The Jacksonville artist reflects on the power of his “Nerd English” on the 10th anniversary of his album’s release
Everyone knows that these days it’s cool to be a nerd. “Nerd culture” has now spearheaded the global entertainment industry for over a decade, driving everything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to Star Wars to Game of Thrones to countless other pop culture fixtures.
For Niam “Willie Evans, Jr.” Jones, being a “nerd” was never about achieving symbol. Rather, the term denotes a commitment to his craft. And Willie Evans, Jr.’s primary craft is as a hip-hop artist. The Jacksonville, FL native has been creating dope hip-hop music for close to two decades, finding new and innovative ways to express his love for the culture. He released his masterwork, Introducin’, a decade ago. With the project, he worked to change the perceptions of what being a “hip-hop nerd” meant.
Willie Evans, Jr. burst on the national scene as a member of Asamov, the four-man crew who’s ranks also included Paten Locke (R.I.P.), J One Da, and Basic. The group released And Now on 6Hole Records, a dope release that showcased their skills as emcees and producers. Unfortunately, they were sidetracked after legal threats by Isaac Asimov’s estate. The group changed its name to The AB’s (aka the Alias Brothers), but the ordeal somewhat derailed their momentum.
Willie Ev soon recorded and released Communication (2007), first as part of the Rawkus 50, an effort by the label to showcase underground talent and break into the social media market. After the label faltered, Willie Ev released the album independently. He also crafted a multi-media approach to his stage show, incorporating inventive video techniques while rocking the mic. He produced for a bevy of independent emcees and group through the mid to late ’00s before linking up with High Water Records, a label run by NYC underground icon Sucio Smash. This partnership eventually lead to the release of Introducin’, his outstanding sophomore album.
Willie Ev’s efforts result is one of my personal favorite albums of the 2010s. Introducin’ is an amazingly fun, creative, introspecitve, and imaginative piece of work. His production techniques were oddly futuristic, but built on a foundation of funk. His chunky vocal tone and drawl may remind some of MF DOOM, but his rhyme style is distinctive enough so that his raps are memorable.
Willie Ev goes a lot of different directions in roughly 36 minutes, delivering tales of fractured relationships, screeds against drama magnets, and descriptions of the realities of nerd culture. He’s also capable of kicking rhymes accurately describing his own dopeness. He collaborates with members of The ABs crew, teaming with Paten on the aptly named “Dumbtron” (the name of their two-man off-shoot project) and all four of his compadres on “A$amov.”
Willie Ev’s musical output slowed considerably after Introducin’. He released The Crush EP (2016) and appeared on a few other projects. He was involved in a few podcasts and multi-media projects, and got caught up working his day job. Tragically, Paten Locke succumbed to cancer in August 2019, and Willie Ev lost the passion to record anything else for a bit.
Now, Willie Ev is in the midst of getting his groove back, and happy to reminisce about the project that, for many, put him on the map. He graciously spoke to me at length about the process of putting together Introducin’ and its impact on his life.
“I had forgotten how proud I was of Introducin’,” he admits. “Having to really sit down and focus directly on it for the first time in a while is kind of reminding me how good it feels to complete a project and share it with people and then they say it’s not trash.”
Jesse Ducker: How do you feel about 10th anniversary coming up?
Willie Evans, Jr.: I hadn’t psychologically looked directly at it until right now. To be honest, it feels good. I feel like it stood the test of time. People still talk to me about it and I still have people ordering the record from me. It makes me feel like I made something that is … Maybe it’s a little early to say it’s timeless, but I feel I made something that at a minimum, wasn’t a blip.
When was the last time that you listened to it?
Oh, man. It’s been a while since I listened to it top to bottom. I met someone recently and, in an effort to get to know me better, she got the record and started listening to it. So it keeps coming up, and that’s how I heard it. If it’s any indication of how old the record is, people are telling me how much their kids happened to like it. It’s a weird thing.
I played one of the songs for my 10 and 13-year-old nephews, and they liked it.
