“I started bowling just strikes non stop,” he says of his response to news about his topping the Billboard 200.
Not many artists can go straight from retirement to the mountaintop of music, but that's (basically) what NAV accomplished this past March. Following his two-month hiatus to start the year, the XO Records artist broke his silence with the compact Brown Boy EP, but fans wanted more. Nav then returned a week later with his star-studded Bad Habits LP on March 22.
Thanks to a loaded guest list, a VLONE merch collaboration, eight extra tracks powering the deluxe edition, and the set standing as his most cohesive project to date, NAV defied the memes to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with a robust 82,000 equivalent album units sold for the week ending March 28. The sophomore effort netted the 29-year-old his first No. 1 album of his career.
There wasn't some grand celebration like you would've figured for NAV, who found out about going No. 1 while bowling, which resulted in non-stop strikes from the multi-talented rapper. "Honestly, I don't really celebrate that much in general. I don't go on vacations and stuff like that. I feel like every day is like Saturday for me," NAV humbly admits with a chuckle. Instead, he found himself back in the studio crafting another five tracks.
Despite NAV's recent conversation with Pitchfork — which seemed to be powered by the rapper's lust for fame — on this sunny afternoon, it's his humility that gleams during our discussion. Rather than celebrate with a high-priced filet at New York City's CUT Steakhouse, he hides in plain sight with his gaudy XO diamond encrusted chain glistening in the corner of the dimly lit lounge area. No celebratory drinks are flowing to commemorate his recent success. Instead, he opts for distilled water, while the happy hour madness begins to ensue around us.
Before weighing options for his private flight out of the Big Apple, NAV dishes on topping the Billboard charts, that infamous Pitchfork interview, connecting with the youth, what happened with "Yosemite," and much more.
Billboard: What went through your mind when you found out Bad Habits was going to go No. 1 on the Billboard 200?
NAV: I was out bowling with Derek from 88Glam. While I was bowling, Josh [day-to-day manager] called me and said, "It looks like we're going to get No. 1." I'm like, "Does this mean I could get happy?" He's like, "Yeah." I started bowling just strikes nonstop. Then, I couldn't focus anymore and had to go to the studio. That whole day, I was telling Cash [manager Amir "Cash" Esmailian] I was burned out and didn't feel like going to the studio. They kept going to the studio and I didn't want to be there. As soon as I heard we were going No. 1, I went straight to the studio and did five songs.
What was the reaction like from your peers and fans? I saw A$AP Rocky hit you in your comments on IG about going No. 1. He called you "Splash," what's that about?
That's some inside information. It has a very deep meaning. [Laughs.] Nas posted my album. Even before I went No. 1, it was a big deal to see people supporting. There's people you'd think aren't even thinking about you, but they're going out of their way to support you. It was anyone from Offset to Nas.
Was there any type of celebration for it?
Honestly, I don't really celebrate that much in general. I don't go on vacations and stuff like that. I feel like every day is like Saturday for me. I don't have anything I'm running away from. I don't work a 9 to 5. I celebrate every day. I'll have a drink, but I don't get drunk. Maybe smoke some weed, eat good food, and chill.
Is it crazy to think you went from basically retired from rapping to having a No. 1 album in a short amount of time?
It is kind of crazy. I guess people kind of appreciate me and Lil Uzi Vert more. After we've been gone for a while, you realize we're missing in the game. He started dropping music now too.
Was that the plan to drop an album and quickly come back with the deluxe version of Bad Habits?
Not really. Cash wanted to bring me out of retirement and put out the Brown Boy EP. When Brown Boy was out, we had a lot of demand for that to be added to the streaming platforms. The five songs were only available on Audiomack. The fans were frustrated and wanted everything on iTunes. A lot of the album was recorded in Vancouver and Toronto. Vancouver was more of a team building process. I rented a house with all of the producers I signed. We fought, there was good times, bad times, and we built a team out of it. I wish we documented more of it.
The Future record couldn't make the album because he sent me the verse a little too late. I guess he was busy, but he was really down to be on it from the jump. We put that on there, and "Racks in My Sleep" was another last-minute one. Me and Durk did both of those songs in the same night. We wanted them both to be on the album originally.
How did you link with Meek Mill for "Tap?"
Meek sent every song he's been working on lately at the last-minute. I cut that record the day before we had to hand in the album. If I didn't come through with that hook and some fire shit, I was toast. Luckily, as soon as we got that "tap, tap, tap" shit, my engineer kind of gave me the look and he's like, "That's it."
I saw one of your fan accounts repost an old tweet of yours to Meek Mill from about six years ago, asking him if you could send him some beats. It's crazy how that comes full circle.
