Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is an experimental musician and rapper with an ever-evolving turbine of fresh sound. Nnamdi creates playful hip-hop beats that unexpectedly compliment his profound (and sometimes outlandish) lyrics, resulting in a truly unique sound not heard anywhere else. Nnamdi’s goal in music is to make people think, and to inspire others to be free with their pursuits – all while retaining his individual voice, and having fun with it.
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya took some time before his tour to talk with me about some memorable shows in the past, his label Sooper Records, and his ultimate goal as an artist.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Lowry, Chicago Reader
First off, how are you? I know you have tour coming up, right?
It’s going alright, tour starts tomorrow.
Any places on this tour that you are especially excited about?
I’m pretty excited about Montreal, I always have a really good time there. I think there’s like 5 or 6 places I’ve never been to, which is pretty cool.
Any artists that you’re looking forward to playing with?
I’m touring with two of my close friend groups – The first half of the tour will be with my friends, Options. And the second half will be my friends Sen Morimoto. But yeah, I’m just excited to hang out with my friends and travel.
And it looks like you’re going to US and Canada, is that right?
Yeah, there’s three Canada shows.
Have you done a tour before as yourself?
I’ve done a bunch, but not that many with my own music – this is about my fourth or fifth tour as myself.
And you’re based out of LA currently, right?
No, I’m from Chicago actually.
Have you always been from there?
I was born in LA-area, but I’ve spent most of my life in either the suburbs of Chicago or the city. I probably won’t stay in Chicago for too much longer, but I don’t have anywhere that I am sold on just yet.
Do you think your decision on a city would be musically-driven?
Nah, I’d probably want to go somewhere quiet and with less people.
That’s good, a quiet place to write music music and whatever. Pull as Aesop Rock and write a rap album in the woods.
Yeah, that would be real cool.
So earlier today, I was searching your name in Yahoo and Google, and you come up labeled an “american composer” and an “instrumentalist” — do you agree that is the best way to describe yourself?
I think calling myself a composer is an insult to people who have actually studied composition. But I think I’d agree with that just as much as places that call me a rapper, because that feels like a strange thing. But I’d agree with that.
What would you call yourself, like what’s your genre?
I don’t have one. Based off what people know of me from the past, I’d say it’s like hip-hop and experimental, weird, rock stuff. There’s just so much music that’s nothing like any of those things that I have yet to put out.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that your sound evolves with every release, which keeps it fresh and exciting. Do you think there’s a method to your madness when it comes to your art?
I don’t know, I just write whenever I get the urge to write, and sometimes I force myself to try to be creative and come up with new ideas. There’s really no method – pretty much anything goes. I could be recording on my phone on a walk, or it could be in a studio. Just any experience can be something that I write.
When did you start making music?
I joined a band in 5th grade, and before that I was in church singing. Everyone in my house played music so I was always around it growing up. I play drums, guitar, and bass mostly. I kind of lost piano because I became preoccupied with other instruments.
Do you have an earliest memory with music?
I just remember my both of my parents singing a lot when I was little, and I found out later that a lot of those songs they sung were actually songs that my dad made up. That was cool to find out. They would sing some songs from Nigeria too. Those were pretty much my earliest memories before branching out.
For Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, do you record everything or do you have anyone else in the band?
On the recordings I do everything, but for live shows I have a band.
Ah, have you always had a band for your live shows?
I did two tours that were just me by myself, but for the most part every time I play I’ve had a full band.
Do you have any favorite shows you’ve played in the past? I’m sure they’re really energetic, right?
Oh, yeah. One of my favorite shows was pretty early on – we had this show in the ‘burbs called “The Big Show” and we had a bunch of local bands rent out a park recreational building, and we would throw an all-day show there. Those were some of my favorite shows, because everyone is excited to be there and everyone was really positive and supportive of each other. And it’s really fun.
Those types of shows are fun because you know everyone is there for the music and it’s not like some people stumbled into a bar that happened to be playing music. It’s always nice, refreshing yourself with that type of scene.
Yeah. I had a really good show in Philly recently, too. It was at this batting cage called Everybody Hits. It was really cool.
Is that place specifically also a venue or was it just a random spot for a show?
No, this place started having shows a while back. I think someone just approached the owner and asked them if they could have a show there and he was just like “yeah, sure.”
That’s awesome. That needs to happen more.
Yeah, he was just like “I don’t know what that entails, but as long as you guys are nice and treat the place with respect, we’re good.” There’s also a photographer there that takes pictures of the bands and turns them into baseball cards that they put on the wall.
Photos courtesy of Scott Troyan (left) and Brian Ourach (right)
Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. I’ll need to check that out. So, I did a little bit of digging and I saw that you had Nnamdi’s Pancake Haus in your teens?
It was like teens and early twenties.
How long were you doing that for?
Probably like 5 years. It was my parent’s house in Lansing, Illinois, which is like a suburb of Chicago. I had a couple of shows while my mom was still living there, and then they moved to LA and me and some of my siblings stayed in that house and continued to have shows – way more shows than when they were there. And my brother would make pancakes at every show, so that’s why it was called Pancake Haus.
How many pancakes would he need to make for a show?
A lot. He would make them all night until people got sick of pancakes or until he got sick of making them.
Was your mom into the music at all or would she just stay in her room?
She liked it, I think she liked just knowing who my friends are. She had a good time being around people that I liked to be around.
Would you say your parents are supportive? I mean they’ve seen you grow and they’ve seen your journey.
Yeah, supportive as they can be. Sometimes it feels crazy, I assume that it seems like something crazy to pursue for a while, but I think recently they’ve been like “Ok, you’re really going to keep doing it?”
No turning back now.
But they are supportive.
