A Conversation With NandoSTL

In a city teeming with talent — introducing us to Smino, Jordan Ward, Sexyy Red and more — NandoSTL is ready to make his mark as St. Louis’s next all-star.

Born Fernando Tillman II, the 31-year-old North County native’s affection for music began at an early age, playing the drums at his grandmother’s church and all throughout high school. It was his initial passion for percussion that led to his efforts on the mic nearly a decade after. Music and gospel seamlessly intertwined Nando’s life together, but his come-up didn’t all happen at once; he had to keep faith. Manifestation is one thing, but without determination and diligence, he knows dreams will remain just that: A dream.

Formerly working as a financial advisor for Wells Fargo, Nando grew tired of the rat race over time — shifting focus to become a full-time artist. He dropped his debut EP, Good Vibes, in 2018 to a rather positive response. The rapper soon followed it up with his second project, Bamboo, at the onset of the pandemic. Struck from COVID-19 shutdowns that saw then-booked gigs fade out from under him, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Nando. One door may have closed, but another quickly opened.

Entering a contest held by T-Pain — who was on a search to find NappyBoy Entertainment‘s next artist — in 2021, Nando sold out a virtual concert vying for his admittance to the label. Despite impressing T-Pain, he finished in second place. However, he stayed in touch with T-Pain over the ensuing months, going above and beyond to nurture a relationship. Years later, Nando and Pain have forged a bond more akin to brothers than that of  an employer-employee. He signed to the NappyBoy last Fall and shared his debut album, Y.O.T.A. (Year Of The Ape), in May.

Additionally, Nando landed one of St. Louis’s most coveted co-signs for the record’s third lead single: Nelly. Tapping the hometown hero for “On Errthang,” it was a full circle moment for Nando who’s asserted himself as a “LOUD” Lou staple. It’s shocking to realize that amid all of his success up until this point, he’s only been rapping for four years — a fraction of what most emcees have spent honing their craft. The difference, though, is that Nando wastes no time — working without any rest days on his journey to acclaim. He also stays true to his musical roots, never missing to drum a solo whilst performing. His message: Never stop making something new. “Keep creating,” he said. “If it’s uncool, it’s probably because you’re first. It ain’t cool until everyone else is doing it.”

Sitting down with us at the Lyrical HQ a few months back, we chopped it up with Nando about his come-up in St. Louis, his humble beginnings in finance, signing with T-Pain, linking with Nelly and so much more.

Read our full conversation below!

Living ‘LOUD’ with NandoSTL…

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

JB: This is my first time speaking with you, so I wanna get the full story: Tell me what first drew you to music?

NANDOSTL: “It’s crazy because I’ve only been rapping for about four years, but I’ve played the drums for forever. Going to church with my grandmother really put music in my spirit. I wasn’t into the preaching too much, but the exciting part was the music. [When I was a kid], I felt like all the cool kids played drums, so that’s what I wanted to do. I always hop on the drums when I get the chance, me and Pain performed ‘YOTA’ on the road.”

JB: You were a financial advisor before a rapper… How has your financial background aided you in your endeavors as a rapper?

NANDOSTL: “It really taught me that everything was an investment. With any good investment, it takes time. It’s taught me patience more than anything. When you look at an investment chart, it looks like a mountaintop — like a straight line from here to greatness. You’re gonna have peaks and valleys along the way. You just got to ride it out.”

JB: What would be the best business advice you’d give to younger artists on the come-up?

NANDOSTL: “Know what your exit plan is. That’s the biggest thing: When you get in, everybody is hyped to be here, but you got to know what you want in the end. What’s the goal? What’s the purpose of you doing this and what are you gonna do after it’s all said and done?”

JB: You placed second in T-Pain’s Nappy Boy Entertainment sweepstakes among thousands of applicants. Describe that experience.

NANDOSTL: “It honestly sucked, but I was a good sport about it. I messaged Pain and told him I appreciated the opportunity and competition, And then he hit me, saying ‘I heard too much music [from you], we got to do something.’ After that, I linked up with him on a whim. He had a show in Chicago, so I drove all the way up there and snuck backstage to meet him. The rest is history.”

