Nur-D Q&A

March 23, 2020
Hip-hop artist Nur-D won the first four open-mic contests he entered and now headlines major venues.

“I am a huge geek. That ship has sailed. So I can either be proud of that or constantly fight myself, and that seems sad and tiring. Embracing it is the only way forward.”

You’ve said that for a long time you didn’t feel culturally connected to hip-hop, being that you grew up in a mostly white suburb in Minnesota. What changed for you?

I think it was a realization that the culture of hip-hop was my culture. I was just in an under-represented part of it. Hip-hop grew out of the struggle, specifically the struggle of black people in a world that wasn’t designed for them to succeed. Even though my struggle was vastly different than some of the artists in the genre it didn’t mean it wasn’t still there. I had different hurdles. Hearing artists like Childish Gambino and Chance The Rapper rap about some of the same stuff I was going through let me know that there was actually a place for me in the medium.

Did you enjoy rhyming and dancing long before you first started rapping in February 2018? Was it something you always did for fun?

Yeah I have always been a fan of it. I used to write little wraps for fun to help me get over writer’s block. My brother and friends would rap after school for fun. I was always more of the singer but I would listen and think, “That would be super cool to have that skill.” Low and behold, with a little work, I found it in myself.

How did playing in Black Genesis help you develop into a solo artist?

Black Genesis was a DBZ final form of a band I had been in since senior year of high school. It was a lot of people joining and leaving for different reasons, changing names, lots of almost empty rooms. I learned a lot during that time. I learned how to handle rejection; from venues, radio stations, friends, family, the music business. I showed me that even though everything wasn’t working out, all I wanted to do was play music. It just ended up being not Black Genesis type of music.

How did you decide on the name Nur-D?

I chose the name Nur-D because it’s what people call me lol I was always a pretty nerdy kid, pretty big dork, and I took something that was once’s used as an insult to become my new name.

Your work is heavily influenced by your love of comics, particularly Flash. Which other ones do you return to the most for inspiration?

The Flash is the bomb for sure. I will say that “Doom Patrol” and “X-Men” are comic characters I like a lot. A group of people who are fantastic but different. I also like “Superman” and the love story between him and Lois.

You grew up in a religious household and attended North Central University for a while. Does your spirituality play an important role in your music?

Yes it does. My relationship with God is always a part of my music because it’s a part of me as a person. While I don’t think I would confidently say those places were always the best example of how someone of my faith should act and treat people I will say that growing up having my faith a constant companion shaped my view of the world around me. So when I sit down to write it is there too.

Have you always felt comfortable performing?

I certainly didn’t always feel comfortable, and, truthfully, I still get nervous from time to time. But singing in church, doing theater throughout my time at school, and just doing it so much had given me the opportunity to be more familiar with the stage. Every crowd is different but the concepts to performing can be universal if you know what you do well and when best to bring those things out.

You have spoken about owning your “weirdness” and using that in your music. How did you arrive at that wisdom?

The same way someone thrown overboard learns how to tread water or how I learned to deal with a community of people who didn’t look like me. I didn’t really have much of a choice. If I didn’t own who I was no one else was going to. I am a huge geek. That ship has sailed. So I can either be proud of that or constantly fight myself and that seems sad and tiring. Embracing it is the only way forward.

You’ve spoken about Childish Gambino and Andre 3000 as influences. Who else has inspired you to find your own voice?

Prince, Lil Dicky (funny enough), Chance The Rapper is a huge role model. My grandfather too. He was a foundational piece of me finding what kind of person I wanted to be, which then affected my music.

You write about your experiences as one of the few black people in a white suburb and being stopped repeatedly by police just for walking on certain streets. Does putting your experiences into music help you process and heal from such painful memories?

I don’t really know if I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t suddenly feel better about it now that it’s in a song. It’s more of that in when I write about that sort of stuff I am not allowing it to continue to be in the shadows. Minnesota can be so homogenous some times and there are large swaths of people who don’t understand how this stuff happens down the block from them not just on the news. It’s sort of my way of saying, “Hey if you want to dance and vibe about Naruto with me you’re also going to have to hear about racial injustice from time to time.” Sorry not sorry.

What’s next for you?

Next for me is another project or two. Hopefully doing my own tour across the Midwest which I am super excited about! I am planning a D&D event/show that is going to be a very fun project (think Critical Role meets SNL). I also have a comic book and a musical I am hoping to get off of the starting blocks too lol needless to say I’m trying to stay busy.

— Photos by Justine Johnson and Marri Weigel