Birmingham doesn’t have the international reputation of Atlanta, its bigger, busier neighbor to the east. But Birmingham loves hip-hop just as much as Atlanta does — and it’s loaded with young, hungry rappers who are ready to represent Alabama to the fullest. Birmingham is just a fraction of the size of its Georgia cousin, but it’s not a dissimilar place: it’s got the same combination of Southern charm and transnational brawn, massive wealth and extreme poverty, stifling heat in the summer, and surprising coldness in the winter. It’s a pressure cooker, in other words, and a place built for those who dream “Big.” Nina Chanel is an artist like that, and she joins Yung Bleu and NoCap in the ranks of young Alabama artists making national waves from the Yellowhammer State.
Chanel’s music epitomizes Alabama virtues. She’s a lean, tough, hungry rapper, a direct, driven, no-nonsense storyteller, a giant personality who leads with fearlessness. Her songs can be steamy, but she’s rarely salacious; she can get violent, but never gratuitously so. Often, her rhymes are clever, but she’s not here to impress you with wordplay for its own sake. Every syllable has a purpose, and not a word is wasted. “Big,” her latest single, makes her ambition manifest: it’s a declaration of her ravenous appetite for the good life and a demonstration of her immense talent. She tells you she won’t settle for compromises, and she won’t accept half-measures. By the end of the first verse, you’ll believe her. By the end of the song, you’ll worry for anybody, or anything, that gets in her way.
The production, too, is relentless: trap beats, whirring synthesizers, nods to Southern soul, deep gospel, and a roughness that borders on punk immediacy. Chanel rides the beat effortlessly, spitting cadences, drawing connections and delivering punch-lines, earning comparisons to the best rappers in the American South. Her clips show Birmingham at its grittiest (she fits right in, naturally) and portray her as a criminal mastermind and a ruthless, scrappy, by-all-means-necessary street battler. In the “Big” video, she kills an adversary right in front of her crew, and she does it without remorse and without breaking a sweat. Yet she’s also at ease dancing under the Alabama sun or slinking into her apartment dressed in black, with an attack dog on a chain. No matter what she’s doing, it’s clear — she’s nobody to mess with.
When did you first discover your passion for rap and hip-hop music, and when did you realize you wanted to take it more seriously and share your talent with the world?
● I discovered my passion for rap and hip-hop music when I was little and all I wanted to do was practice in my living room until I knew every verse and every hook of just about every rap song so I could perform them for my invisible crowd. I’ve always wanted to take my passion seriously but it wasn’t until after I graduated high school that I was confident and ready to share my talents with the world.
How has your music and sound been influenced by your Birmingham, Alabama, roots?
● Well I come from a rough upbringing Birmingham is a reflection of getting it out the mud, never giving up and survival. But at the same time there are a lot of great things in my city that’s why they call it the “Magic City” because you never know what to expect just like with me, no one ever knows what to expect from Nina Chanel.
In what ways have you grown as an artist since your earlier releases to now?
● I’ve grown tremendously! I didn’t know how to tell my story as well as I do now. I didn’t even know how to have fun with my music when I first started. I was so consumed with trying to be taken seriously so I could be respected as an artist, BUT NEOW! I’m unapologetically ME when I create.
Where did you find inspiration for “BIG”? What meaning have you instilled into your artfully-curated rap lyrics?
● “BIG” literally came from me feeling like either I’m gone go BIG or I’m going to GO HOME! Once I had my heart set on the hook the verses just flowed. With my verses I wanted to be carefree but at the same time I wanted to address my haters and anybody doubting me. I wanted to take a brief moment to let them know I’m coming and I can’t be stopped and that I’m BIG PURRR!
What was it like shooting the music video, and how did you go about bringing your creative vision to reality?
● Shooting the video for “BIG” was an exciting experience. Having to control a Rottweiler bigger than me, that I’m not the owner of, was something I will never forget! Myself and Carl Robinson thought it would be dope to use “New Jack City” as inspiration for the video. We linked up with the squad, everybody got into character and it became my favorite video shoot because it was a whole vibe and at the same time hilarious! And I also got to test out my acting skills.
What makes “BIG” stand out from your other work, and what about it will fans and potential audiences will adore most?
● “BIG” stands out from my other work because it represents the NEWER BETTER version of Nina Chanel. With the introduction of “BIG” comes the introduction of the beast that I was too afraid to unleash earlier in my career. I feel like my fans and potential audiences will adore my confidence and strength. They will be able to vicariously live through my soldier, my sexy, and my fearlessness! “BIG” is the beginning of what’s yet to come! “BIG” is how I feel everyone should do everything and anything they set their mind to!