killer, No Filler, both Sum 41 albums, I would play along to these because they're so fun to play. It wasn't like super technical, but it was like super pocket and super fun and all the parts fit the song so well. So yeah, just a special place in my heart because I like learned drums to these songs. And I just love them. They're so catchy. They're like, to me, underrated. Underrated band. Like that album, every song is so catchy.
I think we're probably about the same age or close to and I remember this. This was a monumental record of [our] youth. I haven't listened to it in a long time. I threw it on this morning... Oh my God, it holds up.
NNAMDÏ: It holds up! It's still so good. And I know there's like a lot of overlap with hip-hop people trying to do pop-punk and a lot of it sounds super processed and cheesy. But then you go, listen to this... There's still like the element of cheese, but it's so organic. Like, it's so organically cheesy and they shred. It's heavy too. It's like super heavy. The recording sound great. It's dope. I love it. Unashamed. One of my favorite albums of all time, for sure.
Another thing with the album too, like when I was going back to it, was that the aesthetics and the humor of it I had I connected to your music. I know you're a fan of comic artist R. Crumb too. A little grotesque, a little off-kilter. I was curious about what draws you to that type of visual aesthetic in your stuff.
NNAMDÏ: I just think life is unsettling. I want to bring people together, but I want people to be able to sit in their discomfort because I feel like when you sit in your discomfort, that's when you can really think about things in like a proactive way. Like, if everything's just easy for you, you're not going to have a big influence. You're not going to do things that are outside of the norm if you're always comfortable, you know? So I think people should just embrace feeling uncomfortable because that's where big change comes from.
That's awesome. Yeah, I love that idea. Let's keep going through these. Another classic record, Lauryn Hill's Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.
NNAMDÏ: Classic. It's so good. The album was always on, on the radio. They were always playing the hits. You know, the one? "That thing." Classic. Also just very catchy, very beautiful, felt super organic. Although now I've played a Pitchfork and Lauryn Hill's soundcheck made me have to cut my set in half. So now I'm like, mmmm [laughs] I got a bone to pick! Yeah, but she's a legend.
Bring it to your hometown of Chicago. We have on your list Maps & Atlases' EP, You and Me in the Mountain. Tell me about that one and your relationship with it.
NNAMDÏ: Wow. That band, That drummer. I feel like I haven't tried to rip off a drummer so hard in my life as him. Like he wood blocks, so it made me get wood blocks. I was doing all sorts of stuff to try to emulate his beats because they are so... It's like a whole percussion section, it's like all the percussion parts working together. And you could tell that they were very influenced by like all sorts of world music and from Brazil and all these other places. I don't know. I just love the catchy songs. I love when a band can be catchy and weird at the same time. Yeah, that's one of my favorite pieces of music. Also, I love Dave [Davison] from that band. He's so sweet. He sang on my song "Art School Crush."
This was one on the list I wasn't familiar with. I knew Maps & Atlases loosely, but I hadn't checked this one out. And as soon as I put it on, I was like. "Oh, okay. NNAMDÏ's music...it's all coming together for me in a really cool way."
NNAMDÏ: Yeah, I've put a good list. This is like a real list where I feel like if you threw all these into a blender, I would come out.
Next on your list was Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf.
NNAMDÏ: Yes. Another album I would drum to. That was like very pivotal to my drum vocabulary. I think it's perfect. It's like kind of eerie in a way. I think Josh Homme's voice is incredible. Made me want to play guitar, too. Yeah. Incredible album. I think I could drum the whole thing from start to finish.
Dave Grohl drumming on that one, right?.
NNAMDÏ: Yeah! So sick.
That record is kind of a concept record with the radio station theme...
NNAMDÏ: Yeah! I didn't even think about that. It's got the channels changing through it, which I do a little bit on 'Please Have a Seat.' I wasn't thinking about that, but, you know, could have been deep in that brain.
All of these records are in your DNA.
NNAMDÏ: It is! It really is in my DNA. But yeah, that record. I want everyone to just listen to it all the way through. It feels so good. It's one of my favorite driving records if I'm driving and the road is open, it feels good. It feels real good to listen to.
And last on your list was our Daughters' album, Hell Songs. Tell me a bit about this one.
NNAMDÏ: Jesus Christ, this band... Daughters is like one of the most unique hardcore bands of all time. The guitars just sound like sound like large mosquitoes being tickled or something. And the drums are so aggressive and so furious. It's so good. It's one of the heaviest, most interesting, intricate albums I've ever heard. And the vocals kind of sound like lazy Jesus Lizard-type vocals. Amazing. Amazing drumming. Amazing songwriting. There's no band you can really compare it to.
I love your music and I'm always trying to pinpoint like, "where is this part coming from?' And this is a great set of records to attempt to get into your brain.
NNAMDÏ: I think so. I think, yeah, if anybody wants to get a little glimpse, I feel like these are good ones to listen to.
If there’s anything consistent in Chicago artist NNAMDÏ’s music, it’s that he never stays in one place for very long. Trying to define his music by a singular genre is a futile task. An experimentalist that follows his creative whims, NNAMDÏ’s albums are thrilling bouts of sonic whiplash.
The wild-haired bassist for surf-punks Wavves cites Devo, Alex Chilton, The Halo Benders, Pixies, and Björk.