For 28-year-old rapper Nick Grant, hailing from South Carolina is a symbol of pride. While his contemporaries can gush about being from prestigious rap lands like New York, Atlanta, or Houston, Grant is more than comfortable with placing the weight of his hometown Walterboro, South Carolina, on his shoulders.
After linking up with Hustle Gang's Jason Geter in 2014, Grant quickly demonstrated why he's capable of being a one-man wrecking crew on his own. In 2015, he dazzled with his intricate wordplay when he first torched Sway in the Morning's studio in Atlanta. Unshaken by the thought of Jeezy hovering over him as he freestyled, Grant flashed steely bars to the amazement of everyone in the room. "The last n---a slept though, I need it upfront/Quiet as kept though, I'm Marshawn Lynch with strep throat," he rapped.
The mayhem didn't stop there for him. The precocious wordsmith then flexed his bars at Hot 97, BET's Hip Hop Awards cipher, and once again for Sway, where he mercilessly tore the hinges off Outkast's "ATLiens" instrumental. Then, the lyrical prodigy laid down the punch lines for his mixtape '88, released earlier this year. Standout tracks like the grimy, East Coast-sounding "Black Sinatra" and his ambitious ode to Outkast's "Ms. Jackson" on "I Want It All" proved that Grant isn't just a savvy lyricist but an artist who can create songs to satisfy the mainstream as well.
Billboard recently spoke to Grant about repping for South Carolina, receiving major co-signs from Nas and Andre 3000, his love for jazz and why Solange's A Seat at the Table album was so meaningful to him.
Being from South Carolina, a place that doesn't have a strong hip-hop presence, who did you gravitate to musically?
Man, it wasn't, but like, I felt that that was a good thing that we didn't have anybody representing where I was from. I mean, people were representing the South of course but I got to choose. It was like our radio was like East Coast radio. They played Raekwon, and stuff that wasn't singles from Scarface, Outkast Jay Z -- a lot of different people, man. It was like a combination and a mixture of artists that were played down here. If people were talking about something, I liked it. If it was different, I liked it.
You're received some pretty big co-signs from Nas, Andre 3000 and Talib Kweli. Which co-sign surprised you the most?
I love Nas, Talib and 3000 but the one that threw me off the most was Andre 3000 coming to the show in Dallas. That's somebody that I grew up on, grew up watching, and who I related to the most. I'm from South Carolina, so he said a lot of stuff that I could relate to being a country boy and being from the South. I met him when I was in the studio. I played him some stuff that I was working on. He told me that I inspired him. He was like, "Yo, let me know when you're out here. I'm gonna come to the show, man." In your mind, you're thinking like, "Man, you ain't coming to my show." So, when I got to my show, he just ended up walking through. I heard his voice and I was like, "This n---a really came to the show." [Laughs] So, yeah, that was a mile-long moment for me, for real.
If you could pick your favorite punch lines from your '88 mixtape, which ones would you choose and why?
Man, there's so many on there! I can say one of them that comes to mind. It's "I'm from a city where tension is thicker than Jill Scott." I was an early Jill Scott fan. As I was gaining notoriety and moving around different places, people from my city were seeing that. I would go back and quite naturally, there's hate where you come from. So, it's like, "Damn, I know him and he made it out of this but I'm still here." So it's like the tension is thick. You could feel it. You could feel it in the air. You could cut it with a knife. That's where that line resonated from.
How do you make sure that your lyrical abilities don't overshadow your abilities to make strong mainstream records?
That's what I focused on. I was always the battle rap guy but being in this business, I learned that you have to make hits. I felt like early on, I knew how to make records to get people to listen to me but I'm finally coming into my own, seeing different things and becoming a man. It's easy to speak on with the more wisdom I gain, and the more I live life. It becomes easier to talk about different things since you've experienced some of them. The most difficult part for me. I wouldn't even say it's difficult because God blessed me with something where I can just find a clever way to say the things that I go through but that's the thing. It's nothing new under the sun but if you can say it a different way than somebody else, then that's what makes you special and I realized that.
So far in your career, you've been getting compared to Nas. Do you feel that's an accurate comparison, and if so, where do you see the similarities between you two?
I think it's just the rhyme pattern. What I took from him and what I learned from him was how to rhyme so many words in one bar, and to not be amazed by the things you say. It's almost like a football player who scores and is humble because he knows he can do it again. So, when you watch Nas, he might say some of the most amazing stuff but it doesn't faze him. He doesn't get excited. It's like, "Yo, do you realize what you just said?" [Laughs] So I try to do that and still be humble, even when in my head and in my heart, I might be like, "Yo, that's the hardest s--t I've ever said in life."
We know you're a big jazz fan having grown up on Miles Davis and John Coltrane. How has listening to jazz expanded your ear musically and maybe even your skills as a rapper?
The way I rhyme is similar to a jazz player. You find the melodies and the way I flow on a beat is like an added instrument to a beat. I feel like I was a jazz artist before I was even a rapper. Just learning things through other MCs. It expanded my ear musically and taught me how to use different instruments to manipulate sounds a little better and being inspired by those players. Joe Sample, a pianist, was like one of my favorite jazz musicians of all time. I find myself listening to him a lot like the Old Faces, Old Places album. I put a whole lot of pianos runs in my music. I just think that's dope. It wasn't even nothing that somebody taught me. It was just something that I liked and gravitated towards. I kind of did research on my own. That's why it makes it feel more special when you do it on your own.
You recently released an EP centered around Solange's A Seat at the Table album. What made you decide to tackle on those instrumentals and make a 'tape out of it?
Just being inspired by that album, man. That album was so black and so us. The stuff that she was saying was really inspiring and I related to it. I just decided to do my own take from a man's point of view so I touched on a few records and I had a lot of thoughts and stuff that I wanted to get out. There's been stuff that I experienced since that album came out and listening to it brought it out even more. That album was special to me. I liked the cover. I liked different things. I'm an MC so when I hear something, I just wanna jump on it and rhyme.
You were able to rap on different platforms like Sway in the Morning, a cypher for the BET Hip Hop Awards and Hot 97. Which moment for you felt like the ultimate wake-up call to people who may have not known who Nick Grant was?
Maybe the second time I went on Sway and the last time I went on Flex. When I went on Sway, it was like, "Oh, he can really rap. It wasn't a fluke." The first time people think, "Oh, you prepared your whole life for this so you gotta kill it." But when you do it two, three, four, five, six times, it's like, "Oh, it's serious now. Now I wanna hear the music. Now I wanna hear the records. Now we know you can rap. Let's see if you can compete with the people who are on top now."