That’s great. I think being crazy definitely has it’s perks, you know? You take chances and you do things and maybe find success, and people who aren’t crazy might not find the same success if they don’t take chances.
Oh, I feel that. 100%
What would you say your ultimate goal is, an an artist?
My ultimate goal is to reach as many people as possible, to make people think, and to be a positive role model. Not to say what people consider to be the right decision all the time, but being an open, honest person, and put out as much intriguing, thoughtful, art as I can, and also put out some dumb shit that’s fun. I want to enjoy it and inspire other folks to be free with their pursuits.
Well said. I feel like you’re on your way to reaching that, just based on what I’ve seen and heard. Have you had any “wow” moments since you started making music as Nnamdi Ogbonnaya?
Yeah, I think after I put out my last album, it’s been picking up a little bit more. Just like working with and talking with people at NPR was really cool, because I’ve been super into listening to NPR all the time. I think every time I got something on NPR I kind of freaked out a lot. Also, playing Pitchfork was pretty wild, because I have a list of things I want to accomplish, and I made this list when I was not in a good place and just going through some stuff, and that was like the second thing I had on that list. I don’t know, I’ve had a lot of “wow” moments. Just seeing where it takes me.
That’s awesome. Speak it into existence. Do you have any releases slated for the end of this year or 2019?
The band I play drums in, Monobody, has a release coming out November 1st. Other than that, I’ve just been working on my own stuff but I don’t have a release date for anything yet.
So is Sooper Records something that you are involved in, behind the scenes?
Yeah, that’s my label. It’s me, my friend Glenn, and Sen, who’s actually coming on tour with me. We are all co-owners of this label.
How did that all come about?
Well, I’ve had two attempts at running different things when I was younger that didn’t pan out how I wanted to – so I was kind of burnt out on that. But then I met Glenn at different shows in Chicago and we ended up hanging out and clicking, and he really wanted to do it. I told him all of my concerns about starting a label, but he was still very into the idea of me and him doing it – he was like “we could do something special together,” and I said, “I know we can, but we have to be smart about it, and do our research, and keep learning,” and he talked me into it. So we both started it, and then Sen joined because we were working on putting out his record.
Photo courtesy of Michael Salisbury
Things were going so well and Sen is like the nicest person on the planet, and it meshed so well with what we were doing, so we were like you should just join with us. Also, he talks to people more than me and Glenn – he knows what’s going on and he’s hip to all the new shit, so he’s a good person to have.
Do you have a method to what artists that you sign on, or is it more like whoever knows someone?
We get a lot of emails and we listen to everything, but we’re still pretty small so we can’t do a lot of releases. It’s just whatever catches our ear, and usually the stuff we go big behind is something that we find and we’re like “holy shit, we need to make this happen” so, it depends.
As you may know, the mission of Radiotrails is all about music discovery and appreciation. Are there any artists that you’ve worked with, or are just a fan of, for me and my readers to check out?
Definitely the two folks I’m touring with: Options,
and Sen Morimoto.
I really love my friend Alicia Walter,
she used to go under the name Oshwa, and I really love her music.
There’s this band from Chicago called Paper Mice, that’s like my favorite band probably of all time.
Also, this band Melkbelly from Chicago. They’re really cool. Cool, great people.
But yeah, those are the ones that I really want people to know about.
Catch Nnamdi Ogbonnaya on the Sooper Fall Tour now! See the full list of dates below:
Mon-Oct-01 Detroit, MI - Deluxx Fluxx Tue-Oct-02 Toronto, ON - Baby G Wed-Oct-03 Montreal, QC - Bar Le Ritz PDB Thu-Oct-04 Burlington, VT - ArtsRiot Fri-Oct-05 Portsmouth, NH - Book and Bar Sat-Oct-06 Boston, MA - Lilypad Sun-Oct-07 New York, NY - Baby's All Right Tue-Oct-09 Philadelphia, PA - PhilaMOCA Wed-Oct-10 Washington, DC - Songbyrd Thu-Oct-11 Norfolk, VA - TOAST Fri-Oct-12 Raleigh, NC - Kings Sat-Oct-13 Atlanta, GA - AFROPUNK Sun-Oct-14 New Orleans, LA - Poor Boys* Mon-Oct-15 Houston, TX - Satellite Bar Tue-Oct-16 Austin, TX - Hotel Vegas Thu-Oct-18 Phoenix, AZ - Lunchbox Fri-Oct-19 San Diego, CA - SDCP (@inyourpocketpresents) Sat-Oct-20 Pomona, CA - dA Center of the Arts* Sun-Oct-21 Los Angeles, CA - The Echo Tue-Oct-23 Santa Barbara, CA - Velvet Jones Wed-Oct-24 Santa Cruz, CA - Catlyst Atrium Thu-Oct-25 San Francisco, CA - Thee Parkside Fri-Oct-26 Sacramento, CA - Momo Lounge Sun-Oct-28 Vancouver, BC - Biltmore Cabaret Mon-Oct-29 Seattle WA - Lo-Fi Tue-Oct-30 Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios Wed-Oct-31 Boise, ID - Neurolux Thu-Nov-01 Salt Lake City, UT - Kilby Court Fri-Nov-02 Denver, CO - Lost Lake Sat-Nov-03 Lincoln, NE - The Bay Sun-Nov-04 Iowa City, IA - The Mill Tue-Nov-06 Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry Wed-Nov-07 Milwaukee, WI - Anodyne Thu-Nov-08 Madison, WI - High Noon Fri-Nov-09 Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle 10/1 – 10/14 w/ Options 10/16 – 11/9 w/ Sen Morimoto
Listen to Nnamdi Ogbonnaya’s latest album, DROOL, below:
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THIS INTERVIEW WAS EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR CLARITY