It was a hot afternoon in South Central Los Angeles as I read a novel for my Japanese class while waiting to meet up with LA-based MC, Nocando; He arrived on the block in a loud white Bronco straight out of an LA freeway chase highlights reel. We exchanged pleasantries and sat down in Ricos Taco El Tio on S Vermont Avenue. After ordering our plates, we began conversing about life, perspective, and his place in hip-hop history.
James “Jimmy” McCall was born in San Jose, California but moved to LA at an infantile age. After 32 years of life on this planet, Nocando has built up quite a reputation for himself among the independent and underground hip-hop scene, most notably in battle rap. His roots in hip-hop stem from the weekly open mics put on by Project Blowed in Leimert Park. According to him, he did not originally feel any inclination to get into music, but after excelling at freestyling at the open mics, Nocando gave music a chance.
Nocando started by gaining steam in the local battle rap scene. His numerous wins within the scene brought prominence to his early music career. As arguably his most important win, the 2007 Scribble Jam Battle Rap Tournament cemented his legacy in battle rap. Being the largest hip hop music festival during its prime, the win was monumental.
balancing family life, work, and then mastering elaborate ways to talk shit took a toll on the man.
Unfortunately, Nocando fell out of love with the battle rap scene. In a recent piece in LA Weekly, he explains, “Mostly I’m proud of what I did, but sometimes I’m ashamed of it.” Nocando explained to me that “preparing for his battle raps was not fun;” balancing family life, work and then mastering elaborate ways to talk shit took a toll on the man. The MC has officially retired from battle rap, and since has worked to improve his artistry and name as a Rapper in the LA scene.
The niche hip-hop events hope to “put rap into context for the casual listeners,”
The self-proclaimed anime zealot draws his material from life and personal experience and implements it into his music. He cites “human conflict, women problems, overcoming obstacles, and the idea of freedom” as some of his influential inspirations. When I asked the MC about why he began both of his official album titles with “Jimmy The…” he pointed towards his name’s playfulness. Nocando is his stage name. James is his Government name. But Jimmy is his spirited name. He stressed that “Jimmy is playful.” The name brings a humanistic sentiment to the projects. The spirited and deep-rooted vibe that the father of three evokes further translates into several of his enterprises within music.
[HellFyre Club] started as a rap label and will always be a rap label.
In one of those ventures, he acts as resident host and co-founder of the famous weekly Low End Theory music club. Every Wednesday night, the venue puts on an experimental hip hop/electronic DJ showcase in addition to freestyles and other performances. He commented that the niche hip-hop events “hope to put rap into context for the casual listeners,” and that the club has “fulfilled his dreams of owning a musical space to spread the culture.” This is just one shovel in the ground of the artist’s mission to expose the roots of what hip-hop culture really is.
Nocando also started his own independent hip hop label, HellFyre Club. The commonly pursued musical enterprise “started as a rap label and will always be a rap label.” It includes artists such as Anderson .Paak, Intuition, Open Mike Eagle, Busdriver, and several more. The MC made it respectfully clear that “his artists must be able to cypher and demonstrate rapping in its core elements as a craft.”
The indie rap scene is a “double-edged sword…” Rather than being unified by one theme, its cohesion occurs due to every individual’s unique style.
Furthermore, Nocando linked up in 2013 with a friend and noted music journalist, Jeff Weiss, to start their own podcast, “Shots Fired.” The podcast is centered around hip hop but often touches on other subjects. They have guest featured the likes of Pharoahe Monch, G-Eazy, Souls of Mischief, Dumbfoundead, iAmSu! and several other reputable faces in hip-hop. Nocando emphasized that while the show promotes these outside artists and their music, above all it strives to focus on their personalities to give fans a more authentic view of them as people.
When I asked about his thoughts on his own success within the underground hip hop scene, Nocando explained how he believes that “the indie rap scene is a double-edged sword. Sometimes one gets caught up in the hype and feels more ‘on’ than you actually are, but by being entrenched in this culture is what sets you apart.” We both discussed that the vast diversity in sound, lyricism, content and everything else music related makes the scene what it is. Rather than being unified by one trending theme, its cohesion occurs due to every individual’s unique style.
Nocando is currently wrapping up his upcoming third album. The project is recorded, mixed and mastered. He drew my attention to the underlying importance of the personal record for him. It culminates the past two years of his life into 13 songs. Look for its release sometime in early 2016. In anticipation of his upcoming album, Nocando has been posting singles the past month or so on his SoundCloud.