Hi TUC Family, my name is Mary and I am a contributing writer at True Urban Culture. Welcome back to our NEXT UP interview series. And let me present to you this week’s guest, Nenja Nycist, a multifaceted entrepreneur straight out of New York City.
How did you come up with the name Nenjah as your stage name? What does the Nenjah Army mean to you?
So there were actually a couple of ways I came up with the name Nenjah. For one, we had a song called, way, way back, “Feeling like that N*”. I had a white friend who was like, riding with us, one of my best friends and he couldn’t say this word, so he just swapped it with Nenjah. And so we kind of just stuck with it. After that, my original name was Nycist. And it made me feel like I was the best. I feel like I’m a nice guy, too. So, it was a mix of both of those things, and I just tacked on ninja in front of that. And, you know, it now has taken a completely different turn, you would think of costuming, the mask and things like that, but Nenjah is actually, in the time that they became popular, people that were like spies and people that kind of blend in with the common folk, so I changed the name of it. What Army means is pretty much the group of people that just identify with the things I say in music and the way that I live my life, the integrity, compassion, and the lyrics. Like it’s a whole… like lifestyle of amalgamation of the good stuff, the good stuff that we kind of miss in music, especially in hip hop.
So the name is a little bit like a tribute to your friend?
Yeah. It’s more like a tribute to all my friends.
Are they [your friends] all living in New York City with you?
I was raised in the DMV. I started doing shows out in Baltimore, but my family’s from New York, and I’m from New York myself. I just moved down there when I was younger. So, I came back to New York. I just felt like I had unfinished business, so you know, I’m a New York guy at heart. And this is always going to be home for me. But yeah, I have family all around the world- the Nenjah armies are everywhere.
What do you think about New York hip-hop, and what do you think you’re adding to it?
Great question. New York hip hop; everybody has an opinion on it. I think that New York is the creator of hip-hop in general. No matter what you say about whether you know hip hop is in Atlanta or hip hop is in LA, it all came from here. You know what I’m saying? In my opinion, everything is so big right now with the Internet. It’s all mixing up. So what I feel like I add to it is the authenticity of being original and making music that still makes you dance and making music that makes you think. And you know, just making music with the bravado of a New Yorker.
Speaking of hip-hop vibes in New York, your music reflects strong influences from 90s hip-hop. One of the songs that really echoes those 90s vibes is `” stop making FN famous*,, .What stood out to me upon listening to that song is the Tupac reference ; in the song, you said “same Nenjah bumping Tupac, Changes. I ain’t leaving if I ain’t leaving with who I came with.” . Could you discuss the meaning behind these lyrics and if Tupac has any influences in shaping your artistry?
So even with that song, it feels like East Coast. Even the video is very East Coast. And I did that very intentionally because people want that feeling back. There’s just a lot of copycats in the game, and I feel like I can still bring it back on my own, and add a new flair to it. But, you know, that’s the way I make the music I want to hear.
Did Tupac have any influence on your artistry?
I grew up more so on Biggie. Yeah, I’m heavy on it. I think that line was more so like a play on words. He made a song called Changes. But definitely, Tupac got a lot of joints that I really like. However, I would say I grew up more on Biggie and a lot of East Coast guys.
I feel like you’re also talking about loyalty in this verse, when you say, “I ain’t leaving if I ain’t leaving with who I came with”?
Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant. That’s kind of how I live, I want to pursue the things with the people I started out with, and sometimes it’s not possible. You know, people just change and you change as well. But ideally, you want to end up in the whole thing with the people that you came in with.
And are you surrounded by many rappers that you’d like to reach the top with?
I used to be a producer as well. But I think that to be completely honest with you, I’ve been getting a lot of enemies. But I think the fact that I can just do a lot for myself, and I don’t necessarily need to go to a big studio, changes a lot in my life. I still go to studios, but I think sometimes rappers would see that and they would kind of feel animosity if they weren’t completely, you know, 100% with themselves. I’m 100% with myself, everywhere I go.
On top of being a rapper, I could see that not only are you a producer, but you are also an engineer, and a designer… How do you find time to manage all these different tasks? Do you have a support system in place to help you manage these various projects?
