Sometimes you just get lucky. Maybe you got to the train station five minutes late, but it was delayed so you don’t miss it. Or perhaps they just gave you an extra chicken nugget in your meal. These are the small things to be thankful for.
Lately, something I’ve been thankful for was discovering the music of Mike Judd, artistically known as NAHreally, a 30-year old rapper/artist hailing from Holliston, Massachusetts. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so much luck, but I’m sure glad I didn’t overlook this submission. His latest tape, “Loose Around The Edges,” is smooth, easy-going, with production rooted in a jazzy, New York sound.
My interest grew, and I decided it was time to break out the ol’ pen and paper, and talk with Judd. Upon meeting him, I was convinced that the same lackadaisical, humorous individual that I sensed in the music was exactly who was sitting beside me. There was no gimmick, no character. That tape is not only his, but an extension of him.
You know that street in Dumbo where everyone takes photos featuring the Manhattan Bridge? Judd and I decided that would be the perfect spot to have our interview, and we ended up taking a couple photos there ourselves (to be completely transparent, it worked because it’s right by his job). With that time, we spoke about a lot, such as his “TAPE” series, his evolution into producing his own music, and some of the details on his latest project, “Loose Around The Edges.” Exclusively for HangTime Magazine, here is my conversation with NAHreally.
What is life like in Holliston?
It’s slow. It’s a suburb, but no highway goes through it, so it’s one level out. You have to go to a different town to go on the highway. I don’t think I can give the number of stoplights off the top of my head, but it’s like less than five.
Yeah, it’s small, but it’s 40 minutes outside of Boston, so not Western, Mass.; it’s on the east. It’s just a quiet town.
What brought you to the “Big Apple?”
My girlfriend got a job in New York, and a couple months later I was like, “I gotta find a job in New York.” So I looked for something and ended up making the move. I was living in Boston at the time.
So you came down with her and you’re living with her now?
I do now. We lived separately at first, but now we live together. We’ve been dating since college, I kinda followed her down here. She’s from closer to the area, and she always wanted to live in New York City, so I figured I’d give it a try.
Where is she from?
She’s from Connecticut, like Southwestern Connecticut.
In New York, there exists a sense of tradition and almost entitlement to our neighborhoods. Some homegrown New Yorkers aren’t too happy to see the layout of their neighborhood change with the rise in number of “transplants.” What have you seen on your end, as a transplant?
I can’t blame anybody. I think people from the northeast are kinda insular and not really welcome to outsiders, no matter where they’re from. I kind of understand it ‘cause I’ve seen it the other way.
The first thing people ask about, in joking, is Red Sox-Yankees, which I think it’s almost gone. I feel like nobody cares anymore.
It’s not what it used to be.
As far as moving here, I still retain the fact that I’m from Massachusetts. I don’t think I could ever claim New York, because I know people who are really from New York are sensitive to that, and rightfully so, and you have to be from where you’re from. For me to say, “I’m a New Yorker,” I think that would make people have a negative reaction to me.
I’ve always represented Massachusetts, I’ve always been open about that. I think people have taken pretty kindly to it. Most of the people who I’ve met who are from New York are a few from work, but a lot of them are through music, so there’s a common ground. Other than that I just keep to myself.
Since coming to New York, now that you’re a seasoned transplant, what have been some of your favorite things about the city?
There’s a certain level of anonymity you’re afforded. It’s bigger, so you’re not gonna bump into people, necessarily, though you get surprised.
I love the music scene, open mic scene. That’s how I really got started rapping, going to Nuyorican Poets Cafe every week, kinda just putting myself out there. There’s just so many opportunities to try different things, whether it’s music, comedy, whatever. I like that you can pick your own adventure.
Then on the flip-side, from the daily life perspective, the type of work that I do for my 9-5 is easier to find; there’s more options in New York.
What sort of work do you do?
I used to work in marketing. Right now, I work at an educational content company. We make educational videos about everything, K-12. It started as, and occasionally we still do, making music, which is dope and really fun because I make music regularly.
Nice! Now you say when you got to New York, you began performing at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Did you rap back in Massachusetts, or is that something you picked up over here?
I started rapping when I was in high school, but it was always something I was a little self-conscious about, maybe embarrassed, whatever. I had one tape that was kind of a collection of loose stuff before I left Boston. When I came to New York, that’s when I thought to myself––I was like 23, 24––I thought to myself, “Yo, if I don’t try to at least hit up open mics, to perform, and just see what reaction I get, I’m gonna regret it.”
So I decided I was going to do it. That’s why I went to Nuyo because Nuyo’s the place. If I bombed, it would’ve been just as valuable as if I succeeded, just to have tried it at the A1 spot for Hip-Hop culture.
I want to talk about your music now. You had the TAPE series, capping it off at the fifth installment. What made you say that was a good place to end that run?
