Artist to Watch: Sir Nai Finds Purpose In These Beats

Vortex Music Magazine

The young Portland producer makes soundtrack scores more than beats.

Photo by Riley BrownPhoto by Riley BrownGENRE: Hip-hop
ESSENTIAL TRACK: “Have You Seen This Man?”
FOR FANS OF: Nottz, Harry Fraud, Neill Von Tally

Mask on or mask off, Sir Nai doesn't know how to fail.

Before the beats, rhymes and lights, young Nainoa Slaughter found purpose in the U.S. Army. An imposing and athletic figure with a sharp and focused mind to boot, the Grant High alum had promotion on his mind, but a knee injury stopped his career as a soldier short, leaving Slaughter to deal with both defeat and a transition to civilian life.

Ego, self-worth, purpose. These are complicated things, and when threatened, we can quickly find ourselves in dark places. A soldier without a war, grasping for something to occupy his angst, Slaughter found that and more when he turned his attention to music.

Since childhood, Slaughter has been surrounded by hip-hop music. His father, known as Hakim Rashad Muhammad, was in Portland’s legendary The U-Krew, and his best friend, Bryce Lang of the famed rap collective The Renaissance Coalition, has long been a hub of creativity. So when Slaughter came home feeling unfulfilled with time to spare, his family immediately put him in the lab, where he studied music theory, created his split personalities LVIII and LXIV, and quietly started making tunes.

Soon, the music started to speak for itself. His characters—pronounced 58 and 64, respectively—represent the dark and light sides of his personality. LVIII is the moody, dark character, whereas LXIV is the quirky, upbeat, curious one. His use of these characters is prominent enough in his music that being aware of them enhances the listening experience. And the characters are personal enough that he and his friend designed a pair of glowing masks, red for LVIII and blue for LXIV, that he wears along with his signature straw hat when he performs, taking on the aesthetic of a samurai warrior.

Sir Nai rocking The Thesis at Kelly's Olympian on October 3, 2019: Photo by Anthony ConroySir Nai rocking The Thesis at Kelly's Olympian on October 3, 2019: Photo by Anthony ConroyTruth be told, Sir Nai makes soundtrack scores more than beats. His hip-hop-inspired instrumentations don’t demand to be layered with vocalizations; instead, they play unescorted with a jazz-like arc, arguably complete with highs and lows and riffs and runs that tell stories on a nonverbal plane.

Despite this niche, Sir Nai is a potent beatmaker, as seen in his work with Willamette Week’s 2019 Best New Band runner-up KayelaJ on her album D.Y.K.E., and he also holds it down as the masked DJ in the punk-rap group S.T.R.E.S.S. alongside Mat Randol, Harvee Bird and Based Zeus. If you dig enough, you’ll find that the kid even has some bars of his own. Not much he can’t do, but he focuses on his strengths.

There’s still a curious joy in his eye when Slaughter talks about learning to produce. There’s a satisfied smirk when he recalls Lang laughing at his early tunes. He playfully exclaims about digging through sounds and manipulating synths for hours. He reflects fondly on his mother giving him “The Hat” before his first show, suggesting it might bring him luck. It’s obvious that this music is so much more than a hobby or a simple love; for Sir Nai, this is therapy and fuel for life.

Mask on, mask off.

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Right now, most artists could use whatever form of support you’re able to provide. Purchase music, particularly through the artist’s own website, if possible. Stream songs on your preferred platform or watch videos on YouTube. Engage positively on social media. Hell, toss them a few bucks on Cash App or Venmo, if you’re so inclined. If you want to support Sir Nai in any of these ways, you can find all of his social links here.

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