Gabriel Fernandez, known as Gabe ‘Nandez, is of mixed Malian and Argentinian heritage but grew up between New York, Palestine, Haiti and Tanzania. A staple of Montreal’s hip-hop scene, he has opened for iconic acts such as Rakim, Method Man and Redman, Wu Tang Clan’s GZA, and KOOL A.D of Das Racist. I caught up with him to discuss his music evolution, upcoming projects, influences, and mental health in the context of hip-hop.
Walk us through the evolution of your sound.
My first project was a loosely concept album called H.T (2014). It stands for Hermes Trismegistus, an Greco-Egyptian sage who wrote the Hermetic Corpus, on which Hermeticism is founded. I read that book a lot that summer. Its dialogues influenced Plato, Socrates and more. I thought it was fascinating. The album sort of reflects that mystical aspect; the lyrics are abstract. Sonically, I just pulled together different tracks that felt they had a cohesive sound. I was able to just Frankenstein that shit together.
My second, Sifu (2015), was a project with No Kliché. I didn’t know him when I did the “Up” track with him, but that brought us close. Last Fall Ossima played me a beat and I just said let’s make a tape. It was more of a mixtape approach.
The third project, which I’ve just finished, is Disconnected, produced 100% by this producer based in Virginia called Discarded. He produced “Vaccine” and “Trinity” off H.T. It’s called Disconnected because that’s how a drug addict feels. I was in rehab for addiction and there’s no Internet so I had time to visualize and conceptualize it. I finished it within a week after coming out. Disconnected also because I’ve always felt disconnected growing up always scattered. Discarded is one of the best producers I’ve heard, period. Sonically, our sound together is very unique.
I’d already been working a lot on my album Diplomacy when I got a record deal (on POW Recordings).
It’s something I just strive for. Also a lot of humans do. My parents work for the UN so that thing… all facets of it. I think I’m getting more and more now that I have a clearer head, the clearest I’ve had in my whole life. Not one song is about just one thing: the perils of diplomacy, what happens if you are always diplomatic…
You’ve made a few music videos; what’s your relationship to the visual aspect of music?
Sometimes I hear a beat and I’m thinking I wanna make a video to this. Visibility changes things. When the first video (“Shuga plum”) dropped in 2012, people started treating me different. There was an earthquake in Montreal that day. It was short but yeah. (laughs) For the “Sifu” video (shot by Will Niava) we directed a lot of that together. I knew I wanted those shots in the car. Xavier, one of my homies from New York, shot the videos for “Something” and “Au Cassis”.
You’ve opened for some of the greatest in Hip Hop, what has that experience been like?
It was funny meeting GZA, him and the whole Wu Tang were a huge influence.
I heard Rakim stood for hours greeting his fans.
Meeting Rakim was crazy. He just has this presence, and he’s super humble.
What are your other influences, music and otherwise?
I get a lot of influence from mythology and old stories. Stories that seem to be repeated in culture and history like the story of Jesus, or Indian Epics. Life, people I meet, things that happen.
Music-wise, a lot of classic New York hip-hop: Mobb Deep, Doom, Raekwon, Jadakiss, Max B, Sean Price, Roc Marciano. I like flamenco a lot. Also Weezy, the Roots, Fela Kuti, Parliament-Funkadelic… I love blues – Muddy Waters all day! I like a lot of Delta blues, and standards like B.B. King.
You speak English, French and Spanish. Has being trilingual influenced your lyricism?
I’ve used Spanish words sometimes; I haven’t done whole verses but I plan on it.
What other genres would you like to venture into?
Reggaeton. Nah I’m joking (laughs). Hip-hop is just a vessel, it just so happens I’m good at it, I love it and it’s the most popular art form on the planet. I wanna play guitar again, maybe start a band.
You mentioned addiction earlier. What do you think about blackness, mental health and masculinity in the context of Hip Hop culture?
That’s a great question. Blackness as a thing is kinda of a strange concept. It’s perceived as being very one dimensional by others. Paul Mooney said “the black man in America is the most mimicked man” – everybody wants to be black but no one really wants to be black. The tenets of blackness are drawn from the African American male. Concepts of blackness are things that come from slavery. It’s a lot of indoctrination of black people by non-black people. For the most part, that identity is that of a thug who disrespects women, shoots people, and does a bunch of drugs.
I have mental health issues – I’m an addict. The World Health Organization considers addiction to be a brain disease; I still have a hard time wrapping my head around it. Addiction is so stigmatized, people just think ‘fucking junkie’. I like using the term condition instead of disease, instead of ‘moral failure’.
Artists by default are sensitive, vulnerable people. Rappers who get mad over other people beefing with them? You’re fucking sensitive. You think you’re being masculine. Talking about your feelings is not feminine, neither is talking about love. I think the greatest artists are the one who understand that.
You studied journalism; how has that influenced the content of your work?
I was always very investigative, spending hours on Wikipedia. It influences me subconsciously; my studies and my music are very much interlinked because of the type of hip-hop I make, not just talking about surface level shit.
If you could invite anyone, living or dead, fictional or real, to a dinner party, who would it be?
Gonjasufi, Hieronymus Bosch, Mansa Musa, Helena Blavatsky, Amun Ra, Sean Price, and MC Ride from Death Grips.
What’s your spirit animal?
If you could hop on a plane right now and go anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Probably Tanzania, don’t know if I’d come back though.
Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Gatsu, Sanjuro, Morpheus from The Sandman, and Arjuna from the Indian Epics.
Your favorite authors/poets?
Lenny Bruce, Manly P. Hall, James Baldwin, Hemingway, and Oxmo Puccino.
Favorite Hip Hop albums of all time?
The Cold Vein by Cannibal Ox, Madvillainy by Madvillain, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… by Raekwon, and Fantastic, Vol. 2 by Slum Village.
Huey P. Newton.
What’s your idea of happiness?
Catch Gabe at Fonzie MTL this Thursday (Nov 18) at ÉCRU I, presented by Graphite Publications.
Photo by Vladim Vilain (@vladespicable)