In the eyes of hip-hop purists, lyricism has taken a backseat over the last several years. Despite the shift in times, Nick Grant is actively sharpening his lyrical blade in hopes of catching hip-hop’s Goliaths. For him, his precocious wordplay is the deadliest weapon in his arsenal.
An astute wordsmith with a penchant for head-scratching metaphors, Grant has commanded the eyes and ears of hip-hop’s who’s who. After lapping his peers with his fiery Sway in the Morning freestyles, he showcased his artistry earlier this year with Return of the Cool. Shortly after, he met one of his “superheroes” in JAY-Z, who rhapsodized about his talents during a Roc Nation Brunch. Last week, Grant kept this torrid 2017 going with an appearance at Made in America, and now is on the road with Nas and Lauryn Hill for their PowerNomics Tour.
Grant sat down with Billboard to speak about his Made in America experience, advice he received from JAY-Z, his debut album Sunday Dinner and his biggest regrets on Return of the Cool. Get cool with Nick Grant below.
Ah, man. Very exciting. The people showed a crazy amount of love. When I went out there, I was a little bit worried ’cause there was only two people out there. [Laughs] When I left, there was like 200. So I was a little worried, but that was the only thing.
Tell us about your Made in America experience. How would you describe it?
These are platforms that I’ve worked my whole life to get to. I remember writing rhymes on the floor listening to JAY-Z, listening to Lauryn Hill, Nas, and all of these people who were like my superheroes as a kid. Still to this day, they’re like my superheroes. So to be here and to have somebody possibly say the same thing about me is something you can’t pay for.
You and JAY-Z had a conversation at a Roc Nation breakfast a couple of months ago. What did he say to you?
Man! I walked up to him and you know, I’ve never met him, bro. I don’t get nervous to meet anybody. I’m a man. I’m like a man, at the end of the day. [Laughs] So I was like a kid on the inside when I met dude. He was like, “Yo. You’re special. Keep going. It’s gonna work. The only way you can lose is if you quit. So you’re special. Just keep going.” That was really it. We just talked about life and music. I got something coming up and I was telling him about it. This was a while ago, but we’re getting to it, though. We’re working out the details. It was inspired by him.
Looking back on your last project Return of the Cool, are there any changes you would make on the project?
Absolutely [Laughs]. You know, when I listen to certain things, I always listen for what I can do better. I would change it, but I wouldn’t, because it’s a mistake. Mistakes are lessons, too. I just look at it as a rushed project. I wanted the people to get to know who I was a little more. You know, I was working on another project at the same time. So Return of the Cool was supposed to be like a mixtape idea. I kind of put that out before [my real project] just to stay in the conversation. I didn’t want my life to dim a little bit because people were paying attention.
For me, it was my main album. The main dish was Sunday Dinner and the meat and potatoes of who I really am, how I grew up. The concept was really saying, ‘The only time I really saw my family was Sunday dinner.’ You know, my mother who’s on drugs, my father who’s in and out of my life, my grandmother who raised me, my uncle and drug-dealing cousins, and I’m one of the bad-ass kids at the end of the table — just watching all of these people, and looking at what I want to become and what I don’t want to become.
[So I’m] just taking pieces of them and putting that into the music and that’s translating over to the album Sunday Dinner and everybody in my life became a record. So I was working on that initially and trying to balance out both. We were like, ‘We’re gonna throw out this one since it’s already done. We’re gonna put it out.’ It was just rushed. It was one of those artist things and everybody looks at me like, ‘Man, you’re tripping. That shit was dope. Just keep going.’ But I’m just an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit.
With Sunday Dinner, are you revisiting that project?
Absolutely. When I put out [Return of the Cool] so quick, I had more time to listen to the main project I was working on and said, ‘Yo. This could be better because that was a year ago. What I saw and what I did in conversations I had with people, I grew.’ So I’m able to also not just put those things in my earlier points of my life, but these later points in my life, as well. So I’m able to intertwine both these points in my life into the music and it’s not just one perspective. It’s the perspective before that, and after I reach a certain point.
You’re going to be a part of the Nas and Lauryn Hill PowerNomics Tour. How does it feel touring with two of your heroes?
Man, that’s amazing. I feel like it’s going to be rough for me the first few nights, just because of the admiration that I have for these people, and I know they’re probably gonna be watching me because I’m on the tour and I’m representing them. It’s gonna be rough for the first few nights, but man, I couldn’t ask for anything better. That’s Nas. That’s Lauryn. These are people saying crazy shit out there, like the ball-playing n—a out there and it’s a lack of research. I feel like a lot of younger people have to do their research for this thing to survive and to not fuck it up for people behind us that’s coming up.
We gotta keep this shit going. [Nas] is one of the people that built this thing called hip-hop and it allows me to sit here and have this conversation with you. That’s very important. We have to uphold these people and people like me have to uphold the standards. That’s really all we got as far as black people. That’s one of the things that we have besides shooting a jumping or throwing a football. We gotta protect that.