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  • Writer's pictureEvan

A Talk with UllNevaNo

Updated: Jun 2

For well over a decade, UllNevaNo has represented the Baltimore hip hop scene, building an extensive catalogue of basketball-themed rap albums. His latest effort is CONCORDS, a collaboration with producer Logic Marselis where the rapper delivers some of his most personal and passionate work yet.

The creative relationship between Neva and Marselis dates back to 2011 with #Instant #Messengers, and 13 years on, the duo are still exploring new sounds. Despite having dropped several projects together, CONCORDS still feels like a fresh experience for the rapper.

Unlike other albums where Neva took a year to get from start to finish, CONCORDS was a much longer process, spanning the course of three years. “I would say with this project, compared to others, I really took my time on tweaking shit,” he said. “I took a couple of years working on it, in the process of doing everything else. Baby Jordan, No Blood No Foul, Ghost of Reggie Lewis, and features here and there. So as I was doing that I was, piece by piece, working on CONCORDS. The beats that you’re hearing are beats from four, five years ago.”

Another aspect that sets CONCORDS apart from his past work is the collaborative process. Unlike 2019’s DUSTIN GRIME, the duo didn’t have the chance to work in the studio, instead sending beats and rhymes back and forth over email. “[Logic] sent me a batch of beats and I would sit with them for weeks before I even had anything written down.”

CONCORDS by UllNevaNo and Logic Marselis

Although the process was slow in some parts, Neva knew from the beginning what he wanted CONCORDS to be. “Before I pen anything on paper, it all starts from an idea,” he said. “I’m like a mad scientist. When I’m set on working on a project, I’m already [thinking], how’s that artwork going to look? What’s the rollout going to be? Just the whole approach of attacking to make sure it’s eye-catching to the listener.”

For CONCORDS, the idea was just that – the Concord sneaker, the holy grail of the sneakerhead community. Tying the historic sneaker into his love for basketball, the album sees Neva embrace his childhood passions. “That’s the stuff that we’re cut from; what we grew up on,” he said. “It was important to use those elements to create CONCORDS, so when the listener hears it, they get an experience like, ‘Yo, I remember those lineups; I remember how the Concords looked when I first saw them.’ It was important for us to create a soundscape for the listeners to enjoy and relate to.”

That passion is what made Neva even more eager to drop the album. “There were times when I may have put out a promo too early and Logic be hitting me up like, ‘Yo, we need to put this out first! We need to go with the plan!’ But I’m just so excited to present it to the people; that’s the dopest feeling ever. But that’s one thing I learned: patience. Just follow the rollout, and once you do the rollout, everything is going to fall into place.”

Despite creating the album over email, the chemistry between the duo is still evident on CONCORDS. “Our conversations are always a safe space,” Neva said. “I’ll tell him when I’m not feeling something, and vice versa … Sometimes, we’ll go back and forth for hours with a record. Even if it doesn’t sound right to me, he’ll be like, ‘Nah, you in the pocket!’ and I’ll be like, ‘Nah, you ain’t hearing it.’ That’s always fun.”

Neva and Marselis have always had a natural chemistry when it comes to music. The rapper remembers exactly how the artists first met. He said:

“When I first moved to Baltimore, a good friend of mine – god rest his soul –  Knowledge, man. One of the dopest producers in Baltimore … He was always telling me about Logic Marselis … Logic Marselis has an infatuation with Baltimore, for some weird reason … They met, they connected back and forth, and the whole time I’ve been working with Knowledge. Finally, we were introduced to each other after a project of ours dropped, and Logic was feeling it. He was like, ‘Yo, why don’t y’all connect?’ And we’ve been connected ever since.”

He added: “I’ve never met anyone who makes beats as much as [Logic]. So whenever I needed production, he was always sending me production. I was recording, sending him joints, and he enjoyed the work ethic. Therefore, here we are. 10 plus years later, still making music.”

Going beyond his work with Knowledge and Marselis, Neva used to be an avid battle rapper until 2010, when he quit the craft to focus on his discography. “Battle rapping started getting too WWF for me,” he said. “The craft was there, but it started getting too weird for me, just how the business was moving and stuff like that. At that time, at that place, I just wasn’t with it … I just wanted to make a collection; a body of work. If I’mma leave this Earth, I’ll have a catalogue that people can fall back on.”

#Instant #Messengers by UllNevaNo and Logic Marselis

Nevertheless, the rapper is grateful for his time battling. More than anything, it sharpened his skills as an MC, priming him for when he decided to step away from the craft and build a catalogue. “It’s sword against sword; steel against steel. You’re testing each other’s wits and punchlines … You had to write your verses, then you had to time it. You’ve got to rehearse it on paper; then you’ve got to rehearse it without the paper; you’ve got to look in the mirror and see how you look … It’s Broadway. Your rhymes are the script, you’re reading off the script and making it believable for the audience.”

A decade and a half on from his battle rapping days, Neva has an extensive catalogue of albums to his name, and he doesn’t intend on stopping anytime soon. Right now, he’s working on Playground Legend with Ray Robinson, but for the moment, he’s giving CONCORDS its time to shine.

He said: “My main thing is working the album. Single, music video, another single, another music video. I don’t see how you can work an album when you’re putting seven projects out. And I care about the listener too. You’re not even allowing the listener to actually keep the album, to vibe with it, to have a connection with it. You’re constantly in their face because you’re worried about an algorithm … I’d rather make good, quality records. Two albums a year, maximum. I’m sticking to it.”

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