NNAMDÏ Came Through With The Hot Sauce

Chicago musical polymath NNAMDÏ released his new album BRAT which April 3 on Sooper Records, a masterpiece follow-up to their 2017 DROOL which brought him into the national spotlight, garnering articles on VICE and NPR and landing performances at Pitchfork, Afropunk, and SXSW.

“NNAMDÏ came through with the hot sauce.” This first line of the second track on NNAMDÏ’s BRAT does well to describe the sound of this entirely spicy album. Delicious, exciting, novel, and it kicks your ass trying to process all of the dense percussive layering, virtuosic instrumental performance, and lyrical acrobatics. While his last album DROOL cemented a trap and electronica based sound, on BRAT NNAMDÏ flawlessly melds the sound of DROOL with the progressive rock and punk sounds of his other musical endeavors. NNAMDÏ has played drums and guitar in dozens of groups over more than a decade in the Chicago DIY and underground music scenes, and he brings that instrumental prowess to the guitar and drums tracking for BRAT. The post rock prog inspired tracks “Perfect In My Mind” and “Salut” especially sound similar to Monobody, a Chicago band NNAMDÏ plays drums in.

With perhaps what’s now a trademark of their style, BRAT features NNAMDÏ’s dizzying range of voices: an incredible singing voice, multiple falsettos, talking and whisper tones, and oh yeah, he can rap faster than you skip through the pages in this newspaper. But the meticulous multi-track layering, subtle auto-tuning, panning, and fading techniques honed on NNAMDÏ’s releases since 2013, and mastered here on BRAT, combines with NNAMDÏ’s virtuosic vocal pitching to create an album with dozens of voices in conversation with each other. The result is feeling like one has sort of dropped into the mind of someone else, tracking complex reflections, contradictions, and changing emotions rather than a tidy master narrative. This variety is well seen on the track “Semantics”, which runs through a variety of voices: multiple distinct falsetto verses, bassier backup stacks, raps, and the final high energy sing screamed chorus that gains the momentum with the lines “Cursing out ‘fuck the world’ in every language/ Now who feelin’ jaded?—I am / I change it to something I can fix, change it to something I can fix”. Yeah, listening to the song you get the feeling NNAMDÏ could yell “fuck the world” in every language and every voice imaginable.

Overall, while DROOL’s lyrical content dealt with struggle through hardship, identity forming, and self-confidence, BRAT takes a deeper dive into how the self relates to others. Although “brat” undoubtedly carries a negative connotation, NNAMDÏ presents bratdom as a starting point for identity forming, discussing the way we balance the internal knowledge of self with our external presentation of self. In terms of Freud’s psychic apparatus, you can view the “brat” as grappling with Id and its attempted synthesis with Ego and Superego. Although self-obsessed, the brat is ultimately concerned with self-expression placing them on the path toward identity forming. This willingness to express themselves more than others around them comes even at the cost of hardship, humiliation, and loss. Expression transforms self-centeredness into opening up to others, and self-obsession into self-reflection. As the saying goes, It is hard to truly love others without loving yourself, and the brat is taking the first step of self-love on the way to actualizing the synthesis of the Id.

We see this growth throughout the course of the album. The first half of the album has a recurring line, “I need you need something new / I need you, I need something new”. The line is musically simple and direct, a 4-bar quarter note phrase with a swung eighth note glissando in the middle. Likewise, the words are a simple and direct expression of the protagonist needing someone to help them through a change.This phrase repeats on various songs in the first half of the album: “Flowers To My Demons”, “Everyone I loved”, “Wasted”, “Glass Casket”, “Perfect In My Mind”. In each song, the line is changed and delivered in a myriad of effects and voices but ultimately fades away and disappears from the last half of the album. The final two songs, “It’s OK” and “Salut”, are beautiful expressions of care and love, shedding the dependence manifest in the earlier refrain “I need you, I need something new”. In “It’s OK”, NNAMDÏ repeats “There is no need to pretend you’re OK if you’re not / It’s OK if you’re not”; and then during the expansive and majestic end of the song, “I think you should take time / if you gotta take time / for you”. The album’s finale “Salut” is a song about letting go of expectations, and acceptance of the unknowns of reality— “Salut to my lord, silent and above he remains” “Salut to no more, so long to my lonely prayers”. The final refrain is “If it’s meant to be, then it will be / So, I want you to visit me”, which seems to come from an enlightened place the narrator ends up, expressing their need and desire for love, but letting go of dependence, expectations and fears.

