NoCap Meets the Moment With Long-Awaited Debut Album: ‘I Wanna Be That Voice’

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When NoCap has something to say, the world listens. The quick-witted rapper’s wordplay keeps listeners at the edge of their seats, eagerly awaiting the elation of that next unexpected synapse. Oftentimes, the punchlines are playful (“Should’ve been a doctor, nothin’ that I do little”); others, they draw attention to a deeper motif (“Sippin’ out the bottle, tryna dodge the can”). 

Either way, there’s much more than puns to be gleaned from a close reading of NoCap’s lyrics. Born Kobe Vidal Crawford in Mobile, Alabama, the 23 year-old rapper has played an indispensable role in cementing his city as a hip-hop capital, laying the foundation for a rising music scene along the way. Alongside longtime collaborator Rylo Rodriguez and their right-hand producer Al’Geno, NoCap has carved out his own corner of Southern hip-hop imbued with the passion of gospel and the pain of blues, where guitars emote as much as the Auto-Tuned croons that drip over them. 

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Music is about honesty for NoCap, who never fails to leave a piece of himself on each track. His lyrics detail stories of pain, ambition, excess, and internal battles locked in stalemate that he continues to fight nonetheless – and his fans sing along as if the stories were their own. He makes a point of never taking his supporters for granted, and over the past half decade, he’s built what every artist desires: a cult following. 

In May, NoCap received his first platinum certification for his 2019 breakout record, the poignant, Jagged Edge-sampling “Ghetto Angels,” on which he laments the earth shattering losses of loved ones taken too soon. At the New York City stop on his first headline tour, the plaque was paraded across the Gramercy Theatre stage in front of a sold out room as NoCap sang out, “Why did you leave?/ If you was here, how would it be?” Bittersweet moments like these are nothing new for NoCap, who approaches industry success with a healthy dose of skepticism: “That’s the one thing about it,” he admits, “The money don’t erase your pains.” 

Despite his complicated relationship with fame, NoCap finds himself at a precipice. After an EP and 5 mixtapes, he finally released his first studio album this past April. Mr. Crawford is attuned to this moment, serving as both a re-introduction for fans tried and true and a proper welcoming for those just joining the party. 

Previously, his artistic progress has been forced into fragments. “I done dropped mixtape after mixtape after mixtape,” he explains, “I was in and out of jail and couldn’t handle business how I wanted to.” On Mr. Crawford, NoCap was finally able to put those fragments in conversation: “I feel like I really had time to put this one together,” he beams, “I was able to really give ‘em my story.”

Below, NoCap talks with Billboard about coming up in Mobile, building his catalog, defining a new sound, and more. 

I was in the crowd tonight. Everyone knows every single word. Did you know it was gonna be like that?

Not really, coming from the South, coming a ways up north. Just coming from where I come from, and for the world just to know — for strangers to know — my story… It’s deep.

That has to be the most amazing feeling. I’m looking around, and they’re not just singing it, they’re feeling it, you know?

Most definitely. I get chill bumps when I’m on stage sometimes. I ain’t gonna lie, when I look in the crowd, I might see somebody crying out there, all type of s–t. Just to know my music can really touch somebody… That’s what I came here for. 

Vaccine – Falling Star” was the first video you dropped after you got out. Did you know that song was gonna take off the way it did?

I didn’t. The songs “Vaccine” and “Falling Star,” they really was separate songs at the time. When I went back and listened to both of them, something just made me collage them together. I couldn’t leave the house at the time [while on parole], so I went to my backyard and shot the video. And it went crazy for me.

Tell me more about Mobile. What was it like growing up there?

It’s country, but it still go down there like anywhere else. We really ain’t got a lot there to look forward to. We don’t have no mentors or nobody we can reach our hand out to when we do have dreams. You gotta fight by yourself – you ain’t got nobody to help you. But that’s why I’m glad I’m coming out of there. Rylo coming out of there. Flo Mili and Yung Bleu coming out of there. Now, all the artists coming up, they got someone to reach out to.

You’re known for your wordplay. Where does that come from? When did you start putting words together like that?

Soon as I started rapping, really. Me and Rylo [Rodriguez] were locked in too, so I was feeding off his energy, and he was feeding off mine, you get what I’m saying? When we started dropping, I realized that’s what they was always talking about, that’s what they was always looking for. So we just started bringing it even harder. 

Sometimes I be wanting to make regular music without punchlines to show I don’t need them. [Laughs.] But I know that’s what’s really catching they ear, and that’s what got me where I’m at, so I’ma keep doing it. People ain’t comin’ with bars no more. We bringing real rap back. We done did the melodic, we done did all that. It’s really about the lyrics now.

You, Rylo, and Al Geno really started a movement together in Mobile.

You know what’s crazy? Like 3 years ago, we was in the studio – me, Rylo and Geno – and we knew they were gonna try to run off with this sound. Cause at the time, we ain’t have the fame, we ain’t have the money. We were really just blowing up off our work. I just remember us talking like, “Man, y’all hear everybody doin punchlines now?” or, “Y’all hear everybody trying to have the guitar sounds in the beat?” 

I ain’t trying to be cocky or nothing. But to be honest, people wasn’t doing that around that time. I most definitely feel like we got it hot. It’s the new sound now. But it’s a blessing to hear young artists coming up trying to sound like me. I don’t look at it like they biting or nothing, I look at it like a blessing. I’m the new sound, I’m the new wave – so that’s what everybody gonna do. 

I know you’re in the middle of this tour right now, but what are your other goals for this year?

Really just keep putting out good music, keep making my fans happy. That’s my main focus. I don’t have a lot of industry support. But I do have a cult fanbase who can support my music. I feel like that’s way better than having industry support, ‘cause industry support can only go so far. 

It’s gonna take work, but that’s the best way to be sometimes. When you grind, grind, grind and work your way to the top, you last longer. Some people come out, make one song and it’s a hit, and then you never hear from them again. When you got mixtape after mixtape, album after album, and you building your catalog, it’s different. All the greats in the game, they build the catalog.

What keeps you going? What inspires you?

I wanna be that voice. I know a lot of people feel like they can’t do it. I just wanna be that one that can show them like, “You can.” That’s really what I’m focusing on. I know it’s a lot of people who wanna give up, but even if you feel like giving up, just keep doing it. That’s what I did. Even when I felt like I was giving up, guess what I was still doing? I was still going in the studio everyday. 

It feel good to be an influence, cause there was a point in time in my life where I was nobody. I just wanna be a good influence. 

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