It’s Now or Nav: The Canadian rapper-producer is having his moment - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Nav | photo courtesy of the artist

When Toronto rapper-producer Nav hits The Fillmore this Saturday for his “Bad Habits” tour showcase, he’s not just showing off the fruits of having a long-awaited, much deserved number one album on the Billboard charts.

Coming to Philly, as he is on June 15, will be some sort of homecoming as this city has afforded him the friendships of Lil Uzi Vert (with whom Nav collaborated and anticipates a duet album in the future), and Meek Mill, the latter of which offered the Canadian his co-sign on Instagram when Nav wrote and produced “Back to Back” for Drake.

“I was a fan of his and still living at my mom’s house when Meek shout me out on Instagram,” said Nav. “When I came around XO guys (producers) like Cash and Flux, they had already been good friends with him. Fast-forward to it being the second to last day before I had to hand in my album. Cash was on the phone with Meek just getting things together, when he says to him, ‘hey, we’re finishing up Nav’s album if you want to get anything in on it. Send it through.”

The next thing you know, Meek sends along his entire catalog of new verses and rhymes that he was working on. “That was amazing,” said Nav, who – with Cash – pulled out “the right one,” for Bad Habit’s brawniest song, “Tap.”

Nav is quick to mention that Cash is more than his producer and manager, he’s a trustworthy friend with great ears and instincts. “Cash’s imagination is what drives a lot of the shit of what goes on at XO,” says Nav of The Weeknd’s label to which he is signed. “Cash’s still a big kid at heart, and plays ForNight with me and my friends, still watches wrestling with us. You have to have an imagination to be able to see beyond wrestling being staged – you have to have that dreamer thing in your head.”

After having mentioned XO several times, it is important to know that Nav got to that label through plays on OVO Radio (“get that, and you know you’ve made it; that you’re the next in line, that your beats are serious”), and navigating his way through the major label system (“XO doesn’t sign anyone, so this was big”). Once signed, this independent-minded producer was cool to allow the label boss, The Weeknd, not only co-produce Bad Habits, but contribute to its selection.

“Abel was very hands-on,” said Nav of The Weeknd. “Normally, an executive producer thing is just a title. They don’t do anything, He, however, was just the opposite. Down to the last second, he was arranging stuff with me, contributing ideas to the track listing. In fact, after Cash and I approved it, Abel noticed a typo in the credits. He’s really watching.”

There has long been a life beyond Bad Habits, for Nav. Hidden in plain sight with three albums to his name before the 2019 smash, Nav said he just liked to protect his private life, rather than live on Snapchat or Instagram. “I want to be a regular person when I‘m offstage, off camera and off the mic… even having a number one album hasn’t changed that. If people are more hype around me, I camouflage. I don’t want controversy around my name. There’s no story out there for them.”

Private yes, but, one of Bad Habit‘s most audacious songs, is also its most poignant – “Why You Crying, Mama.” Mention that to Nav, and he grows quiet and reflective. “My relationship with both of my parents has forever been great. I grew up in a traditional Indian family where all of my cousins went to school to be doctors and lawyers. Now, we grew up in the worst area from anyone in our extended family, and I was always the black sheep, but my parents were cool. And now I’m richer than everybody,” he said with a laugh. “My mom is extra cool. She’s happy I am doing something, because I was about to do nothing.”

Being that this is not an easy political climate for anyone who is different, the Punjabi Nav believes that being so is easier than it once was, coming up. “But, it’s not THAT easy. People are not used to the way I look, I don’t have what they perceive as a rapper’s look. They hate me for that sometimes, but I don’t care. I’m too busy focusing on the positive.”

Being part of the deep Canadian Toronto hip hop production and rap scenes also meant hiding in plain sight with the ability to produce dramatic music (hello, Drake) without the constant glare of the spotlights on an artist. And like every other scene, there is a hierarchy. “Once you break through the barrier of being a nobody, everyone is cool to work with you. There are a lot of collabs – very supportive – once they get that you are skilled.”

Oddly enough, hip hop was not Nav’s first love coming up and being raised in Toronto, “I came onto hip hop late,” he said. “When I grew up there, the neighborhood was predominantly white up to grades three and four. Around then, everything changed and it became more of a colored area, Asians, Jamaicans, Indians. So my sisters grew up listening to Radiohead, Marilyn Manson and Nirvana – I got some notations, background and beats from that growing up for melodies. But once I heard rap – the first guy I found was Nas – I worked backwards, listened to all of his albums, then couldn’t get enough.”

Nav plays The Foundry of The Fillmore Philadelphia on Saturday, June 15th. More information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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