I feel like, “Five.” A group of five feels––moving on to six probably means you’re going to ten, for some reason, I don’t know why. That’s how it felt. As soon as I started working on “Tape 5” and had some songs for it, I thought, “This might be the end.” But the other thing is that it was getting a little stale, the approach to it.
“Redundant,” you might say?
A little bit, literally with the titles. I was going and finding beats from people and writing, and it just felt like it ran its course. I don’t know if I can pinpoint a reason why. Also, I think by the time “Tape 5” was ready to go out, I was already working on the next thing; it’s the first time I started producing for myself. It just felt like a totally new thing that I was on. Sort of time to say, “I hit five tapes. I’m proud of three and a half of them still,” which is cool. I think that’s a decent hit rate. But yeah, it felt like it ran its course.
You said for “Loose Around The Edges” that you produced it entirely by yourself. Is that the first time you dabbled in production, or did you have any experience?
I mean, yeah, I dabbled. What rapper hasn’t dabbled, you know? Being all like, “I could do this shit!” I’ve had many many starts at production. Purchase a piece of equipment, get pretty good at it, and then go, “Ahh I don’t have enough time.”
The thing was that during COVID-19, I was home a lot––this is a common story for so much music in the past year. I’ve had time to write, to think of some new ideas, but I haven’t really had time to learn. So it was a nice opportunity, and luckily I was able to continue working through the pandemic and able to have a relatively stable situation that allowed me to learn a new skill. There’s a lot of memes and jokes about starting to bake bread and shit.
Now that I had the time to learn, that’s what prompted actually giving a shit and figuring out how to do it. I think the dope thing about it is that now, with my social life, as I have less and less time, that foundation of learning will be able to continue with my own production, just because I have that baseline level of knowledge.
“Loose Around The Edges” has a promotion theme of vegetables. Before I knew where you worked, I was gonna ask if you work at a supermarket or something. Maybe being around produce all day inspired the use of veggies. So now I must ask, what is the idea behind them?
That’s a great question. I have worked with the same dude on all of my artworks since “Tape 2.” He’s one of my friends, I went to high school and college with him. His name is Michael Stone. Super talented; he’s a professional designer, creative.
What we do is, when I finish something and I have final takes or demos, I send it to him and we talk about potential ideas. On “Tape 4,” There’s a line where I say, “When I grow up, I wanna write jokes for popsicles,” and that line felt representative of the whole tape, so we did the popsicle stick. The next one we did mud because of a song called, ‘Mud;’ we had a bunch of mud with my shoes in it.
This idea came out of only two lines on the album. I had a potentially politically incorrect line in the first song where I said, “I’ma keep rapping until I’m dead or a vegetable.” I don’t know if people still say that, but I felt a little bad. Then also, in the last track, ‘Cucumbers,’ I say, “I been rapping since I was a little child, writing verses. Working in the produce aisle, it’s probably why I never learned those PLU numbers, I was busy cyphering with cucumbers.” So the tape started and ended with a reference to vegetables, we zeroed in on it, and we just went for it.
I think there’s also some other potential puns there with me producing my own stuff. But I did once work at a supermarket. The hat that I’m wearing on the cover is from when I worked at a supermarket when I was 16. It’s old, sweaty, and gross; I think I have to retire it.
You found some use for though. Everything came full circle.
But anyway, my dude Michael and I, we just picked a day, went and bought a bunch of vegetables, and we did a whole, big photoshoot. The interesting thing about it: this is the first time I was on the cover. I don’t know what prompted me to be okay with that. But we made it happen.
Talking about the sound now: Maybe it’s a northeast sort of sound, because I was gonna say it sounds a little like New York rap, but not entirely. I also like the description you gave in your submission, “Clever, laid back quarantine-era regular guy raps. Recommended if you like low stakes homemade hip-hop where a dude rhymes succulent with truculent.” I love that. How did you get to the flow you have now?
That’s actually from Nate LeBlanc who’s a host of Dad Bod Rap Pod. He said that, because I struggle, I can’t pitch my own music, I really struggle to. Once a couple people fucked with it and gave me something, I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I was going for!” I decided it would make sense to just let someone else pitch it for me.
I fell in love with rap through East coast, 90’s, early 2000’s Hip-Hop. If you’re looking for Boston Hip-Hop, you’re gonna find a short list, and I’m not from Boston either. That’s just what I ended up getting turned on to. The jazz influence; the boom-bap drums influence is truly from what I listen to and what I like. That’s what I came up with. I’m still drawn to that sort of stuff today with new music that I find.