The track “Price Went Up” also delivers a very bold declaration of needs and self-worth. NNAMDÏ says “That ain’t enough for me no more… Gotta up that check / When you see me next / I got family in Enugu / Gotta pay my bills / And my patience thin / I need all my friends eating good.” Millennials are being told they are brats while they are struggling to survive with inflation and rising cost of rent, healthcare, and basic needs. Artists are constantly devalued and outmaneuvered by corporate vultures like Spotify and So Far Sounds. In “Price Went Up” NNAMDÏ puts down anthem for all those demanding they get paid for the work they do.

The lyrical and musical content of the album is matched with amazing visual cohesion. The album’s music videos play with the imagery of childhood’s hallowed halls of bratdom, replete with bright blues and pinks and shiny toys: a world that a grown up NNAMDÏ plays and clashes with, creating a visual metaphor for the lyrical content. The music video for “WASTED”, opens with NNAMDÏ on a light blue backdrop donning a silver tiara, vanity “N” necklace, holding a balloon and surrounded by a tableau of a stuffed animal, sprinkle donut, and piñata. These objects start to shed their innocence. NNAMDÏ guts the stuffed animal to pull out a flask, then takes a bite of the sugar donut timed with the line “you don’t got a sugarcoat, I can take it like a Fentanyl”. Then NNAMDÏ’s tiara is stolen by bandits and he has to wrestle them in a bouncy castle.

In the music video for “Gimme Gimme”, NNAMDÏ battles a mean teasing child for an ice cream cone, seemingly doing battle with his inner brat and getting covered in ice cream in the process. The big eyes, swirl camera effects, and ground angle break dancing shots make for a playful production style to match the content. The music video is beautiful, and came about from the organic and personal touch NNAMDÏ brings to everything he does. The kid in the music video, Kylar Perkins, was spotted at a performance NNAMDÏ did at an outside Chicago festival WestFest in 2019. Sooper Records Assistant Frances Farlee caught a video of Kylar Perkins free-style dancing to NNAMDÏ, and, for lack of better words, just freakin’ killin’ it.   Sooper Records blasted the video out on the web,asking anyone who knew the kid to get in touch, and next thing you know NNAMDÏ and Kylar are making a music video together. 

BRAT finds NNAMDÏ once again collaborating with a wide variety of musicians in the Chicago scene, like they did back on their 2013 release Bootie Noir. Sen Morimoto, co-owner of Sooper Records along with NNAMDÏ and Glenn Curran, makes an appearance on horns along with Connor Bernhard. The track “Really Don’t” also recalls the moody synths I heavily associate with Sen Morimoto’s music.

The album features a variety of talented string players including Augustine Esterhammer-Fic, Macie Stewart, Mallory Linehan, Amanda Bailey, and Victoria Lee. Macie Stewart is one half of the acclaimed Chicago band OHMME, releasing their new album Fantasize Your Ghost in June. Augustine Esterhammer-Fic is another one of these talented Chicago multi-instrumentalist/songwriters. Look out for their next album in the works; word on the street is it will have a NNAMDÏ feature. Mallory Linehan performs  a variety of experimental music as Chelsea Bridge: check out her album Jo put out by American Damage. Amanda Bailey performs with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, but has a long history of blending hip hop music and classical music, performing as rapping violinist Lil Sharp and tracking for Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. Victoria Lee is a classically trained violinist who performs with Chicago Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra. Victoria balances music alongside an acting career, and won Best Actress at the 2017 Brooklyn Web Fest.

While NNAMDÏ wrote, produced, and recorded the album, NNAMDÏ brought on their bandmate Steve Marek to mix. Marek, who plays bass and mixes for Monobody, brings a deft hand to blending the live tracked instrumentation with NNAMDÏ’s many vocal stylizations. Additional shout out to the mastering by Dan Millice. While obsessing over this album I have listened to it on a mess of speakers, and it slapped on every single one. Millice is fresh off mastering the Deantoni Parks’ (Mars Volta, FlyLo, Bosnian Rainbows) 2020 release SILVER CORD, and has mastered for A$AP Rocky, Pro Era, Mick Jenkins, and many more, including, interestingly enough, remastering Al Green’s music for iTunes.

NNAMDÏ had plans to tour BRAT, followed up by a tour with Wilco AND Sleater Kinney all of which has been thrown up in the air due to the Covid-19 crisis. So, support and go stream the album on all platforms and buy the record at Sooper Records or NNAMDÏ’s bandcamp

Album Cover for Brat. Art by Jess Myers.

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