“I left the nest and built my own castle.”: Nadus on the growth and appropriation of Jersey club

Nadus may be an ambassador of Newark’s Jersey club sound, but the 24-year-old producer and DJ born Rahshon Bright refuses to allow himself to be boxed in.

Even before releasing his 2014 debut Broke City EP on Belgium-based label Pelican Fly, Newark-raised producer Nadus had already connected with musicians from across the globe. Influenced by everyone from members of Chicago’s footwork crew Teklife to the producers behind the Paris-based project Club Cheval, Nadus’ musical output has always showcased a wide range of ideas. The deluxe release of Broke City, featuring new tracks and remixes, arrives October 16 via Pelican Fly, RPM MSC, and Nadus’ own imprint THREAD—serving as the inaugural release on the Newark-based party-turned-label.

Currently based out of North Carolina, Nadus is setting himself up for another period of creativity. The change of scenery is supposed to encourage productivity, and Nadus says that when it comes down to working on music, being at home in Jersey is distracting: “I need a clear headspace, and I don’t like the attention.”

Though people are trying to set deadlines, Nadus is taking time with his forthcoming full-length album, explaining that he “doesn’t like rushing art.”

Nadus recently spoke with FACT to discuss his beginnings in music production, the globalization of club music, and the upcoming re-release of Broke City.

“I hate to be put in a box, so when people tell me I should go left, I’m going to go right and vice versa.”

Do you remember the first time you heard Jersey club?

It’s kind of weird because club music in Jersey before it became Jersey club was Chicago ghetto house, and it kind of grew into what it is now. I would have to say my first exposure to the sound was around 13 years old, but I was making hip-hop beats at that time. I used to go downtown and buy DJ Tameil’s mixtapes that he made once a month. I was like 12 or 13, and my grammar school was downtown so I used to walk through all of that to get home. You would hear the bootleggers playing music on the speakers and stuff.

Are there any tracks from that time that stick out in your mind?

A lot of Blaqstarr stuff actually, which is not necessarily from Jersey, but a lot of Blaqstarr records for sure. I think the first time I realized and appreciated it was when I had just started making club records. I did this theme song for this street team called Dre Crew. And just on some like, “Yo good looks for doing the record,” they invited me to come to this party. Up until that point I had never been to a party, and when I got there Lil Man was DJing. He was playing DJ Infamous’ remix of the Timbaland and Nelly Furtado record ‘Promiscuous’. The way the record was, it was meant for girls to booty bounce to it. I was just looking around and Lil Man said, “Booty bounce to this,” and everyone was just hitting the floor. So for the next couple weeks, I just made it my goal to start on it.

You also previously mentioned that DJ Jayhood is the one who brought you into Jersey club as well.

Yeah, that happened too. At that time I was still making hip-hop beats and I had this production team with the kids I went to high school with. We needed equipment, but none of us wanted to ask our parents for the money. We were independent as hell even when we were young, so we were just like, “Yup, we’re gonna throw a party.” At that time I wasn’t DJing, but we were just gonna throw a party and raise money for the studio equipment. We got tired of paying 50 bucks an hour for studios in Jersey and New York. My cousin had known Jayhood since pre-school, and I was calling around for a DJ so my cousin was like, “Yo, you can get me and my boy to DJ it.” Me and Jay started going back and forth on MySpace, and he was like, “I need a deposit.” I told him where I lived, and found out that we lived a block away from each other.

He came over to pick up the deposit, but it was during a crazy blizzard, so my mom told him he should chill at my place for a minute until it died down a bit. We went up to my room to chill, and he saw that I had an MPC and all this equipment and asked if I made music. He said, “Me too,” asked if he could use the laptop, and started making a club record. Pretty much the only thing he said to me that day was “135 BPM.” He would always tell me how people would react to the club records that he had been playing at parties. That was the point where he was getting double, triple booked — multiple parties a day.

