Who’s Cooler Than NanaBcool? Rising Artist On His Inspirations, The State Of R&B And Why He Doesn’t Want To Be A Celebrity


Actively dismantling the notion that “R&B is dead,” NanaBcool is a silver lining among today’s R&B sphere.

Brimming with an indisputably “cool” style and glaring panache, the Ghanaian singer/songwriter is an electrifying performer with a natural penchant for crafting personal, yet extremely relatable content.

Combining elements of Afrobeats, R&B, neo-soul, pop and reggae, NanaBCool doesn’t subscribe to the parameters of a single genre. His artistry yields a mellifluous blend of multiple genres, which accentuates the colors of his unique sound.

In the not-too-distant past, Nana dropped his most recent EP: Good Luck, Vol.1, which is a blissful fusion of memorable anecdotes and sultry vocals at its core.

While the entire 10 tracks deliver a wondrous listening experience, some of the biggest highlights off the record include “Daughters,” “Oceans” and “Greenlight” (ft. Don Knock and Irate Genius).

In terms of his prowess as an artist, NanaBcool is a refreshing emblem of what it means to be multifaceted. He can sing. He can dance. He can write. In other words, there are no tangible limits to what he can do.

Hailing from the esoteric streets of Columbus, Ohio, Nana has discovered a great deal of his inspiration from the funky and soulful predecessors of his home state– The Isley Brothers, Bootsy Collins and more. 

On May 4, Nana dropped his inaugural video off of his recent project: “Lifeline.” In collaboration with Puma, “Lifeline” emanates a free flowing, fun-filled vibe perfectly suited for the emergence of Spring.

On June 9th, Nana will be headlining his own performance at NYC’s legendary Chelsea Music Hall featuring R&B singer Haile Supreme and rising NYC DJ GabSoul.

Coming directly off an extensive stint of shows and performances in Europe, we spoke with the artist in Brooklyn with NanaBCool about life, career, future aspirations and more. 

Editor’s note: The below conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

Tell us about the origin story of your name? It’s such an integral yet super dope part of your identity and you know everyone is curious about where it came from, so feel free to divulge that a little bit.

Yeah, so my name is NanaBcool. And my given name is Nana and my last name starts with a B. I’m from Ghana. But like, the whole NanaBcool thing was, there was a point in time where I just thought the word “cool” was dope. I heard of “The Cool Kids” and when I first heard of the cool kids, I really was like, “damn, I wish I would have came up with that name for a band or a group or something.” Pretty much that same year, that album “The Cool ” came out by Lupe Fiasco.

This was like back in 08’ right?

It might have been 07’. Yeah, it was 07’ because you know, the funny thing. When the Cool Kids came out, this dude that I knew in college. I was at a party and he was like, “I’m about to put you on to this new group.” They’re called “The Cool Kids.” So, he like pressed play and I was like “yo, this is fire.” I feel like if someone plays new music for you and right off bat, you’re into it.

It was meant to be. It was serendipitous even.

Yeah, and one day, I was just listening to them over and over and then that same dude brought them to our school to perform. Before even listening to the music, I thought the name was dope. And then “The Cool” came out. And then, obviously, I thought that album was incredible but then the word “cool” came up again.

So at this point, it’s just a recurring theme.

Yeah but at the time, I didn’t have a real artist name yet. I wasn’t like. I was definitely making music but I guess it wasn’t as serious but I was definitely making music for sure. But I didn’t have a proper name yet. But then I heard of this guy from Columbus. This guy named LE for the Uncool. Eventually, I was like “I can just add cool” to my name but it took time for me to get to that place. It was my Twitter handle at one point and then my name was just NanaB. And then there was like this old-school, highlife guy with the name NanaB and his name was just getting mixed up with mine. To make it official, when I was in New York, My name officially became NanaBcool but it’s really inspired by those three moments. And also, just not being cool. Being cool but getting tight very easily at a certain point. It was just like NanaBcool.

So being from Columbus, Ohio, who would you say are some of your biggest inspirations? And they don’t even have to be from Ohio.

My first person is Michael Jackson. I just was put on from my parents and my uncles and everybody around me from a young [age]. I literally learned all of his stuff. 

My parents had [the Dangerous tour] on tape. It’s still at my house. I just saw it the other day. It’s on VHS. My parents recorded it on Pay-Per-View or something. I ran that through the group when I was really young. Like 4, 5, 6.

Photo: Mike Vitelli
Photo: Mike Vitelli

That was the joint with “Remember The Time” on it right?

Yeah, Dangerous has “Remember The Time” on it but this was the tour, so like it had everything on it. On the tour, he is performing everything but there was this part where he lands on stage and all these people are passing out/fainting and he’s just standing there for like 15 minutes bro.

