Words: Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins

Photos: @13thWitness

“The Ones” celebrates a new generation of defiant, talented individuals. Click here for more stories about the cast.


Gone are the days of structured, linear paths to success; the logic and ideologies of yesteryear are being rapidly replaced with the energy and constant reinvention of the youth. YBN Nahmir, a smooth-talking, 18-year-old rapper hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, is living proof that today’s movers and shakers are able to fashion themselves as multi-disciplined entities by combining a slew of unconventional influences and learning on the fly.

Born Nick Simmons, YBN Nahmir began making music in his early teens. No, he wasn’t booking studio time or even recording on his laptop. Instead, he began freestyling while playing video games online. He and his Internet friends would release gaming footage with their bars, which helped them amass a considerable following.

As he honed his skills at home, using a sock-covered $50 microphone, YBN Nahmir began to upload his catalog to SoundCloud. One song, “Rubbin Off The Paint,” went viral last year and subsequently changed the course of his life. After releasing a one-take video for the song, YBN Nahmir’s fame multiplied overnight. Teachers and classmates were suddenly fans, forcing him to leave school and finish online.

That original crew of friends, who he would log hours playing video games with, have evolved into YBN, with Nahmir at the forefront. I met him at Harlem’s Rucker Park to kick it by the baseball diamond and learn more about how his incredible come-up.


 

Can you think back to a time before you were rapping, and how you thought the rap game looked from the outside?

Everybody has their own style, you feel me? There are still a couple dudes who sound the same. Me? I got my own style. I came in the game and went crazy — added my own style to my generation of rap. Now we’re blowing up.

Being different is everything. What do you feel like you bring to the table?

I’m a real rapper. I give off a different feeling. I got my own personality. It’s like God gave me a talent that nobody else has. I mean, other people have talent and know how to make music and rap. But you can tell that I’m blessed, ‘cause it feels like my success happened overnight. People can have talent, but not everybody’s gonna pay attention to you all the time. You gotta be different.

There aren’t a lot of names regularly coming out of Alabama, right? You’re one of the few. How do you feel that you defy the norm, specifically as an Alabama rapper?

It’s crazy coming up out of Birmingham, because I’m opening so many doors for other people. I’m doing a lot of songs with people from Alabama and Birmingham. I’m showing so much love.


Despite his Southern roots and young age, YBN Nahmir derived his rap style from West Coast veterans. He attributes this to the lack of big-name talent from his area. This lack of local artistic inspiration might have stifled YBN Nahmir, but remember, this is a new day. For kids like him, who have grown up entirely during the Internet era, there are no barriers to entry. They have a wider palette to choose from. For a select few, it’s not just what they can consume, it’s what they can build. In Nahmir’s case, that’s his YBN label, which has grown to include 10 members.


 

You have an entrepreneurial spirit. You’re bringing other people along and crafting a new sound for your area. That’s beyond your years.

To be honest, like I said earlier, I’m in my own lane. With the whole YBN movement and the people I’m signing, everybody has their own thing. We don’t rap like anybody else.

We’ve got music. We’ve got gaming. We’re gonna do documentaries. We’re going to start investing in businesses. We’ve got a bunch of stuff. The music’s always gonna be around, but you’ve gotta have other options, too. You know, I have my own label. Everything’s goin’ up from now on.

Where do you get it all from?

I’m not really sure. It just came to me. I’ve always been like this. My mom had a big brother, my Uncle Charles. Everybody looked up to him. That’s where most people say I got it from, but I mean, I’m just me. I’m smart.


To be in the seat he’s in, you’ve got to have your head on straight. Just a few days after our conversation, YBN Nahmir graduated from Clay-Chalkville High School. The same week, “Rubbin Off The Paint” was certified platinum. With life moving this fast, you’ve got to be more than smart. You have to know yourself.


 

How else do you shake apart from the pack?

I just be myself. Most people try to portray an image that isn’t true to who they are. You win when you’re just yourself. I’m 18, and I’m living like this. I don’t have to wait in line for Jordans anymore! Like, what?! I’m just showin’ you that you can do anything.

Do you remember your first pair of Js?

I always had Jordans. It’s crazy, I always got Jordans for free. My auntie in Connecticut has a store, and she would hook me up. But it’s different now, you feel me? [I’m] gettin’ them from Jordan for real now! Now I’m direct with the plug. [Laughs]

What does the future look like for you?

It’s crazy. I have about 70-80 songs that we could drop right now. There’s a bunch of stuff. People are just gonna be looking at the whole YBN movement like, “How can I be a part of this?”


As we wrapped our conversation, a young kid with his father inched toward Nahmir. The boy arrived to the park early to get some time on the baseball field before his team’s practice later. Recognizing Nahmir, they walked up to meet him and asked for photos. Nahmir, still a teenager himself, took some flicks and chatted with the small boy, who was shy about meeting one of his favorite rappers. Looking on, I saw the subtle baton-passing that occurs between generations, as the three males from different age groups chatted briefly. It’s surely a new day, and the future is bright.


 

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