One day he hit me up and told me to go to this Sweet 16 he was doing. So I went, and when I got there he said that the mom of the birthday girl had given him a plate of mac ‘n’ cheese that messed his stomach up, and he was like, “Yo can you play for me? You just gotta keep a beat with your foot.” So what I thought would be a 10, 15 minute thing turned out to be a four hour set on CDs and CDJs. I was pretty much blending records the whole set, and that one party got me like eight more parties. I didn’t even go there with a plan to DJ. I just wanted to see how people reacted to the records I was making so that I’d know how to go home and tailor them. I ended up playing and getting a lot of more gigs from that, and that’s where it started.

For the initial release of the Broke City EP on Pelican Fly last year, all the proceeds from the project went to the Newark Boys Chorus School, correct?

Yeah, actually we’re in the process of sending them a lot more money over. Pelican Fly agreed to match me with the donations, and I have been talking to the school recently about getting the money to them. We’re in the process of getting the kids more money, because they had some kind of financial trouble last year. They got out of it, thank god. I also found out the Catholic high school I went to is in financial trouble as well, so I have been trying to help them out too.

It’s definitely admirable for you to be giving back to the community like that.

Musically, I can definitely say that without Newark Boys Chorus School, I wouldn’t be where I am today. When I first started going there I was pissed. My mom took me out of this Catholic school I really enjoyed, and when I first started going I knew I could sing, but I didn’t like singing. I didn’t like the attention that came from singing. That’s why I still hide my face in all my pictures, because I get anxiety when people are looking at me all the time.

At first I was really pissed, and I didn’t appreciate what was happening at that school until my seventh grade year. We went on a tour of Europe, and it sounds cliché as fuck, but it changed my life. We stayed in Europe for a month and rehearsed with all these other choirs, toured, and it was really dope. It kind of woke me up, because while we went on tour buses and did shows all around America, when you came back to Newark kids of the neighborhood would be like, “This nigga sings,” and picked on us. But being in Europe made me appreciate it and be okay with that. When I got to high school, I was like I may not be singing, but I’m definitely going to be making beats.

The video you dropped for ‘Nxwxrk’ recently showcases your hometown of Newark, what is it about the city that you love?

To be honest, Newark is just like any other post-riot city from the 1960s. And the one thing that you find in all those cities is that there’s some sort of culture there. You go to Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, all these cities have some type of culture. Some type of dance music originates from there, and I don’t know if it’s the post-riot situation or whatever it may have been, but the people are different. Even traveling I realized something — I love traveling all over the world, but the people back home are just different. They’re more appreciative of everything. When I travel and stuff and hear people talk, I realize people take a lot of things for granted that they probably shouldn’t. When you live in a city where a lot of people don’t already have, the thought process on a lot of shit is just different.

You can compare and contrast. For example the difference between me and someone who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey is I don’t have a prejudiced bone in my body. I saw it all. I saw the good and the bad in everybody. There’s no blurred lines, there’s no grey matter, you see everything for what it is. I feel like as much as people use the word “urban,” there’s something that’s dope about it. It’s a gumbo of everything. That’s why I love where I’m from, and I’m a product of my environment.

What are some upcoming releases you’re going to be dropping on THREAD?

Ezrakh’s album is about to come out, and it’s actually been done for a minute now. He’s the dude I started THREAD with, and he’s a really soulful dude. When I met him it was like this dude’s automatically different. His ear for house music isn’t like house music now. His ear for house music is the type of music I grew up on with my mom. Like Tony Humphries, Kerri Chandler, and things like that. So you will get a hybrid of that with some current R&B influences, and he’s been doing everything recently – from singing to producing – and it all sounds really good. My boy DJ Reck, he’s now going by Gonzalo Silva which is his actual name, also has some music done.

We’re dropping a website for THREAD this week, and just sharing a bundle of records so people can get a handle on the type of feel we’re going for with all of this. We have a ton of music we’ve been preparing, because we want to hit the ground running once we start.

I noticed on your Facebook page you list your genre as “No Genre.”

