LA’s Crenshaw area is going through a bit of a resurgence, not just geographically and economically, but also artistically. While the area receives an influx of business and development thanks to a new train station and commercial interests in the area (many parts of the efforts of local hero Nipsey Hussle), its profile in the entertainment world has risen dramatically, thanks to the efforts of locals like Nipsey, who put the city’s name on his back — and on his T-shirts, jackets, and other apparel from the Marathon Clothing store.
The city is also the hometown of rising rap star Nana. Nana, the son of Ghanaian immigrants and a lyricist of powerful artistic intent, recently released the cathartic, authentic debut album Save Yourself. On it, Nana details his battles with demons both internal and external with wit, empathy, and a stark, realistic outlook that conveys all the sensibilities of old-school gangsta rap with a much more cosmopolitan and modern twist. Call it gangsta-adjacent rap. It’s the sort of lyricism that has long been embraced in the wider LA area from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Murs, and Reason, but Nana’s unique approach gives it enough originality to overcome straight-up homage and elevate his street credibility.
I connected with Nana via Zoom to talk about the album, as well as our shared experiences as children of the Los Angeles street culture who stayed out of it by some stroke of fate, faith, or luck (or all of the above), but were still touched by it.
All right. So first off, I would like to say thank you for creating Save Yourself, because that is an incredible album. I discovered it on my last trip to the park to hoop and I swear, I shot 87% from three that day.
There we go. Though safe to say that it had a positive effect.
Yes, sir. So let’s start with who is Nana? You are from Crenshaw and I know that, and I know that your parents are Ghanaian. I don’t know much about you, so let’s just start with when did you start rapping? Why did you start rapping? What was the impetus behind who you are now?
Word. Well, I’m Nana, a young man from the Crenshaw district and born and raised here. Didn’t move here. I was born and bred here. My parents came here, I want to say 1983. 1983. And then I’m one of five siblings. So I’m of and from the area and I’m somebody that I felt like it’s my God-given destiny to not only give my story, and my story, it’s a very interesting story given where my parents are from and me being first-generation Ghanaian. But to really tell the story of young Black and brown kids that come from where I come from and who don’t have the voice that I have. So that’s just the tip of the iceberg of who I am.
You changed your stage name from Blaison Maven. Can you explain what that name meant, why you changed your name and why it was so important to you to go by your government?
Man, I chose that name because I wanted to be like Lupe [Fiasco]. I felt like “Blaison” looked good on paper. I remember Lupe telling his story and how he said he chose the name Lupe because it looked good on paper.
And in hindsight, it was a ridiculous name that I chose. But I decided to change my name because I was always insecure about my name, the name Nana. I was always insecure about it. I didn’t want to go by my real name initially, which is why I went by what I was going by, but I think with my newfound honesty and me really giving people my truth. I’m like, I can’t really tell people the truth until I’m truthful with myself, right?
So I’m like, I have to embrace my insecurities. There are other people that are out there that have insecurities. I got to be the one to kind of let them know that it’s okay to embrace who you are. You don’t have to run away from it, especially the power that is behind the meaning of my name. My name means “King” in Ghana.
So once I grew up and really embraced it and really took on the meaning of my name, I felt like I defeated that demon of insecurity. If I’m giving people the real, I got to be real with myself.
Absolutely. Now I don’t know if you know this, you’re actually one of two rappers named Nana. When I was doing my research, I found out that there is a German rapper named Nana, who is also Ghanaian, which is pretty wild.
Somewhere down the line, I’m sure we probably even related, but no. I had no idea. It’s a common name in Ghana, especially. I think coming from where my parents are from, it’s kind of like every name has a meaning. If you are born on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday… I have a friend named Thurz. His name is Kofi, though.
I know exactly who you’re talking about. So with that being said, you’ve spoken extensively, I think, about your faith and how faith gave you a way out, but you named the project Save Yourself. And I find that dichotomy to be fascinating, because there are two different things at play there: fate and predestination, and also free will and saving yourself. How do you reconcile those two ideas, both in your music and in your personal philosophy?
Well, I think before anybody else can help you, even on a spiritual level, you got to be like, “Yo, I’m going to make this conscious effort to do better.” Once you decide you’re going to make this conscious effort to go in this direction, then you open yourself to all of the positive possibilities within that. I know there’s people out there that are probably alcoholics. If you want to stop, you got to be like, “Yo, I’m going to stop.” Before anybody else could come in and help you, you have to be the one. You are the author of your destiny and you make your own decisions.
Switching gears a little bit. On the album, you don’t really have too many guest stars but you have my boy Reason from Carson on “LA Times.” How did that connection get made, and what was the inspiration of that song that you guys did together?
Yeah, me and Reason, we have the same mixing engineer, my boy Kytel. I met Reason two years ago after Kytel played my music for Reason. Reason took a liking to it, and he’s one of the most genuine guys in this industry. You know how you just meet good people, and you’re like, “Yo, I actually f*ck with him.” Outside of music, outside of everything, he’s genuine, and he’s a good person. So, me and him, we just been cool ever since.
So when we did that song, I was like, “I think it would be cool if I gave my perspective of growing up in South Central.” He was like, “Yeah, I should give my take on being a victim of circumstance growing up in Los Angeles and how we’re ultimately both victims, but giving it in a way where it’s like reality,” because there have been times where… you just trying to go to the mall and you get jammed up and you end up in a situation, and you don’t know whether or not you’re going to make it home or not.
And those were like real turning points in a lot of people’s lives. A lot of people didn’t walk away from those situations. I ended up in those situations a lot. Thankfully, I was able to walk away. So, it was just giving the reality of that because Reason is from Carson and the same thing that’s happening in Carson, is happening in the Crenshaw District.
That part, it’s Southern California culture. So, it was dope how it just transpired and it just felt so organic because of the right relationship that I had with him, I was so hype on how it came out. When I got his verse back, I was like, “This is perfect.”
Now, talking about dualities and dichotomies, you also address that on the album, on the record “Heaven & Hennessy.”
I think Hennessy is fit perfect because, I feel like it represents… this might sound a little dark, but to an extent, a demon in a sense. Where it’s just being caught in the middle of your angels and your demons. We all sin, it’s a representation of sin. A lot of times, when we get turned up, when we get drunk, we’re not really ourselves.
We all struggle and we all are still trying to make the conscious effort to save ourselves by trying to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be. I know I fall short and my intention was to let people know, I’m just like you. I go through the same sh*t that you go through.
So, a year from now, what’s your ideal outcome? What do you want the world to know about Nana? Where do you want to be in 2022?
Man in 2022, I’ll probably have another album out. Within another year, man, hopefully, by God’s grace again, I’m able to really see people and touch people physically. I think for me that was like the most like, (frustrated noise). The fact that I put out a project… and I think it was very dope that I was able to put out a project when I put it out because I know a lot of people needed it, but not being able to see the people and be amongst the people during that.
…Tour with it, yeah.
Yeah, I was like, “Damn,” I want to just be able to travel the world. For me, it’s not really about just traveling the world, but really traveling the world and taking Los Angeles with me and taking these stories with me because I know people from other places can also relate to these stories and just really spreading and getting the movement, these words, and the gift that I was given out there.
Save Yourself is out now. You can get it here.