Gabe ‘Nandez and I are both running slightly late to our interview at Bryant Park. When he texts me, “Not OD late or no shit like that. just a lil” I was drafting some version of the same statement in our message thread. Like for many others during the COVID-19 pandemic, time has become a provocative concept acting wildly different from person to person. For Gabe and I, however, we remained in sync between our lateness and fondness for tea, which was our squashed original plan before time got the best of us.
After first seeing Gabe perform last year at Zombie House for his album release party for his full-length debut Diplomacy, with an audience that included Jeff Weiss of Passion of the Weiss and Alphonse Pierre, it was apparent that Gabe was a rising talent. Performing an energetic set of gritty dark bars reminiscent of Wu Tang with the consciousness lean of A Tribe Called Quest, the introspective and reflective nature of Gabe’s music gave him the sensibility of an old soul.
Over the past year, Gabe’s artistic style has slowly adjusted. Following a big chop of his loccs, as quarantine rolled around Gabe began to perform online with a guitar in hand. This artistic centering can be found all over the self-produced, guitar heavy new Grove EP. According to Gabe this has been as long time coming as he explains, “I have been playing guitar since before I rapped and I always wanted to bridge the gap.”
The 6 track, 17 minute EP builds on Gabe’s lyrical dexterity and adds catchy and singable choruses. On the album opener “Noose” Gabe nonchalantly rhymes, “I’m just going to the store like I’m going to the morgue.” This bleak outlook is strewn throughout the project, but never becomes a pity party. Still, over a trap heavy snare, Gabe admits, “so much I’ve been shown,” thankful for the journey. It makes sense for someone with a life mantra entrenched by Hindu and Buddhist belief systems.
On “Breed” Gabe flexes his multilingual skills, rapping in his first language of French. It’s on this track his international flair and varied musical style become prevalent. Like the city he is based out of, Gabe’s melting pot mentality does not simply fall into his spiritual life, but plays out in his musical output as well. With his New York City hustler mentality on full-display Gabe notes that “I guess we got a fucking problem. I guess I’ma have to solve it,” on EP closer “Problems”.
Surrounded by the ever present hustle of Midtown Manhattan, Gabe and I connect beyond just our love of tea, to Buddhist mentality, and transitioning from the loccs lifestyle when they no longer speak to us. Check out the transcription below of our interview that covered Travie McCoy, sober life, growing up biracial, and haters and biters.
GSC: Who are you and how do you identify?
Gabe ‘Nandez: Gabe… ‘Nandez. I identify as me I guess, which you know is obviously a combination of a lot of things, but that’s what I would say. I would identify as me.
GSC: The album begins with a line that you’ve been depressed for 170 years. You also mention having past lives on the project. How has Hinduism or karmic life cycles influenced your music and lifestyle?
Gabe ‘Nandez: Yeah, man. Shout out to Hinduism. I’ve been really tapped into the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita and just Hindu literature since high school. Definitely a big influence just life was. It definitely seeps into my music. I definitely believe in reincarnation for sure, so yeah man, Dharma, you know, the path and shit and Karmic cycles. I’ve seen cycles close so clearly before. I’ve read and then seen so it’s not just theory for me. It’s an experience as well. Shout out to Hinduism and Buddhism.
GSC: Hindui and Buddhism had a huge influence on me in high school and then I went to a private Jesuit school which is Catholic, but Jesuits are really intellectual so you gotta study, you already know this Catholic shit so you gotta learn this Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, you gotta learn everything else. And that really made me think this Abrahamic shit is whack. All these other World Religion concepts are much less oppressive towards people which is huge for me.
Gabe ‘Nandez: I feel that. It’s less rigid in structure. Well it’s rigid, but I hear what you’re saying.
GSC: It’s not like a patriarchal hierarchy to how it runs.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Outside of like the Hindus have the caste system, which is odeeeeee. You know that’s not really mentioned in the spiritual aspect of it. That’s just some human shit.
GSC: I was at the album release party for your full-length project Diplomacy last year. How is this new project Grove an evolution or continuation in your style?
Gabe ‘Nandez: This is the first project where I produced all of this shit with guitar and produced all of the tracks. I would say sonically that’s the main thing. Thematically Diplomacy was like hard as fuck to make, not that this project wasn’t, but Diplomoacy I was on my Reasonable Doubt shit. I was trying to condense my life.
