“This Is What This West Coast Shit Look Like:” An Interview with NHale

Steven Louis talks to the L.A.-based musician about his father’s legacy and the spirit of G-funk, a changing Los Angeles, playing football for Snoop Dogg and respecting the late Nipsey Hussle.
By    April 21, 2021
Photo courtesy of 33mmphotography

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Sixteen in the clip and one in the hole, Steven Louis is about to make some bodies turn cold.

Only a year and some months into a recording career, you may be unfamiliar with NHale’s music. But the product is so deeply recognizable, refreshing at a molecular level and paralyzing in its ability to warp time. Melodic synthesizers, incapacitating thumping bass, blue suede in dusty sunshine. NHale’s latest drop, The Next Episode, is classic G-funk with contemporary flourishes. Bangin’, pimpin-ass funktronica with a distinct sense of place. As the title indicates, NHale is indeed a torch-bearer on the West Coast — his father, the late great Nate Dogg, was a singular force in Golden Era hip-hop and perhaps the single most recognizable voice from California’s cultural period of Death Row Records dominance.

Naijiel Hale grew up following his dad in the studio and watching the man live out the hooks he went platinum off. He found football through Snoop Dogg’s Pomona Steelers, busted ass for a D1 scholarship at the University of Washington as a four-star recruit, got thrown out of school for smoking weed, transferred to Montana State, then was found at the center of a police drug raid. Hale has compressed a few lifetimes of experience into 24 years and running. Now, he’s cutting his teeth in music with similar velvet melodies that made Nate Dogg an American phenomenon. PoW spoke to NHale to reminisce, celebrate a legacy and project forward.

The Next Episode is out. How are you feeling about this new music?

NHale: I feel pretty good about the release, man. I just want it to be known where I’m coming from with my music, before I fully branch out and brand myself for who I am. The creative process for this, man, I actually made this in like two weeks. I had five songs already done, and I just went to the studio and went hard for two weeks straight. We finished about 11 more tracks in two weeks. I was tuned into DJ Battlecat’s IG Live and he was making a beat. That shit was bangin, and I geeked out on it, and he said he would send me the beat. I dropped my email, he sent that muhhhfucker, and that was that.

And what were you smokin’ on during this musical run?

NHale: Only O.G. I only smoke O.G. Living in Los Angeles, we have all these exotics, these flowers that will blow your mind, but I just stick to the classics. I’m a classic kinda dude, so as long as it’s some authentically good O.G., that’s all I smoke.

Do you have a favorite record off the new shit so far?

NHale: I don’t really have favorites. “My Bitch” is what’s most ME, I think. The reception from that record’s been strong.

“Options” is my favorite. What planet did you source that from?

NHale: Man, young players feel me on that shit. That’s some young player shit, not too hard on the women and not too easy on the brothers. If you understand it, you know what it is.

Stylistically, the music is such a salute to G-funk, and you literally grew up around that. It’s in your blood. So, where are you finding the real G-funk these days? Where’s the spirit of Golden Era Los Angeles still living?

NHale: This shit is IN me, dogg. So I don’t find it nowhere, you feel me? I grew up with this, and I grew up with all the producers on my shit. I went to school and my major was sociology. So I know how to talk to people. I simply played my part. I let people know how I was coming and what I wanted to do. The more it works, the more it allows everyone to see how serious I am about my sound and my work. It’s bittersweet, in a way, because I know how this shit go already.

I kind of HAD to make music. When I was at school for football, I made some decisions that were kinda bad. Well, not bad, because I was a product of this shit. But I got in trouble for distributing some drugs, and I didn’t even directly distribute no drugs! I just knew how to orchestrate that shit from watching moms and step-pops. Growing up, they were the plug. Nobody even know that type shit. My momma, my step-pops and all them n*ggas was trappin’ out the house.

I knew what I knew growing up, learning shit. So when I couldn’t play sports anymore, I had to learn my lesson. That’s when I turned to the music. But well before music, I knew how this shit was running, I knew what was goin’ on. I was on stage or backstage at every show you could think of. I’m not in music for what others might be in it for, man. I just want to get my voice out. I want to explain my situation, you feel me?

Well, we criminalize poverty here so intensely, and when we divest from neighborhoods, how else do we expect folks to make money? It must be a trip for you now, seeing these $80 eighths and the whole legal weed industry in Los Angeles. How do you feel now, knowing what you’ve been through and what you were raised on?

