Photo by: Texas Isaiah
This time last year, Nappy Nina was fumbling out the gate. On the opening line of her album, The Tree Act, released in late January, she raps about this “feeling that I might not make it”; then she masks her mortality with unprompted bravado: “test me again and I might not fake it.” It is a snapshot of her attitude throughout the album that follows. The Brooklyn rapper put out two distinct LPs in 2019—Dumb Doubt came out in early December. Though they sound wildly different, Nappy Nina herself remains consistent, pulling no punches and speaking honestly about her queer, Black experience.
The Tree Act honors nature and supplies several smoking anthems. Her purpose is clear; on Bandcamp, the liner notes describe this as Nina’s navigation of “corrupt marijuana laws and white collar weed, white women’s rights and black women’s work, [and] the inner woes of a black queer body.” The production is chill enough to bounce to, never overstaying its welcome or detracting from Nina’s flows. Most of the record’s beats were contributed by a troupe of talented underground musicians mainly from Nina’s adopted hometown. (Needless to say, Nina also honors Oakland, her first home, where possible.)
There are a handful of songs that have the capacity to define the record. Of course there’s “Treehouse,” featuring Pink Siifu, meant to be accompanied by a freshly rolled blunt, followed closely by “Random Apples” which features the least ambiguous skit of any mixtape I’ve heard (“It’s not the palm tree, it’s not the redwood, it’s not the pine tree, it’s not the christmas tree, it’s the tree act.”) The one-two punch of “Spit Game” and “No AC” reveal how Nina perceives herself; she enters the cypher with utmost confidence, then raps about not rapping about rapping, a joke that is decidedly not lazy. And “Degular Me” feels like it’s accidentally playing at 33rpm when it was made for 45, thus ensuring that we do not miss the brutal imagery of a constantly persecuted existence.
Every guest is given the space to enrich the album in their own ways, and contributions on the final track pull it all together. The title, “No Yes,” comes from J. Hoard’s lyrics on the chorus, where he emphasizes being barely-content with survival. Then Denmark Vessey begins his verse, “I got to speak peace first, I got to speak truth to power,” over moving choral production loops, until he closes the record with a mantra fit for a new decade: “It’ll never be the way it was and it ain’t supposed to.”