IT is said that the music industry is one of the hardest to break into; those who have skyrocketed to the very top have often found themselves right back down again, or may never have even reached the dizzying heights of musical stardom. However, for 21-year-old Ryan Tracey from Manchester, it seems more like a walk in the park. Having been the front man of rock band Empires, he has now turned his attention towards a completely opposite genre of music; hip hop.
Ryan is better known by his updated pseudonym Nyraa, an anagram of his first name with an additional ‘a’, a decision which meant it would make it hard for other competitors to mock him or find easy quips about his title. Alongside his life-long friend Jack Hadfield, or Hadders, they both work on their music together for encouragement and to try out their ideas. ‘It was around last December was when I started thinking about becoming a rapper. Hadders had stopped writing after his Don’t Flop battle (that didn’t go as well as hoped), so by encouraging him to get back to it we both started writing together. We both meet up a couple of times a week with new bars to go over. It’s funny doing that, we come up with some good stuff when it’s just off-the-cuff freestyling.’
Since changing his sound, Ryan has not only partaken in producing UK hip hop/grime music, but he has also tried his hand at battle rapping on the big stages, including Don’t Flop and the more local KOTR events. Ryan explained how his passion for music has somewhat altered throughout his life: ‘Whilst I was still with Empires, I was writing lyrics for a completely different style of music to what I do now. I’d been watching battle rapping for years before that, moreorless since its conception.
‘Watching it for so long spurred me on to change my music, because I’m all about trying new things. I’ve done drumming for seven years, I also do production now so I’m in the studio making my own beats, I’m writing grime and hip hop lyrics, I battle and I also have a DJ gig in a club in Manchester on Fridays.’
With such an eclectic mix of musical taste to his arsenal, it may be difficult to understand where such a dramatic change of persona could have spawned from. Most musicians would state that the music that inspired them from a young age was very similar in style to that of which they make themselves now, but with Nyraa it seems as though inspiration was sought from some unpredictable sources: ’My first favourite song was Smack My B*tch Up’ by Prodigy, so they were an early influence for me. I’ve obviously got a very wide variety of music I like: Jeff Buckley’s probably my favourite single artist, and he’s country/rock. ‘Definitely Maybe’ by Oasis was another classic album for me growing up.
‘I listened to Eminem and a bit of 50 Cent but that’s because it was more accessible as a kid because it was in the charts. My first proper favourite hip hop influences were the likes of J.Cole, Drake and Kanye West. In the past four years or so it’s influenced me to come and try it for myself.’
Currently studying Music Production at Manchester’s School of Sound Recording institute (SSR), Nyraa is able to blend both his music production for the general public and also fulfil assessment requirements for his course simultaneously. ‘Music is what I do as a student, so it all intertwines. The music I make for projects is music I can release to the world, so I’m basically killing two birds with one stone.’
Having appeared on Don’t Flop just the once to date, Nyraa has spent months sending tryout videos to the tournament’s director Rowan Faife (AKA Eurgh). Upon receiving a second call-up, his opponent – having previously bailed on an event due to his brother’s ill health – looked as though he wouldn’t be appearing again. Nobody said it was easy being a battle rapper.
‘In my first Don’t Flop battle, I thought I’d won. The comments for the video on YouTube were like 95% swaying in my favour. I drove for eight hours to the event to be told the other guy might not even turn up as well, so I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. I got a good reaction but that’s just how it goes. I had a battle booked but the guy dropped out twice. He was shook.’
In the same way fighters must prepare themselves physically for their encounters, Nyraa must also go through rigorous preparation procedures. In the battle rapping arena, one minor mistake can cause an unwelcome pause and could knock the confidence of even the best battlers out there, so thorough rehearsal and in-depth research of the opponent is key.
‘When I get given a battle, I get the name of the other person and literally just have 4/5 minutes’ worth of material on them by the end of the day my mind just goes into hyperdrive. After that, it’s just about fine tuning; adding little bits here and there, maybe a few more funny lines for the audience reaction and then filing it down to fit a time limit. I overpractice my lyrics so much so that I’d never choke. I like to overprepare.’
Despite seemingly to fit into the world of music effortlessly, the market for UK hip hop/grime has become increasingly more saturated in recent years, with artists such as Skepta and Stormzy blowing up on the world stage. However, despite its evident overcrowding, Nyraa still has high praise for the scene: ‘I genuinely think the UKHH scene today is very strong, especially considering its size compared to somewhere like the US. I like a lot of American rappers, but then you look at who we have here in the UK, among the likes of Lunar C, Shotty Horror, the High Focus team, there’s just a good pool of talent at the moment. The American style differs so much from the English, we have different dialects especially, and they’re two very different types of music, but I do like what we have going on here.’
With such a promising future ahead of him and at such a young age, it looks as though Nyraa is set for big things, and with a new year on the horizon, 2016 may be the year that that well-deserved acclaim goes his way. He spoke of his plans for the upcoming year: ‘I’m currently working on my mixtape, which will probably come out in about May, with all my own beats and maybe even a couple of features, hopefully it will give my name a bit of a push and hopefully I can get touring etc.
‘I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of music for a 21 year old, but I’ve been doing it since I was like 12. I’ve always loved music; it’s been my life for a long time.’
By Laurie Waite