Photo courtesy of Lord Nez.
Lord Nez of Hollis, Queens is a hip hop historian. It should go without saying that his small southeastern Queens neighborhood has long been a mecca of hip hop but for those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s pretty much where (with exception to The Bronx) the genre really got momentum in the 80’s and 90’s. A few names to be dropped from Hollis for the uninitiated include Run-DMC, Ja Rule, LL Cool J, and Russell Simmons of Def Jam.
And now Lord Nez. OK? That’s our armchair take on Hollis’ history, but Nez has an insider view as well as a unique fresh outlook on the culture at large from the new kids who consume it to how it’s marketed. He’s had a hand in almost every aspect of hip hop life in his 20-plus years in the game, and surprisingly he’s grown to be the opposite of jaded though he can still call out who and what he’s not so crazy about. His most recent mixtape, Lord of the Underground Vol. 2, dropped August 21st and is serving as a teaser of sorts for his LP Messenger from Woodhull which Nez promises to be out “soon.”
BTR was able to get him into the studio to speak to us about where hip hop is at right now and how he’s been able to spread the people’s history of the culture to those who have only heard a less holistic “World Star”-centric testimony.
Lord Nez comes from an interesting place, not only just geographically, but through his experience he can speak about the evolution of hip hop music from when he got involved in the 80’s to now. This kept coming up time and time again in conversation, that he has a reference point of how things were “back in the day” to how they work today.
One of the ways that the game has changed has been with marketing in that, Nez says, back in “the day” people would stand in front of record labels to try to get signed, most notably Mobb Deep meeting and getting hooked up with Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest in front of Rush Management. He says now “you gotta mix it up” when it comes hip hop marketing and Nez himself likes to incorporate a bit of that into his own brand. He’s big on “personal interactions,” which he says “society is lacking right now.” As this relates to music he says that, “I’ve been around hip hop for 25-26 years so seeing the evolution of it is beautiful but seeing the disconnection, that’s what’s crazy.”
Growing up in Hollis, Queens in the time of Run-DMC, Nez grew up in a very vibrant time not just for hip hop but also for the city of New York which, at the time, began to embrace the “pillars” of rapping, breakdancing, graffiti, and turntabling. He grew up with his mom who was a jazz musician and to subsidize rent, she would have roommates and one such roommate was the legendary saxophonist and clarinetist Gary Bartz. Nez describes him as “the last of the Mohicans” and when he stayed “at our crib around ‘85, ‘86” he brought his son Farid along. Farid showed Nez Run-DMC videos and even though they were technically his neighbors, it all sounded so new to Nez.
“Hip hop is a culture, that’s why when people say ‘I do hip hop’… like, how you do hip hop? You don’t even know who Grandmaster so-and-so is, there’s a few Grandmasters. That’s why I’m in the position trying to teach younger artists and younger people in the culture; I institutionalize them to know. Going back to the foundation of that—boom! We in Hollis. Run-DMC’s from there so I’m mad little, I’m like, ‘Oh yo! These dudes is poppin’!’ I’m watching Krush Groove and it’s just so surreal so I told myself a premonition that one day I wanna be down with them,” says Nez on his initial inspirations.
Another motivation for Lord Nez to get into hip hop was purely financial as being where he’s from, he saw a lot of people from Run-DMC to 50 Cent “generate over $300 million of revenue.” He describes living in Hollis as “growing up in a gold mine” and the only two options of living are “you either get it ‘cause it’s there or you just sit there and watch everybody else get it.”
This speaks to a bigger issue of wealth inequality that’s been touched upon throughout hip hop history in songs like “Things Done Changed” by The Notorious B.I.G., with lyrics like, “either you’re slingin’ crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot.” Neighborhoods like Hollis and Bed-Stuy where poverty is rampant, for Nez there seemed to be only one way to make it big. As a younger man he said to himself as he saw these entrepreneurs hit it big, “I’ma get it too, I don’t know how.”
One struggle of being a historian of any kind is getting people to listen, especially in hip hop where it’s the kids who are your primary audience. It’s a fine line to walk because you don’t want to come off as the Golden Age geezer (“back in my day…!”) but you also don’t want the culture and history to be lost to youthful negligence. With the knowledge Lord Nez has, he is always thinking of ways to connect to younger hip hop fans and pass down the history organically. One of these ways is a blog that he curates called Neztalgic “dedicated to the preservation of hip hop culture.”
“The influence that I have if I could pass it on and give ‘em knowledge, they gonna uphold it. I would say 85 percent of it is a blessing and maybe 15 percent of trouble trying to get to ‘em but kids respect their peers so if you look like them, if you talk like them, they gonna listen to you. If I come to them in a bowtie and a suit like, ‘Look, young brother…’ If I come to them looking mad old school with rope chains on and just a crazy look, they’re like, ‘Get the hell outta here,’ but I got Supreme shit on right now. I don’t even know about it but I’m blendin’ in. I do it ‘cause I like it but kids could relate to me,” says Nez.
Lord of the Underground Vol. 2 is a reflection of the interim period that Nez is experiencing right now before his full-length Messenger From Woodhull comes out. It’s an 11-song offering that chronicles life in Hollis and pays tribute to hip hop legends A Tribe Called Quest in the first song, which is daring in and of itself.
With its completion, Nez is ready to turn a page on a hectic chapter in his life. As he says, “So I recorded an album in February at Red Bull Studios ready to go but I been having life issues in between so I have a following been waiting for some music so for my personal satisfaction I just had to drop an album before my project comes out because I been on a few things here and there throughout the year but every year I need to drop something just for myself, that’s just how I’ve been.”
Drop something for yourself with Lord Nez by clicking here.
Check out Lord Nez’s music and interview on the latest episode of Discovery Corner on BTR.