So I definitely have a support system, I have a couple of good people manage, Manager Army, that just you know, support, and I’m really building that. I’m not going outside of where I think my music should be placed, for example, Spotify just said that they’re nixing, paying people out. So I’m like, and I already kind of have been off the Spotify wave while some of my music is there, you’ll find more value on my own website. So to really balance everything out, it just comes with discipline for me. So whether or not it’s 30 minutes here, 30 minutes there, you know… I write out all my stuff, and just remain disciplined and make sure that I hit each goal. So if I can’t hit everything, I make sure that it is somewhere on my schedule. So if I need to make beats, if I need to compose, or if I need to have a studio session where I’m mixing other artists, then, you know, I just schedule it. There are 24 hours in a day, and you know, I just got to maximize all 24 hours. It’s a lot, but when it’s something that you love doing, I think discipline is really key, because I’m also someone that is interested in many different things. If you don’t have discipline, you become a master of none. If you can find a way to create a system and move smarter in each discipline, where you can alleviate some of the labor, you can be a master of each discipline. For example, instead of making every beat, find a group of people to help you construct the beat.
I saw an Instagram reel of yours where you mentioned that you’re making music for therapy. Is that therapy for you or therapy for your fans?
Well, that’s the beauty of the Nenjah Army. But to be completely honest, I’m really making it for myself. I’m just pretty transparent in how I’m feeling or what’s going on. You know, I’ve talked a lot about loss and whatever is really just hitting me at the time. And sometimes the music is angry because I’m pissed off. But it’s really just me, you know, so it’s not necessarily me trying to put on an act or, for better or worse is me really just putting my soul into the music from making a beat to writing down the lyrics. It’s just authentic. And that’s just how I’m keeping it.
So your writing process basically consists of writing out how you feel whether you’re happy or sad, and just producing whatever your emotions dictate during that session?
Yeah, sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. I make a lot of music. So there’s a whole bunch of songs that just feel good for me to listen to and exert that energy. It might not always work for everybody, but it worked for me until that day.
I feel many people can really relate to your feelings because you’re being authentic with your feelings. I saw that you were selling 25 samples of your “Ronen cassettes”. Can you explain the thought behind putting your music on a cassette tape? Are cassette tapes something that you’ve cherished in your early years?
I was just doing research and since I grew up in the 90s, my first cassette was Jay Z’s Hard Knock Life Volume Two. And I was just purchasing cassettes after that. But, you know, nobody really has a cassette player. I’ve been doing research and it’s like having a resurgence of it, kind of like the vinyl fever. Vinyl has been kind of the main piece of physical copy of music for a long time. If people aren’t streaming, they’re usually purchasing vinyl over CDs. Just having a cassette will be a cool piece of physical merch, even people who don’t even have cassette players buy it because they like the packaging of it. You know, and for me, I pride myself on my marketing or at least, like how it’s packaged. And so, I really went all out with the colors. It’s funny because the cover is actually created using AI art. This might be the first time using AI covers an actual analog piece. I just wanted to do it, and a lot of the things that I do are real passion projects. Moreover, it was a real beat tape – this term comes from having your music on like a cassette. So I wanted to bring that back.
Are you planning to sell more cassettes?
Maybe not. I like creating stuff in small quantities, so it just brings up more hype. When you have something that only 24 other people in the world have, it provides that feeling that we might have a really unique piece. When I used to buy a CD, I was like, “Oh, wow, it’s a special piece”. You know what I’m saying? I go through the credits and read the cover, etc and my career is based on bringing that feeling back. So I think the next thing I’ll do is probably vinyl. I’m working on a project with these really dope producers called Cut Beetlez. They’re from the UK and it’s just gonna make a lot of sense. So I think that’d be the next thing.
Would you love to travel to the UK?
I’ve been to London. I stopped in Dublin but they were all on holiday. I forgot which holiday it was but everything was pretty much closed those days. But I love London. However, we do not need to travel to do the collaboration with the producer – you will say that’s the beauty of the internet, right? I’ve been to a lot of places in the US already. I’ve been to Australia and performed there – Because I’m just all about traveling. I actually performed in London as well. But I am all about experiencing more places, different types of food, more cultures, and ethnicities I can. So that’s one of my reasons, actually. Doing music gives me an excuse to travel.
Maybe to Paris once? You never know…
Well, Paris is actually on my bucket list. I want to hit Paris ahead and Tokyo. Definitely a couple of places in Africa as well.
