Nocando is the God of Hellfyre and an impossible person to squeeze into seven questions. I don’t remember the first time I heard his name, I just know that I haven’t stopped hearing it since, and if this is your first time hearing it, you have a lot of interneting to do. Nocan is both hip hop and Los Angeles personified, the epitome of a rapper. During his performances, my favorite thing to do is scan the audience for other rappers, which is easy since they all have the same facial expression that says, “Fuck it, I quit.” There’s a really good chance Lil’ Yachty stole one of his hooks, and an even better chance that I’ve been mispronouncing “Lil’ Yachty” the whole time. He’s lived a life you could (and should) write a book on and if there exists an ounce of fear in his heart, he does a bang up job hiding it. For someone who calls himself “Nocando,” he most certainly can do. I’m sure I’m the first person to do that with his name. All hail.
Cover photo by Conrad Curtis
You’re legitimately famous. You have your own Wikipedia page. A lot of your endeavors have their own Wikipedia page. You’ve won world renowned battle rap competitions, you’ve founded and co-founded acclaimed rap groups, a successful record label and an illustrious weekly gathering of LA weirdos that even Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu have been known to show up at, you write raps for a highly rated TV show, and your music has taken you around the world. You’re personally respected by a ton of people most of us have only listened to, read about, or seen online or in documentaries. Basically, you’re by far the most accomplished person I’ve interviewed to date, and I’d like to begin by sincerely congratulating myself on this monumental achievement. So, you’ve been on a rampage as of late, pumping out more solo songs and videos in the last handful of months than I remember seeing you release the entire time I’ve been following your career. It’s almost as if you’re making a statement, and by that I mean, I definitely think you’re making a statement. What is the statement? And are you a synesthesiac? You know, one of those weird people who can smell colors or whatever. You definitely strike me as kinda synesthesiac-ish.
Nocando: I’m not really trying to make a statement. What I can say is that I’ve fell deeper in love with writing songs all over again in the last two years. I am also making whatever I want not worrying about genre, audience or a critic response. Am I a synesthesthesiac or whatever? No. I am a pretty polite person who has hella feelings but keeps it to himself most of the time and I just vomit it out when I’m in the studio or when I’m with my daughters who accuse me of behaving like someone who is dying soon but won’t let anyone know.
In 2007 you won Scribble Jam. I often have to remind myself that not everyone is a rap nerd, so in the interest of providing context to all of my imaginary readers, at least to the ones who prefer inferior forms of entertainment and thus don’t know what the fuck Scribble Jam is, it should be mentioned that ten years earlier, battle rap history was made when Juice battled Eminem and won Scribble Jam ’97… but not by beating Eminem, since it was actually Rhymefest who beat Eminem in what was supposed to be a bonus round between Juice and Eminem until Juice got pulled to battle Dose One who had beaten Rhymefest before Rhymefest came back to beat Eminem prior to losing in the finals by refusing to battle Juice who had just beaten Dose One instead of battling Eminem who lost to Rhymefest. Fuck it. The point is that you won the same competition that Eminem lost. My question is, in your professional opinion, who would triumph in a battle between an ’07 Nocando and a ’97 Marshal Mathers? Readers will disagree no matter how you answer that question but it’s not like they’ve ever done shit with their lives so, honestly, fuck them. [editor’s note: I’m totally kidding, guys. Please love me still.]
Nocando: ’07 Nocando was the type of dude ’97 Eminem couldn’t fuck with at all. Eminem would lose all kinda battles in the final rounds to guys like Rhymefest or Juice. He lost to a guy named Otherwize in LA at the Rap Olympics. That is one of my OGs from Project Blowed and a person I secretly trained to be able to beat like Batman coming up with ways to take down other Justice League members who were superior to him physically just in case. Em would get to guys like this who could capture the room and the moment with mostly improv and find out the amazing recycled rhymes he had couldn’t stand up to these beasts, then he’d just start screaming, “bitch, faggot, Ima kill you motherfucker.” By 07 I learned to have secret written rhymes, pull unbelievable relevant freestyle rebuttals out of thin air, be vague, direct, and I definitely wasn’t gonna lose to anyone at all. To beat a guy like Juice or Rhymefest or Otherwize you gotta be just as much or more of a beast rhythmically, tonally, just as clever and be more strategic and psychological than they are. I trained to beat guys like that cause I’ve lost to guys like that and I hated losing.
You’re a rapper with a reputation for hating bloggers, which is ironic being that I’m a blogger with a reputation for hating everyone. But something a lot of people might not know is that you do a bit of writing yourself. You’ve written several articles for LA Weekly on topics that range widely from public transit in LA to the passing of Cadalack Ron. When did you first get into journalism? And how exactly did you land the LA Weekly gig? I mean, I know you’re well connected, but is there like a specific person who opened the door for you? If so, does this person have a phone number or an email address? A twitter handle perhaps? Also, if someone who totally isn’t me, whose pride is meager and his morals few, wanted to bribe this mystery person in return for a position on the writing staff, preferably one that grossly overpays for very little if any real work whatsoever, do you have any suggestions as to what this person who isn’t me should offer? Do you think a few hundred copies of the same CD someone else who isn’t me couldn’t sell back when they were trying to make it as a musician would suffice?
Nocando: I just think that I formed a friendship with some journalist in LA. One day I wrote a piece about why I don’t battle rap anymore cause I was tired of answering that all the time. I sent it to my journalist friend to edit it and they sent it to their editor and asked if they could post it and gimme a column.
