Living Her Life Like It’s Purple: Meet Staten Island Rapper Nani Castle

Nani Castle might not be on your radar, yet. Her introductory project, The Amethyst Tape, barely touched the digital surface just a few weeks ago. The Udachi-produced tape offers a space for the Chilean-American emcee to display her in-your-face lyrics over an array of genres. According to the Staten Island lyricist, the project is a “collection of [her] rhymes over time,” and judging from its title, we can safely say it’s also a nod to her hometown hero’s solo debut. (Hint: they are both purple).

Since we’re introducing her mixtape – which you can stream above and/or download here – we thought it would only be appropriate for us to also give you a proper introduction. We hopped on a skype call with the “daughter of the exiles” and got to know her, her family history and her love for Raekwon a little better.

Your mom is Irish and your dad is Chilean. Do you identify with one culture more than the other and why?
Yes, I culturally identify with being chilena. My father is a Chilean exile. He came here in ’76. He met my mother who was a young student at the time at Sarah Lawrence [College]. She was doing Latin American studies.

My mom’s family is super, super Irish from Queens. Quintessential Irish people. Unfortunately, my grandmother died when I was about 10 years old. I was very close to her, but the rest of my family, I don’t know so well. My mom raised us to take on Chilean culture. She learned Spanish. Our first language was Spanish. I didn’t speak English until I went to school. She speaks Spanish at home, with my father as well. That’s always been a really big deal, learning my father’s language, culture, history, politics and music.

What exactly is your father’s story?
My father was trade union leader and was a part of a political group called MIR [Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria], a revolutionary leftist movement that was led by Miguel Enríquez. My dad was politically active in the underground for about two years before they captured him. He went home one night for his birthday and the military was waiting for him. He went straight into a concentration camp in Valparaíso, which is actually where Pablo Neruda is from. He was there for four years. During that time, he experienced variations of torture. To be more specific, they would pretend like they were going to kill him on a daily basis and torture him in that way. He never gave up his comrades. Time went by and he received word that he would be receiving refuge from a group in London.

All my life I felt like an outcast. Being Chilean and Irish, people always asked ‘what are you you?’

My father had three children and a wife, who were all affected by what happened. The military was essentially torturing them outside of what they were doing to my dad. They went through a tough situation and their mom died while my dad was in jail. He was told, ‘you are going to London and your children will be brought to the airport.’ That day, his children never showed up and they made him get on the plane. Instead of going to London, they drop him off in New York City. They gave him $200 and left him in New York City.

How has it influenced your music and your voice as an artist?
I felt like I needed to take that and just carry on the tradition of fighting for the things that I believed in and not being scared to say things that other people might be scared to say, as a woman, as an artist, as a human being.

Moving on to “The Amethyst Tape”, what is your favorite track off the tape and why?
“Lift The Veil” is really important to me. It’s the latest song that I made that is verse, chorus, bridge. It makes the most sense in terms of composition. The title has a lot to do with a certain time in my life. My good friend that I work with musically, Nire, came up with the hook and title herself. At the time, we had both broken up with our boyfriends. We got on a plane and flew to L.A. and lived in a mobile home in Topanga. We recorded that song on the crappiest little microphone and we both went in on that song because we were both feeling a certain kind of a way and we channeled this feminine energy. The beat itself is so progressive. I don’t even know how Udachi made that beat. It’s just a magic spell. Every time I hear one of his beats. I would say that the second verse on that song is one of the best verses that I’ve written so that song is really important to me.

I read that fellow Staten Islander Raekwon’s solo debut album “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” inspired “The Amethyst Tape”. That album is turning 20 years old in August. What about the tape inspires you 20 years later?
I think all the beats on that tape are insane. To the point where in almost every set that I have, I do a Raekwon throwback. I play one of the instrumentals from The Purple Tape and I just either freestyle or do a verse over it to mix my set up. I remember when I bought that tape. It was at Sam Goody in the World Trade Center. I remember that I had a Walkman and I played that tape out. At the time I was going to school in Manhattan and I remember being like, ‘I’m from Staten Island. I’m from Stapleton. I’m actually where these people are from.’ It made me feel like a part of something. All my life I felt like an outcast. Being Chilean and Irish, people always asked ‘what are you you?’ and ‘what is that?’ This made me feel like, ‘I’m from somewhere that means something now and I’m cool.’ From there I was a really big hip hop head and then I really started getting into writing rhymes and rapping.