If you’re wondering how South African rapper Nasty C has been doing lately, he’s just dropped his fourth studio album, I Love It Here. In it, you won’t get a cut-and-dry answer but rather a well-put-together retelling of his ups and downs that find the former wunderkind in rare form.
From the waves in the backdrop of the album’s opening seconds, you’re immediately whisked away into an eerily calm setting akin to the ancestral realm in Black Panther.
As the tension builds, he bellows in a pitched-down vocal, describing the morbid sight of “a living room crowded at dawn“. It’s the morning after his mother died, and pain in his voice rings through the effects to convey the moment’s gravitas.
However, the mourning quickly turns into a menace. The intro track, “She’s Gone & The End”, is a two-part exploration of Nasty C’s ever-simmering rage and its causes.
This duality is a key thread of the album: He looks back at his formative moments and the negative behaviours they’ve manifested, all leading to the person he’s grown into. We find him taking solace in the blessings of his present moment and becoming a better person for it. He’s in a good place, and he loves it here.
But it’s not always smooth sailing. The abrupt back-and-forth between easy goings and rough days takes the listener through a world where peace is always dangerously close to chaos.
From the inconsistencies between personal life and artist persona to his strained romantic interests and his complicated relationship with his dad, the subject matter is more personal than ever and feels like it has stakes.
Nasty’s naysayers grew emboldened in the past few years by the local hip-hop scene’s middling reception to some of his recent work. His Atlanta-influenced output had been signalling an age-old artistic fall from grace as his music began losing its early sincerity. Furthermore, his rivals have continued to rise, casting doubt on his status as the main guy in a vacant South African hip-hop landscape.
But in typical big artist fashion, I Love It Here sees Ivyson side-step the noise to deliver a considered body of work on his terms. We hear this on the weird flourishes scattered throughout the album. On the catchy “No More”, he employs onomatopoeia in the ra-ta-ta-ta chorus that 50 Cent enjoys.
Elsewhere, he floats on his most experimental beat yet with a roadman inflexion. The peak moment of weirdness (and tenderness), where Nasty makes the music he wants, is on “Know Yourself.”
There, he goes on thrilling falsetto runs for the hook, sounding like The Dream in his prime. Artists who need more confidence in their songcraft don’t make songs like this.
Thankfully, this isn’t the only artistic triumph of the album. “Broken Marriages” sees him at his potent best, exorcising his innermost demons.
The song has a similar energy to Kendrick Lamar’s “Father Time” from Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, where he traces back the root cause of his stunted relations with women to his daddy issues. The refreshing honesty is delivered with nuance and lays bare some of his deepest anxieties. Which is a subplot neatly baked into this album.
Although many might be misled by the sleek production, many of these tracks find Nasty in a bad place. There’s a subtle layer of existential angst disguised by fun-sounding music as the artist stares into his inner void throughout the album.
“What’s the fee for shining?” he wonders on “Endless” while he calls out for a partner he uses as an emotional crutch on “See Me Now” featuring Manana”. When his anger boils over into bravado on “Fxxk That”, it’s clear that something is amiss.
In a way, this album feels like a more focused UTOPIA meets a more entertaining Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers – except it’s made by an artist sitting on the African Throne. I Love It Here features Nasty C’s most diverse but uniquely Mzansi sonic palette yet.
With warm textures sprinkled throughout, the emcee jumps on everything from the soul-sampling Release Me to the Amapiano-infused “This Time” featuring Ami Faku.
Sonically dark but heartfelt moments like “RIP” see Nasty numb himself with Henny while shouting out fallen pioneers like AKA, HHP and Riky Rick. On the track, he admits wishing he’d left with some of them but quickly pivots to celebrating their legacies.
The album isn’t perfect, as no good art is. Over-the-top sleepers like “Temptations” featuring Manana and “Kill The Noise” with Anica and Maglera Doe Boy see the album lose steam as they overtly try the going-through-something trope.
However, unlike the high points, these songs come across as melodramatic and will likely land in the “#Deep” and “#Sad” playlists because of the theatrical Recovery era Eminem production.
And it’s not even that these songs are completely irredeemable, but their presence on the tracklist signals a flaw in curation. While 19 tracks aren’t crazy on modern rap standards, we might’ve gotten a more cohesive listening experience without mildly redundant tracks like “Hard Choice” featuring 25K, which reads as a less-engaging “Prosper in Peace” or even the pre-released single “Crazy Crazy.”
Nonetheless, the undoubted album standout, “Dear Oliver”, resolves the album’s odds and ends in one fell swoop. After Baby Oliver’s first cry, the emotional turbulence of the previous 18 songs is calmed like the waves in the intro – and it all ceases to matter.
Between finishing seasons of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, changing nappies, and being a present partner, Nasty C finally realises that he loves it here.
Nasty C’s I Love It Here album was released on September 15 via Def Jam Recordings. Listen to it below, and stream it everywhere else here.
Words by Sibo Ngcobo