That’s funny. My son is 12; he turns 13 in a few weeks. He’ll show his friends the video. He doesn’t think I’m cool. At all. So, he’s shocked at how much people like it. “Yeah, your dad was dope. For five, 10 minutes, your dad was pretty dope.”
So, what is it about the album that makes you feel like it stood the test of time?
First of all, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do this if I wanted to, but I didn’t make the record with the intention of… Okay, for example. There was an era where your record had to have a house joint. I didn’t necessarily do that, I just said, I made joint, I was like, “Oh, I like this. This will go on the record.” I didn’t think, “Oh, I have to make a song that sounds like this.” I just said what was on my mind at the time. I was tired of just, “I’m a better rapper than you” raps. I was just making songs that I liked and trying to just make stuff that was funky. Generally speaking, not even within the confines of hip ho, songs that are genuine to the artist have a tendency to have a longer lifespan. I feel like songs that are funky have that same ability. There’s a bunch of James Brown records, where he’s just LITERALLY talking about nothing. But the songs will last forever because they’re funky as shit.
I think that touching on the core of something being good or just being funky or just trying to make funky shit, to me, is very close. It’s not the same, but it’s very close to making something, like lyrically making something that’s true to you as a person or your experience as a person.
When did you start putting together what would become Introducin’?
It would have been maybe let’s say about three years before the record came out. Because I was already recording songs. The way the record happened, I went to Sucio Smash and gave him this collection of songs. It was like, “This is the kind of record I’m capable of making.” And he responded with, “No. What you just gave me is the record. … This is it right here.”
I was still recording stuff at the time. So, I just kept recording and narrowed it down to my favorite 10 and that’s how it came about.
So, did you record a bunch of songs and then you had somebody help you kind of group this together into an album, or did you set out to record a whole project that became Introducin’?
I had a bunch of songs. It was kind of a living, breathing thing. … Some of it was, yeah it’s THESE songs, but not these songs. So, let’s say that was maybe five or six songs, but some of those songs came later, because I was just continuing to make things. So, “Moon Foot” happened that way. “Nerd English” happened that way. I think the actual joint “Introducin’“ happened that way.
How did you hook up with High Water and Sucio Smash?
Shout out to the homie, Dillon of Full Plate Fam. He made a mix tape and put one of my songs on the mix tape. Suc got a hold of the mix tape and was like “Yo, who is this dude?” Also shout out to Jax from Binkis Recs. Rest in peace. I had a gig in Atlanta, and he came up to me and said, “Yo, my homie Sucio Smash has been trying to catch up with you, you really should hit him up. He likes your music, I think it would be good if you got in contact with him.” I’m telling it out of order, but basically that is what led to me sending him songs and saying, “This is what I can do.” And him responding with, “Nah, this is it right here.”
What was it like working with High Water?
It was super dope. Sucio is plugged in and also way, way cooler than I am. I’m a big old dork and he can walk me into situations where normally people would not … You know, I’m a square, so people wouldn’t really be inclined to have me involved in a situation. He walked me into a lot of those situations.
He also kind of inspired me to take it more seriously. Like being more serious about the quality of what I was doing. I’m the type of artist that will just make things and put them out because fuck it. I’m not really trying to make so that you will say I’m dope. I’m making stuff because I think it’s dope and I’m sharing it with you, hoping that you’ll give me a dollar for it.
At the time he had a mind that was way more focused on marketing. In addition to that, he still has a genuine love for the music. And I think when you have those two things together, it’s a great combination. I learned a lot working with him about not just making something dope, but how you present it; how you control the perception of what you present to the listener or someone consuming your art.
Do you think that affected your recording process?
I think having someone so entrenched in hip-hop music and having such a genuine love and understanding … I think he really got the fact that I was this dude that grew up way outside of the epicenter of hip-hop. He brought me in and saying, “Let me introduce you to the different aspects of people you grew up listening to or people who influenced you heavily. Let me connect you directly with that and see what it does to your creative process.”
