Photo by Michele' Ghersi
Nhandi Craig Talks Debut EP, Trusting Her Process & Creating In A Pandemic
At 17 years old, Los Angeles-based DJ and producer Nhandi Craig has already accomplished what many artists set out to achieve within the span of a career. After falling in love with DJing through the popular video game "DJ Hero," Craig enrolled at Jam Master Jay's (RUN-D.M.C) Scratch Academy in Los Angeles and within a year became the youngest graduate of the program. By age 10 she made it to the finals of "America's Got Talent" and performed for thousands at Radio City Music Hall. By 11, the Obamas asked her to spin at the White House for the 2014 White House Easter Egg Roll. Soon after, she became a resident DJ on iHeartMedia’s Real 92.3 and was off traveling cities around the world for primetime gigs—Ibiza, Italy and Monte Carlo, to name a few.
Her forthcoming debut EP, Nhandi, is the product of a completely new venture into production, which translates to long nights and early mornings in the studio, a cross-collaboration between Craig and a few of her favorite up-and-coming artists and a quarantine-induced creative boost, all taking place between the demands of work and school. The project, four years in the making, is finally due out this Friday (June 5), just seven days before Craig’s high school graduation.
"The inspiration with doing this EP, it’s funny you know because I never really started producing with the idea of 'Yeah, I’m going to make an EP.' I started producing and I was kind of unsure what I was going to do with it. I just thought it would be something outside of DJing that I could do, but I didn’t know that it was going to be such a huge step in my career and it was going to be this highly anticipated thing that people are really looking forward to hearing," she tells the Recording Academy.
As opposed to DJing, which by now is practically second nature for Craig, producing is a "whole other ballpark" with its own extensive set of challenges. Luckily, her sensibility for tempo and composition from spinning has only fostered the spark for making beats.
"With producing, I’m constantly learning new things, different sounds. My inspiration came from listening to other producers and that motivated me to create." She cites GRAMMY-winning producers and hip-hop mainstays like Missy Elliott, Pharrell, Boi-1da and Timbaland as major sources of influence in discovering her own sound and mastering her craft, both technically and sonically. "Eventually I just knew that this was going to turn into an EP, because this is what I love to do."
Self-titled EP: Nhandi
Photo by Sacha Waldman
In fact, Craig's passion for production is so deeply rooted that after months of staying over at her mentor and multi-platinum producer Prime Maximus' house to record in his at-home studio, she took it upon herself to flip her mom's walk-in closet into a fully functioning recording space. It was here that the finishing points of the EP most came alive, especially after California's stay at home orders following COVID-19 gave Craig ample time to face the project and materialize her vision. From recording into the early morning only to wake up and do it all over again, or jumping out of bed and running to the studio after receiving a 4 A.M. text with the stems for a long-awaited verse, it was almost as if Nhandi's EP had no choice but to blossom naturally in the D.I.Y. space that she had created all on her own.
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have created a speed bump for the project in terms of its collaborations, Nhandi says that the challenge of not having present studio sessions with other artists only helped to strengthen their collective dedication and seeing the greatness within the project. Nhandi features guest spots from friends and up-and-coming collaborators, including Compton rapper AD, Las Vegas-based beatboxer, rapper and producer J Hype and Big Boy signee Elijah Banx, who appears on Craig’s favorite cut from the project, "Cold Hearted." The song addresses moving on from past relationships with new clarity over trap and hip-hop-driven production. "Its the most melodic, the most catchy, and definitely something that you can just vibe to," says Craig.
Ahead of the release, Nhandi admits that she’s "honestly really all in the feels… I can’t even put it into words." Nervous but excited, she recalls a time where the confidence to even share her beats with friends or family wasn’t fully fledged. "Being able to listen to my songs and not judge myself for them because I like them is the best feeling in the world. I feel like I finally accomplished the feeling that I’ve been longing to feel as a producer… seeing the end product is the most exciting, the growth from when I started until now." At long last, she’s eager for the world to receive her labor of love.
"Trusting myself has been such a hard process… When people hear this I want them to know that they can do whatever it is they want with their sound, to be confident in it and to stand behind it strongly and loudly. It’s all about energy with the songs that you put out. That’s just what it takes. To have that energy, you have to trust your sound, that’s something that I’ve learned and it’s something that I want people to understand when I put this out," she says.
Nhandi and Prime Maximus
Photo by Ellen Craig
"I’ve never done something like this in my life. I’m not sure where this project is going to take me, for all I know someone could pick this up and it could literally change my life."
As for advice that she can offer other young musicians looking to explore their sound or release that very first body of work, Nhandi says it’s really all about learning to dig into yourself wholeheartedly.
"Try not to fight reality. If you do that, you stir up so much negative energy and it transpires through your music and creative process. Try not to overthink. It can be good and bad when you overthink, because you can see all the possibilities of how something will play out, but don’t overthink to the point where its hindering you from creating or deteriorating your self confidence and trustworthiness in your music. Trust yourself and even when you want to give up, when you aren’t sure what you’re doing or where you’re going, live in that moment. Feel all of the rage, all of the anger, all of the sadness, all of the upset. Feel the emotions you need to and then get right back to it," she says.
"Producing and making music should not feel like a chore rather than a passion. There are going to be setbacks in this process because it’s not easy. Don’t invalidate your feelings. Do whatever you can to express and release them because energy and emotion can and will transpire in your creativity if you let them get the best of you."
Nhandi is available on all platforms on June 5.