Uncommon Nasa has just published his first collection of poetry and short stories; Withering. We recently spoke to the multi-talented artist about the new book, the music that gave him the confidence to write it, and more.
In the preface to Withering, Black-Tokyo writes of how you sometimes worried fans were not ready for the ‘real-life experiences and adult raps’ in your music. Withering is dark and intense in places, so I’m curious to know how you feel fans of your music will receive it?
It’s interesting that he touched on that in his preface because I hadn’t thought about my mindset before Halfway‘s release in a while. Prior to releasing Halfway I’d put out Land of the Way It Is and New York Telephone. Halfway was significantly different from those records in the fact that it dealt almost exclusively with the subject of one’s mortality. I try not to overthink reaction when I create something, but of course there’s some thought that you might lose people going so heavy.
That being said, it was the album I absolutely had to make at that time and as it turned out it became a lot more of what I’m known for now then anything else. Finding my voice on Halfway really set the tone for Written At Night which followed it and for forthcoming material. I feel like thanks to Halfway, a book like Withering is landing in accepting hands. We all know what to expect when I create something now and I think that had it’s genesis with Halfway.
There’s a line in Room Temp that captures this notion: “I’ve learned that passion and honesty make many people uncomfortable”. Do you find it easier to write about difficult and challenging things in poetry than in rap lyrics?
To me they are one in the same, all the poems in Withering were written over music of some sort. Poetry has a natural rhythm even when read off a page and for me it’s creation is always over a rhythm, thus the genre of rap. So it’s all connected. I find myself writing about difficult and challenging things all the time when I make music or write, but the goal is always to make those subjects less difficult and less challenging in doing that.
Your music is very vivid and reflective, but you seem to be searching far deeper inside yourself in the poetry and short stories of Withering.
I think my lyrics laid out in poetic form in Withering give the reader a deeper understanding of the songs. It presents them in a new way. I feel that someone that’s never heard one of my songs could read this book and get the full measure of it. While someone really familiar with my music could read it and get a new experience entirely, that was our goal at least in putting it together. Ultimately, I am one artist, creating things, so all of it is connected. From lyrics to poetry to writing fiction, to anything else I imagine, they all share that common thread of connectivity.
As a writer myself, I often have a story idea, but don’t yet know if I want to use it for a novel, a short story or a film script. How do you decide what gets to be a poem and what becomes a song?
They are one in the same for me. That’s the beauty of poetry, I can always write a song and then transcribe it onto the paper in poetic formation or I can write a poem and later set it to music. Poetry and music are forever intertwined.
Going back to how fans of your music may receive Withering, it’s interesting that you have written the book as Uncommon Nasa. Did you consider using your real name or another instead, perhaps maybe to separate your poetry from music, and find it’s own audience?
There was some discussion about this prior to the release of the book. I do want to get my given name out there more as a published poet and author. If you notice inside the book my given name is in the listing and it is technically co-written under my given name in the ISBN meta data. That being said, I think the idea behind RYME PRESS is to bring people known in the rap world into the literary & poetry world so this book is a bridge.
It’s my introduction to that world, a world I’ve wanted to be a part of. I plan to write more and most likely will pursue that aspect of my art under my given name. It’s funny, when you turn 40 and have spent your entire life under a you start to really want to represent your own name too. I love music, but it’s becoming only one aspect of what I can do as an artist.
Using your music name also begs the question; is Uncommon Nasa the emcee the same as Uncommon Nasa the author?
I am certainly the same person in either medium. I think as an artist you use different mediums to say different things in different ways, but I’m sure that it’ll be from the same voice.
As a fan of your music, I couldn’t help but read Withering in your voice, which is quite distinctive anyway. Were you conscious that people will likely find themselves doing that?
To some degree yes, obviously a lot of the poetry in the book has a recorded record of it in my voice that people may already be familiar with. But even with the fiction in the book, my aim is to give my characters a particular tone that can be found throughout my work as it continues.
When we last spoke, around the release of Written at Night, we discussed how your music has a very close connection with New York, used as a character almost itself. Withering also evokes imagery of the city, but at the same time also feels more rural and earthy at moments. Your Hands Will Turn To Rust comes to mind.
I Love New York City and urban life in general, but I think some of my writing can gleam experiences that I felt when I was touring heavily across the rest of the country as well. Writing is something where you are drawing upon your own life experiences, but also on the experiences of others that you’ve known that don’t have that same background. That’s how you tell diverse stories.
In terms of the piece you mentioned, that’s about my early childhood. Up to the age of 6 I lived in a rural part of Long Island and that piece touches on some of those memories.
Has the experience of writing and having Withering published inspired you to do more?
Absolutely, I’m very proud of the work and incredibly pleased with the way I was able to collaborate with Alex (of RYME PRESS) to get to that final product. It’s inspired me to finish more writing and given me new ways to approach writing lyrics and poetry. I’m in the midst of writing another short story now and beginning a novel. Hopefully those can land publishers as well.