All the way Down in Mobile: Lil Nardy’s ‘NARDYMARLEY’

Get to know Alabama's rap history and listen to one of the states most promising talents, Lil Nardy.
By    November 3, 2015

Torii MacAdams
 has won 187 crawfish cook-offs.

Where’s the heart of Alabama rap music? G-Side, Paper Route Gangstaz, and Jackie Chain hail from Huntsville, the home of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. KD and the late Doe B are from state capital Birmingham. The state’s biggest star, Yelawolf, is from tiny Gadsden, but his recent defense of the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia (incorrectly known as the Confederate Flag) invalidates whatever purchase the city would have on claims of rap prominence. Gene The Southern Child is from Muscle Shoals-adjacent Florence and Jay Dot Rain from Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama and scene of some of the civil rights struggle’s most tense moments. Then, of course, there’s Mobile, a French-settled Gulf Coast city, home of Mardi Gras, Rich Boy, and Bankroll Bookie. And Lil Nardy.

There’s no single sonic throughline which unifies Alabamian rap–Memphis, New Orleans, and Atlanta are within a couple hours’ drive of various corners of the state–and Lil Nardy’s recent mixtape NARDYMARLEY reflects this disperse nature. When produced by Stunt N Dozier, Nardy sounds like a Memphian; the production duo’s shadow-veiled work is clearly influenced by the bass thump and Gregorian chant of Three 6 Mafia. When collaborating with fellow statesman Koji The Bandit, Nardy skews toward the country rap which defines much of the Deep South.

The vacillation between these seemingly polarized positions could be taken as the mark of an unfocused project. More accurately, it’s a reflection of the South’s own kaleidoscopic array of rap musics. Nardy raps over the signature Juicy J “Yeah hoe!” on “Get Up Off Me,” stuttering, bombastic trap on “Understood,” and a sunshiney soul sample on “Locked Up”–when your hometown has scant musical identity, why not borrow liberally from your medium’s grand tradition?

Lil Nardy’s a pliant enough rapper to pull off this range of contortions. There’s no sleight of hand attempted, or necessary on NARDYMARLEY–Nardy’s a young Black man from a poverty-stricken community in an education-deficient state, his father was murdered, and he has an arrest record. This isn’t to say he’s aggressively dour, un-fun, or that he’s tactless in his directness, merely that he has no need for obfuscation.

That NARDYMARLEY’s gone largely unnoticed probably isn’t a criticism of the work itself, but a barometer of how Southern rap music is received by listeners and the media. Atlantan post-enunciation warblings, Sauce Walka’s territorial pissings, Kevin Gates’ erratic behavior–all of these emanate from areas recognized as cultural centers. A well-trodden origin story and famous co-signs are two recognized paths to professional viability in rap–Lil Nardy has neither. He’s just trying to put Mobile on the map with some beats and rhymes.

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