That was a very frustrating period of my life. Just being 23 years old, I'm six or seven years into making beats. I kept quitting and trying again. I was just trying to get anything. I used to tweet every single artist. I quickly realized that's not the way you get in. I went in a lot of fire to get where I'm at.
When I was around him during the early days of my career, what's interesting is that I produced "Back to Back." I never knew Meek when I made that record. I didn't even know that song was going to be made for that. Here I am, chilling around Meek and he was always cool. He always understood what was going on. He's a cool guy. I was sitting there like, "Does he know [I produced "Back to Back"]?" He didn't care and came through for me again.
— –LordTreeSap– (@LordTreeSap) April 30, 2019
How did you become a voice for the youth and connect with that market?
That's kind of how music is by default. I think the biggest consumer is 16 to 24. You can't avoid that. I was surprised when a 13-year-old came up to me. He was short as shit, and I was like, "You know who I am, bro? You actually know who I am?" I think back, and I was listening to Nas and 50 Cent when I was that young. It's the same old shit. You think you're a grown up when you're 13-years-old.
I read in your interview with Pitchfork that you're looking for more paparazzi to shoot you. Have you noticed an increase in their presence since you said that last month?
Honestly, I have. It really wasn't my intention, but it's all good. The Lambo truck is being repaired more than I've driven it. It's just bad luck. I scraped the tire, the bumper got hit by someone, and the air conditioner has to be replaced. Right when you drive it off the lot, it's over.
What made you tell your team, "We have to get this shit right or the lifestyle, shopping, and big dinners are fucking done?"
Straight up: That's what I told my friends when we rented the house in Vancouver. There was a blank marker board and there was no songs on there. So that's what I told them. We're good now. We're No. 1, everyone's got deals. Everybody's happy now. I just had to be realistic. I was stressed out. I didn't mean it in the way like, I'm not going to take them out — but I was saying, even for me. I just needed to have the mentality that it was do-or-die right now.
What's the biggest difference you noticed moving from Reckless to Bad Habits?
The bigger I've gotten, the more humble I am. Life just humbles you. You think you're the shit, and before you know it, you're not. Either you learn from it, or you keep thinking you're the shit and you become shit.
How do you balance wearing the different caps of producing, recording, and mixing? You previously said in another interview, "I was just a rapper, but really I'm a producer, engineer, and musician and I need to put all of that into the music."
I'll be able to tell my engineer the pre-amp level is too high. I know the mic models. I know everything that's going on. I'll mix it as well. I came from a beatmaking and engineering background. The artist thing happened by accident. I didn't want to do the artist thing. I made a song and sent it to my friend who rapped, and he said, "Yo, you should put it out. I can't do it like you did it." I put it out and here I am. Glad I did it though.
What can we expect with the tour coming up in May?
I'm excited that we got a whole new album to perform, because I hate performing old music. I know me and Uzi always talk about that shit. He told me that he literally stopped doing shows at one point because he didn't want to perform old shit anymore. That's how I feel too, because there's not the same energy behind it.
You tweeted about how Nipsey Hussle showed you love since day one. Can you speak to the relationship you guys had?
Neighborhood Nip, bro. From the first day I went to his store, he checked on me that whole day. He was always showing mad love. I don't even know what to say. I know someone who was close friends with him that's locked up, and he's going through it. I bumped into him four or five times after that. He came over Belly's crib and hung out. He was a really smart and positive individual. Just a terrible loss.
Showed me mad love from day 1 rest in piece young Legend Nip —
— Nav (@beatsbynav) April 1, 2019
What happened with your verse on Travis Scott's "Yosemite?"
I could've been upset about it, but it kind of proud a lot of attention to me in a good way. I overcame all the memes, so fuck it. Travis is such a perfectionist, where he hands in his albums really late. Maybe the mastering guy was in such a rush that he didn't listen all the way to the end, or thought that's what they meant to do. Everything was under pressure. Not only was my voice low, I heard from people around him that there were a couple more things wrong with background vocals. That was just the only thing everyone noticed.
It was all cool. It still is a little bit awkward. I'll have a little smile on my face when it comes on in the club and it's funny. I was probably mad for the first day, then I realized it was all good.
With the Raptors facing off with the 76ers in the NBA playoffs, how about a friendly bet between you and Meek Mill?
I don't know. Meek makes bets that I don't want to make. He gambles way too much. I can't gamble like him. I'm the guy off to the side watching the dice game scratching my head.
Any other goals you wanted to achieve before you turn 30?
A No. 1 record, if I could squeeze one in before I turn 30. A Grammy for myself as well. I snuck one in with Beyonce and Jay-Z, but I want one for me. After those two, I'll find some new goals.