Whether it be the Hyphy Rap Movement, facial tattoos or the West Coast slang that seeps into his speech, Oakland born rapper Nef the Pharaoh manifests his surroundings into an artistic movement.
It’s 10am in the Bay Area and Nef and his two-year-old son are enjoying a calm morning together when we call him. Nef soothingly describes the day they have planned; cartoons and playing in the park. The tone of the young rapper’s voice holds a sentiment of warmth, juxtaposed with the vivacious energy of a rising star. At 21 years of age, Nef’s list of achievements matches that of a much older artist. He’s a father, an entrepreneur and most forwardly and ferociously; an artist.
Following the late summer ’16 release of his mixtape, ‘Fresh Outta Space 3’, Nef’s excitement is to be expected: “‘I got great feedback, you know I got one of the top hip hop albums on iTunes and Tidal, I dropped it at the right time and gained the right amount of exposure. You know, I was just saying the other day, every step that I’m taking is happening at the right moment of life, like I’m not going too fast, I’m not going too slow, we’re doing everything precise.”
Nef’s excitement also stems from national attention being brought back to the Bay Area for the first time in a decade. We ask if he feels empowered in representing and he energetically responds: “It feels good. It feels like recognition is finally coming back to the Bay Area, we’re finally getting the shine we deserve.” Signed to E-40’s ‘Sick Wid It Records’, Nef has just finished touring with G-Eazy on the ‘Endless Summer Tour’. He describes touring as being with “[My] big brothers, it was a fun experience. It was our calling and it was what we were there to do.” On his own 2017 tour, ‘Changuary’, Nef remarks, “(It was) my second solo tour, the first one was pretty cool; we went to Canada and did sold out tours there, but this one we just came and we hit the right moves, we had all the right merch, every show was sold out. I think we only did like ten days, but they were some of the best ten days of my life.”
Following Nef’s recent touring experience, the emcee explained the effect it’s had on his music and mindset, stating: “I had never been outside of the Bay Area, I was 21 years old and I never travelled anywhere until G-Eazy took me on tour with him. It was a kinda 360, from being trapped in the Bay Area to travelling all 50 states of the US and then travelling [to] other countries in the world. It just made me open my eyes and realise that there is way more to life. There [are] different kinda struggles, no matter what colour you are. Everyone enjoys music, no matter what kinda music – as long as it’s good music that people can understand and relate to.”
Suddenly Nef’s energy ramps up from the previously pacifying fatherly tone, as if freshly leant cultural lessons suddenly permeate his mind and reignite the vivacity of being on tour. When asked to recall the most eye-opening experience on the road, he’s quick to tell me it’s the mythicism of racism, saying: “Everybody’s not racist – they loves us.” He continues to describe how “The Bay Area is one of the most diverse regions you’ve ever been to, we have white people, we have black people, we have green people, blue people, purple people, it’s very diverse. But racism is still alive in the South, it’s still alive in the US. I was expecting to witness some of that, you know I kinda did witness a little bit here and there in states like Texas and those real Deep South states, but other than that it’s kinda dying out. No one cares what colour you are, the love is just unconditional – it’s all about just loving another human being.”
Nef’s perspective of the world is positively uplifting, with the sense of a seasoned individual fused with the energy and hopefulness of a young soul. When asked about the notion that, in order to rap, you must first live and experience the world, Nef is grounded in stating: “[Living] definitely takes a toll on the body of artwork you put out, as a musical artist we could take it back to when I first started rapping back in 2004/2005 – I was very irrelevant, I was young, I didn’t know a lot. Every other word was a cuss word, it was very ignorant rap, but today I can touch base on [personal struggles]. I’ve been in a situation where I never had food in my stomach, I’ve been hungry, I’ve had to go out there and get it. Then I’ve been in situations where I’ve made a way for myself and I’m financially stable. Now I can support my family, I can support my little one and you know, it all takes time due to life. To observe and report, that’s really what I do, I just sit down, I observe, I obtain the knowledge – bad or good information – [then] I go back to the studio, get it together in my head, then report to the people. I report to the fans and I give it to them straight, raw. You know I don’t chase it, I give ‘em life.”