Artist Interview: Nelson Navarro

By Resonate | December 11, 2020
Words and photos by Erica Travis

Making his own path through the uncertainty of 2020, Brighton rapper Nelson Navarro has been in our eye-line for a while. His music is a combination of hip-hop and electronica style beats married with truthful lyrics in order to create an enthralling sound. The inspiring optimism he expresses for life in his music is an attitude we’ve all needed to hear throughout this year. We caught up with Nelson to chat to him about the unique challenges he’s overcome as a rapper, his early life in music, and how his style has been channelled into his new EP Afrofuturist, coming out January 2021. 

As we sit in a cosy pub in the Brighton Lanes drinking lime and soda, Nelson gifts us an exclusive copy of his latest EP release Starlord. As we get chatting, Nelson, whose real name is Elijah, discloses his musical beginnings. The story began with his parents “meeting in bands and playing in the same venues”. Growing up on Craig David, reggae, funk, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, he was then introduced to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers by a friend. Nelson describes this as a switching point for an 8-year-old. “I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to be a rockstar, the live performance of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Rage Against The Machine and Funkadelic is something I will always channel. I like the big show. I love an energetic show.”

With spectacle live performances being so key to Nelson’s identity as an artist, it made us question how he has coped over the last few months not being able to perform or feel that personal connection. “Obviously I love performing,” he exclaims. “It’s one of my favourite things ever. When I’m on a stage it’s like I turn on, and I ooze energy, so it’s been kind of sad.” Having put out a live performance video on IGTV during the lockdown period, Nelson opened up to us about how he personally “struggles to pay attention to stuff like that” and it’s not what he wants to do. However, he does state he’s “pivoted” and his focus during this period shifted towards building his label, IllaFuture Recordings. The name and mission of this new venture being, “to make a better future, an IllaFuture. It’s a self-empowerment thing”. 

As I’m sure we can all identify, the lockdown has given Nelson a huge amount of reflection time. This has allowed him to realise his priorities and unleashed the drive to make his long-term goals a reality. Leaving his job as a studio manager post-lockdown was a big part of this journey to fully commit to his own music. In our interview, he quotes Julius Cesar saying, “If you want to take the island, burn the boats… If you wanna really accomplish something, don’t leave yourself with any exits.” 

One silver lining that Nelson identified was with no live shows happening, there was no distractions or escapes. He explains: “Before we were doing shows all the time, we were out and about and kind of getting a bit carried away”. Alongside this, Nelson also emphasises the change in his lifestyle has directly impacted his music. Smoking weed had been a big part of his identity for a long time having smoked for eight years. He discussed how stopping a year and a half ago had changed his outlook on life to “living in the moment, rather than living to be alleviated”. Having also quit drinking at the start of this year, this change in values has been extremely important to him. He explained to us, “What you let go of will come back to you in another form so don’t be afraid to let go of shit, that’s what I’m trying to teach myself.”

Having previously made us wait up to three years between releases, Nelson will now be releasing new music every month! He freely admits he became a bit too much of a perfectionist, but now is comfortable with his position stating, “Perfectionism’s best friend is procrastination, and what has really made me overcome this, is I want to be able to share good messages with people and help empower people to make a better future for themselves. I want to do that through music. I just realised I need to release more. So this is my new goal, and I am releasing music every month now.” 

Nelson’s new music will be incorporating lots of other characters. The release in December features collaboration projects with artists such as Ben Rolo, GiwHa, Alfie Hayward and El Train, all before his big EP Afrofuturist release in January, which will also see collaboration with Montreal and Wyln!

To wrap up, we had to ask where he got his name Nelson Navarro. He explained the name is an amalgamation between a childhood wish for a brother to be called Nelson and his Jamaican grandfather’s middle name, and, in an unintended but respected coincidence, he also shares the name with the late Cuban singer, Nelson Navarro. 

On this enlightening note, our conversation went full circle. Past to present and back again. Nelson’s focus and drive make him one to very much keep an eye on when things return to a level of normality in 2021.

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