NandoSTL is the first artist to release a project under T-Pain’s label, Nappy Boy Entertainment, and he’s letting the music speak for itself. His debut project Y.O.T.A. stands for Year of the Ape, a 10-track body of work that speaks volumes to the type of recording artist he is. With standout features from T-Pain and Nelly, Y.O.T.A. arrives in perfect timing for mental health awareness month.
The St. Louis, Missouri native’s love for music began as early as two years old, traveling to Chicago to see his dad’s side of the family. It was then where he experienced African dance and drums, and he hasn’t stopped beating on stuff ever since. While he was raised in the church, it was fellow STL native Nelly, Wyclef Jean, and Cee-Lo Green that influenced him the most — and allowed him to create his own unique sound at the intersection of rap and soul.
NandoSTL describes his music as “melodic rap for sure, but it has a lot of gospel and soul influences. If I had to compare myself to people, it would be Smino, Chance [The Rapper]. CeeLo Green, The Fugees, people like that.”
Serving as the new face of Nappy Boy Entertainment, it’s crazy to think NandoSTL only started rapping three and a half years ago. From growing up listening to Nelly to now making a song with him, from working at Wells Fargo to throwing the first pitch at the Cardinals game, from entering T-Pain’s Twitch competition to signing to T-Pain’s label… it’s safe to say the future is bright for NandoSTL.
AllHipHop spoke with NandoSTL to discuss his relationship with Smino, roots in St. Louis, meaning behind Y.O.T.A., getting signed to T-Pain, collaborating with Nelly, fatherhood, goals, and more!
AllHipHop: Your music reminds me of Smino’s, not gonna lie.
NandoSTL: Fasho. We went to the same high school, and we stayed three or four minutes from each other growing up. It’s a Midwest thing. I’m in a few of his videos. I’m actually his stunt double in the “I Deserve” video. If you look, the guy in the gray jumpsuit with the afro, that’s me.
AllHipHop: Stop! What were you doing that he couldn’t do?
NandoSTL: He wanted to be in both scenes. So any scenes where he plays a double, where he has two characters that’s supposed to be him, I’m always the other him. Because we’re about the same height. Essentially, he wanted to be the landlord. He calls himself the love lord, the older version of himself. When he owned apartments back in St. Louis, started playing that. He walked past, and I was the older version. So I know Smi.
AllHipHop: What was it like seeing his career blow up? Because he really puts on for St. Louis.
NandoSTL: Oh yeah, he went crazy. He deserves it for sure. I only started rapping three and a half years ago, but I produced. I made beats. I played drums before that, so that’s how we really know each other. We were in the marching band together. We both were on the drumline together, he always claimed it though. I remember back then, he’d say, “I’m never getting a regular job. If it ain’t music, I ain’t doing it.” He made it happen, it’s dope.
AllHipHop: Talk about being from St. Louis, what was your upbringing like?
NandoSTL: St. Louis is low key a melting pot for music. There’s always so much going on locally, there’s live music everywhere. It’s a church on every corner. I guess it has a big city look, but it’s a hometown feel. Everybody knows everybody. It’s really hard to not have seen someone before, it’s not that many of us. A lot of it translates to my music. People get a real country feel out of me, but it’s not necessarily I’m country. It’s just St. Louis has a real small town feel.
AllHipHop: Who’d you grow up listening to?
NandoSTL: Of course, Nelly. Nelly was the beginning, the GOAT. Of course, T-Pain. T-Pain stayed on the radio. I was always listening to a lot of Goodie Mob, Outkast. Erykah Badu, Maxwell, those types of people.
AllHipHop: When did you realize you could do music for a living?
NandoSTL: It decided for me honestly. I was doing it because I worked a corporate job. I worked as a financial advisor at Wells Fargo. Being a single dad, I basically would raise my kids, go to work. Raise my kids, go to work. I needed something that was just for me, that’s when I decided to start rapping. When I started dropping music, people took a liking to it.
I ended up doing the Twitch competition with T-Pain, and I got signed. The job I worked in, they don’t really want you to be a public figure. They were more afraid that if I work there, my views and my music would become the views of Wells Fargo. I decided to separate myself in case this didn’t work out, I can always go back. I didn’t get fired, but I didn’t want to go through all the rigmarole of telling them my business.
AllHipHop: Is Nando your real name? I’m guessing STL is for St. Louis.
NandoSTL: Fernando is my real name. I was just Nando for a second, but when I YouTubed it to try to find my first song I dropped, a bunch of Hispanics kept coming up. I’m like, they’re never gonna find me, so I had to add something else.
