Sir Nai has more than one personality inside him, and they've been dying to get out for a while now.
"I'm a very shy person—I'm really within myself," says producer and instrumentalist Sir Nai, born Nainoa Slaughter. "Music helps me branch out, meet people and come out of my shell."
But what—or who—has been itching to come out of Slaughter is more than just comfort in social situations and with sharing his creations. In a sense, the Portland producer's recently dropped beat record, The 58 Tape, is more than just an album of infectious, dark and brooding trap-tronic. It's an entity all its own—the id shadowing Slaughter's ego.
As a young Portland native, his id has a lot to say. "58 is a representation of feelings I can't show; he's a representation of the anger I feel like I cannot express without being in danger," says Slaughter. "Things I feel like I can't express in my daily life, that may not be socially acceptable to express because people fear that kind of anger. Being an angry black person in Portland makes me feel like I'm on the radar. That anger wells up inside of me and I had to voice it somehow."
Moving around Portland a lot as a kid, Slaughter witnessed how people perceived him, which wasn't and still isn't entirely favorable because of the city's still-existent issues with race. Still, he admits he wouldn't be where he is now without the people he's met along the way. Many of them were integral to his development as an artist, like producer Blang Blang Lang and his little brother Jason Undefined, who were the first to encourage Slaughter to make beats and put rhymes to his tracks while he was on active duty in the military. Along with Blang Blang Lang, Maze Koroma, Slick Devious and the rest of local rap collective the Renaissance Coalition offered tons of support and constructive critique. "The Renaissance Coalition is the reason why I make music today," Slaughter says. "If I hadn't seen them do all the things they did and see how inspiring they were, I probably wouldn't be doing this."
He also gives shout-outs to lyrical rapper KayelaJ and the women who run the Deep Under Ground, a floating open-mic night and local arts platform. The first beat set Slaughter performed was for a DUG-hosted event, while KayelaJ let Slaughter hold it down with his production of her pro-stripper anthem "Heat Gentlemens Club." It's one of the best bops to come out of this city in the past couple of years, and Slaughter is more than thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it. "My bucket list was made when Kayela performed it at the strip club," says Slaughter. "I've never had strippers dance to my music before, but that was the moment when I really felt like a producer."
But banging beats don't always have to be booty-bouncing. The 58 Tape is often quite the opposite thanks to its hefty, moody air. But Slaughter's intentional placement of kick drums and synths convey an incensed passion.
Currently, he's working on expressing another facet of his personality, which he's calling 64. Slaughter says this character is derived from honest emotions, something he feels he and a lot of other men were taught to suppress growing up.
Both characters got their names from the two jersey numbers of his high school football career, but they also have deeper meanings. "64 was the number I wish I could've been instead of 58 in sports, but also as a person," says Slaughter. "I like the parallel between them—I feel like both of them are parallels of depression. They're not necessarily opposites, but 58 is what I couldn't hold in, and 64 is what I want to let out. Beats are nonverbal, and if you can't tell already, music is my therapy."
His 64-ness will be unleashed on his next album, Melancholy Kid. The title comes from a nickname his mom gave him. "She'd say, 'You've always been my melancholy baby, my little melancholy kid,'" Slaughter says.
Until then, late night blarings of The 58 Tape and catching Slaughter DJ with impact rapper Mat Randol will have to suffice. But the more you dive into it, the more you catch aspects of Slaughter's emotions, even if they're not conveyed through words. Sir Nai's sounds are a vehicle for self-discovery.
"I'm these two characters all the time—they make up Sir Nai," Slaughter says. "Maybe positivity is somewhere deep down, but the way I see it, I'm the vessel and these two characters are the pilots. There could be another character in there, but I haven't discovered it yet."