Inside the Process: Nell and the birth of THE ORIGINAL. sound

She is a breath of fresh air for those who feel music deeply and prophetically. 

While prepping life with a newborn baby, prepping work for her husband, and prepping her own music with rapper Tobe Nwigwe, Houston-repped producer LaNell “Nell” Grant’s magic is gracefully refined at the start of each day. After an intense and magnifying performance at the 2019 annual Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, I was surprised to have immediately noticed her ambient presence with a bright, bold smile. In an all-black attire with “WOMEN PRODUCE” boasted proudly in white letters on her shirt, Nell’s authenticity unfolds in multiplicity that is intentional, inspiring, and obviously successful. 

 

Nell’s story must be heard by women and artists of all genres across the world. Not only does her music knock hard in quality, but she is a Southern woman producing for a diasporic rapper with a (Holy Spirit) of gratitude, logic, and style. [Trust me that she is in the direction of Missy Elliot with great potential to surpass her timeless discography in less than half of Missy’s whole career.] There is much to discuss about Nell apart from her conversations with Tobe Nwigwe and visual artist Fat (Mrs. Nwigwe, to be exact). Though Tobe is rumored to feel uncomfortable about the label “group” for the trio, the three’s charm work and breathe simultaneously. I wanted an interview that focused on the complexity designed at the heart of Tobe Nwigwe’s music. The merits in Nell’s story should be heard independently of Tobe’s because she is a perfect example of women who are breaking through the industry as creatives of their own sound, public image, and accountability to the community. Her beats are the foundation of the impact of the lyrics. Her music is the soundtrack to the ingenious visuals paired with dope choreography. Most of all, her music is a testament to producers to put your all into every layer of the track.

On Making the Music

For Nell, the music is the mission. With such perfection, Nell is calculated, practical, and precise with each layer of beats. Nell mentions that her success comes from giving herself parameters. She says “We make one song per week. We, like, have no time to put out music on a low caliber. Not dissing other artists’ workflow, you just have to give yourself parameters. There must be clear goals for the song. And that’s what I do.” 

 

When it comes to beats by Nell, each song has four elements: Soul, African/Nigerian sound, the Spirit, and trap beats–because “the beat will always knock.” Interesting enough, I expected Nell to reveal the influence of the Houston-sound in her music. In any case, Nell mentions that each song is a product of “brainstorming and vibing” in the studio, which is totally raw and uncut like Houston. The final cut of the beats has no particular order because its creators are crafting it (intentionally). This is important to note, especially for artists that are inspired by their discipline. It assumes responsibility on the artist to know the tone and the reach of each song created. For Nell’s favorite songs “Ode to Fat” and “Color” the titles evolve organically, and their growing families were the inspiration for each moment. 

It’s All in the Family

From our conversation, her child and husband give her the fuel she would need to create the mellifluous rhythms we hear today for Tobe Nwigwe. Nell says that she doesn’t feel any pressure in the public realm of Hip-Hop. She was raised in a supportive family that nurtured her aspirations endlessly from a young age. Nell can recall the times her parents took her to pawn shops to purchase turntables, speakers, and more. Nell presents a radical and unconventional approach as a working and producing mommy. Her husband (big shoutouts to Cory Grant!) is her foundation and streams love into Nell that helps propel her energy into creating. In Nell’s words “If there was no Cory, there was no music.” In conversation, Nell revealed that prior to her professional career as a producer she was a school teacher for five years. If it wasn’t for her husband’s undying support of her dreams, Nell would not have been able to quit her career as a teacher and pursue music in wholeness. To me, there seemed to be no order in which they come: God, marriage, baby, and music, however, Nell makes sure to highlight the time and labor that comes with complete pride in what she does. Nell works extremely hard to manage her own life, but since the birth of baby Elijah, her work as a producer is informed by her life as a mother. 

 

I can imagine that at the intersections of mom, wife, and businesswoman, exhaustion would overpower success especially when bringing the baby to the studio; however, Nell kept it real as she explained music is her purpose. Nell says “The purpose of it drives purpose into other people’s lives. A cold and headaches just doesn’t match up to it…it’s dirty, it’s grimy, and it’s so beautiful all at once.” Nell is not alone in the journey surrounded by her peers—just recently, Fat and Tobe Nwigwe welcomed their daughter into the world. It is no doubt beautiful to see the two couples build a legacy for their families with one another. Nell has even acknowledged that she is grateful to “build each other’s families around each other.” It is apparent that Nell takes motherhood and her music extremely serious. As listeners, we can hear this in their timeless records they release each week. We can hear how connected they are in any aspect of her life. 

On Women Produce Wednesdays”

Many people can relate to Nell because she is extraordinary with a self-awareness, balance, and ingenuity that defines her purpose from God. I believe that Nell recognizes and empathizes with comfortable spaces for young girls and women. Thus, if you tune into Nell’s Instagram and blog, you will find “Women Produce Wednesdays.” As a child, Nell revealed that her mother’s unconditional love allowed Nell to freely express herself. She says “My mother allowed me to be exactly who I am and the type of girl I am. She gave me the ultimate confidence.” Whether listeners realize or not, what Nell is essentially doing is shining a light on something that is hidden in plain sight–women produce. In her own words, “Women have always operated in these spaces. But we are seeing more and hearing more. Women Produce Wednesdays is a look at the process it takes to make our music.” I think that it is brilliant to uplift women through Women Produce Wednesdays by centering commentary behind the scenes of making the music. When asked how she found power in music, Nell made sure to let me know that it is something inherent and natural. Nell spoke “I am a woman and I produce music. That is the greatest power of being a woman—we bring life into so many things.”  

 

A “birther” in many instances, Nell highlights the multifaceted way women engage in birth. She says “women are multifaceted in the way God has made us… I want women to be good with that. I don’t want us to have unhealthy competition. “Not only women but men are also a key source of inspiration. Nell mentions “guys uplift me up all the time. It never feels like we’re fighting. I would never just focus on women without acknowledging the contributions of the men around me…I would never leave men out of a conversation. They need us and we need them.”

 

Nell, Fat and Tobe’s relationship is a perfect example of how to balance the creative energies between men and women. (Their sound is a beautiful blend of tone, sound and visions). There are young artists that are paying attention to them and see the value in what they are doing. Without comparison to other artists, Nell and her music stands out because it is consistent and always knocks hard. By following “Women Produce Wednesdays”, “Get Twisted Sundays”, and all of the great music from THE ORIGINALS. you can get a dose of raw talent.

 

And it’s comfortable to know that we’re getting all this dopeness packaged in one woman named Nell. 

 

Photo Sources: @lanellgrant Instagram

Jennifer Gardner