An interview with Paper Nolassnaym

We were first hooked on Paper Nolassnaym when his producer and long-time friend Luke Crowder reached out to us about his All-Stars EP series, which you can read more about here, here, and here. With the release of his newest work, Blue Windows, everything is simply amplified.

Is it a truism to say the writing is more impactful, the wording and pacing more nuanced, and the production more brilliant than we have seen to date? For sure, but it doesn’t do the work justice. The level at which Paper Nolassnaym is firing at is completely elevated here. You can tell there’s a dedicated vision and passion for his craft like never before, and that’s saying a lot given previous efforts.

Now that Blue Windows is out, we knew we had to hear about his story. And what a story we got. His words are an education of music history and influence, a portrait of an artist who is constantly striving towards improvement and full actualization. Read our full interview, and give Blue Windows (full album below) the time and attention it deserves.


Alright – let’s start at the beginning. What kind of music were you into? Who were your go-to artists, and what got you into hip-hop and the world of music you’re creating now?

Since a kid, I’ve been into any genre of music that would make my head nod or make my body move, period.

Early out, I would have to say, Outkast, DMX, and Master P played a major role in what fascinated my listening. I would steal these artist’s albums from my older brother and play them in my portable CD player. I especially remember pocketing a Mase single version CD that had tracks “Looking at Me” and “24 Hours to Live (ft. The Lox, Black Rob and DMX)” on it.  I must have played another hole in the CD as many times as I played “24 Hours to Live.”

I definitely have to credit my older brothers for introducing me to hip-hop – everything about them embodied the culture, from style, to hustle, to their attitudes. The era of music I was brought into displayed tremendous lyrical skill and creativity. I will forever be a reflection of that time, but I also understand the evolution of music, hence my ability to balance the two eras.

And how did you work on and build your skills in a way that made you comfortable to perform and put yourself onto a recording? I know you’re the son of a local R&B legend, so what was it like growing up around that type of environment?

Listening to the way other genre of songs like blues and alternative rock (i.e. The Black Keys and Jungle) are structured and written, helped me polish my writing style while keeping me from sounding like everyone else in my particular genre of hip-hop.

Honestly it wasn’t until I actually heard what I sounded like on wax that I built the confidence to perform live. From there it was all about making sure how I sounded on wax matched the way I sounded live… that was the hard part.

Massive shoes to fill coming up behind my Pops. Growing up with him taught me the value of music and to respect the art because people don’t have to listen to your music, so when they do, make sure you give them something good to listen to. He always tells me, “Don’t half step with that ‘jive’ ass music. Give ‘em that Funk.”

Speaking of recording – how did you hook up with Luke?

Man, Luke and I have been tight for a while now. I was introduced to Luke by another producer I worked with in the beginner stage. He was cool, but when I heard what Luke was doing with the samples and live instruments, it instantly felt like home.

And your work with him – how was he influenced your sound or opened you up to something new to try out and vice-versa? What’s that relationship like?

Working with Luke is like having a brother who produces for you; it doesn’t take a lot of explanation for what kind of sound I’m going for – he already knows, based off the tenure and chemistry built over all these years. Luke’s ear for music is keen. I really trust his judgment because he actually knows how to read and compose music – that’s pretty rare, in the world of beat makers, he’s a real producer.

I guess Luke’s ability more so than anything else is what pushes me to excel on his production.

On the other hand, from an artist’s point of view, it’s important to me that my flow and the instrumentation I select both harmonize well, so when I change as a writer I expect the music to do the same.

I’m always challenging Luke to make the people groove hard as possible, like make them see your music before they feel it, while listening to it. Like poetry in motion. To simplify our relationship, it’s like iron sharpening iron.

I have to ask about Alabama. It has a lot of musical stories and legends that have come out of it, but not really with hip-hop. Well, some folks born there, but they almost always broke in other cities. Do you think you might head to a bigger city, or are you more comfortable with Birmingham and going from there?

I love Alabama. That’s home, in particular Birmingham. That city has so much history dealing with music, and I mean from a very iconic viewpoint. Legends like Diana Ross, Dennis Edwards of the Temptations, both yielding from Fairfield, which is inner city of Birmingham, and Eddie Kendricks, lead singer of the Temptations, as well was from Ensley, Alabama, also inner city of Birmingham.

These legends, along with my father David Sea, all represent the sound of the south, all the way to current time’s artists like Gucci Man of Bessemer, Alabama, Yellow Wolf of Anniston, Alabama, and Alabama Shakes residing from Athens. Alabama definitely has one hell of a history when it comes to music. Even industry impactors like composer Henry Panion, former manager of musical genius Stevie Wonder, also call Birmingham “Home Sweet Home.”