AllHipHop: What are you most excited for with Year of the Ape out?
NandoSTL: All of it. It’s my first big project. I dropped the EP in the very beginning called Good Vibes that I don’t really count, it was just me trying to get my sound together. Then I dropped Bamboo after that, which I didn’t even really want to drop. It was more so I kept getting booked for festivals out here, and they kept asking me to do 45 minute sets. But I didn’t even have 45 minutes worth of music, so I had to drop something to give me some more music. This was the first time I got to sit down and pick out the songs I wanted. I got T-Pain on the album, Nelly on the album. It came together exactly how I wanted it. This is the first album I listened to of me, I didn’t even listen to the others. So I’m excited.
AllHipHop: Why Year of the Ape?
NandoSTL: In my hometown, due to my stature and my seriousness, I have a nickname. Everybody called me The Rilla, short for gorilla. I was really going through a s##### ass year in 2020, COVID hit me hard. I didn’t want to be pessimistic anymore. Every day, I’d say today is my day. If I got in the car and I found a dollar under the seat, today’s my day! It turned into this week being my week. I’ll start posting hashtags, like #thisweekismyweek. #todayismyday. It turned into a movement. When I linked up with Pain, I started doing songs with Nelly. I started getting put on different platforms. Okay, this year is my year. We dropped this year in January, that’s why I called it Year of the Ape.
AllHipHop: Talk about how you and T-Pain connected on the title track, “Y.O.T.A.”
NandoSTL: I lost his competition. He had a Twitch competition where he took thousands of applicants, but he picked the top 600. He pinned us head to head against each other, for a chance at a record deal and a chance to go on tour with him. Of course, I made top 600, top 300, top 16, top eight, top four. All the way down to the top two, and I lost my .8 in the very last round. When I hit him up, he said “don’t worry about it, I still love the music. I’ve heard enough, and I want to sign you.”
That was all I needed to hear. By then, I started harassing him. I pulled up to his show. He was in Chicago, which is four and a half hours away from St. Louis. I hopped in the car and drove out there. I didn’t even have tickets, I snuck in the show. I went to the studio and I started sending my other people at the label, like Young Cash, my records. He heard Cash recording Y.O.T.A. at his house. When he heard it, he said “what the f### is it?” Cash was like, “Yo, this Nando.” He’s like, “Nando sent you another song?” So he played it for him, then Pain jumped on it. They sent it back, I didn’t even know he was getting on it.
NandoSTL: We hadn’t had a conversation yet. I wasn’t signed or nothing yet. That was in February, and it didn’t end till May. I lost in May. But after I talked to him in June, I started pulling up to his shows. I started sending music over. But in July is when that moment happened. Young Cash, who’s the second person on the song, who’s also signing to Nappy Boy, said he wanted to do the song. When he was recording his verse, Pain just happened to walk in the studio and heard him recording it. He’s like, “I love this song. I’ma kill both of y’all on it.” He recorded a verse and they sent it back. And he did, he snapped!
AllHipHop: Damn! So what was the conversation in him signing you?
NandoSTL: That was after that. I reached out to him like, yo, I love the record. I’m trying to put my money behind it. I’m down to shoot the video, I’ll pay for the video. Wherever you’re at, we pulling up. He said he was gonna be back in Chicago. I met him back out there, we shot the video. That was the first time we had a real conversation. After that, they sent some paperwork out. He loved the hustle and the grind, he wanted to bring that over to Nappy Boy. I’m like, bet. Let’s do it!
AllHipHop: How did that feel? That’s one of the biggest artists ever.
NandoSTL: It felt amazing. The biggest part that was amazing to me was not just the deal, it was the way he treated it. Of course, we went back and forth with lawyers. We were going back and forth for months, and we couldn’t come to an understanding. I hit Pain directly. I just sent him a text message like, I’m not trying to rob you or anything.This is what I’m looking for. I want to own my music, I want to own a few things. He said “bet.” He sent back a contract and he had everything in it that I asked him for. That was a moment where okay, this ain’t just a business relationship. He really wants to help. I’m down to do everything I can to make this be it.
AllHipHop: That’s fire. How’s it been?
NandoSTL: It’s been dope. It’s been a whole lot of work, I’ll let you know that. Pain believes in this man, and it makes me go to no end. Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming. Because Pain is a legend. He curated this whole sound that everybody is doing now. Nobody would be using autotone in the way they use it, if it wasn’t for Pain. He did “Good Life” with Kanye. He did “Bartender,” Sprung,” “All I Do Is Win,” “I’m So Hood.”
