"It surprises me sometimes, it's like two different worlds 30 miles apart," producer
says of Washington and Baltimore, two cities that the Maryland native has called home. Growing up closer to Washington with a passion for hip-hop and go-go music, the DJ became a hardcore Baltimore club fan while attending UMBC. "I didn't know too much about club music through high school," the 28-year-old producer recalls. "I knew a couple of the bigger songs like 'Doo Doo Brown,' 'Watch Out For The Big Girl,' 'Tear Da Club Up.' I came up here for college and [when] I first experienced club music, I was like . . . 'I love this stuff too.'"
After college, he took the performing name James Nasty and honed his skills as a DJ and engineer, spinning and recording hip-hop, but only gradually making Baltimore club his bread and butter as a producer. "I put out a club EP in 2004, but it wasn't serious," he says. "I just burned a hundred copies, gave it to all my friends. I never really took club music that seriously until about 2006. I'd always made it, just experimented with it."
As it turns out, James Nasty is only a slight variation on the DJ's real name. "My last name is Gross, that's where the whole "Nasty" thing came from," he says. "I had a friend, one day, he said, 'You know what? From now on I'm a call you James Nasty.' It just kinda stuck."
Despite being a relative latecomer to Baltimore club, James Nasty has now released several EPs through his own Club City Records that demonstrate a rare ear for the genre's unique pace and texture, specializing in layering club's most familiar breakbeats in creative arrangements. Last year's
featured the track "You So Hawt," marrying an infectious horn hook to a hyperventilating sample of T-Pain's verse from Chris Brown's "Kiss Kiss," and became the producer's breakout hit.
"That track was just huge for me," he says. "I had people on the other side of the world e-mail me, like, 'Yeah, I play that track all the time.' I made that track in 10 minutes. I didn't really like that song. My friend, he was like, 'This is good, you should put it out.' So we sent it out to a couple blogs and posted it on a couple message boards, and next thing I know it was all over the place. I would sit down some days and Google 'You So Hawt' and there'd be some DJ in France who had it in his DJ mix. It's crazy."
One of Nasty's ambitions is to eventually release music on the premiere club label, Unruly Records, and a conversation with one of the company's founders has helped shaped his recent musical direction. "I met with Sean Caesar back in September," he says. "I had met him, he heard some of my work and he was interested in working with me," Nasty says. "So I went down to meet with him at the office. He was telling me, 'We're trying to make the move toward more original content. We can't make money when we're paying everyone else for samples.'
"So what I've been doing is going back to a lot of the sessions with people I've been recording with since 2002, and taking one or two lines and making those my samples," he continues. That approach is in evidence on last year's "Jump Off," which loops part of a verse by SkillRaw, a local rapper that Nasty had been working with extensively. When SkillRaw was shot and killed just as he and the producer were on the verge of finishing the album, that tragic event helped push James Nasty away from hip-hop collaborations and further toward focusing on club music, while still keeping his friend's music alive.
"If you go back and listen to a lot of old club music, a lot of it was original vocals," Nasty points out. "And somehow it got away from that and went to strictly sampling and remixing."
As Nasty works on his new sound, he describes his latest release, the
EP released in March, as "the last of my sample-based tracks that I wanted to get out, only four tracks, but four of the best I had sitting around."
And his next EP is "gonna be all original vocals, no samples except for the traditional drum breaks," he says of the upcoming release, which features a collaboration with Unruly's hipster rap duo Claire Hux.
As James Nasty continues to bolster his DJ resume with sets at club music mecca Paradox as well as smaller clubs and events, he's now looking to break into the mix CD market. "What I wanna do is kinda like what Rod Lee did a couple times, where he put out a mix, and then he put out an EP with some tracks from it," he says. In the past, the producer pinned his hopes for success on rappers, working with local MCs such as
106 & Park
freestyle champion Whyte Out, but now he sees club music as a more promising avenue.
"I kind of see club music as the new hip-hop," he says. "With the new DJ Class single ["I'm The Ish"] and everything, I think that's the way it's going, club music becoming the sound of Baltimore hip-hop. It seems like that's something the major labels have been waiting for for a long time."