You come from Project Blowed, which in itself is viewed as a badge of honor worn exclusively by the not-to-be-fucked-with of the rap world. I was initially going to make a cheap Dragon Ball reference by comparing the Blowdians to the Z Fighters, but being that you’re a well known Dragon Ball aficionado, I decided against it as you would surely see right through my dishonest attempt to impress you by speaking on a subject I can neither identify with nor relate to. Let’s talk about being black in America. Not that I peg you as a guy who takes to heart what others think of him, but is it ever weird for you to tell people you’re a rapper, especially someone oblivious to the fact that everyone’s a rapper now? The rapper stereotype is a weird one, especially for black people and white people. An Asian guy says he’s a rapper and people think, “Really? That’s interesting.” A Mexican, an Armenian, and an Indian each say they’re a rapper and people think, “No shit? I wonder if they’re any good.” A black guy says he’s a rapper and people think, “Of course you’re a rapper; you’re black, and all black guys rap.” A white guy says he’s a rapper and people think, “Of course you’re a rapper; you’re white, and all white guys want to be black.” Do you have an opinion on this or should I kill myself?
Nocando: When I was younger I would say, “Hey, I’m not a rapper, I’m sooo much more than that.” Lol. Now I really am so much more than that but would rather be referred to as a rapper than a writer, journalist, label CEO, co-founder of such and such, creative… That I’m not a rapper shit is weak to me. Jay-Z is the guy who made it the coolest in the mid 90’s, he’s like, I’m not a rapper, I’m a hustler. I get it, 95% of rappers suck and are one dimensional word nerds but lets be real, Jay-Z was really rapping his ass off. You can’t be that good at the shit and not be a bit of a nerd. So he was a rapper that was hustling people to believe he wasn’t, kinda. Then you’ve got your dope dealer guys that say, I’m not a rapper after that and most of them were mediocre but had great producers and a good story… that’s cool, you’re all Eazy-E. Then we get to the times with guys like Tyler who’s like, I’m not a rapper, I’m an artist, and that’s cool, really you’re more like Jay-Z says he was but not what he was. A hustler, because the rap is OK but really you’re just trynna sell socks and shirts and concert tickets, not make amazing rap records. Now in even more modern times we get to guys who say, I’m just a brand? Like nigga wtf? At this point I was done. I’m proud to say I’m a rapper. Saying I am not a rapper is the most cliche shit somebody could do. In the words of a nigga from east Oakland, “That’s ancient blood.”
You recently appeared on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show alongside ASAP Rocky, Go Dreamer, Danny Brown, and your friend Open Mike Eagle, where you were zapped with a cattle prod while freestyling blindfolded. I once wrote that if my family ever dies, I hope that Mike Eagle is the one to break the news to me since I’ve no doubt that his velvety ass voice would soften the blow. As someone with a plethora of famous friends and acquaintances, a lot of whom you knew before they were famous, whose success are you least surprised by? Conversely, is there anyone you can’t believe managed to get famous? And who’s next? Also, what’s Mike laughing at? He said you would know.
Nocando: I’m least surprised by Anderson Paak’s success. I released a project of his under Hellfyre early on. I’m not really surprised by anyone’s success but I can say that Danny Brown played Low End way early on and I totally didn’t understand how much of a star he was back then. As far as what Mike Eagle is laughing at, it’s the whole picture from up above it. The absurdity of just being. Like looking at all the wild shit happening on a page in a Where’s Waldo book. Like Mike is Waldo but there is some 3 headed dragon making out with a bunny somewhere too and we’re just supposed to ignore it. And why the fuck does Waldo keep getting lost out there?
You’ve written several raps for Fox’s Empire series. What’s that process like? Are you any less invested in the raps knowing you won’t be the one to rap the raps once the raps are wrapped? What’s it like watching someone else rap the raps you wrapped? Have you ever accidentally written something you liked so much that you decided to keep it for yourself, and do you think less of me for not being able to keep up the rap/wrap alliteration? Suppose you’re hanging out at a bar or an abortion clinic and Empire is on. You hear one of your raps being rapped and notice that everyone in the room is very impressed with it. How strong is the urge to tell them you wrote it? You totally have to tell them, don’t you?
Nocando: For Empire I just freestyle shit then go home. Fox sends a briefing then I execute. I tell people close to me that I wrote those raps. I promote it on IG with my fellow writers and producers cause I’m proud to be included in this project with them. I’ve written choruses to be pitched for other artists that I just take and make my own if they don’t pick them.
Back in March I interviewed LA artist Nora Martin-Hall, whom I’d long mistook to be a friend of yours until she denied knowing you, not unlike this guy Peter who denied this other guy Jesus in this hilarious book I was once forced to read. Anyway, Nora (whom you don’t know) alluded to your possibly being in some kind of witness protection program. She also suggested that you’re originally from Japan, a place I’ve not yet been to but I do fuck with this Japanese rapper you might have heard of. Now, I’m not here to judge anyone’s lifestyle out-loud, so neither of those things bothered me all that much. What did bother me was her assertion that you’re not actually a rapper. I really hope that isn’t true because I’d planned to ask for your help with this song I’m writing, coincidentally about Nora. It’s a work in progress but with your assistance I think I could really go places with it. So far I have: “Nora Martin-Hall / She’s short and smart and tall…” I can’t think of anything else that rhymes with “Nora Martin-Hall.” Got anything for me? Also, you owe me a beer. When can I expect that?
Nocando: No comment.
Okay, yeah, I deserve that.