NHale:I’m real big on that shit right there, man. It’s getting better. The war on drugs was the government and the police. That fucked shit up. But with marijuana being treated as a medicinal property now, it’s of course getting a lot better. Folks in poverty and people of color need more ways into this industry. And we as a whole need to be better about the avenues people go down for their mental, ‘cuz that mental health shit is no joke.

That was fucking me up well before I caught the drug case. I mean, I was kicked out of the University of Washington for smoking weed! I had just lost my pops. And shit, my mom was down more than I was, mentally, and as an only child I didn’t really get to know much about their relationship. I couldn’t just focus on playing football when I had problems at the house going on.

I think universities and systems overall are getting better at providing those outlets and offering a sense of trust. Not just Black folks, but all people of color and minorities and people in poverty, we can’t trust people. We turn away, and we do what we feel we need regardless of the consequences.

Absolutely. I’m sure everyone asks you about your relationship with your father, but what was/is your relationship with your mother?

NHale: Man, you wouldn’t know, but I really broke a generational curse within both sides of my family, bro. My mom’s family is from Louisiana, country and one-way of thinking. My mom worked, but work wasn’t really her thing. Meanwhile, my pops was in a lifestyle that kinda took him away, you feel me? I lost him from that. So with my moms, I grew up… I’m trying to find the words for this… when she was mad at me, she would say I ain’t shit, I’m just like my daddy.

And I love her to death. But just because my pops was really Nate Dogg, didn’t necessarily mean my mom was getting on herself. Her world completely exploded on her. I’ve got half-siblings, but it felt like I was the Golden Child. I was always with him, me and my brother both. My pops never put his hands on me or none of that shit. When he was gone, my moms took care of me. With her I wasn’t living in no mansion or nothing, but I had some Jordans on, you know what I’m saying?

When you were with your father, did any studio stuff stand out to you? Any favorite memories?

NHale: Well, the studio was in the crib. We had to get to bed at 12 o’clock, and that was usually when he just started up work. So he said we had to be asleep at midnight, but really there’s loud music blasting all over the house. Vocals were being recorded real late. My brother and I were some badass kids, so we snuck out and chilled by this one window upstairs where you could oversee the whole living room, cuz we wanted to know what was going on.

One time, I looked down there and he was fuckin’ a bitch so crazy, oh my God. Crazy, my n*gga. You know how many times my young ass heard bitches moaning in that house? He was The Mack. One time, man, he had a woman over and she had her son with her and shit. So we were in my room, while they were in the room next over being loud as hell. I was laughing and giving this kid so much shit.

Being raised around all this, and being a football player that your pops called “The Golden Child,” what were your expectations for life back then?

NHale: Football was it, I thought that for sure.

How did you get into football in the first place?

NHale: Snoop asked my mom if I could play for his league. At first, my mom wasn’t really going for it. But I clearly wanted to play. So I ended up playing my first six, seven years for Snoop. I was a running back, receiver, shit like that. If you’re young and you’re good, you get to play any position you want. Snoop was the first person to show me a lot of what was possible with football. We played across the city, went against Deion Sanders’ team, we travelled to Dallas and played against Terrell Owens’ team.

And all that was wild, it was what set me up to want to go to college. I wanted to travel through sports. That was my thing, and I was GOOOD at that shit. That’s when my pops started really pushing it. He was at all my games, go look up “Nate Dogg Pomona Steelers” and you gon see him. I was just a kid playing football. Anyone who knows, ballplayers wanna be rappers and rappers wanna be ballplayers. I got further than most, and I really got to live both lives! I didn’t get to taste the NFL, but shit, the way they doin’ n*ggas mentals and not letting their players have no opinions or shit, I’m cool with how it all went down.

One thing I’m super curious to hear about is your take on the BLM/defund the police movement that popularized further in this city last year. It was kinda trendy to say “fuck the police” in like Brentwood and Beverly Hills, all while communities of color in South LA have been punished for saying that for decades. And not even saying it, some of them were singing it: your father did the hooks on legendary gangsta rap records that, at the time, ruffled white feathers and got heavily censored.

NHale: That shit’s still going on. There’s still corruption being misunderstood and they’re targeting minorities. There are certain ways and means to enforce laws, everyone knows that. And shit isn’t getting any better. It won’t get better until some of these officers get convicted, and even then, that doesn’t mean shit because it doesn’t bring the dead back. It starts with putting money in the community.

