Local Artist Spotlight: Nay Nay
Pettie Perkins | Contributing Writer
Nathan Swihart (Nay Nay) is a hip-hop artist from Virginia Beach. He is a current graduate student at Old Dominion University in the MBA Program. His undergraduate studies were also at ODU where he graduated summa cum laude. He just released his sophomore album, “The Dapper Don.”
Swihart has been known to create entertaining and innovative material by mixing many different genres into his work. He has developed a fan base by frequently performing at several different venues in his hometown. Along with opening for major acts including 50 Cent, Trey Songz, Diplo, Travis Scott, Pusha T, Dizzy Wright, Lil Dicky, Timbaland, Ma$e, Jidenna and Daya.
Nay Nay’s success as an artist will continue to grow through his love of music, dedication to his craft, constant interaction with his fans, and drive to stay authentic.
“The Dapper Don” follows his debut album “Lost in Space.” It is a highly versatile project that is over two years in the making. The album features a range of both local Hampton Roads artists and national artists, including top 40 billboard rapper Hendersin and Travis Thompson, who appears on Macklemore’s latest album and recently performed on Jimmy Fallon. The songs on “The Dapper Don” appeal to many different musical tastes. The album was mixed and mastered by another graduate of ODU, Severin Di Croce.
What’s the name of your band? What’s the origin of that name?
My stage name is Nay Nay. It is the childhood nickname that my cousin Jordan would call me, which he derived from the first syllable of my first name, Nathan. He basically introduced me to hip-hop music and was the person who I initially started rapping with; so to me, it seemed like a fitting stage name to go by. It represents not only myself but also my origins with this music.
What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?
I would consider my music to be hip-hop/rap, however, I really enjoy incorporating elements of other genres into my music, and I do so as often as I can. Listening through my catalog of music you will find a range of influences including pop, classical, acoustic/folk, reggae, alternative and more. I listen to most genres of music and I believe the songs I create sometimes reflect that.
Having such a varied taste in music, my influences change on a frequent basis. Currently, I would consider some of my biggest influences to be Ed Sheeran, Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Blackbear and Travis Thompson (who I was actually able to get to feature on my latest album, “The Dapper Don”).
How long have you all known each other? How did you meet?
As a hip-hop artist, I am a solo act. I began rapping for fun as a rap-duo with my cousin (also known as J Money) whom I’ve known my whole life but started performing as a solo act when I decided to take music more seriously. However I did form a side-project with my friend Bryan Mahon (who is an acoustic singer), and we perform what I would consider to be a cross between acoustic hip-hop and alternative music. We met in 2013 through work and developed a friendship, which lead to our musical collaborations.
When did you form your band? What inspired you to write music?
I began rapping for fun during my freshman year of high school. It wasn’t until a couple years later, when one of my songs I had uploaded to YouTube obtained 15,000 views in a matter of two months, that I realized people around the world could actually listen to the things I created. That is what pushed me to take music more seriously.
I had always enjoyed writing in general (whether it was fictional stories, poetry, etc.), and I was naturally talented at it. I enjoyed expressing myself in creative ways and hip-hop provided me with the perfect outlet to do just that. Plus, I enjoy challenging myself. Having no prior “rap” skills (aside from creative writing) gave me several things to learn, practice, and perfect to develop myself into an artist as time went on.
Where have you performed? What are your favorite and least favorite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
I have performed at several venues in the Hampton Roads area, ranging in different sizes and venue-types. I’ve performed at the largest venue in Virginia (The Virginia Beach Amphitheater) twice, to smaller concert venues such as Peabody’s and Shakas, to even more intimate locations such as bars, ice-cream shops and even movie theater lobbies.
Performing at the amphitheater is easily one of my favorite venues due to the pride I feel in accomplishing such a huge feat, however, I cannot say I have a least favorite venue. I enjoy performing wherever I get the chance to. Now that I have just completed my new album, I will start booking some more shows locally. I have been in talks with a few venues but do not have any specific dates chosen at the moment.
