From Tik-Tok to Visionland: YBN Nahmir Is Back

What a difference a few months makes. On November 23rd 2020, one of the most charismatic young rappers of recent years was in a mood, and on a social media tear. “’After my album I really just wanna be done. Tired of fake n-ggas, fake teams, weak ass conflict of interested [sic]. Everything,” wrote YBN Nahmir on Twitter. “Imma give y’all the best music ever then I’m gone.” It sounded like a threat of early retirement from an artist who was still a few weeks shy of 21. And while he soon followed it up by saying he was just “playing,” it was no secret that Nahmir had, in recent months, not been a happy camper, having gone through something of a roller coaster career since 2017.

That was the year that a Birmingham, Alabama teen named Nick Simmons blew up fast with “Rubbin Off the Paint,” which managed to simultaneously deliver gangsta boasts and affable charm from a skinny kid flashing guns in a backyard. A tough-talking choppa wielder on record, Simmons on closer inspection was a good guy who took care of his church-going family, and along with friends Manny, Glizzy, Jay and half a dozen other Grand Theft Auto-obsessed kids from across the nation, had formed a gaming crew called YBN that eventually turned towards hip-hop aspirations.

The public face of YBN was whittled down to a trio: Nahmir, Almighty Jay, and a new recruit: The gifted Maryland rapper Cordae Dunston. Yet even as buzz grew around the group—with a relocation to Los Angeles, a signing to ART@WAR / Atlantic Records and a positive reception for 2018’s YBN: The Mixtape—it began to splinter. Nahmir alone was named to XXL’s coveted Freshman Class (Cordae made it the following year), and while the trio toured, Cordae also played live on his own, earning wide acclaim and a Best Rap Album Grammy nomination for his solo project The Lost Boy in 2019.

So while it was perhaps inevitable that Cordae dropped the YBN handle from his name last year, founders Nahmir and Jay were increasingly talked about by media and fans as having “fallen off” by comparison. In August, an embittered Nahmir tweeted that YBN had been “left in the gutter” and vowed to “turn it up myself.” He’s since clarified that there are no hard feelings with Cordae or Jay, and said he’s “proud of” Cordae’s success, while the always-outspoken Jay recently took to social media to name and shame attorney James McMillan, head of ART@WAR, who Jay asserts “took advantage” of the crew and trademarked the YBN name himself. In short, it’s been a messy situation.

Fast forward a couple of months into 2021: YBN Nahmir’s fortunes have turned, and his mood has significantly improved. A welcome and unexpected spark came via a one-minute-ten-second freestyled tune from 2019 called “Opp Stoppa.” He’d all but forgotten about it, but it caught fire thanks to TikTok. The mini-track’s tinkling piano sample, trap beat and Nahmir’s twangy sing-song flow proved catnip for the platform’s dancing hordes, and the song went on to top TikTok’s chart. 21 Savage graced the remix and suddenly the success of “Opp Stoppa” set the table nicely for the March 26th release of Nahmir’s debut album Visionland, on ART@WAR / Atlantic.

Named after Simmons’ favorite amusement park in Alabama, Visionland delivers plenty of vintage Nahmir – which is to say, bouncing trap packed with hard-charging flexes, drawling snarls about AK’s, Glocks, clips, choppas, Lambo and Bentley trucks, and verses aimed squarely at the haters and doubters. That defiance dominates at least half the album: on “Politics,” he calls out “fake gangstas;” on “Prison” he’ll send an adversary “to the sky”; “Make a Wish” is particularly grim, with vague threats at enemies’ families.

But three standout tracks will drop the most jaws: “Still Family” is a gospel-flavored opener with a Ty Dolla Sign hook that finds Nahmir in a rare mellow and reflective mood, recalling tough times, those he’s lost, and loved ones he’s been able to help. “WooWAM,” by contrast, is a thirsty blast, seemingly primed for its own run on TikTok. But the real revelation, late in the album: “Soul Train,” which offers full-on sparkling funk-soul-disco, with Nahmir channeling an inner Bruno Mars and going for the swoon singing “If I gave you all my love, would that make you happy?” While he calls it his “simp” track, and one “for the ladies,” if there’s more of that sound to come from him in the future, there may be a whole new musical lane awaiting Nick Simmons.

It’s a lot to unpack, and GQ got through much of it when we spoke to the resurgent, newly positive YBN Nahmir – a week before Visionland’s release.

YBN Nahmir

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

One thing that makes this the right time to drop an album is this unexpected success of “Opp Stoppa” – a couple of years after the song was first released, thanks to TikTok.

