Wonderland.

NAV

The XO-signed Toronto rapper going back to his roots.

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 green coat up shot

Jacket by Trapstar London, t-shirt by Topman, trousers by Levi’s

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 green coat up shot
Jacket by Trapstar London, t-shirt by Topman, trousers by Levi’s

Taken from the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of Rollacoaster.

For Punjabi-Canadian rapper and record producer Nav, the last twelve months have been demanding. His second studio album Bad Habits – a record he meticulously wrote, mixed and mastered – was released this March following a short-lived retirement, and he wants you to know that he’s worked hard on it.

“I want people to take in that we did every single step on this album,” he tells me, when we meet in West London at the end of August. “Everything from the little melodies you hear in the background, to the mixing of my vocals. The equalisation, the mastering, the compression on the drums and the hi-hats… Everything. We did every little intricate thing. Every layer.”

In person, Nav – short for Navraj Singh Goraya – is without the ritzy braggadocio that characterises his social channels (gild- ed chain, trio of diamond rings and Margiela Fusion sneakers aside), but he’s proud of his latest release. He’d like for the hip-hop project to be experienced in full, to be listened to appropriately, so that his handiwork can be admired from start to finish. “When something is presented as an album, people just skip through it,” he tells me earnestly, slicing a hand through the air to illustrate his point: “They don’t realise what went into it! It took a lot of man hours.”

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 green coat
Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 floral shirt

(LEFT) Jacket by MCM, t-shirt by Topman and trousers by Levi’s
(RIGHT) Shirt by Prada, t-shirt by Topman, trousers by Levi’s.

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 green coat
Jacket by MCM, t-shirt by Topman and trousers by Levi’s
Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 floral shirt
Shirt by Prada, t-shirt by Topman, trousers by Levi’s.

On Bad Habits, Nav went back to “being a producer” and took control of his own sound. 2018’s Reckless, the album prior to his latest, wasn’t received as well as he’d hoped, prompting him to go back to the drawing board. “On Reckless I rapped over beats that weren’t mine,” he explains. “I knew what I’d done wrong. Instantly. I knew I was focussing on the wrong things.”

So Nav took some time for himself. He started penning his beats and melodies first, reflecting on who he wants to be as an artist and how much he cares about his craft. Though this process was “more painful”, it’s one he enjoys and clearly respects. “You never know what’s going to come out of you when you create,” he says on making music in a way that’s instinctive and authentic. “It’s like being a painter. You’re dealing with a blank slate and until you put your pen to the paper, you don’t know what’s going to come out. You take a gamble every day.”

Part of this decision was down to Nav’s man- ager, Amir “Cash” Esmailian, who co-founded the XO record label with The Weeknd. “I knew I had to go back to making beats, but Cash re- ally pushed me to do that as well. Even though I didn’t like hearing it from him, I knew it was the truth,” he admits, underlining his appreciation for his manager and clarifying: “You’ve got to look at who’s trying to critique you… If your shitty cousin who’s a miserable teacher is tell- ing you that your album sucks, it’s like: ’No, you suck!’ But if a respected artist tells you that you should fix up, you can learn from that.”

Along with Cash, Nav has an impressive cat- alogue of friends and collaborators within the industry. When asked to pick his favourite three, his eyes widen animatedly. Nav bides his time before giving an appropriately sincere and considered answer, citing the critically-acclaimed record producer, songwriter, and DJ Metro Boomin, Atlanta rapper Young Thug and settling on “a toss up” between Georgia-based Gunna and North Philly MC Lil Uzi Vert.

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19
Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 green coat up close

Jacket by Trapstar London, t-shirt by Topman, trousers by Levi’s, shoes by Maison Margiela

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19
Jacket by Trapstar London, t-shirt by Topman, trousers by Levi’s, shoes by Maison Margiela
Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 green coat up close

Outside of music, Nav isn’t quite so serious at all. Now approaching 30 (appropriately, he’ll play a show in Vegas two days before his birthday in November), he feels like he now embodies the figure he’s always wanted to be – personally, as well as artistically. “I think I was bottling up a big personality my whole life,” he reflects. “My closest friends always knew how talkative I am and how much fun I have, but I’ve kind of shut the rest of the world out until now.”

“I haven’t transitioned yet, though,” he adds quickly, leaning forward conspiratorially: “I still don’t believe that I’m famous. It happened so late and so fast…” He reclines back again and sighs, explaining that at 26, his life flipped from “making beats and peddling around on the streets” at home in Toronto, to being plucked from SoundCloud and propelled to the forefront of the city’s flourishing hip-hop scene.

With his diligent, DIY approach to Bad Habits, Nav has come full-circle – back to the independent ethos of his early SoundCloud mixes, back to experimenting with beats and shaking things up in his city. Still, he’s adamant that this “transition” is far from complete, and he’ll continue to adapt, evolve and grow. But first, he’s perfectly content enjoying the rewards of all his hard work, collecting new experiences to weave into that next album. “I’m just kind of taking in life and getting content,” he smiles: “If I don’t live life then I’m not going to write anything.”

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 black coat

Jacket NAV’s own, t-shirt by Topman and trousers by Levi’s

Nav features in Rollacoaster AW19 black coat
Jacket NAV’s own, t-shirt by Topman and trousers by Levi’s
Photography
Olly Adegboye
Fashion
Shaquille Williams
Words
Rosanna Dodds
NAV

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