Nnamdï’s sounds are a testament to the continual melting away of genre distinctions in the current era of (particularly Black) music. There are material and immaterial circumstances which produce the conditions for such an atmosphere of aesthetic experimentation. During times of massive political and social unrest, Black artists historically have taken these moments to flex their artistic muscles. Typically, they are remembered for their protest anthems, like Lil Baby’s recent banger. Less typically are artists remembered for their less overtly political, though no less important, pushing of aesthetic boundaries. Black music should not be boxed into designations like “protest music” or “reflections of the times”, but Nnamdï’s work is an apt accompaniment to the shuttered COVID-19 world. Largely self-produced, BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.
The album abounds with sounds from electronica, Afrobeat, acoustic, bedroom pop, and truthfully unidentifiable aesthetic mashups. At times, the listener may feel accosted. However, Nnamdï’ does a great job of selecting a repeating rhythm to carry the track, even as other elements often bombard the instrumental. Take the acoustic riff on the album opener “Flowers to My Demons”, which is the standout track. The bass guitar grounds the song as Nnamdï’s voice moves from whispering hums to high pitched and Auto-Tuned wails, to lusty croons. The title also draws on a long history of association between fiddles/guitars and the devil.
One can also point to the measured sonic grooves on “Wasted”, the prowling synths on “Gimme Gimme”, or the rolling aural hills on “Perfect in My Mind”. Though he’s not always trying to contain his intense energy, it is apparent that the chaos is measured. These chaotic vibes are not incoherent; the album crafts a narrative of Nnamdï as a dynamic thinker with many aspirations and a will to achieve them. On “It’s OK”, the repeated line “There’s no need to pretend / You’re OK if you’re not” is a simple, though not simplistic, epiphany. The song cements the dreamy, trance-like vibes of the album. As listeners, we are privy to the inner machinations of Nnamdï’s psychic reflections, as he is more concerned with his inner dialogues than what is going on outside.
Nnamdï’s energy pulsates throughout the album with an irregular, syncopated rhythm that makes it impossible to predict where the next song — or even the next second — is going. Take the manic track “Bullseye”, where Nnamdï goes through more vocal registers and fluctuations than I can count on my hands. When I listen to him, I recall Lil Wayne’s famous line, “Feed me rappers or feed me beats”, as Nnamdï seeks to consume — vocally, instrumentally, or often both — every inch of space that he can.
But it is not in the battle rap mode. Instead, Nnamdï understands that his journey to self-knowledge and discovery is through the exercise of his dynamic imagination. This wide-ranging versatility reminds me of Tierra Whack, whose incredible debut album graced the world two years ago. On “Everyone I Loved”, Nnamdï acts as his own chorus, one of several moments where Nnamdï plays multiple entities on the album. In this way, the experience of the album reminds us that isolation does not have to be lonely, that we have entire inner worlds just waiting to be tapped and explored.
Not everything on this album is frenzied, as the energies cover a wide range from highly animated to somber to whimsical. On “Glass Casket”, Nnamdï wrestles with the difficulty of achieving one’s desire. What else could I become? Will I be able to fulfill myself while still keeping my obligations to my family? The dreamy, alt R&B vibes of the song allow the listener to float easily along this river of contemplation.
BRAT is not an ironically titled response to his parents who likely were surprised when Nnamdï pivoted from an electrical engineering degree into life as a full-time musician. Instead, it’s an embrace of the joy in interiority, a note that one’s inner life can be louder and more bombastic than the world outside of it. The experimentations often — though not always — work out, but they are always well done. Everything comes together on the album’s closer “Salut”, an Afrobeat inflexed trip that serves as an apt culmination to warped sonic tour the album takes us on. As Nnamdï softly sings, “If it’s meant to beeee, then itttt will beeee,” he surrenders control to an exterior world that he cannot control, knowing that he has created a lively home for himself in his mind.