Ha! I did that because even when I started making club music, it was never just club music for me. And even for a person who goes down my SoundCloud it’s kind of obvious. It’s not that I’ll try and pull myself away from Jersey club because I love it, but again, I don’t want to get boxed in. It’s just like, have you not heard my project? I have probably two club records on the whole thing. I’ve been working on new music, and I’ve been trying new stuff. I hate to be put in a box, so when people tell me I should go left, I’m going to go right and vice-versa.

There are two new tracks on the deluxe edition, and one of them is ‘Bust It Open’. Was that produced in collaboration with Sinjin Hawke?

The original definitely was. We had started a shit-ton of demos, and there’s a demo version with Sinjin, but a lot of elements he put in we kind of pulled out. He asked us to pull his name off of it — not in a disrespectful way, but because he was like, “This is really your record.” When we first officially met two years ago, we had already known each other for a couple years on the internet. But when we officially met was when he was in New York for Red Bull Music Academy. ‘Bust It Open’ was the first record I brought to the table to work on. It just so happened that Jaz who’s on the record walked in the studio mad randomly, and we were like “Swizzymack, record these vocals for us.” Yeah, Sinjin is definitely a part of that record.

The thing about Sinjin and Thomas Duval [DJ Slow] with Broke City, I haven’t been telling people, but they pretty much executive produced the entire project. That’s why Pelican Fly is dope to me. It’s not a label where people are trying to make a shit-ton of money off of it. They just want to put out the best music possible. My goal when I was talking to them was like, “I have these records, but I want to get the best out of each record.” I would send Thomas the project, and he would send me like six pages or seven pages of notes. Not necessarily changes, but something I could understand and relate to on a musical level, like, “Hey, maybe you need to go for this feel.” We literally bounced ideas off each other for the whole project, and it was just fun. His input made it dope and fun, and I don’t think any other label out there is doing that. Thomas is definitely A&R of the year, no holds barred. No other label in the world can say they released Cashmere Cat, Sinjin Hawke, Lido, Richelle, and all these other guys that are super dope.

“That’s partially the problem with a lot of these urban areas, all of us make music, but it’s hard to get it out there, and that’s partially where the appropriation debate came from.”

Is any of that an influence on Broke City?

Definitely, and it’s a mutual thing. Me and DJ Sliink have been fans of Club Cheval for years. Even before I met Thomas and Sinjin, we were tight with Sam [Tiba] and them. When Club Cheval would tour, they would stay at our crib and shit like that, and we would work on music. Sam doesn’t get any credit for club music, but I think he’s kind of the reason people even listened to club music outside of Jersey. He has been making club mixtapes for years. He’s done like four all-Jersey mixes, and he and Brodinski have been making those type of mixtapes since like 2011-2012. Those guys definitely have a big influence on my sound, and just before you called me I was listening to Canblaster’s new EP. It’s fucking amazing. This new one is crazy, and it’s dope because that’s the bar I set for myself. Whenever I hear them drop new music, that’s the bar I set for my own records.

I also wanted to ask you about the track ‘Broke City’. How come that wasn’t on the original release of the project?

It just didn’t sound like it fit on the project. I have a bunch of records like that. I was in this phase where I was making a lot of dark-ass techno records, but I was trying to mix that with club music. That was what I got. That was legit the first record I had made for the EP, even before ‘Nxwxrk’. By the time I finished the other songs on the project, I didn’t put it out because I was trying to put together a project that worked together. Even with ‘Top Ramen’, that’s not even the full version of the track. I felt that if I put the full version of ‘Top Ramen’ on there the EP would have looked a mess. It was just a matter of piecing the project together, and I felt I had too many pieces.

Even though you don’t want to be put in the Jersey club box, you’re still very much an ambassador for the sound. Was there a moment where you realized that the sound was worldwide?