But to answer the question, yes. Home is such a comfortable place. In order for me become known on a larger scaled audience, I do feel it’s important to go where the audience is, so recently I’ve relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. This place has shown me nothing but love since I’ve arrived. I mean only four days into me coming to Atlanta, I’ve been in studio sessions with legends like Ghostface Killah and producer Street Runner, who also inspire and play a huge role in hip-hop. Escaping your comfort zone is a certifiable must.

Now I know you’ve been making music for years, but it was the EPs named after various basketball stars/gods/legends that caught us. What was the idea behind those?

Yeah man, those collection of EPs will always be special to me because of my love for basketball, it basically molded me into who I am. I played guard from 3rd grade up until my 3rd year of college upon me dropping out.

And how did you choose those players? Were the sounds on the EPs reflective of the player’s styles or eras? Was there a concept to each release?

The idea was to find a collection of players that reflected my lyrical style in their play. The hard part was not being so typical and picking cliché legends like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Allen Iverson.

As far as concept goes, there was definitely purpose in place for each EP. I wanted to make the listeners feel like each project would act as a soundtrack for each player, hence the titles of the songs matching attributes of the individual players – Luke’s idea by the way.

So between the EPs and the creation of ‘Blue Windows’, how do you think you grew as an artist or adjusted yourself?

The growth between the All-Star EPs and Blue Windows is really exhilarating to me because I’m at a point where I’m applying feedback and taking constructive criticism like a punch on the chin in a Tyson fight… if you hit me I’m probably gonna knock you out when I hit back. As if I were Tyson (laughs)

In the production and tones, it dives pretty deep – by that I mean, it has a darker undercurrent to it. Is that reflective of something bigger, or what led you all to follow that path?

Blue Windows is definitely darker and deeper, just like the color on the cover art. I wanted my fans to know I have a dark side that shows no sympathy for always being politically correct. I feel this is needed to show growth not just as an artist, but for content purpose and lyrical expression as well.

When it comes to the production, I wanted to get it to be as close as possible to Miles Davis’ classic album Kind of Blue as Luke and I could get it. That’s the feel I was going for.

“Watch Me” has lyrics that are very self-aware of how those in power are very clear in their actions to suppress certain communities, especially the African American ones. For you as an artist, an African American guy in the south, how are you focusing your creative energy in the world we live in?

I love the complexity of this question because it’s accurate, when it comes down to me displaying awareness for the world in which we live. I don’t want to come across as preachy or bitter or even jaded. I try to dab a bit of mature knowledge in the mix of my urbanely deliberate rap style, kind of like Jay-Z in order to remain conscious.

I like how “Scared Money” effortlessly straddles styles and influences across various points in hip-hop, R&B, and soul. As you’re writing, how to handle that balance in a way that still makes everything seem so fresh and modern?

“Scared Money” is literally an ODE to Sly and the Family Stone, as well as the saying, “Practice what you preach.” I honestly and faithfully listen to music of all generations, and I want people to know it! I still want to impact listeners of all ages, so I feel I have to make reference from all eras in order to stay relevant, as well as, show my authenticity.

I like “Church Boy” so much for a variety of reasons. Is there something autobiographical to it? What’s the story behind this one?

Every male born and raised in the South is practically a church boy whether they were a member of a church or not. Our grandparents made us this way by thoroughly implanting its importance in our parent’s morality, so it’s pretty much generational. However, we all have our own paths, so it’s like, yeah I went to church, but somewhere along the way I got off track and the extreme varies upon the individual. Yes, there is definitely some autobiographical substance to this song.

When it comes to the Intro/Outro, there’s a seamlessness to it that works wonderfully if you’ve got ‘Blue Windows’ on a loop. Was that intentional? I feel like I don’t pay attention to Intros and Outros too often, but this one really hooked me.

Luke will definitely love the fact that you appreciate the intro/outro, all the credit goes to him on those. All I said was make a car crank up (laughs)

Alright – when it comes to the album, is there any track in particular that you particular appreciate or have a fondness for above the others?

If I had to pick my favorite track as of right now, it would be “Watch Me,” but a very close second would be “C. Butler,” being that it’s actually produced by BlockBeattaz, and I think they are super talented.

Moving forward, do you know where you’d like to be heading in what you’re writing, or do you just let those moments happen organically?

One day I plan to be in the Writers Hall of Fame like Hov, but for now, I’ll let it happen organically.

Finally – what’s up next? More recording? More writing? Tours? Collaborations?

Blue Windows is one of four, just like the All-Star legend series. My focus is definitely on stealing art from the rich and giving it to the ones who really appreciate it, hence the art displayed in the cover art designed by upcoming visual/street artist Dawill_sama from Birmingham.

Not to undermine today’s artist, I’m simply implying that music isn’t appreciated like it used to be. Today when an artist drops a project, consumers only pay attention for a week or two, and then it’s on to the next. Fine art should be valued as time. That’s the only way you get classic material, you know, music that will last the test of time.

Talks of shows in Tokyo are on the table now, but we’ll see.

03.10.2017 / By Joey Smith