Which songs do you perform most frequently? Do you ever play any covers? Do you have a set playlist?
“Daps & Pounds” and “Lost In Space” from my first album are two crowd favorites that I perform frequently. “Trophies” (the first single from my new album) has been added to that list more recently. I have not had the opportunity to perform many songs from “The Dapper Don” live yet, so I am looking forward to adding those to my setlist. When I have performed acoustic shows with Bryan Mahon, we often performed several covers and remixes of songs. However, I typically perform all original songs when performing as a solo act.
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
I write all of my lyrics to my songs. As I stated previously, I use it as a way of expressing myself most of the time. I draw a lot of inspiration for my songs from my everyday life and experiences. I write about struggles I face, personal values and goals, love, heartbreak, death, parties; basically all aspects of life.
I enjoy approaching certain songs from the perspectives of other people or characters I create, and other times I write songs simply that are fun. There is not a single type of song that I would be able to categorize my whole discography under. I am sure these topics will continue to grow in variety as I experience new things in life.
Could you briefly describe your music-making process? Do you produce as well?
As my music varies greatly sonically, so does my music-making process. I write lyrics nearly every single day. Sometimes it is just a couple lines, other times it is entire songs. When creating songs I will typically start with a beat, feel what type of vibe the beat gives me, and then develop a topic that matches the vibe I feel. I may write it all from scratch when I hear the beat, or I may puzzle together pieces of unused lyrics that I have written over time to develop an original story.
After I write out and organize all of the lyrics, I record the songs myself in my home studio and do several takes until I get it perfect. Then I will typically layer my vocals in different parts of the song. After everything is recorded I will mix and master the song with my friend Severin DiCroce and will get additional production added to compliment the vocals.
I do not currently consider myself to be a “music producer,” but I am working to improve my production skills to eventually become one. At the moment, I mostly chop up already produced instrumentation and I develop melodies that I work with other producers to create the exact sound I am looking for.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
Rehearsals are almost always completely spontaneous for me. When I have unique shows coming up, I will typically dedicate time specifically for developing and practicing a setlist, but for the most part, it is fairly random. I try to rehearse in front of a couple people to get feedback on what I could improve for the show.
How has your music evolved since you first began rapping?
I was absolutely horrible when I first started rapping. I was monotonous, had no flow and no delivery. I knew nothing of proper recording techniques, had no knowledge about mixing or mastering tracks. I was literally recording raw vocals into my laptop’s built-in microphone over a beat and exporting it as a single file. I basically had decent lyrics and that was the only redeeming quality I had.
As I practiced I greatly improved my flow and delivery. I found my voice. My rhyme schemes and lyrics became more complex. I learned how to properly record songs to sound professional. Listening to my music now compared to when I first started, it is like two completely different people. I knew I was terrible when I started, but I stuck to it. I took criticism and used it to better myself rather than let it get me down.
Listening back to when I started to where I am at now, I am extremely proud of the progress I have made. I will always strive to improve even more and outdo what I have previously done, so I believe my music will continue to evolve as I grow as both a person and an artist.
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
Aside from literally starting from nothing and improving my music in every aspect to develop myself into the hip-hop artist I am today, I would say my biggest challenge has been getting my music out to the world. I have had huge strides in this, but I am still a long ways away from where I want to be at.
I have had the opportunity to perform in front of thousands of people at a huge venue with some of the nation’s biggest artists. I have performed live on television and had my songs played on multiple radio stations. I have gotten my music onto basically all music distribution platforms. Each of these things have been monumental steps in my life as an artist and have helped spread my music some, however, I am still extremely far from where I dream to be.
I want to share my music with the world and it is an extremely difficult task to break it out past my current fan-base, friends, and family. It is something I am currently working to overcome.
What’s your ultimate direction for your brand? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
Honestly, my dream is to be able to make this my career. I really don’t need to be the biggest or richest artist in the world; I just want to be able to make a sustainable living creating music, touring, and hopefully touching people’s lives through the power of music. I want to help get people through difficult times. I want to help people have a good time. I want to share my creations with the world and hopefully inspire other people to pursue their dreams as well.
