Nef the Pharaoh on Simulations and Synesthesia
Bay Area rapper Nef the Pharaoh has steadily brought increased his profile through a relentless release rate, a versatile style and co-signs from fellow Bay Area luminaries, like E-40. His most recent project, The Big Chang Theory, is out now and you can listen to Nef the Pharaoh on the Rising: Hip-Hop playlist below.
How was touring Europe with G-Eazy, a fellow Bay Area rapper trying to spotlight the people from his home?
Ahh, it was dope. It was my first time seeing Europe. I didn’t think anyone would know my music, but they were out there rapping along. I feel like getting that opportunity is not something everyone gets. The whole time out there I was just cherishing all the moments, like going to the stores, the way the cars drive, different juices and cereals and whatnot. The small things made being brought out by another Bay Area guy that much better.
Members of your family were in the early ‘90s hip-hop group, Funky Aztecs. Does that enter your world as a kid?
Yeah, I was listening to it, being a bad little kid. I’d see them perform and get ready to perform. I didn’t know much of what was going on, it was all surreal. I just knew a bunch of my uncles rapped.
Are there any other musicians in your family?
Yeah, my uncle Junebug played the drums. My uncle Kenny could sing. I have a very music-based family.
Did that feed into your relationship with music?
Yeah, for sure. Just being in the church and my mom being in the choir. I played instruments in school and was doing stuff with the teen church with music classes. A lot of that made it easier to do what I do now.
You have a Bay Area-rooted sound that takes from some sonic cues from Miami and Atlanta, like 808s and your cadence switches. Does your beat selection guide where you want to go with the song?
It comes down to how I’m feeling in the studio. It depends on how the beat hits me and what colors I see when I hear it. I’m confident I can make a lot of beats work, I’m a great artist.
You see actual colors when you hear music? When did you realize that you had synesthesia?
I didn’t know it was a thing until I met my publicist, Michelle. I didn’t there was a term for it. I thought us artists just had a superpower. (laughs) I talk to other artists and they can’t do that and I’m just like, “Damn, you can’t do that? You can’t unlock your powers yet?”
You’ve earned the attention and support of a lot of Bay Area artists, like E-40, who helped you develop. At any point, do you begin to feel like a peer to them?
The more they help, the more it feels like I’m sleepwalking. It feels like I am living my dreams, like this is reality now. If I can continue doing this and do what I love, I can interact with more people I admire. It’s really encouraging and rewarding.
How important is creative independence to you?
I think it comes down to being able to be myself entirely. You could be signed to a major and keep that sense of self and make the music you want to, but I feel like you can’t allow yourself discouraged by other people’s judgements. I feel like some people at labels judge your character and attempt to change who you are. Being independent makes it easier to be you, but you can always get lost in the sauce.
In your mind, when did your new record, The Big Chang Theory, really begin to take shape? Was there any desired direction?
I think most of my projects start out as an idea and we execute on that idea. You know, it’s based off The Big Bang Theory, the scientific theory. You know, there’s this bang and the creation of all these different worlds, all stemming from this one place or occurrence. I think of this record I explored a lot of sounds and vibes, but it comes from me; Nef the Pharaoh.
How is your creative relationship with OMB Peezy?
I call Peezy my evil twin, I love that dude. He’s a good soul and makes music from his heart. His music is rough and rugged, but it’s all true. His music puts you in a simulation of being there with him in Mobile, Alabama and going through that with him. I like working with him. I think we’ll have a joint project out soon. Somebody asked me if I was mad we had albums coming out the same day. I was just like, “Mad? We stoked. We psyched about it.” We’re two different people. You’re going to get these two different sides. We’ll put you in two different simulations. I think he’ll start to stunt more with success, but he is very into telling his story.
What’s your simulation like?
I know I came from a rough background, but I’m not trying to get stuck in that. There are things that happen in my day-to-day life that I try to capture and mimic a feeling or vibe for every different situation. I like covering a lot of ground. If you want a song about going through a rough relationship, it’s there. I open the album with something political, like “Victim.” I try to remain myself among all of these situations and topics.
You speak on the necessity of solitude. Do you think rappers take that into consideration often?
Yeah, sometimes I don’t think rappers even take the time to sit down and listen to what they are saying. I think a lot of it is just cut it, mix it, master it and release it. I think you should evaluate the message you’re giving off the world. You could want to say one thing and sit down realize that you’re totally off. I think you should try to be somewhat aware of what you are saying. I think you take some time to be breathe, not get mad about things you can’t control, go outside, do an activity.
You were handing out backpacks to neighborhood kids before they head back to school. What motivated that?
Man, I just want to stay relevant as a positive influence, not even as a rapper. I want to show them that even though we are from this grimy ass place, we still come back and make a change. You never know that backpack could hold the notebook that holds the plans to the next Microsoft. It’s important for me to water those little flowers in the hood that are already growing. If you play music for flowers, they grow more. I want the kids to be like, “Damn, that’s crazy, Nef the Pharaoh is from Vallejo?”
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