We say it’s fuck the police because when we get caught, we’re in situations trying to feed our families. That’s what it is. We were harassed, and not just when we’re selling drugs but selling t-shirts. For some people, it’s not fuck the police, they approve of the job they’re doing, and to each their own. But for us, the culture starts when you’re young and you just don’t give a fuck. As you get older, it’s still fuck the police but you understand that you don’t want to go to jail or nothing like that.

In Los Angeles, more than 50 percent of our tax budget goes to the LAPD alone.

NHale: That’s my story, I’ve really lived that. And I do still live scared of that. I was just thinking the other day, what if I’m going to wherever I have to be and the law comes and fucks with me. I’ve had priors. And that’s an experience that a lot of minorities live with. If you’ve had run-ins with the law before, you’d know that shit is crazy out here. They just scooped up Baby C Mac a few days ago! He had no idea what he was being pulled over for, and it was a federal stop. They saw him do all those videos with Adam22, leaning back and explaining stuff, and boom, now he’s gone.

That’s another thing that’s cracking us right now. I look up to the OGs, and I would never sit down with an Adam or a DJ Vlad to say some out of pocket shit that could get me locked up. I’m smarter than that. Social media is just controversy, that’s all it comes down to, and that’s why sometimes I try to figure out what my lane is in this world where n*ggas go viral. Is that shit really poppin? Or is it just coming and going? That’s the shit I be thinking about all the time. They say muhhhfuckers have to come to L.A. to be viral. But then that’s fucking up the real young gangstas who are really on. So I’m just trying to find where I fit in.

That’s why you’re one of my favorite new artists, and I’m sorry I’m late to the party.

NHale: Nah, you’re early, you’re early! We’re just getting started.

Yeah, you’re doing your own thing and it feels very organic and grounded. That’s probably why you have such great chemistry with folks like Larry June or Doggystyleee.

NHale: Really bro, in 2021, I think you have to find the people you rock with, and just replay that shit. You gotta put your people on, because the market has become so damn big. It’s about viral stuff and festivals, and it’s hard to say a certain person is really on or what division they’re in. I think all of that has gone out the window. They’ll keep feeding us the bullshit regardless, so you really gotta rock with what you know is hot.

That 6ix9ine shit, we gotta watch out for that. Things come and go, but then it’s all over. I feel like you need to buy into the music you like to really figure out its organic and to really see if you’re a fan. Especially if you’re on the West Coast, you need to invest in me and the Doggystyleees and the Nipsey Hussles. This is what this West Coast shit look like, reported from the n*ggas actually over here. When I was young, I liked all that shit like everyone else, but now, when I wanna ride out, I put on my pops or Larry June.

The best fandom definitely requires years of investment. It reminds me of course of Nipsey, or Spitta even.

NHale: Curren$y was just in my DMs three days ago, he’s about to jump on one of my tracks actually. And I’m about to do a whole EP with my n*gga Jay Worthy. But when it comes to Nipsey, I was just telling my girl this morning, Nipsey Hussle put us on OWNERSHIP. Some completely different shit, with a tanktop and chains. That n*gga embraced who WE are, and that’s why it was such a huge loss. Who the fuck is leading us now? Who’s speaking for the West now?

The shit you can’t buy, he was laying down priceless shit, and no one’s stepped up since. I was a fan and studying Nipsey way before I started doing music. I need to dive back into that. That’s what the next leader has to do. Because he laid down a formula for us. That’s what the West Coast is. OGs like my pops and Snoop started it off, and it grew into Nipsey Hussle, and we’ve seen what that formula can look like for us. We refuse to be enslaved. I think that’s what we’re missing. Music is not the problem.

You sound real confident in the vision you’re projecting out here.

NHale: If we can lay this shit down, when these kids get older, they won’t know nothing about no racism. That’s the hard part. If we can give this shit to everyone, everyone would be coming together against the super-rich. Unity among the poor, the Blacks, whites, Mexicans, whoever. Because they trap us, the powerful at the top, that’s how they control us. The little guys gotta form up and make a change and get things cracking.

Right now, I’m in Compton, you can pull up right now and really see. That’s nothing I glorify. I’ve almost lost my life, and I lost my pops. I got outta college, and I realize that all this shit right here is what upsets me. This shit that we talking about, you feel me? I don’t think I’ll go viral too often because I’m really really out here, you know?

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