Milwaukee rapper seeks to inspire
For Milwaukee rapper and songwriter M-Nat, music isn't just his work. It's not just art. It is, and always has been, a way of life.
"I listened to a lot of Tupac growing up and I liked what he represented for so many people," said Nat, whose given name is Manny Nat.
"I felt like if I could write music and do it in a way that inspired other people, that would be great. I looked up to so many artists and saw how they inspired me, helped me get through my day – so if I could do that for somebody else, that's mainly the reason I do it."
A poet since the age of 14 and a performer since the age of 19, M-Nat dropped his first album, "DreamCity: The Patience" (hear it online) in October. He performs at open mics around town, usually on the East Side, and has been working on this album since he was an undergraduate student at UW-Madison.
"DreamCity" has gotten good reviews and impressive radio play – the single "Be Patient" was featured on Shade 45, the Sirius XM radio channel created by Eminem and other hip-hop heavyweights.
M-Nat juggles a day job as a research writer with his budding music career and is managed by his brother Vick Nat. He also has a clothing line and blog featuring his catchphrase: "Most respected, least expected."
It's a slogan that encapsulates M-Nat's current career, his past and his hopes for the future.
"That's the way I viewed my life. I was the least expected. I wasn't a troublemaker growing up, I went to school, I went to college," he said. "So many people out here are doing things the right way, not trying to find shortcuts in life. And I'm least expected because I don't think a lot of people expected me to rap. I am Indian, so when people put two and two together, they say there aren't Indian rappers, so I felt like I had a chip on my shoulder."
One of his hip-hop icons is Eminem, another artist whose race sticks out in the industry.
"It's really been tough," he said of being an Indian rapper. "I'd be lying if I didn't say it had been tough. Let's face it, it's 2012 and we have come a long way as a country – as a world – when it comes to race relations. But you do have people who still use race as a reason to bring you down. I don't want that to be something that's associated with me – 'Oh, he's M-Nat, he's the Indian rapper.' I don't want to become a sideshow or some type of charity case."
But neither is he trying to hide his ethnicity.
"It's been difficult, but at the same time that's the reason why people are so much more impressed when you tell them that you're Indian and you rap," he said. "The reaction I've been getting from people who are Indian from all around the world, they hit me up and say, 'Oh my God, this is crazy, you're the best Indian rapper ever' and so that's really encouraging."
Songwriting began for M-Nat as poetry in high school, where he was a self-described "loner" who used verse as a means of expressing himself. Freedom of expression remains his foremost reason for rapping. To hear him describe it, his music is a deeply spiritual impulse.
"I feel like music serves multiple purposes," he explained. "People listen to music for a variety of reasons, whether it's just to go out and have a good time or just to relate to their own personal experience and what they go through. I listen to music that means something. For the most part I like to listen to music that I can really relate to. I think that there's a need out there for that.
"If you look at a lot of artists that have longevity, it's because they make music that people relate to and people can quote lyrics from," he continued. "You have some artists that make songs that literally are so powerful that make some people cry. It's amazing that we write these songs in our houses, in our homes, wherever and that touches people that you don't even know. There's a need for that. That's the reason I do music. So I can influence someone else's life in a positive way."
M-Nat's influence is growing. His album is getting a lot of critical love, and his Twitter account has more than 1,000 followers. His album has gotten over 38,000 views on HotNewHipHop.com.
"I put it up (the album) online and this is my first release, so I didn't think that overnight (there would be success)," he aid. "I just really wanted to start a grassroots movement. So far, the response has been great."
Having a full-time job and maintaining an artist's lifestyle is "difficult," he said, but it's a juggling act that is worth the effort.
"I have people I don't even know on Twitter writing messages, and when I get that, that's my payoff right there. They tell me they really like it, they enjoyed it, they want me to keep making that type of music."
And he never does a gig without being armed with a copy of "DreamCity: Be Patient." He refused to begin promoting the album or doing appearances before he had a physical copy to hand out.
"I wanted to make sure I had those in my hand before I go out and perform so people have something to remember you by and they can connect that music with a face."
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