“My last meal?” asks Young Nudy in a contemplative voice, in response to the question. “It had to be bacon, pancakes, grits and scrambled eggs with cheese. Oooh!“
“I haven’t had bacon in, like, nine years,” adds Nudy. As a young man, he distanced himself from pork and pork products, not for religious reasons, but because he felt that factory farming was culinary malpractice. Young Nudy isn’t a discreet fellow — the 30-year-old Atlanta rapper is mostly mum on his personal and creative journey — but the topic of food gets him talking like no one else. His new album is actually called “Gumbo”.
“I just love food,” says Nudy. It’s probably underselling. Mativer has been a hallmark of Nudy since the beginning of his career; one of his earliest songs was “Loaded Baked Potato”. It was the perfect elevator pitch, summing up everything there is to like about Nudy in four odd minutes of mid-tempo goth rap: his streetwise sincerity, his lush Southern drawl, his mean-but-sly sense of humor, his deft melodic touch and his vaguely relaxed, vaguely forbidding beats. These beats never impose themselves, but are somehow covertly menacing.
Each song on “Gumbo” is named after a favorite main dish or snack: “Duck Meat”, “Okra”, “Fish & Chips”. The culinary theme is window dressing, there for decoration or attention purposes. It’s not like Nudy raps mainly about food. “Gumbo” is essentially about family stressors (“I like to pull my mask down and (expletive) rob them / My mama always said I gotta chill, I got a problem”) and about a punitive lifestyle. In his cruel street talk, Nudy paints a serious portrait of his hometown.
Originally a West Side kid, Nudy, aka Quantavious Tavario Thomas, didn’t move to East Atlanta until later in his youth. The excitement in the turf was not lost on Nudy, who, like any greenhorn, experienced a mild bout of culture shock. (“The East Side has its own lingo, its own thing going on,” he said.) In time, he became an ardent advocate of the aspirations of an entire zip code; it was as if he had lived in East Atlanta the whole time. His label, Paradise East Records, is named after the weathered, monolithic beige apartment complex he used to call home. Paradise is a pretty big deal, a leading talent incubator for the Atlanta rap scene.
Nudy came of age at a time when Atlanta’s Gucci Mane, rapscallion du jour, was everywhere, surprising listeners with his enigmatic hilarity. No one else had such a fresh view of the day-to-day drudgery of drug dealing. But the story, at least regarding Nudy, ends there.
“Gucci was great, but he didn’t influence me,” says Nudy, a little indignantly. “No affected me to rap.” So why did Nudy start rhyming? Why does anyone switch careers? Old fashioned, smoldering ennui. Nudy’s underworld activities were so unfulfilling that he couldn’t do them a minute longer.
“It gets boring, all that street stuff,” he says. Maybe so, but his tales of dope boy woe are about as far from boring as gangsta rap gets. He grew before our eyes on the “Slimeball” tapes, his legendary mixtape series. By 2019, Nudy, now signed to RCA Records, had warm relationships with hip-hop’s professional elite, including J. Cole and his hard-working Dreamville collective. Nudy was the opening act on Dreamville’s “Down Bad”, which received a Grammy nomination.
Nudy’s career is linked to producer Pi’erre Bourne, the little engine that could. In the space of perhaps two years, Bourne went from anonymous bedroom producer to superstar; today his beats are among the most sought after in hip hop. Bourne brought the goods to “Sli’merre,” his 2019 collaborative album with Nudy, but production on “Gumbo” was primarily led by Coupe, a mustachioed keyboard assassin originally from Macon, Georgia. “My brother (rapper PDE Escobar) brought him to the studio. I liked what he was wearing. I liked his mojo.”
Whether “Gumbo” tops his previous work or not, Nudy can’t say (“I’m not competing with myself”). The album certainly argues that less is more. Too many rap records have been sunk by outside interference. When every other song features one or more guest rappers, things start to feel unnecessarily cramped. But Nudy’s voice – and this is a testament to his unbreakable individuality – always carries the day. There was only one guest on “EA Monster,” his summer 2022 offering. There are two on “Gumbo”: 21 Savage, Nudy’s stylish, slightly older cousin, and Key Glock, a volatile Memphis-born Gen Zer.
Nudy insists that his cluttered surroundings are not an artistic choice. His peers, he says, keep him at arm’s length. He wanted make a feature-heavy album if only the rest of hip-hop was more interested in working with him. This explanation won’t count for anyone who caught Nudy’s 2022 Lollapalooza set. He brought the house down. Then again, where would Nudy be without his “go-it-alone” ethos? Making terrifyingly generic, off-the-peg music? We shudder at the thought.
And what can we expect from his upcoming return to Chicago? “I’ll have some gumbo for you,” Nudy promises.
SPKRBX & Rolling Loud present: Young Nudy at 7 p.m. March 18 at Avondale Music Hall, 3336 N. Milwaukee Ave.; tickets (sold out) at youngnudy.com