Show & Prove: Nardo Wick
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Twenty years ago, Clipse’s “Grindin’” was the soundtrack served at school lunch tables everywhere as kids banged on tabletops to mimic the Korg Triton drum presets used by producers The Neptunes. Two decades later, rap fans have a new track just as palpable: Nardo Wick’s “Who Want Smoke?.” The baleful, stomp-inducing song, featuring sound effects of the rapper stomping on the floor as he ponders, “What the fuck is that?” has been ringed with a social media craze, praised remix, more than 100 million combined Spotify streams, a Billboard Hot 100 spot, platinum certification and some controversy.
The steely appeal of Nardo’s rhymes paired with the creative use of his voice to accentuate sounds on “Shhh,” “Pull Up” and “Lolli” have pushed the 20-year-old rhyme slinger into hip-hop’s forefront in less than a year. A new face in street rap, he cleverly depicts life through his pensive brown eyes. The Sunshine State is where his lyrics started to bubble, but TikTok was the initial slingshot to success for “Who Want Smoke?.” “It felt good, like, OK, I’m doing something right,” Nardo says of the song taking off on the platform with over 7 million views on just the viral challenge videos alone. “It ain’t like I made the song for TikTok. TikTok just took it. It was natural.” So was his gravitation towards music.
Born Horace Bernard Walls III, the Jacksonville, Fla. native kept his ears tuned in to Future, Gucci Mane, Eminem and T.I. as a kid. “I’ve always been a music person,” Nardo expresses. “I loved listening to music.” By age 5, the former Pop Warner football running back would write “little raps.” He remembers at age 7 being intrigued by the “whoosh” sound Guwop made to mimic bullets in the air on “Vette Pass By.” Without realizing it then, Nardo would be inspired to incorporate his voice as a special effect in his own music years later.
Unfortunately, childhood also brought him hardships. His mother, Qown, who’s now his manager, went to prison for fraud when he was 8 years old. Her five-year sentence matured young Nardo, a middle child with an older brother and younger sister. He lived with his dad while she was away, but prioritized communication with the matriarch. “I just used to miss her,” he reflects on his mom’s absence. “I’d go see her two times out of the year. Then I’ll write her and talk to her on the phone.” Nardo’s mom returned home when he was 13, just a year before he put his early rhymes to the test.
Dreams of success and money were the motives for the aspiring artist at 14 to kickstart his goal of rapping. For three years, he worked to perfect his skills. “I had to practice, practice, practice and to understand, watch interviews and stuff like that,” he admits. His dad bought equipment to build a home studio. Once Nardo got funds to go to a professional studio, by 17, he was recording novice tracks like “Face Shot,” a stripped-down guitar number that finds him on the hunt for the opps.
Armed with 2020 songs “Lolli,” “Came Up” and “Slide,” now at over 2.7 million combined Spotify streams, Nardo’s vivid imagery of life in the streets and the violence that comes with it, all supported by canny, droll lines, began to take shape in his rhymes.
By that year’s end, streams were running up, yet Nardo felt a personal lag. “Before [my signing] happened, I felt like it was taking too long,” he recalls. His breakthrough moment happened in a police car. In November of 2020, he was arrested after cops found a gun in a car he was a passenger in. The driver owned up to the weapon, but Nardo still got hit with carrying a concealed firearm charge. He has since pleaded not guilty in the ongoing case. While headed to jail, a record label rep was in his email inbox and another when he bonded out.
Eventually, the hip-hop go-getter signed with former LEP Bogus Boys member Frank “Moonie” Criddell’s Flawless Entertainment in January of 2021, the same month “Who Want Smoke?” hit DSPs. By February, Nardo also inked a major label deal with RCA Records, fresh off the minacious track, which flew into the TikTok vortex later that year. More than 185,000 videos with his song, ranging from hilarious to straight odd, are on the app. The “Who Want Smoke??” remix featuring Lil Durk, 21 Savage and G Herbo, coupled with a Cole Bennett-directed video last October—now at more than 105 million YouTube views—sent Nardo soaring onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart with a No. 17 debut. Kids have taken him mainstream, too. They’ve used his hit song in social media videos of themselves pointing cellphones like guns at school, which resulted in suspensions reported by local news outlets.
Aaron “Dash” Sherrod, SVP of A&R at RCA, signed Nardo to the label last February. He commends the rap newcomer’s concentration amid early success. “He comes from [the streets], but he’s really focusing on his career,” says Dash, who’s also a former Interscope A&R that signed the late Juice Wrld and Playboi Carti. “[Nardo]’s really trying to challenge himself. Once ‘Who Want Smoke?’ went platinum, everybody was celebrating. And he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s what’s up.’ I was like, ‘What the fuck you mean?’ He got other goals.”
His 18-track debut album, Who Is Nardo Wick?, climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200 last December, thanks to songs like “Me or Sum” with Future and Lil Baby. Nardo aims to beat that feat with his sophomore LP, due later this year. He’s gone back to his roots by recording with an engineer at home for some of the process. Intuitive creative decisions are already coming into play and words of wisdom from Lil Baby may help with choices. “How to move, operate throughout the music, how to get more money from other things,” Nardo reveals of talks with the 4PF founder. He’s also hopeful for a Drake feature in the future: “He’s the man.”
Ultimately, Nardo, who’s on a headlining tour now, wants to be a hip-hop great in the same vein as legends Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Eminem and Tupac Shakur. “Stay consistent, keep putting out great music” are bullet points on Nardo Wick’s legacy plan.
No smoke with that.
Read the cover story with Playboi Carti and check out the other interviews in the magazine with Fivio Foreign, Latto, DaBaby, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Joey Bada$$, Denzel Curry, Hit-Boy, Big K.R.I.T., RZA, Saba, Morray, Kali, Sleepy Hallow, SSGKobe, ATL Jacob, Pink Sweat$, Saucy Santana, Jason Lee, Angie Randisi and Colby Turner in the new issue of XXL magazine, which is on newsstands now and in XXL’s online shop.