Most of the world was introduced to Nef The Pharaoh via his 2015 track “Big Tymin.” Referencing Birdman and Mannie Fresh’s old Cash Money duo, the hit was an anomaly because it was a reverent New Orleans tribute delivered by a 19-year-old from Vallejo, CA, a Bay Area city about 25 miles north of Oakland. Despite that, there was never any doubt about Nef’s regional cred.
First guesting on a track by Vallejo titan E-40 in 2014, Nef soon signed to the icon’s Sick Wid It label, popped up on songs alongside Bay mainstays like Philthy Rich, Mista F.A.B., J. Stalin, and Too Short, and appeared on the Bay Area episode of Viceland’s Noisey series. Nef’s music clearly pulls from the rich landscape surrounding him, but “Big Tymin” wasn’t an out-of-character move-- dude’s love for classic-era Cash Money runs deep.
Since blowing up nationally, Nef’s toured with G-Eazy and released a few mixtapes and EPs, the latest of which is April’s Chang Project. The guest-heavy, 15-track tape was spontaneous, created during a marathon 48 hour studio session, but you wouldn’t know it unless Nef told you.
Next up is a debut album, entitled Big Chang Theory, but before that arrives later this year, Nef found the time to gift us a playlist and phone in for a bonus interview. Read about his favorite music and the making of The Chang Project below while cranking a few of his recent favorites.
MERRY JANE: What is your most memorable smoking experience?
NEF THE PHARAOH: The time I got to smoke with Snoop and Wiz at Snoop's studio. That was a dope experience.
If you were a boxer, what song would you come out to?
LL Cool J - "Mama Said Knock You Out"
If you were going to go out guns blazing, what song would you choose to do it to?
2Pac - "My Lil Homies"
Who is your guilty pleasure artist?
I always say Elton John, I fucking love Elton John.
What song most reminds you of your childhood?
The Jacka - "Girls Say"
Which song that you've released means the most to you?
I'd probably say "Have What You Want," that's a song about my son.
Who has been your favorite artist to work with? What is your dream collaboration?
Mannie Fresh. And my dream collab is me, the old school Lil Wayne, Juvenile, and Soulja Slim.
It’s been a little over two years since “Big Tymin” blew up across the country. What’s been the craziest change in your life over that period of time?
I'm able to go anywhere in the world and people actually recognize me for music I've made. It's crazy. They love me from China to Russia-- that shit's crazy to me.
By that time you were already well established in the Bay, but did you notice people in your hometown starting to treat you differently after you gained some national stardom, started touring all over the place, getting hit records, etc?
You know, I get a lot more respect but I feel like since I came on the scene in my hometown, I feel like we got the right now. Vallejo's popping right now-- SOB x RBE can drop a video and get two million views in three days. I feel like what I did opened the door for my generation.
Bay Area OGs like E-40 put you on when you were starting out, and now you're putting on the new generation like SOB x RBE. Do you feel like that type of regional support is rare?
It's not rare, but being 100% genuine with each other is rare. Anybody can send you a song on email, and you could make music together, but being able to be real friends and work off positive vibes, that's rare nowadays.
And you think that's what sets the scene in the Bay right now apart from everyone else?
Not necessarily. But in the Bay, we treat each other like crabs in a bucket, so it's wise people and real leaders telling our peers, 'Hey, us hating each other is not gonna get us anywhere more than supporting each other will.' But it's only a few of us that really swallow our pride and then do that.
The Chang Project was your most guest-heavy tape yet. What was your intention with sharing so much of the spotlight with other artists?
The Chang Project was really something I created with my friends. I locked myself in the studio for 48 hours and I contacted people that I really talk to on a daily basis, that I'm a fan of or real good friends with. We just got together and made magic in 48 hours. I wanted to do what I love with my friends, and that's what The Chang Project was. The only one who I wanted to get on there who wasn't available was G-Eazy. He'll be on my album though.
What do you have in store for us with your upcoming debut album, Big Chang Theory?
Even though I'm already universal, it's way more universal. My music is very genuine now, I'm not just rapping about dumb ass topics I don't know shit about-- I've actually lived these things, I've actually seen someone go through these things, I've actually had them happen to someone in my family. Right now I just feel like I'm getting older so I'm incorporating my life and things I've been through more in my new music.
So more personal, but also more universal?
All of my music's personal, you know, 'cuz I'm a person [laughs]. But I would say it's more mature.