By: Kerry Ingram, Arts & Life Editor
Photo by Brendan Felch/The Towerlight
Melodic tunes filled the air of the small, self-made music studio in Michael Nasty’s townhouse, as he sifted through a setlist of songs on a casual Thursday night.
“This one is a bit suckish,” Nasty said, a humble smirk creeping up on his face as he clicked on a song he had previously produced.
A heavy beat marched from his speakers, the bright yellow rims vibrating to match the music.
As the song played, Nasty sat still, focusing in on the sounds silently. His demeanor expressed that of an industry veteran, a musical analyst who had been in the game for a long time. Despite this, his casual outfit and youthful face hinted at quite the opposite – that he was an up-and-coming artist hoping to make a name for himself in the music industry.
Michael Vaughn “Nasty,” a Towson sophomore from Rockville, began his musical journey at a young age, and insists it was by choice rather than by pressure.
“My parents were smart,” Nasty said. “Rather than signing me or my brother up for music lessons and forcing us to study arts, my dad went out and got a guitar, a piano, a drum set for the house. That way, we had the opportunity to choose music if that’s what we wanted, without feeling forced to do so. I think he did that geniously.”
Although Nasty’s first foray into music began with learning to play the guitar as a child, he developed a passion for rap music that influenced his career goals as a musician. Once he began recording and rapping during his freshman year of high school, there was no going back.
“I was really big into Lil’ Wayne when I first started,” Nasty said. “But as I continued to record, I realized that I really liked more musical styles of rap, like Mac Miller’s. I’m a big melodic rap fan now.”
Nasty cited rappers like 50 Cent, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and Chance the Rapper as some of his main sources of inspiration, as well as old school rock legends like Queen and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Above all, Miller is one of Nasty’s biggest idols. A black-and-white poster of the late rapper sits center on Nasty’s studio wall, surrounded by other industry greats.
“I always felt what he was saying,” Nasty said. “The more he progressed, the more musical his rap got. My number one goal was to get a feature with Mac Miller. Now, I just try to pay homage.”
Miller’s influence is evident in Nasty’s music, although Nasty emphasized the importance of putting his own story into his music, rather than someone else’s.
“I know it sounds basic,” Nasty started, “but the best songs are written about incidents and stuff going on in my life. I’m not making music for other people. I’m making it as a means of really expressing myself.”
Nasty’s life has proven to be full of unique experiences; his path to music partnership fell in place accidentally.
Cole Bennington, Nasty’s manager and business partner, met Nasty through mutual friends, and instantly hit things off. Since then, Bennington has served as a sort of mentor to Nasty, and the two continue to work closely together to bring the Michael Nasty name to fame.
Such a name as “Michael Nasty” warrants a bit of uniqueness as well.
“The name actually started off as ‘Fat Nasty,’ which was born when I was in the eighth grade,” Nasty said, with a slight chuckle. “My mom has always been my biggest supporter and fan, but she showed a strong protest for that name. She didn’t think she could call up my grandparents to share my music with them and tell them that it was the latest ‘Fat Nasty’ song.” As a way to compromise, he decided replace the ‘Fat’ with his first name, yet “keep the Nasty.”
For now, Nasty is continuing his schooling at Towson as a marketing major, with a minor in music industry. Although his schooling does take time away from his artform, he tries to appreciate it for what it’s worth.
“I see college as a distraction,” Nasty said straightfaced, before releasing lighthearted laughter. “But it’s a necessary distraction, and it allows me to cut out all other unnecessary distractions.”
Nasty referenced a course on Hip Hop history as one class he’s already liking this semester, which brought to light a heavier topic: his place in the Hip Hop world as someone who isn’t of the same marginalized culture.
“I definitely have to work harder to be taken seriously,” Nasty said. “I guess I could be accused of appropriation. The music that I make though is a result of my life and my influences. It’s impossible for me to appropriate my truth.”
Bennington agreed, stating that Nasty has done well at acknowledging his life differences respectfully, and hasn’t tried imitating the lives of black rappers.
“As long as his songs are all genuine, and as long as he’s paying homage to his idols and giving credit where it is due, that’s what sets him in line,” Bennington said. “That’s all he can do.”
Nasty believes that despite having an easier upbringing than other rappers, he can still make meaningful and authentic music.
“You’ll hear the Compton in Kendrick when he raps,” Nasty said. “I want you to hear the Rockville in me.”
Nasty shared his plans to continue building his music career as he finishes his schooling and beyond. He already has plans in the works to grow MilkMen Records, the label company he’s starting with Bennington and their third partner, Sean Ainloo. He hopes to see it emerge as a huge competitor in the music industry and has plans to continue his rap and business career in California.
“I’d love to get jobs for all my homies and jobs for myself,” Nasty said. “The ultimate end goal is to build an empire.”