Published Feb 12, 2019Nate Husser is the self-proclaimed LeBron James of Montreal hip-hop. The 27-year-old rapper channelled the great's trials and tribulations over the course of his mixtape trilogy, including minus 23, 6º and 23+, that he released over the last year.
"The whole thing, the [trilogy's] whole concept is kind of mirroring the story, the journey of LeBron James," Husser says in an interview with Exclaim! over the phone. The NBA superstar left his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers to play for the Miami Heat, where he won two Championships before returning home to win another with the Cavs.
Speaking of the final chapter, titled 23+ and released in January, Husser points out that "on the cover I got a crown, and that's when I return home and I been traveling a lot, came home from a two-month trip to L.A. doing things, going and getting that championship experience and shit, getting wins on the road."
Each of the tapes features three songs and chronicles the life of the artist who created them. All three EPs feature collage-style covers where Husser's disembodied eyes — whose lighting becomes progressively softer, less sombre — form part of face along with: a scribbled mouth and devil's horns on the first; a halo on the second; and a crown on the last release. The colours change too, from black to orange to bright pink.
The story starts on minus 23, which came out in July of 2018; the title is a reference to LeBron James' controversial departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. The music reflects a sense of unease, with problems for Husser. On track "Project_001," he pointedly raps, "we drink, smoke and smile to cover up the pain" as a disembodied, ghostly voice chants in the background. His friends are dying, he is "going through all kinds of shit." On "High for This," he raps about the ills surrounding him and how this anxiety and the choices of your youth are so unsustainable that the only solution is blurring yourself out or changing your life completely.
So, on 6º, a palpable shift comes in many forms. LeBron's in Miami now, so the production is lighter, with guitars and synthesizers that make you feel like a kid. Your skin can sense the change; that's how layered the tracks are. Husser raps on the tape's opener that "[t]he truth is what you believe, n***a / I'm proof of this." This top-down tonal shift is prime example of what artistry in rap can be.
"6º is kind of chill, warming up a little bit," Husser explains. The title comes from the number James wore when he left the Cavs for the Miami Heat, with whom he won back-to-back NBA championships.
And now we have 23+. With this release, Husser hoped, he says, for "love. That's it — for people to understand me a bit better."
Husser is his most expressive on his latest, twisting his voice at times, growling, going up-down and back around just because he can. Music is a part of Husser's life in the way basketball is a part of LeBron's. He grew up playing drums in elementary school before moving to rapping and freestyling in high school.
Before he was a solo artist, Nate was a member of Little Burgundy, Montreal rap-trio the Posterz. They saw some buzz in the middle of the decade with "The Bass Song" and the 2015 album Junga before splitting. Its two vocalists, Kris the $pirit and Nate, have since moved onto releasing solo projects: "we still homies, but we working on our solo shit, on ourselves and shit," Husser says now. His mixtape trilogy followed after this split.
Now, Husser is in L.A. working on an album that he says is 40% done, and features past collaborators like Chase Wav and Jay Century, along with work from White Boi, with whom Husser hasn't worked before. He intends to release it later this year, another step in the creative path that's propelled Husser to where he is now. He's ever-positive, but Husser adds that mood isn't all that matters: "It takes a lot of work, a lot of hours."