Nur-D, aka Matt Allen from Minnesota, describes himself as “your seventh favourite hip-hop person”. Both humble and ambitious, his passionate rhymes on such subjects as comics and fantasy fandom, gaming, self-love, friendship and generally feelin’ oneself are fresh, sharp and “cleaner than a rubber ducky”. Embracing his body and his emotions beyond the outdated image of crib-car-and-pussy U.S. male rappers, he seems to draw his energy from being uncompromisingly honest about himself. He may not drink but “still gets turnt up”, with tracks as energetic as they are wholesome and straight from the heart. Nur-D’s 2018 album ‘Mixtape 2: Electric Boogaloo’ and début album ‘Songs About Stuff’, both released by Vinyl City Records, are available on Spotify, iTunes, Googleplay music and more.
The Demented Goddess: You describe yourself as having an “8-bit heart” and being “a real shy guy” What does it mean for a shy, nerdy person to be able to share their truth with others?
I think it means getting over the fear of being vulnerable. Pushing yourself past the safety of being unseen. It’s tough because in order to share you have to be heard and that comes with a chance that you might be rejected. But learning to love yourself and know where your value truly comes from helps.
DG: Your rap has an attitude entirely in opposition to insincere, toxic machismo and insincerity. It’s refreshing and raises consciousness; that hip-hop can be a vehicle for self-expression to those who are outside of particular norms. In “Take My Picture” and “2XL” you celebrate your own unique beauty and invite others to do the same, while also referring to gloomier days. What kind of obstacles and structures can stand in the way of an artist having self-belief? How can they be overcome?
N: Well we live in a day an age where everyone’s best versions are on display. So many people barely ever post a picture without a filter. So often when people see their own “imperfections” they can think they’re the only ones who have them. When you feel undesirable it’s hard to step outside and let everyone know what you feel inside.
“Overcoming” this is like a war. Somedays you gain ground and other times you lose it. I don’t like the idea of saying that there is a definitive “end” because every day brings with it its own set of factors that makes it easier or harder. But I know that having a list of things you know you like about yourself and saying them out loud is helpful to start reminding your own spirit what makes you special.
DG: Your rap “Music Business 101” is about the industry’s dehumanizing processing of a real human being into a product. How do you personally resist this process? Have any particular artists set an example for you to find your own path?
N: The harsh truth is that song wasn’t so much of a buck the system anthem, though it’s cool if it led people that way. It was more of a lament over something we really can’t escape from. From the bottom, a lot of that stuff is hard to change.
Being an artist is one thing. Being a professional musician is another. You have to decide which one you truly want to be cuz it will change your vision of success.
An artist can totally flip a bird to music business convention and never play ball ever but some opportunities will never be open to them and they have to be truly okay with that.
If you are trying to be a professional musician you might have to hit pause on some of what you want to do in order to give someone up the ladder what they have asked from you.
If you’re lucky those paths will eventually cross and you will end up like Childish Gambino, Lady GaGa, Tyler the Creator, or the late, great Prince. But that requires knowing truly where your boundaries are and what you will and won’t do for your dream.
DG: I’m so glad you mentioned Prince because at The Demented Goddess we are huge fans. Editor Soma Ghosh’s writing on The Artist has such an expansive energy, and for myself personally, listening to Prince was crucial to being able to dance outrageously in public as a previously shy person. In fact, Prince made it so that I could not contain myself.
Your video for “Not Cool” features your adventures as a dynamic cartoon character. It reminded me of how the Ramones’ comic strip aesthetics on merch and album sleeves helped to solidify the band’s identity, and to align them with a like-minded audience, and also of how Jeffery Lewis combines the two mediums to communicate political art. As a comix fan and creator myself, I’m fascinated to know what your favourite comic book characters are and why? How you feel the two supposedly separate worlds of fandom and music can enhance each other?
Wow, I love your question!
I could talk to you about comics for days at a time and never get bored. However, if we are looking at my favorites, I would say my first favorite comic book character was always The Flash. I am a 90’s kid so The Flash I grew up with was Wally West. He was a third-generation hero, started as a sidekick and had the mantle thrust to him when Barry Allen died in the Crisis.