We have so many legendary records from Pain, that sometimes I feel I have to achieve that and more. And I haven’t even had my real big viral moment yet. Even though he’s like “Nando let’s go out,” I’m like I got s### to do. I’m the one that’s gonna stay in the studio when everybody else is trying to go out. Trying to find that balance, and it’s okay. Give it time, you only been at this for five months. I want it, and I want it now.
AllHipHop: Was that your kids in the “Loud” music video.
NandoSTL: Yeah, they right here. [shows kids] Always. They in almost every video. They’re in the “Tinted Windows” video. Almost every video shoot, I try to at least easter egg them at least once.
AllHipHop: What does it mean to be a father?
NandoSTL: Everything! It means everything. At first, it was cool when I pull up to places and people know who I am. I pull up to their school. I just threw out the first pitch at the Cardinals game here, people are asking about it. It’s cool, they get to be the cool kid. They got the famous dad technically, so that’s pretty dope. Now, it’s really cool. My son calls himself FerNandoSTL. It’s cool to be recognized for something positive.
AllHipHop: Absolutely how to feel that though the first pitch. That’s awesome.
NandoSTL: That was beyond life, you don’t even know. It was the moment after the first pitch. Throwing the first pitch was dope because I’d never been, I went to one Cardinals game in my life. They played the Dodgers when I was working at Wells Fargo. They were playing the Dodgers when I threw the pitch, so it was full circle.
After the pitch, I was on the side of the field. Chingy FaceTimed me like, “Yo, I’m at the game. Congrats, pull up.” I went up there, chopped it up with him. Nelly hit me like, “Yo, congrats.” I was sitting down in the stands, then Pain called. That was the first moment where damn, I’m doing this.
AllHipHop: Talk about making the song with Nelly, that’s legendary.
NandoSTL: Pain set that up. I recorded the record, we wanted to put another bigger feature on the album. We didn’t want it to just be me and then Pain. I originally did the song on everything, and we were going to send it to Chance. At the last second, I decided to pull out and not give it to Chance, and get Nelly on it. Pain hit Nelly up, told him I was from the city. He wanted to link up and do it. All the other Lunatics from the St. Lunatics knew who I was already, so he was down to do it.
I had already had a little buzz in St. Louis, it was really more so outside of St. Louis that I had to make the impact. But he was down to do it. He was at home for a holiday, we call it 314 Day. It’s March 14th, but it’s our area code. I met him at the club, I bum-rushed him. Same thing man, I’m pulling up on you. If you say yes, I’m coming to get it. We did the record, but he was super cool. After that, he hit me. We went bowling at 1am. Bowled our ass off. We stayed in contact after that. Definitely a good friend, shout out to Nelly.
AllHipHop: What do you want fans to get from your story?
NandoSTL: A lot of times right now, everybody else has some type of gimmick. Whether they ratchet as hell, or whether their hair is crazy. My gimmick is I’m just a regular person. I got a big Nappy Noy chain, I don’t really ever wear it unless Pain makes me wear it. I worked a regular job, I went to school. I did it the way I wanted to do it. I didn’t have to kill nobody, shoot nobody, do no crazy s###. And I still put out dope ass music. You could do it, you could be you and be dope as f###.
AllHipHop: Three things you need in the studio at all times?
NandoSTL: Lately, I’ve been drinking Mountain Dew. I don’t know where that came from, because I don’t even like Mountain Dew. I’ma say Mountain Dew, chewing gum, and probably my phone. My phone or the dictionary, because I’d be saying words and I never know if I’m saying the right f###### word. I’m always googling some s### and making sure I’m saying it right.
AllHipHop: Any goals for yourself at this point?
NandoSTL: Hell yeah, a lot. A lot of goals right now, we go on tour in a few weeks. Me, Pain, and Tobi Lou.
That’s gonna be crazy. Of course, my goal is to murder everybody on the tour, because I’m the one that nobody expects to come. I’ve been practicing hard as hell. My ultimate goal right now, one: I want to break a million on something. Video-wise, I’ve already broke a million on songs. But I want to break a million video-wise, the highest I had was 500K. I want to buy a house, that’s the biggest thing. I want to buy a house just using music money. It’d be really cool that I thought something in my head, and now I’m living inside of something that I manifested with that thought.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want the people to know?
NandoSTL: The biggest thing is as artists, we take for granted all the opportunities that we get. But if it wasn’t for you guys creating these platforms, nobody would hear us. So definitely big shout out to you, for taking the time out to give a f### about other people’s art. That’s it, we need more of that. Other than that, thank you.