What advice do you have for people who want to become an artist?
Be persistent. There have been an enormous amount of times where it would have been much easier for me to just give up on my dream. You will face many difficulties and people will try to discourage you. If you want it bad enough you will have to stick to it. I have been able to accomplish things for myself that I had no clue were even possible for me to do at this point in my life, and it’s all due to the fact that I kept pushing myself.
How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD?
My official website NayNayMusic.com contains everything from my music, to videos, to social media links, to upcoming tour dates, and everything in-between. My music is also readily available across basically all digital platforms including iTunes & Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, SoundCloud, YouTube, Bandcamp and more.
Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge for emotional support or just having your back?
I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by support. Most of my family has been extremely supportive of this dream of mine since the beginning. My parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents have been extremely reliable in providing feedback, sharing my music, and supporting in any way they can. My girlfriend Josie and best friend Brad have also been insanely supportive.
Every single person who has told me that they enjoy my music has given me a huge boost in confidence, having a greater impact on my life than they probably expect. Supportive comments from them have given me the drive to continue doing what I am doing.
Have you ever been compared to anyone?
Ryan Reynolds ha ha. People are always telling me I look like him. But musically, as I am sure most white rappers have, I have been compared to Eminem quite a bit. It’s sort of the first thing many people think of when they see someone of my complexion rapping. Outside of that, there have been a few other random comparisons that I have heard, but I wouldn’t say I get compared to others very often. I think I have a fairly unique sound, it’s refreshing and different.
What rapper would you like to meet to provide you insight, inspiration and information?
Either Pharrell Williams or Chance the Rapper. Pharrell is a hometown hero who is the mastermind behind so many hits across several genres of music. He is like a genius in this industry and is someone who I know could provide helpful feedback and insight. He is an artist I aspire to be like one day. I have met Chance before but only briefly. As an independent artist of today’s time who has been able to achieve the things he has, I know he would have a wealth of knowledge on how to break through in today’s industry while doing it without the backing of a label.
What are your career goals?
I would love to be able to make music my full-time career. I want to make a living off of creating songs and touring. I want to have fans across the globe who connect with the music I make. Eventually, I would like to be able to have a large enough following to create some sort of artist development company. Not a label, but a platform that provides independent artists the tools and insight necessary in order to help them make a name for themselves and have their music heard.
Since you are self-taught, would you ever ghostwrite?
I guess it depends on the situation and how exactly you define ghostwriting. By definition ghostwriting involves being hired to write or compose something for somebody else that they are credited for. However, in present times in the hip-hop community, some consider any lyrics that are written by one artist and rapped by another, even if credited, to be a ghostwritten. I don’t think I would ever write for someone without receiving credit for the work, but I would definitely consider writing or co-writing songs for other artists if I am credited for my contribution. As one of my approaches to songwriting sometimes involves writing from somebody else’s perspective, I think I would fit the job well.
How long have you known Daniela Spielvogel? Next time you speak to her, just call her “Bowz. (as in el-BOWS, but just the Bows part.)”
I have known Daniela for a few years now. We met through our mutual friend Bryan Mahon. She is extremely talented and just a really positive person to be around! I’ll be sure to call her that, hopefully, I get a good reaction from it!
Any last words?
I just released my new album “The Dapper Don” a couple weeks ago. I spent the past two and a half years perfecting it; putting in insane amounts of time, energy, money and effort into making sure it is exactly what I wanted it to be. The album features a range of both local Hampton Roads artists and national artists, including Hendersin and Travis Thompson.
The songs on “The Dapper Don” have a wide range of styles that appeal to many different musical tastes. I am extremely proud of it and have received an overwhelming amount of positive responses about it so far. If you have not listened to it yet, it would mean the world to me if you gave it a shot.
I also wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who has ever given my music a chance. I truly appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. I honestly cannot make it in this industry without you all.
You can check out Nay Nay’s music on his website.