As we all know, Detroit teems with talented lyricists and producers. But few can do both at such an elite level as Nolan the Ninja. In the tradition of J. Dilla and Madlib (really), Nolan continues to produce creative beat mixes that stand separate from his other lyrics-based work. Metro Times caught up with the Detroit native the other week to discuss his latest project, which comes out this week. Check it out on nolantheninja.bandcamp.com.
Metro Times: What's the difference between an album full of instrumentals and an actual "beats" album, such as the one you just released, Lo-Fi Flips?
Nolan the Ninja: Whenever I do a beat tape of some sort, I treat it as if it's an actual rap album. I'm very meticulous on the sequencing, art direction, etc. I don't like just putting out a compilation of beats on a CD and just calling it a "tape." I want it to have structure. For this release, I wanted to embody the essence of tracks I grew up hearing or listening to. Essentially, it's a nod to my upbringing from me as a kid into my early teen years.
MT: Have any other beat makers influenced you? If so, how?
Nolan the Ninja: Absolutely. J. Dilla and Madlib are held in high regard in my book. Back in high school, all I did was search YouTube for instrumentals to rhyme to. In the beginning, I just went for the ones that had the most views. (Laughs.) So with that came DJ Premier, J Dilla, Madlib, Pete Rock, Nujabes, Da Beatminerz, and others. These are the guys that steered me in the direction of how to make beats — whether it was Ski Beatz showing me how to chop drums or Kev Brown showing me how to chop samples on the MPC. I studied these guys. I hope to work with all of them before it's all said and done, for sure.
MT: Can you explain the creative process in making a beat versus the process for writing lyrics?
Nolan the Ninja: Well, writing takes time. For me, I have to be in the mood to write. Whereas beats, I can be in whatever mood to approach the setup. I could be frustrated and make a "happy" joint or vice versa. Making beats is a better element of surprise. Plus, it doesn't take long for me. I could make an EP worth of solid beats in a day. But writing an EP? I'm going to need some time to craft ideas — in other words, build it organically.
MT: What's the best way to describe the sound of this album?
Nolan the Ninja: This album is just pure head-nod shit. (Laughs.) For me, it's nostalgic, because like I said, these are joints that I grew up to. It's something that I think people could cruise to as well. There's all sort of feels on it. You've got gritty boom bap joints, R&B melodic vibes, and hell, even pop. In fact, Christina Aguilera kicks the tape off. (Laughs.)
MT: What's next? Another beat album? A collaboration? A lyrical album or all of the above?
Nolan the Ninja: I'll be releasing another rap album later this year. It's already done, but I'm still figuring out the game plan for it. I'm aiming for early fall, though. Other than that, I have my hands in a couple other projects. One being A-Minus' debut on Left of Center with Chanes titled Therapeutic. We're wrapping that up this week and it should be out within a few months or so.