The Flash has always been my favorite because of the sheer creativity of his power set. Taking the one thing he can do better than anyone else and constantly finding new ways to use it made sense to me as a kid who was bad at almost everything except music.
Comics could provide musicians so many different avenues of word play and subject matter to use. Certain songs could enhance a comic scene or give us a real world connection to the heartbeat of a comic book world.
I think that comic fandom and music fandom are much closer than a lot of people think. Everyone has their favorite artists just like they have their favorite comics. I think self-segregation and gatekeeping keeps us from being as amazing as we can be.
DG: Do you have a prized piece of “nerd-gold” in your possession and if so, what does it mean to you?
N: I have two.
My most valuable comic I own right now is an original copy of Marvel’s “Secret Wars #8” This was the first introduction of the black suit Spider-Man which we would later find out was the symbiote who would become Venom.
The second would be my Marvel Encyclopedia. It’s widely out of date now and it’s not worth a whole lot monetarily. However, there was a time that I had zero money and in order to make music happen I had to sell almost all of my comic books. That Encyclopedia had meant a lot to me and it hurt to sell it. My girlfriend, now fiancée, saw this and went out and bought another one for me as a gift.
She’s not into comics but it showed she cared about the things I cared about and listened.
DG: You mention in interviews that one of the things that helped you to become the confident presence that you are was to make mistakes. I could not agree more; with my collective, teaching people how to DJ, we don’t teach people not to make mistakes, but that these things are as likely to happen to a seasoned DJ as a beginner, and are always an opportunity to learn; how it happened, or how to own it. What kind of mistakes helped you to grow the most as a person?
N: I think a lot of my mistakes came from heartbreak. Learning how to share yourself with someone else opens you up to a lot of flaws in your own character and ways to be a better person in the future. When you hurt someone or they hurt you it allows for a moment of introspection. If you take advantage of that you can start shaping yourself into someone you’d rather be going forward.
Same with making mistakes in music. You don’t like how a certain set went? Sit with it and figure out what made you feel that way. Change it up for next time. Whether that be working on breath control, maybe changing an outfit that made it hard to move in. Maybe it’s working with someone who didn’t have your best interests at heart.
It could be something as simple as not eating before you hit the stage. I have learned now that I shouldn’t eat until after I perform otherwise my stomach gets weird and I feel slower.
Mistakes are what make us human. Growing from them is how we improve.
DG: There can be a dark side of nerdy culture, as we’re at a point when it is all too easy for outsiders and loners to be radicalized into hatred and prejudice. Your song “Pity Pho” recalls a romantic rejection from a queer woman. Why was it important to you to write it and how do you hope it might help other nerds going through a similar experience?
I think it was important for me to write “Pity Pho” because we are lucky enough to live in a world where more people are able to live how they truly are but with that comes a new form of rejection. I think, on average, men have not had a great track record with dealing with rejection of any kind and I feel a lot of that is from fear. Fear that if we aren’t wanted and desired by everyone we meet that we are somehow worthless. That fear leads many people into reactionary anger, especially in the nerd community because that feeling already permeates so much of their day to day.
I wanted to write a song showing that it was OK to be sad but showing that rejection was not the end of the world. I wanted to do my part to help continue to normalize the idea that a woman could reject a man for another woman. That having someone say no to you doesn’t change your mandate to treat them with respect. That my sexual preference is not the default but one of many different kinds of ways to live and love.
So much of hip hop is this glorified bragging contest on how many notches you can get in your belt and that’s not the kind of artist I want to be. I want someone to hear my music and think “oh I’m not alone.” because it’s when people think they are all by themselves that those toxic fears truly take us.
Nur-D was in conversation with Caoimhe Lavelle, Resident DJ of The Demented Goddess, poet, comix artist and founder of the non-binary Dublin DJ collective ‘Western Girls’.
Follow Nur-D on Twitter @NurDRocks
Follow Caoimhe on Twitter @kwoovo