There may be no rapper working right now who brings more good cheer and positive vibes than Vallejo's Nef the Pharaoh. On the heels of his viral 2015 hit and Cash Money tribute "Big Tymin'," Nef shared two phenomenal mixtapes last year, Neffy Got Wings and Fresh Outta Space, which found him expanding his sound to encompass even more bright, melodic takes on old school aesthetics.
"I like the old school, Juvenile and Cash Money and all the Bay Area raps, but I'll put it on these new-sounding beats, and it still sounds dope," Nef told me on a recent stop by the VICE offices, as part of a segment for Noisey Radio on Beats 1. He added, "I'm driving on my own road and I'm making it work for myself." That progress made Nef a natural star of Noisey Bay Area on VICELAND, which propelled Nef to even greater heights when it aired earlier this year ("Word on the street? Psh! I can't go nowhere, bro," he told me). With buzz firmly on his side and tons of exciting music in the chamber, Nef seems poised for another banner year in 2017.
He's kicking it off with a mixtape called The Chang Project, a prelude to an album called The Big Chang Theory. The Chang Project is coming soon via E-40's Sick Wid It Records and will feature appearances from the likes of Ty Dolla $ign, Larry June, Caleborate, OMB Peezy, Jay Ant, and others.
"It's big tracks, it's still a Bay Area feel, and there's the mainstream tracks," Nef said. "I've still got mob music on there you can ride to. It's just showing you what I'm about to give you guys in 2017."
The first look at that is a song called "Spice," featuring Yhung T.O. of up-and-coming Vallejo group SOB x RBE. The video, shot in Texas on the way to and at SXSW, is premiering below. Settling into a laid-back but inspiring melodic groove, it's a good example of Nef's ability to craft low-stakes stealth bangers (not unlike his mentor E-40) that seem instantly timeless. "Spice" sets out a blueprint for an artist you can immediately see making easy riding hits for decades to come, complete with the enthusiastic guest verse from a new young talent.
"This song is about the elevation of my life," Nef said over email. "Just me being from the hood and making a 360 in a muthafucking year. I pay my moms bills and do right in my life. After doing so much wrong, it feels good to do things right. I got here through hard work and dedication. I used to sit back and watch everything around me and learn. I would watch how E-40, G-Eazy, A$AP Ferg, and YG moved and I would take notes. I'd wonder 'Why are they so successful?' and I figured a plan that worked for me. I have my own pre-rolls and I just dropped my own wax. I have my own label and touring company, KILFMB. (Keep it Lit for my Brothers) I'm trying to be here for a long time."
I'd keep a close eye on Nef: He's poised, from what I've heard, to drop some of the best rap music of 2017, period, and now is the time to get on board. Check out "Spice" below, along with these five handy tips for spicing up your own life that Nef sent unprompted:
- Invest in yourself
- Strive to make power moves
- Keep your personal life personal
- Appearance is everything so make sure you keep up your maintenance.
- Whatever religion you are, put faith in what you believe in.
True! Get ready for The Chang Project, coming soon.
Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.