GSC: Because your dad worked at the UN right? So like your whole lifestyle and traveling and dealing with different types of people.
Gabe ‘Nandez: All the shit that happened from day 0 to 25 so I learned a lot about not just making an album obviously because it was my first full-length, but the hardest thing I think about making an album like that is not necessarily writing the songs, but doing the inner work that comes from being able to write those songs as a person. Forget music, you know. That’s hard.
GSC: What made you decide to produce this one by yourself?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I wanted to showcase the guitar. I kinda started with Diplomacy. There was like one track that I produced. Basically tryna bridge that gap in those two worlds.
GSC: Are you ever going to drop an acoustic guitar album?
Gabe ‘Nandez: Probably at some point.
GSC: When did you start recording the new one?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I wrote it twice. I started writing it a year ago. I started in August 2019 and then halfway through coming off of my last record because I went so deep with it I guess, and I guess this kind of goes back to the other question: how did Diplomacy lead into this one. I just got some bars off after that. That first draft I rapped about not surface level shit, but kinda. I didn’t go as deep as I should. I think people, I don’t know that I owe anybody anything, but it didn’t make sense with the work that I do. It was like, “okay this is not deep enough,” so then I wrote the second part. I was listening back to it and I was like, “bro this is vapid. There’s no meaning here,” so I had to go back in and do more internal work. That’s when I realized what the fuck this shit is all about. It’s like an exorcism. It’s what this music shit for me. I gotta get all this shit out and this is the way I do it I guess.
GSC: You detail your recreational drug usage on “Noose”. How have substances influenced your music? Do you have a favorite substance?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I mean I don’t do drugs anymore. I’ve been sober for 4 years so I’m talking about it in hindsight for four years. Four years and a few days. August 31st.
GSC: Congrats, man.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Thank you. Drugs are drugs. I’m not here jacking that drugs are a bad thing. Drugs are drugs. Drugs were bad for me.
GSC: Fashion wise you’re definitely ahead of the game and you’re starting to make that known on wax including bragging you designed fits for others. Where did that desire to name your influence on your peers come from?
Gabe ‘Nandez: Since I can remember people have been biting my fucking style. Since I was like a teenager. I’m a Leo. I have leadership qualities. I heard this quote once. I also put it on my last album, “first they laugh, then they copy”. I remember wearing tight pants in 2000 and like I don’t know cause I was on my skater shit. Stylistically I remember whether it was tight pants or dreads, but rocking that shit before it was cool in that capsule cause fashion is cyclical and in the 80s they were doing that shit. Funny cause I’ve always been in the perspective of, when I was growing my dreads out in high school people said I looked like a bum, and now everybody, everybody, everybody has them, you know what I’m saying?
GSC: Is that why you cut them?
Gabe ‘Nandez: No, I cut them because it was just time. I sat on that shit for a year because I had those for like 11 years. I never thought I would cut them and then for a year it just wasn’t me anymore, but yeah that is just about people imitating. They say imitation is a form of flattery and that’s just been a pattern in my life.
GSC: One line that stood out to me was “I’m just going to the store like I’m going to the morgue”. As a Black Puerto Rican myself, I definitely can relate to the paranoia of an everyday move being my last one. How has the racial uprising affected your very identity based music?
Gabe ‘Nandez: When the George Floyd shit happened that kinda fucked me up because I been like, I don’t wanna say I’m a victim, but I experienced police brutality. This time it hit different because… I don’t know, it just hit different. You know what it was this time? It was that back to back shit. It was a lot. Back to back during a pandemic. It was just a lot.
GSC: You’ve criticized fake revolutionaries on social media. What do you think makes a real revolutionary?
Gabe ‘Nandez: Definitely someone who is revolutionary in their actions with people. Not someone who is revolutionary on social media for profit. Definitely not them. I don’t claim to be a revolutionary so I’m not going to set the guidelines for what that should be. Only what it’s not because I see a lot of fake. I see a lot of armchair revolutionary shit which I think is dangerous. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not tryna say it’s all displaced. I think it’s good that people are expressing that they are angry, but I think that the work it’s going to take for real change to happen is so immense. And people have died for this shit in a lot of ways that people are still suffering from and fighting for so I just think it’s dangerous when something as serious as “social justice” is compartmentalized as some shit you can kinda just hashtag. I feel like I see a lot of shit in social media that I don’t see in real life. That’s all I’m tryna get at.
