St. Louis hip-hop artist NandoSTL is the man to beat at Saturday’s SLUM Fest Awards.
The newcomer, known for his song “Outside,” leads the nominations with five: artist of the year, best male artist, best new artist, video of the year and people’s choice song for “Outside.”
NandoSTL figured he’d make it into the nominations, but he didn’t expect to be in the running for artist of the year or best male artist.
“I thought the big categories were reserved for the more established artists,” says NandoSTL. The 28-year-old artist (aka Fernando Tillman II) is wrapping up his debut EP, “Bamboo,” at Shock City Studios in St. Louis.
“When I saw my name with T-Dubb-O, I felt like a heavyweight,” he says. “That was the best thing about the nominations. I really would have been happy with just one nomination. I’m not into it for that.”
That said, he’s confident he won’t be going home empty-handed. He thinks his best chances at wins are for best new artist and people’s choice.
“Those are the two I feel like I’m guaranteed to get,” he says. “Best new artist is in the bag.”
But he really has his sights on artist of the year. It’s the award that means the most to him because the nomination came before he even released his proper debut.
“The other names on the list — Ricki G dropped a full album; T-Dubb-O did (SiriusXM show) ‘Sway in the Morning’ twice — they’re bigger names, but I think my content is just as good,” he says. “My marketing and timing may have been better. It doesn’t matter if you have a great album if no one hears it.”
He also points out that he scored the nominations without having performed on every stage in town.
“I didn’t do a billion shows,” he says. “I don’t pop out like that. It has to make sense. I’ve been to events where there’s 20 artists on a show, and if I wasn’t on the card, I wouldn’t be there. It’s not interesting. If there’s no way to build a bigger fan base, I wouldn’t be on the card.”
At the SLUM Fest Awards, he’ll perform “Outside.” He had envisioned bringing along a full band but wasn’t allowed to go that big. “I had to fight to get a violin in,” he says.
Just a year ago, NandoSTL attended the event as a spectator. “I loved it. I’d never been to anything like that. St. Louis has a bad rap for not being organized.”
At the time, he’d just started rapping. Though he has always been interested in music, participating in band and theater as a student at Hazelwood Central High School, he never thought he was cut out to be a rapper. As a youngster, he had a speech impediment, which he overcame.
“I didn’t think communication was my strong suit,” NandoSTL says. “I was never a good talker.”
By day, he works full time as a financial adviser at Wells Fargo and wanted to pursue something artistic to break up the monotony during his time off. He considered taking up the drums but figured hauling them around — with little pay — would be too hectic.
Some research showed him that being a rapper would be more fruitful.
In October, he opened a homecoming show with rapper Trina at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Sharing a bill with an artist as established as Trina, he says, was bittersweet. He learned what a rider is and saw what it was like to be afforded a real dressing room.
“I had a locker room,” he says. “I couldn’t even get water.”
NandoSTL decided the timing was right for his new EP. He’s starting to book festivals, including this year’s Rise Up Festival in downtown west, and needed product.
The EP — he named it “Bamboo” because it’s the fastest growing plant — is all about growth. The album will be out in March, with an album release concert May 23 at Old Rock House.
He plans to show growth by fixing mistakes he made with his previous project, “Good Vibes,” which was recorded in his basement. At the time, his confidence was low, he listened to other people more than himself, the mixing could have been better and the content was all over the place, he says.
He considers “Bamboo” his proper debut. The EP — five songs and a bonus live song — will have a soulful vibe.
“My backstory is I came up in the streets, but hip-hop is bigger than just street music,” he says. “I’ll have live elements, and I want to bring a different experience.”
He’ll venture into topics that others may be afraid of, including his troubled childhood.
“There’s certain things we may not realize were traumatic,” he says. “It’s about owning up to things that were previously holding you back. The whole project is about accountability. I want you to feel you know me as a person after listening to this project, my principles and what I stand on.
“And hopefully, you can nod your head to it at the same time.”