JB: How has your relationship with T-Pain evolved over time for him to eventually sign you?

NANDOSTL: “I think I push pain in a different light. I feel like he values my opinion, especially regarding music. I feel like there’s a lot of ‘Yes man’ around Pain all the time just he’s T-Pain. With me, he can come to me for the truth.”

JB: St. Louis is a cultural hotspot in the Midwest. I recently saw an interview with Jordan Ward and he said that St. Louis is a city of “hidden gems”: What about the city is so important to you and how has the LOU shaped your ear over time?

NANDOSTL: “It definitely is a hidden gem. We got everything everywhere else got. But the biggest thing is that it’s a city but we’re also super country. Nelly was like Jesus to us… Like if you remember during his time, he always wore cowboy hats. ‘What you think, we live on a farm?’ was one of the big lyrics from that time. [St. Louis] is really tight-knit. I know Jordan Ward, I went to high school with Smino. Everybody knows everybody because STL is such a close community.  Everybody run together.”

JB: Let’s talk about the biggest STL cosign you’ve garnered:” Nelly. He’s featured on ‘Year Of The Ape,’ how did that collaboration come about? How special was it work with a bona fide STL icon?

NANDOSTL: “He and Pain met at the club. I told Pain I wanted to put Nelly on the record. I recorded it for somebody else — we were going to pitch it to Chance. I just couldn’t stop hearing Nelly’s voice on it. I knew it was going to be a special moment. I didn’t want him to email his verse in like how most sh*t happens now. I found out he was at a hookah lounge at home. We have a holiday called ‘314 day,’ which is the area code for St. Louis, so I pulled up on him and he was happy to see me! We went bowling, lost a bit of money to him, really made the connection you know?”

JB: With artists like Metro Boomin, Jordan Ward, Smino, Sexyy Red and Nelly, STL has such a specific sound — it’s that bluesy, soulful type of R&B-tinged sound that makes it special. In 2020, you won five awards at St. Louis’s Underground Music Awards, including Best New Artist and Artist of the Year. Seeing the motion the LOU has right now, where do you see it going down the line?

NANDOSTL: “I think the door is wide open now. Everytime I say ‘I’m going to do this next’ I always think about how I could’ve thought bigger by the time I reflect on it. I think I want everything that’s me to be for me. I think that all of it seems possible now and now just some dream I was trying to chase before. If Metro Boomin, Sexyy Red, Big Boss Vette, Jordan Ward did it, I can too.”

“I had no idea I was going to get here. This was just a hobby. I had kids and I started working corporate, but I needed something for me. Something personal that can take me away from it all. And it turned into what it is now. Every day feels so surreal.”

JB: From your perspective, how does YOTA differ from ‘Good Vibes’ and ‘Bamboo’? What did you want listeners (both new and old) to take away from your official debut?

NANDOSTL: “I made this project as a sample platter. I’m an onion, it has layers. When you listen to my older stuff, there’s a certain vibe all the way through. That’s not what YOTA is. Every track got its own flavor. The range is wide and I just wanted to give people something to listen that you can’t get anywhere else. That’s what I was going for — it was just fun to create.”

JB: You went on tour with T-Pain, Tobi Lou and Yung Cash (“Escape From Wiscansin”). What was your favorite moment and least favorite moment on the road?

NANDOSTL: “Pain and I are close, but I definitely learn more from watching him than I do talking with him — trying to mimick what he does so I can apply to my career. But the biggest thing was going to other places [on tour] and watching the crowd sing my songs out there. That almost f**ed me up. That was new, especially in DC. They went crazy out there. We walked outside and people had bootleg Nando merch on, and I’d be in the middle of singing a song and they’d start screaming the title for a different song. It was nuts.”

JB: What’s next for you moving forward?

NANDOSTL: “Me and TOBI got something, so I’m sure that’s coming out soon. Me and Seddy Hendrix working on some stuff — I mean it’s a lot. I just did a show back at home. Shout out the LOU man, they packed that sh*t out. That was stupid — I have never seen a line out the door like that in my life. But expect a lot more from me very very soon.”

Listen to ‘Y.O.T.A.’ below!