He was extremely instrumental in doing that and it was like throwing gasoline on this fire that I already had to make dope shit. To meet these people and some of them even already know who I was, or actually appreciate what I was doing. He introduced me to Pharoahe Monch, who I had no idea even knew me from a can of paint. But when I met him, he had heard the record and he kind of indicated that he dug it. I just did a little bit of co-production on his last record. That’s something that, if I went back and told my 16-year-old self that would happen, I would never believe that. I say all of that to say Suc was instrumental in introducing me to those situations which was a pivotal part of me realizing that I deserve to be in the room, metaphorically speaking. Instead of feeling like, “Well, I’m this outsider watching this thing and I do it because I love it, but I’m not really part of THAT.” He kind of introduced this idea into my mind that, “Oh, I am part of that.”
How do you feel you grew as a producer and like an emcee between Communication and Introducin’?
Between Communication and Introducin’, there was a lot of rapping and lot of making beats. Around the time of Communication, I’m making mad beats for Mr. Lif and Akrobatik, and doing production for a lot of cats. I was on the road a lot and just physically rapping a lot. Going into Introducin’, it wasn’t like I had to crank anything up. It was just a continuation of what I was already doing. And still working on songs with Asamov and still working on stuff individually. Let’s say me and J One Da are doing joints together. Me and P are doing a whole lot of music together. Basic, always around, always on the records following him around and digging.
The momentum going into Introducin’ was extremely high. It wasn’t like I was like, “All right, time for me to ramp up.” It was just a natural continuation. With anything, if you’re doing it repetitiously, your knives are going to naturally sharpen. So, my knives were naturally sharper when I went to make Introducin’.
Why did you decide to name the album Introducin’?
Looking back on it, I think it kind of speaks to that mentality that I had that I just described, where I consistently feel like the new guy. It was my second record, so it kind of logically didn’t make sense to call it Introducin’, but I went into it feel like, “Well, nobody really knows who I am. I have this whole record that I did before that mad motherfuckers have contacted me and told me they love, but nobody REALLY knows who I am. So, let’s call this record Introducin’.” At the risk of oversimplification, it felt as if I was introducing myself to a wider audience. I guess it was simultaneously straightforward but also kind of speaking to my mind state at the time where I just felt like, “Nobody knows me, really. So, let me introduce myself.”
Do you feel like you were successful?
Yeah. I definitely do. I think that, looking back on it, it’s definitely the appropriate name for the record. I don’t necessarily agree with my younger self about the mentality I had at the time, but I think that it definitely introduced me to a wider audience. Like a lot of joints off of that record introduced me to an audience that otherwise would not even have known that I existed.
Like specifically “Nerd English” introduced me to a whole audience of people that didn’t know I existed, I didn’t know they existed. I was just thinking I’m a lone nerd in a sea of cool kids and it just so happens that there’s this whole swathe of people I get introduced to through Mega Ran, shout out to the homie Mega Ran, I did a tour with him and basically through that discovered… And basically, it was like, “Well, where were all you people my entire life?” It was cool. But I also recognized, not to jump tracks, but I also recognized that I’m a nerdcore rapper. I’m a rap dude that just happens to be a nerd. It was different.
What was the first time that you realized how it was hitting people?
I want to say Introducin’ was when I did my first tour overseas and I did a show in I want to say it was Scotland somewhere. I was doing a joint and I was basically in space. I wasn’t even engaging the crowd; I was just in my own head doing the song and I came back to Earth and I looked down at the crowd and there were people on the front row saying the words to the song. It completely blew my mind to bits, because, again, I didn’t see myself as that type of artist. To see that kind of solidified like, “Oh, this has really touched different areas that I felt as if I hadn’t before.”
For the album, is there a reason why you kept it relatively short? I mean, I think it’s about 36 minutes…?