For a minute, I was thinking, “Do I really want to keep doing this rapping shit? Maybe I’ll just keep going, just stay in the background.” And so this was a blessing in disguise. And 21 Savage hopped on the remix, he did the most amazing work that I’ve seen, cause he matched my flow, he matched everything. And I salute cuz for that, because a lot of obstacles that had been put in front of me, he moved them, to be honest. “Opp Stoppa” – it wasn’t one of them songs that I really put a lot of effort into. It was one of them fuck around songs. But with just time and patience, it just came and blew up out of nowhere. And it gave me a real push, to where I can drop the album now, and everybody is excited for it.

You wrote on Twitter the other day that you wish artists would stop flashing guns all the time, and suggested maybe they flash some “bread” instead. And some pointed out that you’re a guy who’s always had guns in his lyrics and videos, going back to the song that blew you up, “Rubbin Off the Paint.” There are plenty of gun references on Visionland. And yet the new “Opp Stoppa” remix video with 21, is more lighthearted, with no guns. Is this a new you?

Nah, I got the answer for that right here. It’s not mainly for video shit, it’s more like Instagram and things. There’s a lot of people that’s in the streets – or even not in the streets – but if you’re doing something, and you know you shouldn’t be doing it, don’t post them guns. I mean at least give motivation to the younger people around you. And don’t show no money either! The best thing is don’t show anything. But I was really saying, put the guns down, stop shooting these kids, and let’s get some money.

I want to have a positive impact on the youth. Because I’m only 21. I was 17 at one point. I was the same age as all these youngins that’s looking up to me. So, instead of me telling these n-iggas pick up a gun and get on some bullshit, I’d rather talk about it in the music, but then when they see my personality in real life, see me in interviews, talking about real life shit, they start to see that an artist is not about all this. That’s just the mindset of a song. And you don’t always got to go pick up a gun. Whatever you are going through, whoever you got around you, just make sure with your blood that you tell em that you love em, cause at the end of the day you don’t know when you could lose em. You don’t know what’s gonna happen tomorrow.

That’s really what your album’s opening song “Still (Family)” is all about. It’s unlike most of what you’ve put out before, with a gospel vibe, Ty Dolla Sign on the hook, and you talking about helping out your grandma, your sister, about losing your friend Valley [who died of a heart condition in 2015]. You talk about days of struggling, of not having any water or gas. And I think people will appreciate you being so…

Open?

Yeah. Is that hard for you? Because it’s obviously not what you’re known for.

It really is, because I’m not used to letting everything out like that. “Still” was one of the first songs I recorded for the album. I just feel like I can finally expand my rap, and expand my life. Instead of just being like, shoot em up, bang bang. I can tell people what it really is, instead of just bullshitting with my fans, and with younger people involved – now they can really know my story, instead of just me rapping. They are really getting to see a side of me that nobody knows.

There’s plenty of bang bang on the album too. You go hard on at least half of it. It’s pretty menacing, songs like “Prison” and “Politics” and especially “Make a Wish.” When you’re talking about sending someone to “the sky” or going after their family if they mess with you, is there someone in mind?

It’s just general. There ain’t no person involved. Fuck no, I ain’t got no enemies. I never put my mind on something like that. But with “Make a Wish” I tried to really get on some real like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Tupac, like ‘90s shit. Like the “Hail Mary” video with Tupac, how it was, like, paranormal activity taking over n-ggas? I really want to put that video into “Make a Wish.” But I was trying to get on some old school [vibe]. That’s a real-life song. It’s nothing to play with.

You seem to be in a more positive place about your career than back in November, when you tweeted about “fake” people and “fake” deals and people really thought for a minute that you were going to walk away from music altogether.

Yeah that was just going through real-life shit. When I said that I was probably letting off a little steam, letting off a little emotion. And I made a mistake by doing that, too. Like, there’s some shit that you don’t put on the internet, that you don’t put out there, and show your emotions when you’re fucked up. You’re supposed to keep that positive impact on everybody. As a celebrity, you’re not supposed to let them know when you’re going through shit. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed.

You’ve also spoken recently about your infamous August tweet about YBN having been “left in the gutter.” You said it didn’t have to do with Cordae dropping the YBN name, and you’re happy for all the solo success he’s had. But when he was blowing up and there were people saying “What happened to Nahmir? What happened to Jay? Have they fallen off?” didn’t that get to you?

At first, I’m not gonna lie, it did a little bit. But like I said, I was going through that stage where I was growing up, to where I could elevate myself, and realize, “Damn, my friend did this! This is not just anyone, this is like my brother, and he went and got a Grammy nomination,” all that shit – so I couldn’t be mad. At first, I was looking at comments where they’d talk about why I didn’t drop no album, they’d talk bad about Jay, they’d talk bad about me, and it was a fucked up feeling. But then? This is like my big brother and he’s making me so happy because he’s doing all this shit that I wanna do. And at the end of the day he got that YBN stamp. And even if he ain’t got YBN right now, Cordae did this shit with us. And so, I thank him for all this, I thank Jay for all this, I thank all the people that played a part in this YBN shit. Without them n-ggass there would have been none of this.