I saw that you collaborated with Black Milk, Declaime… Are there any artists and singers you’re particularly keen on collaborating with in the future?
So right now I’m actually trying to collaborate with KA super dope, lyricist underground, but real heavy with the wordplay and production. Earl Sweatshirt, I want to produce some things for Earl and actually get on a couple songs with him as well. Let me see who else I want to do some joints with… the stove Gods, Cooks. I want to do a couple of joints with Westside Gun. I want to work with a lot of R&B singers as well; I got a whole list.
My biggest thing right now is I want to start composing more for television films, that’s really what I’m working on. I got my first credit. So now I’m just trying to bring in a whole bunch of other credits.
That’s dope! Which TV movies?
It’s called Only You, it’s a series of shorts. They have it on MAX. We have a show called Burning Rubber and a big shout out to my guy, Chris. We’re the first episode on that and he gave me the super dope opportunity to compose all of the music for it. It’s a black anime based on New York City handball. And Chris just contacted me, saying he had an opportunity for me and he wanted me to compose the music. He already knew the kind of music that I made, so it just fit perfectly. It was a great experience, and I just hope to continue doing that.
Could you discuss some of the challenges you’ve encountered or continue to face as a rapper in your career?
I love hip-hop. In the beginning, you’re just doing it for fun, but you’re trying to get people to care. Like, why should they go out and purchase your album? So I think the biggest challenge is, you know, teetering those two lines, like having fun, but still making it a career where you can feed yourself and pay your rent. And I feel like that is the biggest challenge for any rapper. For me, I’m going to complete, I’m going independent first. Well, I’m not opposed to being in majors or anything. I just know from my style, and how I am as an entrepreneur and as an artist, that there’s certain things I want to know about.
People who are primarily just artists, just want to stay in the studio and only create, they don’t care about the business aspect but I’m saying I care about those things, I want to know where we going ?, where we stand ?, who’s setting it up ?, how much it costs to make this ?, how much we could sell it for ?, I want to know all of that. I’m more in control. And certain people don’t necessarily like that, or it doesn’t work with certain companies, I guess. But that’s me, I’m choosing and actively going out, I’m choosing the road less traveled, then you know, things are going to be a little bit more challenging. And so the challenge is, it is like having the right team, making sure you market everything correctly, and getting it out to the people and making sure you have money to put ads behind the things that you’re marketing. Ad then you’re still supposed to have fun. Just being part of the culture and trying to make money from the culture as well is always going to be a challenge. Anything worth having is always going to be challenging; I look at it like that. I just love doing it, but those were probably my challenges. Having consistent people, building a team, and you know, just trying to make substantial money, you know, just to survive.
Did you have family support behind your passion for making music?
No, I would say no. I will say they support it in the best way they knew how. I will come out with a beat tape and she [mom] will buy the beat table from like… Bandcamp. So for me, that was like, in the beginning stages, they didn’t really know what I was trying to do. Parents usually want you to go a route that they think is safe for you, and I’m an Aries. So if I’m passionate about something, there’s no stopping me. Don’t try to get in my way. And I’ll make the proper sacrifice to get to where I need to go. I think that once they saw that I was doing it, they finally understood what I was doing. So I’m definitely blessed for that.
Envisioning the future, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I would literally do a lot more music, I wanna have a couple more companies under my belt. I’ll definitely have a bigger family and more important needs, and the money will be coming in a lot quicker. But I will still be actively working, but more efficiently, with a more proactive team. Will still be in NYC though, I will never be leaving it.
Do you have some projects you want to finish by this year’s end?
I’ m actually at a point now where I want to take my time becaue I already put out 4 projects this year. Cut Beetlz is pretty much a Kung Fu flick but an audio version. Sounds like an old, Bruce Lee movie. I want to curate that and make that happen. Simultaneously I am working on another project that sounds newer and more uptempo. So I’ll be probably putting out singles. But I’m pouring a lot of creativity into these projects.
What does True Urban Culture mean to you?
Well as artists, we try to stay away from labels as much as possible because it’s so restrictive and it lacks freedom. Basically, we are moving away from the term “urban” because what people really want to say is Black Culture. So essentially, black culture is human culture, and what it means to me is EVERYTHING because I embody all of it by default.
To keep up with everything Nenjah Nycist, follow him on here on Instagram.