Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Nashville rapper, producer and multi-instrumentalist Namir Blade is creating his own utopia through music. In his new full-length album, Metropolis, Namir uses a retrofuturistic framework to navigate where dystopia meets reality, and ultimately, how to traverse that line with a profound sense of vulnerability. We caught up with Namir in an email interview to discuss the making of the new album, anime and roleplaying culture, and total universal domination.
Your new album, Metropolis, was largely inspired by the 1927 silent film of the same name, as well as the 2001 anime adaptation. How did the two movies compare when drawing influence for the themes of this record? Did the soundtrack to the anime at all affect your general interpretations?
I wouldn’t say largely, I had watched both movies while growing up and enjoyed them quite a bit. During the process of making this album, I had both movies playing on mute, along with other cyberpunk, retro-futuristic movies. I deal a lot with gaining motifs and inspirations from a purely visual point of view. I play movies on mute because I want to transmute the visuals into sounds myself.
While your new album presents a cinematic storyline, it’s ultimately a very intimate self-portrait of joy, loneliness, etc. How did presenting this retrofuturistic concept allow you to be the most vulnerable you’ve been in your writing yet?
Honestly, making an album so loosely based on a concept gave me so much freedom when it came to exploring vulnerabilities and personal joy and grief. Aside from being inspired by watching the films, the album was also inspired by the actual metropoli that exist in the real world. When you visit NYC for example, you see happy people, sad people, angry people, people with money, people without money, etc. Through understanding those emotions in relation to being in a convoluted city, I was able to unlock a vulnerability in my self that exists in each one of us.
I read that you were really into online roleplaying when you were younger. At what point did you shift this type of storytelling into a more poetic/lyrical craft? Aside from the obvious musical influence, how do you feel that storytelling and roleplaying influence your general worldview?
I started using my writings and concepts for characters and worlds that I built while roleplaying for my art around the time where a lot of the communities shifted away from roleplaying, and went to people just chatting. During that time I made friends with some folks from the site, and we would talk on the phone and freestyle and implement the shit we wrote about into our raps. It was tight..
I do feel like being a part of those communities, made me prepared for a lot of what real life was about to offer. These communities are filled with individuals who live in their heads. Since the universe tends to work mentally, those chat boxes were our reality for a time. We built clans, had wars/beefs, got married/divorced, had elaborate families...all that shit, and it was as real to us as anything else in the world.
We even had funerals and memorial services when people died in real life. It's like we lived a million micro-lives and it has made some of us jaded to really being out here. For me, it was like that for a long time, but it has also made me more adjusted to how people move out here. I’ve watched a million stories play out, and have had my own million stories play out.
You have a very hermetic approach to songwriting, so did it feel like a pretty natural shift to self-produce this record? What were some of the obstacles and overall takeaways for you fully crafting this record by yourself?
It was easy as cake to produce this album. Producing my own shit is my comfort zone to be real. I have full control of building my world and creating a narrative. Like, I’m the DM (Dungeon Master). I have more obstacles when other people give me records.
There’s a lot of uncertainty about the future presented in the Metropolis LP, but it’s not entirely dystopian. Talk to us more about the balance of hope and doubt throughout this album, specifically through your use of both warm and digital instrumentation in the production.
Every dystopia has some small pockets of beauty in it. I feel like those pockets of beauty are what we cling to in order to preserve hope. In this album I move through those thermes by blending major and minor tones. For instance, the first track "Award Speech" starts off with a musical question being posed from the first chord. Then the question is immediately answered with the chords that follow after. Even my lyrics in the song reflect a balance of hope and doubt. I’m unsure in the beginning, but toward the middle I hint at the possibility for better things. Even the instruments that I picked reflect those themes as well. For the first part of the song, I use what sounds like war drums that are pitched low to create tension. In the second part of the song, the drums sound more upbeat and organic, even the chord progression has an exhilarating optimism to it.
The single “Ride” is a great anthem for people having confidence cruising in their cars and feeling good no matter what kind of ride they’re in. What songs have given you that same sort of confidence in your life?
"25 lighters" from DJ DMD, Lil Keke, and Fat Pat was one of those songs that did it to me. Like no matter how broke I am, that song just makes me feel like I can get that money right back. Also, "We Major" from Kanye West. That song makes me feel like I am accepting an award of the highest esteem. I feel like we as artists shouldn’t sleep on the power of being relatable.
You grew up listening to a lot of video game music, did that virtual soundscape provide a level of escapism or confidence for you? There are a couple anime samples in the album too, I’m curious what role those samples play within the records' overall themes.
Video game music provided quite a bit of escapism for me, I was listening to these soundtracks while playing the games which only added immersion to the experience, That is why I write my music with immersion in mind. I want to take the audience somewhere, not just tell them about it
As far as the roles of sampling anime in my themes, it’s probably up to the interpretation of the listener. Because Anime has been a part of my life since I was a child, it's just a subconscious part of me making anything. A lot of the time it’s just me wanting to show appreciation to something that inspired me. Other times it’s me being like, 'this sounds really cool, and I want to use it.'
Talk to us a little bit about the current Nashville hip-hop scene. You feature a lot of great Nashville friends on this album, who are some other artists out there you really love? Do you all face any specific challenges due to Nashville being so country music-oriented?
The current scene in hip hop is really dope. It’s a lot of creative people out there doing so much. I feature with the folks from my city on purpose, it gives them a bigger platform to broadcast their stories. That’s the type of shit that warms my heart, because I came up with a lot of these people, I saw a lot of their struggles and hang ups. So the fact that I can give them an opportunity to be really heard far outside the city is tight. Aside from the people featured on the album, I enjoy PETTY, FU STAN, Brian Brown, Bryant Taylor, Tim Gent, all my Six One Tribe homies, All the Blackcity/Funky Tenn homies. Kushy, J Dough, Walt Flames and that group, Savvy, I could name names all day. That is how many talented people we have here.
As far as challenges,of course. Anything that you could imagine going up in smoke due to being black creatives in a city that heralds country music, I’ve experienced. And I mean anything, Red Lining, being banned from venues, recording music, police shutting our functions down...you name it. I don’t know if Nashville will ever give up that reputation for being "Atlanta for white people". I just wanna keep doing what I can to make it easier for artists to get where they want to be, in my city.
What cartoons and/or anime are you watching lately? And if you could score any one of those shows, which would it be and why?
The last show I got into before I got busy was this show called Sonny Boy. It's one of those ones that you can’t really explain, you kind of have to watch it to get it. I can say the soundtrack is fire, the animation is fire, and they don’t go crazy on the fan service. The voice acting isn’t underwhelming, and the plot and pace is fire. I’d definitely score Sonny Boy. It would be amazing to sit and watch the animation sequences on mute and create music to match those themes and colors.
What else can fans look forward to from you for the rest of the year?
They can look forward to phase two in my plan on total universal domination..