It’s crazy like…he looks to the right and everyone just starts fainting, crying and falling out. The security is just pushing people out. It’s insane bro. That was like my first guy that I was just obsessed with.

He was in the history books after that. Rarefied air!

Yeah for sure but then I got to a point where I really was. In Ohio, we take in everything because we’re the Midwest, so growing up there is like the East Coast, West Coast, South. In the Midwest, we just rock with everything. So I had like my “Bad Boy” phase. The first part of hip-hop I was like super into. Mase was my guy forreal. His voice too is super smooth. Like, he’s talking about girls. It’s like fun tracks. It was just cool. Then like, DMX was a moment for me. Then Nas. But then when you take it back to the sound of Ohio, a lot of the G-Funk stuff comes from us. There’s Zapp & Roger.


I don’t know if Parliament is from Ohio but Bootsy Collins is from Ohio. The Isley Brothers are from Ohio. I don’t know if Cameo is. They might not be. I think I’m wrong on that one but yeah, man that type of sound was very influential for me and Tribe Called Quest was like a big, big, big deal for me. I like the tone of Q-Tip’s voice, Mase’s voice, Snoop Dogg’s voice. Like growing up, that was just like some people. And I was trying to rap either. I had moments that I just wanted to write raps with my friends and stuff but outside of the R&B space.

So like rappers with more of a sultry kind of tone.

Yeah like, just melodic. Yeah like before the lyrics came in, that was really important to me. Yo and honestly man, Lil Bow Wow like.

Lil Bow Wow was instrumental? I mean he’s from Ohio right?

I’m from Columbus but I grew up in this area called Reynoldsbury and went to school at Pinkerton. He went to Reynoldsbury. That was my rival school. This was middle school, high school. High school sports like it’s a big deal. So like all the girls I grew up with used to be like “oh, Bow Wow’s my cousin or I used to date Bow Wow.” 

“I used to date Bow Wow” goes crazy. [laughs]

And the Bow Wow thing was a phenomenon because we used to go to the skating rink and before he was big big. He would perform at like the teen nights and stuff. Like, it was crazy. He was really Justin Bieber before Justin Bieber. 

Probably bigger because this wasn’t social media. This was a real music label, Snoop Dogg is with you. Jermaine Dupri. That’s crazy dog.

Bow Wow has some hits. When I think about like early on in his career, I think about Take Ya Home with Pharell. Produced by The Neptunes.

How’d you get your start in music from a professional standpoint? I remember you telling me that you were doing something else before and then you kind of transitioned.

Well, I come from a musical family but like where I jumped full throttle outside of school. I was working at Chase. I was working in finance. I was an underwriter right out of college. They took us for training. My job was going to be in Chicago. They took us for training in New York. When I got here, the Chase part just became formalities. I just had to get to work. It was everything around it. Soon as work was out, I would be in the city. We were training in Jersey City, so I would just be out to the city meeting people. And I had money. It wasn’t like I was here on some starving artist vibes. It was like Chase was paying for everything and they were paying us and I was fresh out of school. It was the first time I actually had a real salary.

This was 2012 and I was just running around New York for like three and a half weeks. I moved to Chicago and before I actually got the job, I actually finished an EP with this group out of Columbus called Fly Union and that guy: L.e. For The UnCool was in the group. I made it my business to somehow work with them when I got out of college. That was my goal. I wanted to get beats from Fly Union and I did.

But you had to have something under your belt before that?

I was in bands when I was in college. When I graduated, I started making demos from beats that I found. I don’t even know where those beats were coming from. Just from different people but I met them through Twitter. They were saying they had beats and I reached out. I hope they email me back. Dude, invited me to his apartment. This guy named Jay Swifa. He’s my homie till’ this day. He was like “Oh, this guy is cold.” and I was like “oh s**t” and he was like “oh, I’ll produce your first EP,” so that’s what he did. That was before I got the job at Chase. By the time I got the job, I had an EP that was about to come out and I used to tell people, I made music and they were like “oh word” but then I put out a song and it got featured on VIBE and all these people at work saw it and was like “oh s**t, you do make music.” I was like “yeah, I told you.”

That is hilarious! They didn’t know. You had to show them what was up.

Yeah but before I really, really dove in, I was working at Chase and then it just got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore. We did another training in NYC but this time, we were in Brooklyn. That’s when I was getting home at 5 a.m. and walking straight to work. The job was across the street. I would just pull up to work with my suit on or whatever and then right after work, go back to the hotel, change clothes and then go back into the streets or whatever. Then I finally just made the move to New York in 2013.

So when was the breaking point? What was the moment that made you say, I’m going forward with this music thing full-fledged?

