ABOVE: BIG BABY GANDHI IN HIS VIDEO FOR “BEEN A VILLAIN”
Hip-hop is changing. Or, to put it more mildly, the sub-genre of throwback, flippant, late ‘80s-influenced indie rap is proliferating. Names that come to mind are Cool Kids, Das Racist, Azealia Banks, Danny Brown, and early pioneers like Sean Price—artists with a powerful spit who deliver their disaffection wrapped in imagination and wit. A decidedly 2000-and-teens style that is at once whimsical and aggressive and, on a slightly unrelated note, references molly as the drug of choice.
Here we meet Queens-based young rapper Big Baby Gandhi (aka Nasif Allah), who is something of a Das Racist prodigy. Gandhi is currently working on his first album. In the meantime, we suggest giving a listen to his two free mixtapes—Big Fucking Baby and No1 2 Look Up2—released within the space of six months.
HOMETOWN: Queens, New York
BIRTHPLACE: Bangladesh. I came here when I was around five.
GOES BY: Usually people call me Gandhi.
RAP BEGINNINGS: I’ve always been rapping; I guess, like, 80% of kids in New York rap, but I [started to] take it really seriously about a year and a half ago.
ALTERNATIVE OCCUPATION: Right now I go to school for pharmacy at St. John’s University. I’m trying to be a pharmacist, so it’s no good to be rapping about how much you love drugs.
CLICHED SAYING OF CHOICE: “Keep it real.” I think almost anything that’s cliché, I tend to agree with. All that stuff about “being positive,” “don’t let the haters get you.”
FAVORITE HIP-HOP ARTISTS OF 2012: I love almost everybody out right now. My favorite rapper I guess is Sean Price; he’s been my favorite for a while. I especially like these rappers that get better throughout their career—Sean Price and Black Thought. As time goes on, they just get even more on-point. It’s a lot more fun to try and get better. My favorite rappers are old men rapping about their old-men lives and their miserable kids; I feel it has more reality to it.
BEING MENTORED BY DAS RACIST: I was emailing a bunch of beats to Dap [Ashok Kondabolu] for his album, and they liked my stuff, so I sent them my own stuff where I was rapping. Himanshu [Suri] said he wanted to help me and manage me. I just kept making a bunch of music and sending it to them, and I guess they didn’t know what to do with it, so we put out mixtapes. In the beginning I wasn’t really a fan of [Das Racist], I was trying to be hard or whatever. It’s like a lot of rap, it’s also kind of like life—sometimes the people that kind of remind you of yourself, you first hate on them. Some of my best friends, when I first met them I hated them. First impressions don’t always determine things.
I wasn’t mad at [Das Racist] because they were “hipster” or whatever, I just didn’t like a bunch of their beats because it was weird techno stuff, but then I got into it later. I don’t even think they’re hipsters, they’re just like every other kid in New York, they all dress just like them. I feel like it’s ‘cause they’re not black; everyone dresses like them, to say that they’re hipsters and other people aren’t. But it’s a dumb thing to talk about.
“I USED TO RAP POSITIVE”: I used to listen to a lot of conscious rap like KRS-One, [and] I used to do a lot of “We all need to educate ourselves, we need to fight back with books.” It’s kind of pointless, really. A bunch of people I know spent a lot of time trying to get their education; they have Ivy League degrees, they can’t get a job. I don’t know. I’m really young, still; I don’t know how far education gets you anymore. In America we kind of have this idea that a degree will get you somewhere, but that’s only in sciences and other fields like that. I got into a bunch of liberal art schools, but I don’t really have the privilege—I’m a first-generation immigrant, I can’t get a writing degree and try to do creative writing for my whole life. If I could do anything, I’d probably go into writing full-time, but all this school stuff, it kind of drove me into doing more creative stuff, that’s probably one of the reasons that I write so much. I need a distraction.
RAPPING FROM THE HEART: To be honest, none of my songs are personal. I try to remove myself. When I write a bunch of songs, I don’t write it from my perspective; if you [go to] spoken-word poetry jams, they write from the perspective of an archetype, like someone will write a poem as a borough: “I am Brooklyn, I am strong and beautiful,” that’s kind of how I write. “American Experience,” that was written from the viewpoint of an immigrant. My favorite songwriter is Smokey Robinson. In rap you have this thing about “keeping it real,” and everything has to be true to life, but when Smokey Robinson writes a song, it doesn’t really matter whether or not the girl he’s singing about existed, it’s more about emotions that he has. No one’s going to say “If this girl doesn’t exist, then Smokey’s song doesn’t have any credence.” That’s how I treat rap. As long as the emotions are there—that’s what people mean when they say, “keep it real,” keep it real to emotions.
SONGWRITING: I was making a song this morning. I had this three-chord thing that I was doing. I played the same progression on six different instruments, and I’m going to go to the park and listen to it and rap to it, and then whichever one sounds the best I’ll end up making a song with. I’m going to try and buy a recorder so I can start recording while I’m walking, that’s the best way for me. Do people stare at me and think I’m talking to myself? I do that all the time, I have my headphones on and I’m rapping. Maybe a couple of years ago I would’ve been weirded out, by nowadays I don’t even care.
TEXTING LYRICS: I don’t have a smartphone or anything, so if I’m moving I’ll write verses on my phone and I’ll text verses to some of my friends and they’ll have it for me, that way it’s saved on my phone. Do I tell them that I’m sending them lyrics? If I send a verse about getting my dick sucked to a guy friend of mine, I hope they’ll know it’s not meant for them. I might tell them one time, “I’m going to start sending you verses,” but it’s like 1000 characters, everything rhymes. I think they can tell.
CITY STAR SPOTTING: Did I really see 50 Cent around before he was famous? Yeah, that’s true. Actually I lied to that interviewer, I was just trying to impress him… I’m joking. I saw 50 Cent, I saw a bunch of rappers; in New York you see rappers around. Walk around a bit more, I’m sure you’ll see some rappers.
WRITER’S BLOCK: I had producer’s block for a couple of weeks. I’m working on an album, I really want to make it perfect. I’m not using any samples on it because of clearance issues, so I’m working on chord progressions and you just second guess yourself all the time.
IF YOU COULD HAVE WRITTEN ANY SONG…: I like the song “Untitled” by Slum Village, it has the craziest chord progression of any rap song ever. I wish I’d made that beat.
THE LIVE SHOW: I’m a natural rapper, I’m not a studio rapper. I rap walking down the street and on the train, so I’m not afraid to rap in public. I just want to figure out how to make it different… I guess it takes experience.
BIG BABY GANDHI IS PERFORMING TONIGHT AT LITTLEFIELD, AND TOMORROW AT THE KNITTING FACTORY. BOTH VENUES ARE IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK. FOR MORE INFORMATION, OR TO DOWNLOAD HIS MIXTAPES, VISIT GANDHI’S BANDCAMP.