GSC: There’s a lot of Twitter threads that people think will defeat oppression.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Yeah a lot of just “lemme tweet some shit”.
GSC: Yeah, if i retweet this I can go on with my life. I’ve done my work for the day.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Yeah, I can get some likes. That shit is dangerous. If you wanna clout chase and post your ass I don’t know. Clout chase with some clout chasing shit that’s cool. Where people are fucked up from the ghetto, I’m not from the ghetto, but people are getting locked up. Don’t play with that. That’s not a joke. That’s real life. Where are the lines? Where the fuck are the lines? I can’t tell anymore.
GSC: You’ve lived in Palestine, Montreal, and other international cities. Which is your favorite and why?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I don’t know if I have a favorite but my time in Tanzania. You know what it’s like being thirteen to fifteen just discovering shit. That’s already such a special time period so being able to experience that and experience that in the backdrop of East Africa, that’s gotta be the strongest 3 years of my life because it was discovering shit the way adolescence is. I’d say it’s my favorite experience. I don’t know if it’s my favorite place. I can’t really make the call, but that’s my favorite part of life.
GSC: What does masculinity mean to you?
Gabe ‘Nandez: *laughs* Damn, shit. Shit. I’m scared to answer this. Imma start with it’s broad. I don’t know if I have a definition. I feel like I maybe giving off the vibe cause I have a beard, but I don’t know. People might think I might have a rigid definition, but I’m so open. I think if you’re transexual and you own that shit it’s bad ass. That’s masculine. If you’re gay that’s masculine, but I do think being honest. To me that’s being masculine, being honest. To me that’s masculine. I never thought about that. That’s my answer. Being honest.
GSC: You might not say you are a revolutionary, but that’s some radical shit.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Jidhaist.
GSC: There’s all different types of radicals. I gotta ask, why the gold teeth?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I always wanted a fucking pair man. They’re just sick. I just like them.
GSC: And would you ever do a full grill?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I don’t think so because this is a little rare. The two and the one. That’s game shit. That’s what I like about this. It’s not allowed. Shout out to full grills, but nah I wouldn’t.
GSC: When did you get your gauges?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I got my ear pierced when I was 16. And then I started stretching it out automatically. I haven’t worn them in a bit actually. I just have one.
GSC: What’s a bit?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I took them in and out. I was rocking them in 2017 and I took them out again in 2017.
GSC: Was that inspired by Gym Class Heroes, Fall Out Boy type shit?
Gabe ‘Nandez: No, shout out to Travis McCoy.
GSC: He opened a lot of doors for a lot of people. Look at him and then look at Uzi Vert.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. When he was doing it I was kinda dressing like that and people were like, “are you gay or shit?”
GSC: People were like, “are you a fucking weirdo?” Same shit for me.
Gabe ‘Nandez: Yeah, there you go. It’s about that. Not being a sheep, being a wolf. When you’re a wolf people gravitate towards you and they don’t know why. Sometimes you’re an outcast cause you’re weird and they can’t deal with it.
But I wanted to stretch my ear because there’s a tribe in East Africa. The Maasai in Tanzania and Kenya and they stretch their ears and I always wanted to stretch my ears because it just looked sick. They weren’t my main inspiration. To me it was like Buddha had stretched ears, but I did it because I wanted to. Intrinsically it’s weird how life works. I do shit because I just feel the need to and then sometimes the meaning is revealed after, but I just did it out of gut which is just what I do with everything. To my chagrin and to my benefit. I’m very impulsive. Extremely impulsive.
GSC: You call yourself a mutt and mixed breed. As a multi-racial person myself, I can definitely relate. How has being multi-racial defined how you move throughout society?
Gabe ‘Nandez: Being of mixed background is interesting. It affects your psyche. I mean you can relate from the jump. Where do I not just identify as, I’m a Black man. Like when you asked me how I identify I identify as me. No matter how I identify society is going to be like this is what you are. Like when you are mixed but kinda look kinda Black or Latino or whatever you’re just Black. But then I don’t know. Shit is tricky.
GSC: This project has a lot of dark lyrical content. How have you been taking care of your mental health during the COVID pandemic and racial uprising?
Gabe ‘Nandez: I’ve had serious mental health struggles for a long time and with the pandemic and just being cooped up has added…I’ll just say I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs on my mental health recently, like medically, but I been taking care of it as much as I can. It’s a process.