UTG INTERVIEW: Wara From The NBHD Digs Deep On ‘If Guns Could Speak PSA’

The roots of Wara From The NBHD‘s If Guns Could Speak PSA run deep. Part personal testimony, part La Haine-influenced artistry, the record is a meticulously composed representation of life in urban America and the tragedies it entails. Visceral expressions of anger and confusion function as its lifeblood, reinforced by gripping instrumentals that forgo preconceived notions of hip-hop, instead fusing raw guitar-work and gear-grinding beats to translate Wara’s experiences into a wholly compelling sound. Without mincing words, it’s a visionary piece of work from an artist whose musical and societal savvy have him positioned to make a genuine impact on hip-hop and beyond in 2016.

After reviewing If Guns Could Speak PSA late last year, we had the chance to speak with Wara about his second full-length release. The result is a candid conversation on life, death, and the music that is created in result.

UTG: What was life like growing up for you in Brooklyn and Atlanta?

Wara: Two different perspectives of living, but still similar as far as the environments I grew up in. It just looks different, but low income housing is low income housing. Overall, my life has been pretty ordinary in my eyes; a little rough, but nothing anyone can’t handle. I always like to think I had it good growing up because I’m in America, period. Doesn’t compare to what kids in third world countries and etc. go through every day. I mean, I could wash my nuts whenever I wanted growing up, they can’t—I was blessed. Plus, I had the opportunity to know about a lot of things people take for granted growing up in two different cities.

What’s some of that knowledge you gained from living in two cities that others might take for granted?

I didn’t necessarily gain any knowledge per se. I just learned more about diversity…it opened up my mind about people in general, like ethnicity, how people move completely different in different cities from one another. The school system isn’t the same which really doesn’t make sense to me because school is fucking school, you know, but overall I think what people take for granted the most is what they become living in different places. That shit really affects you in a lot of ways, believe [it] or not, but I feel like if niggas acknowledge it, it could turn into something beneficial, whether it’s musically or how you interact with people, who knows? But who gives a fuck?

A lot of the record seems to focus on distancing yourself from tragedy; was there a specific moment that made you realize you needed to separate yourself from your surroundings?

I think that moment was when my friend got killed in my neighborhood in 2005. It was super surreal for me, but I also knew I wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And that also made me realize the whole perspective on retaliation in black neighborhoods; because you’re trapped there, like, your friend can die and you gotta wake right back up in the same place he died. So I feel like that kinda starts that whole black on black crime cycle with situations like that. It’s plenty of moments, but that’s definitely one for sure. I don’t think I ever really distanced myself, because still to this day, my mom lives there. I just had a mind niggas didn’t.

Let’s talk If Guns Could Speak; how did the concept for the record come about?

Just wanting to do something new and refreshing, wanted to take a risk musically. I lost some fans but gained some with this project, that’s just how that shit goes though. Specifically, man, I was in a dark space. I wanted to channel a certain energy and I wanted to talk about gun violence in my life a little more. I felt like Kidnapped, my previous project, was like the sheltered version of how I felt about a lot in the world, you know. Plus it was cohesive, PSA is not, and I don’t plan on being that conceptual again. But the topics are broad and relatable from every angle. So really there is no concept, it’s just situations on PSA. Going into it I was watching films like La Haine and Johnny Madd Dogg, just getting inspiration from different things, listening to all varieties of music.

The record’s album artwork is one of the most powerful photos to emerge from the music scene this year; could you speak on that a bit?

I think in due time that cover will go down as one of the greatest covers of our generation. It just speaks volumes. I haven’t even took it all the way in myself because it was my direction, so I haven’t dwelled on it but over time it will do its job, it’ll put a spark in more artists to make cover art uncomfortable again and be daring. Because I’m the type of nigga- I look at it like, if my album was laying on the ground in some random place or country, would you pick it up and listen based off the cover alone? Feel me.

Gun violence is obviously a hot-button political issue. Do you feel the need to propose solutions, or do you think your role is speaking on your experience?

I don’t think I’m educated enough to propose solutions. I would have to be more educated, which I plan on becoming, but yes I think my music plays a major role on engaging questions about political issues – though I’m not trying to be a political rapper on some Public Enemy shit, no, because I didn’t come in the game like that all. [What] I’m doing is rapping about life, period. It’s people that label it political because of the subject matter, but to me, I’m stating the truth. The projects I’m working on now are in the same vein, just a tad more relatable.

It seems like you don’t adhere to typical hip-hop conventions; do you ever feel any pressure to stay within certain musical boundaries?

Never. There’s no rules when it comes to making music, period. Honestly, I don’t even fuck with rap culture anyway, so that alone draws me into different things creatively. I’m attracted to weird sounds and overall things that make me step outside my comfort zone sonically.

So you’re not really fucking with rap culture; what kind of music do you spin on a daily basis?

Yeah, I mean I definitely listen to rap, but not as much as I listen to alternative shit like rock, jazz, and this is really because I’m listening for something that rap can’t really offer. Like, certain elements of music—it’s just more of a feeling I look for sometimes. To me, rap is rap. As far as the culture, no I don’t fuck with it because it actually holds more weight than the music itself. It’s like you gotta come with a certain aura to be cool, to get motherfuckers to listen to you in our generation; you gotta do drugs and all that other unnecessary shit to get views, and I have nothing against niggas who do really live that lifestyle, it’s just the ones that became drugs addicts and shit because of rap music.

Like how the fuck did you start doing drugs and toting guns because your favorite rapper was doing it? Like, nigga, that’s your story? It’s plenty of reasons why I don’t fuck with rap culture, but yeah, you get where I’m going, because when I first started I found myself rapping about shit that had nothing to do with me. Sometimes all from certain influences, but that shit had to stop while I was ahead, then I started finding myself by literally just being me.

The production on the album is fucking heavy; how involved were you on that side of the recording process?

I’m super involved. I usually start the production process and my co-producers like Willy Hendrix or Henry Shoults come in and add the icing on the cake. I worked with Conner Youngblood too—he’s from a whole other world musically, so yeah it’s heavy, but I’m the mind behind my projects. I do plan on working with a lot of different producers on my big album, though. I wish Rick Rubin would give what I’ve been working on an ear.

Rick Rubin is known for his stripped-down productions; is that the direction you want to take with the record you’re working on now? 

I mean, if you asking would I let Rick Rubin executive produce my shit, you motherfucking right! Holler at me, Rick! Everything I have released has been independent releases, more so experimental ideas with depth. Now it’s time for that real album. I have so many ideas for production so I can’t quite say yet, but it’ll be crazy no doubt.

The “Don’t Call 911” video is the most punk-rock shit I’ve seen this year, bar none. What brought that about?

Yeah, thanks, man. I just was inspired by MTV Unplugged and their live performances. I just couldn’t think of a video idea, so I was just like, “fuck it, let’s shoot this on top of a rooftop and rock out if we can before the cops come.”

What does 2016 hold for you?

It’s the year where I solidify myself as a timeless artist. I truly wish I knew, but I’m just going to finish my albums. I really don’t know whats in store for me so I’m not going to lie to you. I just know I’m ready for whatever it may be. I’m confident that I’ll come out on top.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Fuck the police for life, If Guns Could Speak PSA OUT NOW. It’s not my debut album, it’s just merely a message that will eventually wake people up. GANG ACTIVITY.

Mike Giegerich
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