That was a conscious effort to just keep it short and sweet. It just felt correct. I didn’t want to put any filler on there. I wanted every joint to be like, “I love this song, so I’m putting it on there.” It just felt right. … We have this motto in my crew. Well, specifically me and Paten have this thing that we say. “Don’t monkey with the funky.” What that means is once something is funky, stop. Don’t overdo it. Don’t put too much paprika in the food. So, I didn’t want to do that I just kind of wanted to let it live. I feel as if that was the right decision.
Let’s do a track by tack breakdown. The album starts with “Willie Who?” You sample these kid’s record where the main character is named Willie and he loves music.
Batsauce sent me that record. Like, “Yo, this record was designed for you to use.” And I started listening to the record and I was like, “Holy shit. Yeah. No, this is definitely designed for me.” And it ended up being absolutely perfect for basically the glue of the record.
You know what’s funny? “Introducin’” might have been the only joint that I made knowing that this was going to be an album. The vibe of that song was inspired by Biz Markie. I’m a big fan of Biz Markie. His earlier records were a huge influence on me. The whole “Introducin’” the part of the record where I’m saying “Introducin’!,” I’m thinking about Biz Markie as I’m crafting that part of the song. He was a huge influence on that record.
Super dope how that came about. So, Paten had this way about him where when he wanted to be a part of a song or be on a song, he wouldn’t just say, “Yo, I want to be on that.” He would make you feel bad for not inviting him to be on the song. But he would never say, “Yo, I want to be on that joint.” He would be like, “Yo, I like that beat. So, you writing for that? It’s going on your record? Man, and you ain’t got me on nothing on your record, yo? You got a record coming out and I’m not on none of those songs?”
I’d be like, “Yeah, I’ll make a beat. We’ll work on something. Of course, I want you on the record.” “What about this one you’re playing for me right now?” It was like that. Eventually you’d invite him, and you’d think it’s your idea to have him on the joint, but the whole time he wanted you to put him on there. As always, he murdered it. Literally. I know a lot of people say this about their homies, but literally one of the greatest lyricists I have ever known or ever seen and heard, whether I knew them or not. To this day he’s said shit that has blown my mind more than any other rap dude that I’ve ever heard or known personally.
So, he killed it. It was one of the things when I made that beat, I knew it was electric. Beat makers can relate to this: Sometimes when you make something, you know right then and there like, “Oh, this is going to fucking melt motherfuckers’ faces.” And P was a beat maker and he knew that immediately and there was no way he was going to let me put that joint out without him rhyming on it.
Damn. I’m trying to find the most diplomatic was possible to describe the song. That song, lyrically, was talking about two different women. One of which I was with at the time that I recorded that song. So, everything I’m talking about in that song is actual shit that happened. I don’t want to give too many context clues in case they get a wild hair up their ass. So, for my own personal physical safety I’m just going to say that song is just some general shit about no one in particular, but the lyrics were some very real shit. As I’m sure every artist would say, music is my therapy. So, whenever I’m feeling salty about some shit I go and say it over some funky shit.
How did you come to the decision to take slow the original sample down rather than speed it up?
It just felt right. It’s something that we do, or something that me and P did. We never really had a conversation like, “Yo, you know what would be dope? You know how everybody speeds everything up? What if we slowed things down?” We never did that. It was something that sounded dope and was funky. If you are a top-heavy beat maker it just lends itself to making the record more yours, because you can take the sounds and make something way different with it.
Not to get into the minutiae and mechanics of beat making, but in my mind, speeding things up, unless you’re J-Zone, you’re just going to loop it up. J-Zone will chop something to smithereens, and it sounds amazing every time. But other dudes will usually just speed something up and just kind of loop it up in a funky way, or just straight loop it. But when you slow things down, you kind of breaking things down even more to just their sonic elements. It kind of makes the canvas larger when you’re making a beat. Sorry, I felt I went into some beat nerd shit.
I am here for all the beat nerd shit. I like it to hear people talk about what they’re passionate about.
Okay, next is “Sidewalk Shit.”