Yeah, I play club music in at least half my sets. Everywhere I go I’m playing club music. I realized it when I first started trying to take it super serious. I realized the Baltimore Club website was owned by Bart Ligthart from Denmark, and he’s another dude that doesn’t get any credit. He’s a dope coder and does all this cool stuff with mp3s, but he’s been pushing the sound for years. He set up a blog, linked it to Hype Machine, and gave us a voice. Like anyone who wanted to blog, he was letting them blog and post their own music. He was posting his favorites of the month, and that’s kind of where us building any type of traction on SoundCloud came from. Prior to that, none of us knew what the hell we were doing. That’s partially the problem with a lot of these urban areas, all of us make music, but it’s hard to get it out there, and that’s partially where the appropriation debate came from.

I remember DJ/producer Dirty South Joe going off about the masked Jersey club producers a little while back.

It’s just that none of these dudes who inspired the masked producers know how to get their music out there. None of the originators know how to promote themselves. Like even me and Sliink, we didn’t have a blueprint. We just kind of went with the flow and learned things bit by bit. And now we’re in a space where we understand a lot of these artists have PR firms pushing their music out to these blogs, and we didn’t have that kind of luxury starting out. Some of these kids come out the gate with these $1,500 PR budgets.

For the 12, 13, 14-year-old kids making club music on FL Studio instead of being out in the streets, this is something they don’t know. No kid is going to find a manager to invest $1,500 just so they can get their music heard. Their music will just get heard by some of these kids who are online, and it’s like “I like this, so I’m going to go make it.” So when you see some of these masked producers push off a lot sooner, these Jersey kids get mad. I understand why, but I also understand why that kid bit the apple first.

The producers Dirty South Joe called out like Lido (Trippy Turtle) — he’s part of your Pelican Fly family, right?

Yeah, they’re the homies, but facts are facts. It doesn’t bother me, but at the same time it does because you understand what the problem is. Even though you might understand it, there’s nothing I can do to fix it. It’s not like a shit-ton of money in my pocket like, “Hey, let’s go do this,” and I don’t have a shit-ton of blogs. I have the biggest email list in the world, but I probably only get two replies when I send something out.

You need a cult following to gain any type of traction, and you sometimes need to do really good before people start paying attention [laughs].

When did you feel like people started paying attention to you?

I think after I signed to Pelican Fly, not after my EP came out, but when I signed to Pelican Fly. I guess everything I was doing looked more legit to people. There’s a shit-ton of bedroom producers who make music everyday, post music to SoundCloud, everybody makes music. At least a million songs get posted all over the internet everyday, and what I mean by legit is when artists sign with what people consider a label of some type of taste. That’s when they take everything you’re doing more seriously. If someone sees some kid making music, they’ll be like, “I’m not paying attention to this dude,” but after Skrillex signs him they’ll be like, “Maybe I should be listening to his music.”

It’s weird, but half of this shit is all about co-signing. It kind of sucks because I wish people would think for themselves, but I realize that’s not the case anymore because things are going so fast. Pelican Fly was a turning point, but even before that, there are two realms of bass music. There are people who make the music, and then there are people who listen to the music. I can say even before Pelican Fly, people who made music and were in that musical family, they were already paying attention. It’s a big difference between the people who sit backstage, and the people who buy tickets to your show though. I had everyone who sits backstage, but I wasn’t getting attention from people who are buying show tickets, merch, and music. I wasn’t getting the people who go batshit crazy when they hear your song at a festival show. That’s what I didn’t have, and I still kind of don’t have that. I’m in the phase of sorting and figuring that shit out.

Are you still part of Brick Bandits and Cartel Music?

Well, I was never part of Cartel Music. That was just Sliink’s thing, and he’s like a brother to me so I always supported it. It’s been like a year since I disbanded from Brick Bandits. It wasn’t anything personal, but I joined Brick Bandits when I was 14 and it’s been like 10 years. I’m 24 now, and it just got to a point. I didn’t make it a public thing like dropping a press release or announcing it on Twitter, but I just kind of walked away from it. Plus I have THREAD now, and it’s pretty much the same thing. I left the nest and built my own castle.

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