I have a friend that was really close to me in college. He dropped out of school to become a dancer. There was a point in time when he was skipping school and all he was doing was practicing and he would leave school and go to dance rehearsals in NYC or auditions. And people thought he was crazy. A couple of months before I graduated, I went to visit him in LA and I met him at Warner Bros. Studios or like Nickelodeon Studios.

He was in his field. Like, he was dancing. Or he was trying to. It’s like if I’m trying to be a dancer and I’m putting in all my time dancing. I feel like you’re going to end up being a dancer. But If I’m trying to be a dancer and I’m putting 8 hours of my day working finance and then I’m working on the dancing thing but then someone else is working on that all day long, who you think is gon’ win bro?

I used to be at work, killing myself. And I was not that good at my job, I was very mid bro.

I had a friend tell me “you make pretty good money, you could actually save your bread and then quit and have a little base to really go for it.” I didn’t get to save the amount that I wanted to because I just couldn’t deal with the job anymore and I just quit.

Well yeah, I commend you for taking that leap of faith man! That s**t is intense.

So you just dropped a project recently, Good Luck, Vol.1. Super dope project. A lot of vibes on it.  I would have to say my favorite joints off the project were “Daughters,” “Oceans” and also “Greenlight.”

What would you say was your initial vision for the record and do you feel like you executed on that initial vision?

So the name came when I started making the record. Like, it came later on. Initially, I put out my project in 2019. It was called Iced Tea. I was like touring and doing the whole hand to hand thing and then COVID happened, so it kind of halted that. I put out a video for Iced Tea during COVID. But I’m also more of an “in-person” person. I’m not the biggest social media guy. I mean like I post on it. Like I feel like during COVID, it was like get on TikTok and start doing TikTok dances or whatever, which maybe I probably tried.

I felt like my Iced Tea album was going up and I feel like it made it plateau in my opinion because I wasn’t able to be like “yo, I’m in Philly, I’m in DC performing.” That’s really how I move. Shows are my bread and butter.

So COVID kind of stifled that natural process for you. 

A little bit. I was in Berlin when COVID started. I had like three shows set. I was about to be touring Europe. Like what I was doing these past few months is what I was planning to do during COVID, so it was just like, I’ma make another album then.

That’s wild. So you had this momentum going for you and COVID was like “nah, chill.”

A lot of people did. That was just kind of how things worked out. Some people made it out of COVID crazy. I just had to switch it up. I just had to start making a new project and it took a while. What I started in 2020 is not the album you hear today. It really started at the end of 2020/beginning of 2021 and I literally finished the album in January of this year.

My plan with this project was to do everything I wanted to do with Iced Tea stuff but the dope part is now I have Iced Tea done and now I have Good Luck, and I’m like wishing myself Good Luck because I’m going to do a Vol 2. and a Vol.3 and hopefully when I get to that project, I’ll be at the place where I want to be or maybe I’ll do more until I’m at the place I want to be as an artist. Then I’ll put out some crazy album. I’m gonna gather all these fans and then I’m gonna drop a full project after.

Photo: Mike Vitelli
Photo: Mike Vitelli

So this is like a saga almost?

Yeah, I feel like it’s dope to have that for artists. As a fan, it’s dope to have something you can follow and go back and say “oh s**t, this connects to this.”

Yeah, I feel like a lot of artists have that. When you think about JAY-Z with The Blueprint. 

[And] Wayne with Tha Carter.

So I’m curious to know, how’d you get your start with Unity Records?

I mean Unity is a label. I licensed the project out to them, so I’m not signed to them. But this song that I did with them was called “Fool For You,” which actually came out right around COVID time. It was with this producer named Jafunk and this other artist called Nic Hanson. That’s when I first made the connection with them. They’re based in France and they were down to release the record, so I guess it’s a partnership yeah. I’m not signed to them or nothing like that. They definitely are supportive.

So to my knowledge, you were in Europe and you were pretty much doing a circuit, so how was that experience?

It was incredible bro. I was in Berlin. And I did like 10 shows. I did a writing camp in Berlin. I did some shows in London. I did some shows in Basel, Switzerland and that was not random because my cousin lives there and he does all my artwork, so I went there to do all of my art and my visuals for my album. 

Now I have people in Berlin. I don’t wanna call them fans just yet, but I have supporters in Berlin.

You set up shop!

Yeah, I set up shop. I can work on music there. I can make and play music there. I really am comfortable there now.

So what would you say your creative process looks like? Does a lot of your music and the concepts behind your music derive from real-life experience? Are these like personal anecdotes that you’re pulling to craft your music?

Yeah, they’re all stories bro. “Oceans” is a direct story from 2021. The song is literally the story.