Over the course of making all of these tapes and making this most recent one, I’ve come to figure out how to be. One thing I don’t like is when a rapper is overly aggressive on an instrumental. When I listen to my older stuff, it’s not necessarily aggressive, but it’s like I had a rapper voice. My early stuff has a rapper voice. I think what has happened over time is I’ve slowly shed that, and I think it just has to do with getting comfortable.
I think what’s happened with “Loose Around The Edges” is that I made the beats, so there’s that automatic match with the rhythm, as far as how I can flow to it. What I love about making instrumentals is that as soon as something feels right, then I can just start writing. I don’t have to search for anything. I search for samples of course, the right drum sound, but I can start rapping and writing.
But yeah, just slowly, over time, trying to be more laid-back with delivery. Trying to be as natural as possible with it. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the words. So however the words lead me. I love how words fit together, I love how they can work. I don’t necessarily pick a flow and stick with it, I just go where the pen goes, following the rhymes.
I like that. I’m interested to know about the line on ‘Bowl Cut’ where someone said you can’t rap. Did someone actually say that to you?
(Laughing) It’s hypothetical. One of my favorite things about Hip-Hop is the hypothetical “you”, or “they.” I love that. I don’t use it much, but it’s fun to lean into that. Like, I thought it’d be funny. That line is just jokes. That song is kind of just a bunch of silly jokes. It was funny to me to be like, “People said I couldn’t rap,” but what am I doing right now?
There’s another line on the album that goes, “If they can rap like that, I’m certain I can rap like this.” It’s a funny construct for Hip-Hop.
I feel like your humor does come through in your raps and I appreciate that. While you’ve been in New York, have you reached out to other rappers, or anyone you’ve grown fond of?
I’m still a Hip-Hop head. I have a lot of friends who are Hip-Hop heads, and they don’t find new music; they listen to a lot of their old music. I’m constantly looking for new music. I’m still really excited about underground rap, it’s incredible.
As far as working with people… I’m slow. I’m hesitant to work with people, just because I’m not so great at hitting deadlines, so features stress me out. But if the right thing came along, I’d be down, it would be dope.
As far as New York rappers go, I saw you interviewed AKAI SOLO, he’s dope, prolific, he puts out incredible stuff. Theravada; “Xenophon” is one of my favorites of 2021. I guess I’d still consider them underground. But I love Billy Woods, he’s my favorite rapper currently. Armand Hammer, whatever they put out. Anything from Backwoodz Studioz, I fuck with.
I’m constantly looking for new music, but as far as collaborations, maybe this is a low self-opinion, or maybe I just want to stick and do my own thing––I would never think of trying to get in touch with people who I bump.
I feel like you should try. I don’t know how other people’s work ethic might be, but you may find that some people aren’t as fast as you think they are with getting around to stuff. I always see people discussing beats sent to them that they took a long time getting around to, so apparently some people are moving faster than others. You just have to find your herd.
I think I also put the pressure on myself a little, and so I begin to feel bad even when the other party doesn’t. It’s stressful and I want to avoid that. One thing I love about making my own stuff entirely is that I don’t have to bug anyone for files, it’s just me.
Word. There’s no question about who lost what? Who’s holding on to your music? Who’s leaking your music? It’s all under your control.
So what else do you have in store? More music, videos?
More music. I’m always trying to figure out what’s next. I think I’m going to stick with self-producing for a while. I’m already starting to make beats; this last one I made on the computer in Logic, just sampling and putting drums in there. Since then, I’ve picked up some new gear. I mean, I use an SP for some effects and processing samples. I think the next one I’m going to make mostly on MPC-1000 with two SP’s that I’ll use.
This one will be a little more analog, so that will be a nice, new challenge. I wanna make the next self-produced thing. The way that this last album finished––I made songs and then I turned around and thought to myself, “Hey, if I make some clips and string some things together, I’ll have a tape here. Full on, this is done.” I’m just waiting for that moment to come, for the next one. So no plans, but I’m always working.
After all that you’ve told me, I hope this question isn’t rude, but where do you see yourself taking your rap career? Is this just some fun for the moment, or part of a larger plan?
I’m not super strategic with it. I like it as a DIY enterprise for myself. It’s not profitable. I think calling it a hobby would be a little too small. It’s slightly above a hobby for me, but it’s not necessarily a business for me. I really just love making songs, and now I love making beats, I didn’t before. I like making myself laugh when I’m writing the lyrics, and I like putting it out, seeing the reaction people have.
I would never say I don’t care what happens after I put something out, because I want it to be heard once I’ve made it. But I’m not hustling like that to turn into a business.
You have two options now. You can either take the route I took by listening to “Loose Around The Edges,” then diving into the rest of his discography. Or, you can start from the beginning and listen for yourself to see if you can identify the progression of his sound. Either way, all of that music is conveniently located right here, and be a doll; follow NAHreally on Instagram and be on the lookout for his next serving. Maybe we’ll be getting more vegetables.