Nadia Nakai has always been about the club anthems. From her first single in 2013 with Sid Records, “Like Me”, she established her target audience in dance culture. Or at least attempts. She followed this by appearing on the remix of Riky Rick’s “Amantombazane”, indicating a true start to her career. There was a shift in sound in 2014 towards the more 808-driven club bangers with “Whatever”, to fit the shifting landscape of hip-hop during this era. This trend continued to appear on tracks such as “Saka Wena” with Ice Prince, “Do Like I Do (Remix)” by DJ Sliqe and “Sugar Free” by Tumi Molekane (now Stogie T).
On reflection, her style seemed to embody accessible female flossery: she was braggadocious in her approach to the bars, consistently flexing her bag, body and status. Toss in an interesting bar or two on each verse, a little singing or sing-rapping, stick to a mono- or disyllabic rhyme scheme with an easy to catch iambic flow and you’d have her verses pegged down.
Her next single, “Money Back”, seemed to solidify her presence in Mzansi’s hip-hop as one to stay. This single seems to be her first use of the triplet flow, brought to mainstream attention by American rap group – Migos. This song reinforces her image as a hitmaker and her beat selection on this one was far better than her previous works as lead. This song came out followed by “The Man” in the lead up to her debut EP, Bragga, which released September of that year and signaled her first solo release under Cassper Nyovest’s Family Tree Records.
Bragga is pretty much what you’d come to expect from her at this point: club focused songs, capitalizing on what’s hot at the time. Her and Gemini Major come together for an Afro-infused dance hall cut, the rest of the EP also features Tshego and Yung Swiss while Cassper Nyovest is placed on the opening track and lead single “The Man”. It was a pretty standard sounding project, with Bragga not having much to say. It kinda addresses subliminals thrown by Moozlie; Cassper furthers his beef with AKA with a good verse and the production was solid too but at the end of it, there’s nothing much to take away here.
The Lead Up:
A couple features later, we finally get promotional singles for Nadia Naked. The first release was “Sqwaa”, a would-be hard-hitting trap anthem – if the beat didn’t fail the way it did. The horns sound weak and deflated (they sound synthesized too) against the driving 808, with a generally cluttered beat on top. There’s no room to breathe, which is unfortunate as this is one of the best verses Nadia delivers up to this point. Bragga lives up to the name: she puts on for the sqwaa, for her paper and manages to flex while displaying lyrical ability. Gemini Major delivers too and Tshego… doesn’t sound bad on the track.
Following “Sqwaa”, we get “Naaa Meeaan” with Cassper Nyovest. This continues the trend of her bettering her wordplay, distinguishing herself from other women and how she flexes on them. Don’t get me wrong, her subject matter has remained consistent up to this point but it’s her approach to this subject matter that solidifies her growth. Unlike with “Sqwaa”, she manages to get a pretty good beat this time around and Cassper’s role as hook-man gives her have space to play on it – is Bragga approaching her final form?
A 17 track project clocking in at 54 minutes, the first thing one should note is the stellar production across this project – huge credit to Playground Productions, having created the instrumentals for the majority of this LP. Cinematic synth and piano work open the project on “Intro”, followed by full rolling percussion work on “Africa”. You’ve got hard trap beats, bouncy club beats, a house cut, a boom bap joint along with some inspired R&B-infused tracks. Across all these styles the production is consistently polished. My biggest issue lies with “Rap Bitches” which blatantly rips off Nipsey Hussle’s “Rap Niggas”. Now, fair enough, this could be interpreted as an homage to the late great, but if the aim was to pay respect, I think it could have been executed better – and less blatantly. The song comes across more as a rip off than a reference. It’s hard to compare Nipsey’s song against Nadia’s as they stand on two different lyrical platforms, which brings me to my main issue on this project: lyrical ability.
In this regard, she remains inconsistent. On the one hand, she proves her ability to tell a story while remaining faithful to the Bragga persona. She’s also upped her game since 2016’s Bragga, building on the foundation she laid for herself and showing more lyrical complexity regarding wordplay. On the other, she falls back into the pattern of bragging without displaying the lyrical ability to match. Instead of proving why she deserves the praise with clever wordplay, she’ll stick to similes for the most part and insisting tell you that she’s just better than you. Having heard her make these statements so many times, you get bored of the same “I made this much, I spent that much” approach and yearn for something more.
Men don’t typically handle “pussy bars” well. I disagree with this line of thinking, as you can get some fantastic wordplay out of these types of bars (oh, also, male double standards about anatomical references). My issue lies in when you aren’t really doing anything with those bars. Nadia throws the “sit on his face” bar out on “Trappy”, “Yaas Bitch” and “Naaa Meeaan” – with no further extension aside from informing us that “that’s what [she] call[s] a facial”. I get that this is the logical equivalent of male rappers saying they “get head from yo’ bitch”, but my attitude is the same towards those: they usually end up being nothing bars. Usually.
With that said, the discussion of her lyrical ability seems to be a sore point for her. She calls out those who claim to be her betters on “Outro” and asks them a simple question: “Why ain’t you here?”. There are multiple references to the hate she’s received for being perceived as a whack rapper and I’ll give it to her – I see growth in this project.
Boom bap bump, “On the Block”, with Khuli Chana is definitely one of her best lyrical showings, claiming her only rivalry said to “look me in the mirror please”; flexing how with “the same flame, we don’t make the same heat”. “Naaa Meeaan” joins the list of songs with better lyrical showings, rocking “bloody murder on [her] ankles” and bars “fatal like that shit you blow up your nasal”. She’s definitely grown with more time put into the game but, listening to the project, I can’t help but get a sense of Cassper Nyovest on this. Nadia’s flows are very reminiscent of his own and I speculate there might be a mentorship role he plays in this situation. Her father comments about Cassper after her Castle Lite Unlocks performance along with the fact that Cassper openly called the previous version of this project wack, which stands in support of this theory. Regardless, there is growth here and none more prevalent than when she enters the realm of storytelling.
In conclusion, she did pretty well here. Nadia is getting better with time and so long as she continues on this path, she could very well end up living up to her moniker of Africa’s Rap Queen. At this point though – keep putting in work. Naaa meeaan.
- Stellar Production
- Great storytelling
- Some clever wordplay
- Consistent with Bragga persona
- Incosistent lyricism
- Repetitive brag raps
- Telling, not showing
- Guest verses outshine the lead
Written by: Solomzi Ndlangana | Twitter @sideline_solo
Edited by: Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @DithekgoM