First of all, let me tell you this: Your favorite beat is never everyone else’s favorite beat. “Sidewalk Shit” is my favorite beat on that record. And my second favorite beat is the beat that I used for the remix of that record [“Sidewalker”]. But that’s my favorite beat, because I feel like, “Oh, I did this and I did this little thing and this little thing right here that nobody even hears or gives a shit about.” I felt like that was just a whole record of me saying “I’m different.” This is a whole record of me saying, “I’m the weirdo in the room and I kind of like that. In fact, I think it’s dope and to some of you motherfuckers, that’s what makes me doper than you.”
“CyberSheik, pt. 1 & 2”
If I remember right, that was just me kind of trying to see where I could go with it. Making this song that has not even a big switch up, but just trying to do something like if I could make something where it’s like one joint and the two halves contrast each other sonically.
You mentioned this song before: “Nerd English.”
I made the beat at Sucio’s crib. Literally, I made the beat and I thought to myself, because the beat was like some hard as nails shit, “How fucking funny would it be for me to just speak truthfully about myself on this joint?”
The lesson for me in that is “Nerd English” ended up being the most popular song that I have ever made. I still have people coming up to me and talking about that song or emailing me about it. When people play my shit to younger cats, that’s the song they connect to the most. It said something to me about honesty. Hip-Hop culturally by its nature, everybody is on some B-Boy shit and it just has this hyper-aggressive, “I am simultaneously the least and the most and the best and the worst, whatever you think you are, I am more of that.” As opposed to being like, “This is who I am, and I’m cool with that and I’m going to tell you about who I am in a super fucking funky way.” That’s nowhere near as true now. You have mad artists that do exactly that now, but I think at that time, I felt like it was not quite as prevalent.
I feel like what people kind of gravitated to the first verse the most. … I know dudes that did dirt. I would hang out with them and we would do shit, but then when they went to go do what they needed to do, I would go play Dungeons and Dragons or play basketball or go make beats. I think that those types of people don’t necessarily fit in the same lane as somebody that solely read comics their whole live or solely played D&D. If one of your best friends you read comic books with them, but another one of your best friends would come over and make beats with you in the garage after they finished breaking into cars. That person doesn’t sit in the same lane and I just kind of felt like there was mad motherfuckers around me who were like that and just were not being honest about it.
Let me put it this way. I’m a big battle-rap fan and I think that this summarizes the point that I was driving home with “Nerd English”: The fact that the illest motherfuckers in battle rap have Goku bars and bars about Marvel … I know Marvel is kind of pop culture now, but bars about Marvel and bars about anime and everybody gets it immediately. Nobody is Googling, “Well, who the fuck is Goku?” That should say something to all of us.
There are people out there that will light your block up, but they also go home and turn on their Xbox and fucking play Destiny. It’s not one or the other: There’s a sliding scale.
It was kind of straightforward. Just an expression of being fed up. I think at that point songs start to become me getting to a space where I’m learning that the best things I make just come from how I’m feeling. Speaking for myself specifically, I’m much better at making songs just about my thoughts on shit, on how I’m feeling about some shit than songs just telling you how terrible at rapping you are. I’m much better just talking about how I’m feeling. “Fisbawdup” was a continuation of me exploring that.
Was it something you were feeling at the time, or were you just kind of like putting yourself in that space?
Some of it was speaking specifically to the type, certain types of people who participated in what I called the Pain Olympics. Not only do they measure their pain against yours, they also feed off of your pain. To put it in a more colloquial way, “energy vampires.” So, that song was definitely born from that and from the typical show frustration. You start doing show and promoters have a sad story at the end of the night and stuff like that. I was just getting that off my chest.
“Mega” was just an exercise in trying to make funky shit. To totally contradict what I just said, “Mega” was just an, “I’m dope and this is why,” joint. But it was definitely me trying to be funky. If I was to boil it all the way down, I’m sonically making an argument for the minimalist way I was making beats at the time. So, it was very much just a chop with a kick and a snare. The hook is literally somebody complaining about all the of elements of the song, so it’s kind of purposefully thumbing my nose at overproduction and just kind of personification of that philosophy of “Don’t monkey with the funky.” Once it’s funky, once it’s dope, when you get that feeling like, “Damn, this is dope.” Stop. Don’t overdo it.
