Wara from the NBHD’s 'If Guns Could Speak P.S.A.' Takes a Visceral Look at Race in Modern America

Stream the buzzing Atlanta rapper's unflinching debut album now.

Dec 4 2015, 4:33pm

Photo by Pat Bombard, courtesy of Wara from the NBHD

When I sat down with Wara from the NBHD at the Sound Table on Edgewood Ave in Atlanta to talk about his upcoming debut album If Guns Could Speak PSA, I only knew a little about the 25-year-old rapper. His features have been popping up a lot recently on some hot collab tracks with fellow emerging artists like DonMonique and Tunji Ige. We had met a few weeks prior in New York City at the listening party for the new My Brother’s Keeper album by Philadelphia rapper Grande Marshall, a frequent collaborator of Wara's. With his name buzzing all over my timeline lately, I wanted to understand what the Atlanta-based rapper was all about.

Sitting over wings and some Old Fashioneds back on Edgewood, Wara explained his vision as a black musician using his art to uplift himself and his people out from under the forgotten baseboards of the dilapidated superstructure that is American society. The If Guns Could Speak PSA album cover alone is an embodiment of this ethos. Featuring a gun pointed at the rapper's head behind a shredded American flag, the message is clear: The black experience in America is a dire one.

Album cover photo by Reginald Levy

On this debut album his central story is that of a young black poet eager with artistic aspirations yet simultaneously conscious of his situated reality filled with oppressive actors and institutions, violent experiences, and the perennial struggle of finding your place in a world where the forces at work aren't interested in your success. Wara explains on the standout track with feature video “Bubblin”:

As I'm writing this I hear a couple bullet zooms outside my room
I'm just trying to perfect my flow, hope it’s not someone that I know
‘Cause I doubt the cops will show at least in the nick of time
‘Cause they don't care about us black folks or me and mines

In line with other modern-but-trap-trend-resistant rap production found in catalogs from the likes of Vince Staples and Pusha T, Wara's beat selection on the project complements his messages of unapologetic urban realities at a time of heightened social unrest. The album's production—provided by Wara himself along with the project engineers Wili Hendrix and Henry Shoults, guitar work by Clyde Matthews, and special guest producer Conner Youngblood—is a constant mixture of hard-hitting percussion and leading soundscapes. This combination of fresh sounds and focused lyrical conviction gives the project relevancy without having to succumb to Turn-Up Culture's trendy, dominating death grip on the modern hip-hop landscape.

And while Wara's concerted words seem to be wrestling with the backing beat on some of the tracks, this back-and-forth is perhaps better understood as a representation of the artist's own day-to-day struggles, a nod to the realism expressed in legendary rap albums of the 90s. In the grand trajectory of hip-hop music, Wara from the NBHD's If Guns Could Speak PSA might find itself as a fitting shelf companion to other honest explorations into the racialized nature of America. Fans of The Infamous, Ready to Die, and Illmatic looking for an accurate 2015 rendition of what it means to be black in America need look no further.

Check it out below, exclusively on Noisey, and download it here.

Joe Pitts likes to talk about music, culture and social justice on his Twitter