As far as you’re concerned, YBN is still a group?

Hell yeah, it’s still a group. If I go on tour, and I ask Cordae to come on tour with me, he’ll come on tour and it’s gonna be a YBN tour. He don’t have to have that YBN shit in front of his name. But YBN is a family.

YBN Nahmir

Courtesy of Atlantic Records

You’ve said that older industry people took advantage of YBN, but you didn’t name them. But Jay doesn’t mince words, and on social media he called out the head of your label ART@WAR James McMillan, calling him a “fraud” who signs people to “janky deals” and takes advantage of kids, and said he was responsible for YBN breaking up.

I just really don’t like speaking on it. It’s not like Cordae left YBN because of us, because of something we did, but it’s like I said in the No Jumper interview, it was old n-ggas and people in the background, and our contract situation. I don’t really be tryna get on the internet and talk about too many names. I try to stay out of that shit. But when Jay posted that, I understood it, I know what he’s talking about. I get it. Because that’s what we’re going through.

The album title, that comes from an amusement park in Alabama that you used to go to?

It was really me [trying to] make my hometown famous. It’s not really in Birmingham, it’s in Bessemer, which is like thirty minutes away from the east side of Birmingham. And I made so many memories there, like family reunions. My family from different states used to come there and we used to do family reunions, picnics and all that shit there.

Was Travis Scott an inspiration for that choice? Because I thought of Astroworld when I heard about the title.

Even before I got famous I was already planning on naming my album Visionland. Because it was always my vision. Like, I am the only person from Alabama to really get to that top-tier status and that can have an impact on people. I feel like me putting the amusement park Visionland in my shit, I feel like I gave other people my vision, and I stepped into their vision, so they can feel me too. There’s something for everybody on this album.

Maybe the most fun two minutes on Visionland is “WooWAM.” So what exactly is a “WooWAM”? Something sexual, I’m guessing?

Well yeah, I’m tryna “woowam,” you feel me? [laughs] Nah, I just made that shit up out of nowhere. I was so drunk one night, and I was like, “Damn, bruh, I can’t just waste this studio session….” And it was random as fuck, I was just [sings] “I want her and her friends…” and I thought, “what can I say to make it different?” To make it sex, you feel me, I just had to find a different word.

It really grows on you, that song.

Yeah, like a lot of people didn’t like “WooWAM” at first, but then it was like, “Hey, drop ‘WooWAM’, drop ‘WooWAM’.” That’s all people was talking about, so now it’s like, “Okay I’m gonna drop ‘WooWAM.’” WooWAM is everything now – they made it a viral thing on Twitch, everybody’s saying it now – it’s become like a saying.

And then the song that’s gonna shock the most people, is this soul-funk-disco track “Soul Train.” No one has ever heard Nahmir sing like you do on that one, getting all romantic and soulful. You’ve got an inner Bruno Mars!

[laughs] That’s who I wanted to get on that track.

You even sing in falsetto at the end, going, “I gotta stay focused.” It’s pretty bold to do something so different.

I really didn’t want to put it out too early, because I feel like, you know I rap too much about bitches and hos and drugs and that kind of thing. So I felt like [this] would throw that off a little bit, people be like “Damn this n-gga’s a simp” But, at the end of the day, it’s a cool ass song, I like it – but I don’t love it, you feel me? I put it on the album because it’s different. And I know it’s gonna go somewhere. I really don’t usually make songs for the ladies. But I feel like it will make a lot of progress and show people another side of me too. Like, I can do anything. And it’s a song that a lot of people will relate to, because they simps, just like me, normal people.

I bet your girlfriend likes it.

[laughs] Hell yeah.

I read an interview with Sahlt [Alycia Tyre, influencer and Nahmir’s girlfriend of three years], where she said that her dad was initially not happy about her dating a rapper, and she had to tell him, “You don’t understand, dad, Nick’s not like that.” So is there a difference between Nick Simmons, the person, and Nahmir the rapper that we think we know?

Not really. It’s really that – I make music, everybody knows I make music, and then, I’m gonna put my personal life on Instagram a little bit, to an extent, but I’m gonna give ‘em me. I’m not gonna fake it, or sugarcoat it. I was always gonna be me, and not force no bullshit on my situation, or what I got going on. And her family – yeah, they know me now, they know I’m a good person. I thought they were gonna hate me at first, but they love me!

Obviously, the pandemic is still with us, so you’re not gonna be able to tour this album right away. Is that frustrating?

I have family members with Covid, I know a lot of people with Covid. It really didn’t affect me too much, but it affected a lot of people around me. And seeing that kind of fucked me up a little bit. But I understand that it’s time for everybody to just stay at home, do what they gotta do, and if you go outside, make sure you’re safe. It’s a real thing. A lot of people were saying “That shit fake,” that type of thing, and I’m like, “What? Are you serious?” You see all these cases and deaths? You can’t make that up.

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