Next is the crew record, “A$amov.”
Oh, man. I mean that song is essentially exactly what it sounded like. It was basically talking about the derailment of the momentum that Asamov had as a crew and talking about how that was not going to stop our love for what we did, because we started making shit because we loved to do it. Then it grew into something that we started taking seriously because there was a record deal and money behind it, but that’s not why we started or why we were doing it.
[On Paten’s verse], he talked about getting cancer and hoping that we speak nice about him in his funeral. He talks about his vision for his career and how he did it his way. It was just so prophetic and relevant. … Speaking from my perspective now, that is one million percent the most relevant thing about that song. It’s how prophetic and very focused his vision as an artist, and just as a man, was.
Was that the last song that the four of you recorded together?
No, we started working on a new album and it lost momentum because Introducin’ had started picking up steam and I was on the road. P had done Super Ramen Rocketship and was on the road doing that, then he started doing shows with Edan and I was doing shows with Lif and then from there life started happening. Basic and J1 Da started doing life shit, and then me and Paten started doing Dumbtron shit heavy, and it just kind of fell by the wayside.
We do have about five songs [completed]. I’ve had conversations with Full Plate about possibly putting that out in the future, but if people show interest, I would definitely put it out there. I’m one million percent with that.
I was doing sound design for a friend of mine that’s a writer. He had an off-Broadway play and I had done all of the sound effects and the background music for it. So, I was in New York for a couple of months and I was staying with Sucio Smash. One time, he had to go take care of something and I was at his apartment and I just spent the whole day working on that song. … By the end of the day the joint was done. Suc being the Suc that he is heard it and was like, “Oh, yeah. This is definitely going on the record.”
All right. Anything else you wanted to say about the album in general?
I want to say I’m extraordinarily proud of that record. It led to so many things happening in my career that I was not expecting to happen. I’m just kind of super proud of that record. I feel like if there was such a thing as the sophomore curse or sophomore slump or sophomore whatever word starts with an S, I definitely managed to sidestep it. I love Communication, but I think the because of the experience I had to facilitate it, Introducin’ is definitely my favorite thing on a label that I’ve done.
You haven’t released all that much material since then.
I did the Crush EP, I released a beat tape on Full Plate, and then I’ve done a couple of songs here and there. For a while I was just into making these weird ass beats and I did this song just being funny called “The Whole World is Jockin’ Me.” I sent it to Paten as a joke and he was like, “Yo, this is dope.” And, so I ended up putting it on streaming services, because I just thought it would be funny to do.
Outside of that I kind of was working on other shit and raising my kids and then when I finally got to a point where I was feeling like I wanted to do something, things happened with P and I just lost my desire to really do anything at all. I’m just now feeling like I want to do something. I’m putting together an installation to present the audio visual shit that I’ve been working now and then once I do that I’ll say to the world, “Hey, I got this thing that I did and you should watch it with your eyeballs or whatever.”
Do you feel like anything you’re working on might turn into something in the future?
I don’t know. It might. Based on how things are set up now, if I make something and I like it, I might throw it up for a stream. Dillon over at Full Plate might throw up in his mouth to hear me say that. I’m sure he’s like, “If you’re going to put a whole project together, put it out as a project.” But right now, to be honest with you man, I am just making shit because I feel better doing it.
Originally I was doing this shit because I loved doing it and it’s my therapy. I know that’s some cliché shit to say, but it is. It is my therapy. And it just so happened that two or three people thought it was dope and I could pay a couple of bills with it and now here I am. So now it’s kind of full circle and I’m back to that space where I’m doing it because it’s just what I love to do, and I feel better about my day if I come in here and make some funky shit.