“Leave me alone, I wanna get over. But she picks up the phone when the sun sets over. She living alone. She live bicoastal. She never let go with me. She say to meet me where the Earth ends.” Like, shawty told me to meet her where the Earth ends. It was like this mountain. This is where Heaven and The Earth meet or whatever at this place called Mount Shasta. Like, I went to Seattle for the weekend. Like everything. So they’re all like real stories. It’s funny because I don’t really have to explain the story because if you listen to the song and you read the lyrics, it’s like “oh, that really happened.” Even Greenlight. Like, “After the club with me, we swimming in the ocean.”Like, I was in the Canary Islands. I’m working on this album. I’m actually working on Amaarae’s first album and we went to the beach after the club.

The beach after the club is crazy [laughs].

It’s crazy. Yeah man, I can’t make that up.

Shoutout to Don Knock too.

Yeah man. Don Knock is a guy that I was working with with this album. He made a lot of beats for me that didn’t end up on the album but will probably be on the next one. But it was like, yo we asked him if he could add a verse and he sent it by like the next day. It was super fast.

Yeah, he slid on that joint. Shoutout to my boy! But what do you think about the current state of R&B? Diddy had a controversial statement about how R&B is dead. Of course, it was a publicity stunt knowing Diddy and that he was just doing that for attention, but what are your thoughts on that? I mean that was something that kind of like piqued my interest a little bit.

It’s not dead. The music industry [and] like the big labels just don’t know how to market it because they’re just focused on whatever’s poppin on TikTok.

So the way that the labels work is they sign you when you’ve already done the work for them. So like, if I go viral, a bunch of labels are going to hit me up today to sign me because now, I have a following that they can use and put money in and get that money back and take the majority of it from me but today, if I’m sitting right here. NanaBcool. We’re chilling. If I put something out today and it goes viral, I’m going to get hit up by a bunch of guys. Like the way the music industry works isn’t necessarily based off of what is good. And there’s a lot of great R&B music. Like, I was just in Texas with like 10 different R&B artists from the UK like James Vickery, Jaz Karis, Manila, like all these really dope artists. And they’re all killing it. We were just talking about Masego and Rober Glasper. I just named you six R&B artists.

And there’s a lot more.

Arin Ray, Kehlani, Fable, Gwen Bunn. It’s impossible for R&B to be dead. NanaBcool.

They’re lazy. They’re not at NuBlu on Monday night. They’re not in Berlin at Swag Jam. They don’t even know what these things are.

That’s why someone like Diddy would say R&B is dead. Usher is performing in Vegas right now every week. That’s crazy. That’s dope. That’s how it’s supposed to be. R&B is far from dead. All the rappers are being melodic right now, so that’s impossible. The biggest artist is Drake and he makes R&B music too, you know what I’m saying.

It’s so many dope artists that don’t get the recognition that they deserve especially within the sphere of R&B.

That’s because the people that know, know and the people that don’t, don’t. And if you don’t, you just don’t wanna know, you know what I’m saying?

Yeah, that’s pretty insane. So where do you envision NanaBcool five years from now?

NanaBcool six years from now? I’ll probably have like six different projects out. Touring with more people there. Like waiting for me to get there, you know what I’m saying? Yo, so I was at this studio in Berlin, I would walk outside and there was this theater called the Mercedes-Benz arena and I would write songs and like go out and visual myself going to perform there. Five years from now, I would want to be landing in Germany and walking through all the same spots, I walked through and have a Face Mask on, vibing and then go perform at Mercedes Benz. And then go somewhere after and then come back to New York and do the Garden. That’s my plan. I saw Blood Orange recently or before I left for Berlin rather and he was like walking his dog and he had performed at Madison Square Garden with Harry Styles. 

It was funny because nobody knew him. I let him rock of course but I was like “yo, this dude just performed at the Garden.”

So you want your artistry to be top-tier and known around the world but you want to live somewhat of a normal life.

You don’t wanna be a celebrity? Nah, I’m a musician. You know what I’m saying? I even have it written down. Like the people I wanna be like.

Like those who know, know me. Like Mach Hommy, Larry June. Those are the guys I really look up to. Like, you’re gonna know what I look like because I don’t cover my face up. But like I ain’t a celebrity dawg. I’m an artist. I’m a musician. Pure point blank. You’re coming to see me perform and then you go home. That’s how I want it at least. Like, the people that know me, they know me. And if you feel like R&B is dead because you haven’t listened to me, that’s your fault.

They’ve gotta wake up.

Yeah, they need to wake up.

Well, I’m wishing you Godspeed on that brother. You’re well on your way. I’m just fortunate enough to be documenting the journey.

Yeah man, I appreciate this too. Good luck!

Haha, shout to Good Luck, Vol. 1 too. Go run up those streams.



Clothes: Kid Super

Photographer: Mike Vitelli

Stylist: Domi R