In less than two years on the St. Louis hip-hop, NandoSTL is making major moves. He was the most nominated artist among the SLUMfest Awards – which honors the best and brightest on the local urban music scene. His name was in the mix alongside veterans, and yet he admitted at the listening party for his upcoming EP “Bamboo” that he didn’t have enough material to perform an hour-long set.
“I had to drop a project to be eligible for those opportunities,” he said candidly as he conversed with an intimate crowd who hovered in a listening room/studio at Shock City Studios. “Bamboo is like the strongest and fastest growing plant in the world – and I feel like my fast-growing success forced me to drop a project so I could be part of bigger venues and bigger festivals.”
With “Bamboo,” which will be available for purchase and streaming on Friday, March 20, he stretches himself beyond the confines of expectations for a hip-hop artist – even by today’s standards.
He had a release concert scheduled for this weekend. But because of COVID-19 precautions, it is now tentatively scheduled for May 23 at the Old Rock House.
“We did a lot of different stuff and switched a lot of things up,” NandoSTL said. “I changed time signatures, so everything isn’t in 4:4. Some of it you can’t even clap to.”
He speeds it up. He slows it down. He gets personal – and somewhat emotional – with “Family First.” He gets explicitly sexual on another track, and goes back to his musician roots with the live recording of “What a Day.”
“Sometimes you listen to projects and it’s like a vibe all the way through. This ain’t that,” NandoSTL said. “Every track is going to be completely different. This project is like a sampler platter. I don’t want to be your favorite rapper. I want to be your favorite artist. I’m an onion and there are different layers all the way around. Each track has a different flavor.”
He seems fearless in his creativity and displays a level of confidence often reserved for established veterans – both on stage and in the music. But he has a charm about him that keeps him from teetering into being off-putting or labeled as arrogant.
NandoSTL is comfortable in his skin and his art.
“I don’t want to give explanations for each song because I want the [expletive] to be interpreted. You make art what you want to make it,” he said with a smile as he introduced one of the tracks. “So, I’m not gonna give you what it means to me, because it might mean something totally different to you and I don’t even want to [expletive] that relationship between you and the music.”
He attributes his assuredness to his 9-5 gig as a financial planner for Wells Fargo, where he’s known as Fernando Tillman II. The job requires him to engage with people one-on-one and in large crowds regarding financial literacy. And he credits his solid stage presence growing up playing keyboards and drums in church.
“You were always standing up in front of somebody doing something – and you had to be ready [when they called your name],” NandoSTL said. “Whether it was an Easter speech or a solo – or whatever.”
He caught the attention of the St. Louis hip-hop scene with his local hit “Outside,” a song that is essentially a musical autobiographical sketch of his experience growing up as a troubled youth who managed to rise beyond his circumstances. He includes the song on the six-track EP as well.
NandoSTL admitted that the final track, “What A Day,” is his favorite.
“I’m a musician first. I wanted to do something different – something completely live,” NandoSTL said about the track where he does a singing rap of sorts and has a group of singers crooning in the background of the track that features a full band. “I said, ‘I want to rap in 7, put that [expletive] in 7. They might not be able to clap to it, but they can vibe to it.”
“Bamboo” will be available on music streaming platforms on Friday, March 20. A listening party is scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. on May 23 at The Old Rock House. For more information on NandoSTL, visit www.nandostl.com.