It’s a moderately warm June morning in New York City, and Nasty C has found himself in an unmitigated whirlwind. There’s talk of the South African rapper born David Ngcobo — who is wrapping up a photo shoot at Times Square’s iconic Viacom building — shooting a music video for his latest single, “Allow,” the two-fisted collaborative cut with platinum rapper and Bad Boy Records representative French Montana. The bantam, baby-faced Nasty C, who looks like he could be carded at a milkshake shop, wants to do some sightseeing before he leaves the Big Apple.
And Nasty C speaks excitedly when the subject turns to flying out to Los Angeles, where he will be in the house at the BET Awards on June 25 at the Microsoft Theater.
“My crew is made up of people that I mainly grew up with,” said the proud native of Durban, South Africa, when asked about how he is adjusting to the white-hot spotlight beyond his Motherland? “It’s my brother, it’s my best friend, who I have been friends with since grade four or five. I remember why I’m doing this whole thing. I maintain my focus… I don’t drift away. I’m [rapping] about the same things when we were still back in Durban rapping at a corner store. That keeps me grounded.”
Ever since the release of his first mixtape, 2013’s boldly titled One Kid a Thousand Coffins, the energetic, quick-witted, and at times profane lyricist has found himself at the center of some major buzz. The 20-year-old looks and sounds like an American-born rapper from Atlanta, but is also blessed with the raw introspection of Drake. (Nasty C’s mother passed away before he had turned 6.) Only his slight accent gives him away. Now, with his first full length albums, Bad Hair and its refurbished follow-up, Bad Hair Extensions (both released in 2016), under his belt, Nasty C is poised to make a sizable impact on the American market and worldwide. BET.com sat down with the enterprising rapper and producer to discuss a myriad of subjects. Bottom line: the kid is the real deal.
I got the name from the first guy to ever record me. It was a big friend of my oldest brother. When he took me there to record I used to listen to a lot of Lil Wayne and T.I. so I used to cuss a lot. Lil Wayne would curse after every line in the song, so I used to cuss a lot. So when I went to record he was chilling and smoking with his friends. And when I walked in he said, “Yo, there’s that nasty cat…” [Laughs] I didn’t have a proper rap name at the time, so I just kind of took it.
Growing up, hip-hop was the only thing I used to listen to… mostly T.I. and Lil Wayne. Those were my main two influences from the get-go. And I guess that kind of mixed with my African accent. And most of my peers speak like this, so you adapt to it as you grow.
I don’t even know what sparked the whole interest. There used to be these two songs they would always play constantly on repeat on my way to and back from school. It
was “Top Back” the remix and “What You Know About That.” Ever since then I’ve been like a huge, huge fan.
At first my father wasn’t really a fan of the whole hip-hop thing. He felt like there was a lot of cursing in it and that [rappers] were not really respectful people. But for me, I think it was my only outlet, you might say. I used to only sketch and write lyrics just so I could vent out and have a moment with myself. And as time went by, he saw that I wasn’t going to let go of it. He saw that it was the only thing I used to do. Even his friends from work and church used to tell him I was really good at it, and that they could hear something in my music. So I guess then he was convinced. He’s been cool with it ever since.
When I grew up, Kwaito was really popular at the time. Kwaito is similar to house music, but Durban, more specifically. It’s a bit more fast paced than the regular house music. There’s not a lot of lyricism to it. It’s mainly catchy phrases that they play over and over again. I started out making Kwaito. I made maybe 10 songs. Then I actually realized it wasn’t for me. I went back to hip-hop.
Listening to and trying to make Kwaito music, I realized that I didn’t get to express myself. I’m not a person that likes to dance too much. I wasn’t an outgoing person at the time. I didn’t know about the stuff they used to speak about in the Kwaito songs. And it was hard to get a story across to the listener. That’s when I figured that hip-hop was best because I could do everything. I could slow it down, speed it up when I have to… I could express myself however I want to. You never hear Kwaito song with someone speaking about a loved one that passed on, but you can do that with hip-hop.
My big brother was a house music producer, so he taught me how to use the software, he taught me about mixing, mastering, and all that stuff. At the time, I couldn’t afford a proper microphone, so I had Nokia headsets. I remember I used the microphone part of it. I used to use those to record. The quality was horrible [laughs], but you could hear what I was saying.
When I’m making music my goal is to be as expressive as I can. Obviously, in person I’m a humble person, I’m a quiet dude, I’m down to earth, but when it comes to recording I have to tell a story and that story has to come across how it went down in my mind to how it makes you feel.
Poetic Elements is a group we put together in high school. During my first year in high school they took me in… we had three singers, three poets and two rappers. So that helped a lot, getting to see what a poet thinks like as opposed to a normal rapper. Rappers brag about themselves and praise themselves, but a poet gets deep and more in-depth. They tell a deep story.
One Kid a Thousand Coffins is the first mixtape I treated like an album. We had better access to the internet and I had somewhat of a fan base at the time, so I really wanted to give my everything into the project. So coming up with the title… at the time I was the youngest kid around my neighborhood that was rapping. And people used to say that I was better than everybody else, so that boosted up my confidence a little bit. So I felt like I was killing everybody. I just titled that [One Kid A Thousand Coffins].
Working on the C.L.A.M.E. project and the couple of mixtapes I did at the time, I was going through puberty, so obviously I was getting all emotional on the songs. Plus, at the time, I had just found out about my mother and her side of the family that I felt I had never met before, but I actually did when I was a kid. But I didn’t remember any of that. So finding all that stuff out at that age, going through puberty and feeling like my father was against me, and the whole world is against me… I just had to stick with this talent I had. It just gave me a chance to be a bit more expressive and a bit more open with my music.
When I started to put a lot of my music on Twitter. I started getting a lot of feedback from international artists. Not even big artists, but [up-and-coming artist] from America, some from the UK. That’s when I figured that my music actually spoke to the people… they actually understand what I am saying. That really gave me the motivation to keep going, to keep getting better, and keep building.
Working on Bad Hair, my main goal was to attract everyone from every corner of the universe. I was trying to cater to the people that listened to pop music, also the lyrical, boom bap style of songs that people like and the [Trap music] songs. I feel like I’ve accomplished that. I’m an expressive artist.
My music is based on how I feel at the time. When you listen to the Bad Hair album it sort of almost sounds like two completely different artists. I treat my projects like a diary or journal. I know that there is someone out there that is going through the same things.
I had this beat that I’d made a couple of months ago. It was just sitting on my laptop, but it had a hook to it. And I put out a video on Instagram that kind of went viral. Reggie Nkabinde, from the label Mabala Noise, actually liked the song and he felt like we needed someone international to give the song a better push. And he reached out to French and French just hopped on it. He didn’t even hesitate. I don’t think the song would have made the album if French hadn’t gotten on it. It would have still been on my laptop.
Usually when our local artists do songs with international acts you can almost always tell it was a paid feature and they did it just because they were paid. But when people heard “Allow” with me and French, they reacted to it as if me and French were in the studio and we were vibing. They could tell that French actually liked the song and the song was put together very nicely.
The hip-hop scene in South Africa wasn’t received as well as it is right now because Kwaito is a bit more dominant than anything. And people kind of judged [South African] rappers as wannabe American rappers. Now they understand that a language is a language… English is English, and if I want to express myself on a song in a certain way, I’ll do it because I’m trying to get that message across. I’m trying to get that kind of energy across so you can hear what I was feeling like when I made that song. I think now people are more open to that.