The Break Presents: Nef the Pharaoh
“I was four years old,” Nef the Pharaoh remembers. “I did the Vallejo High School talent show and I won first place. I wasn't even able to attend high school, I was in preschool. I said a rap, and I got a standing ovation. I got front page on the Vallejo Times-Herald newspaper in 1999.”
Not many people can claim such an early start to their rap career, but Nef the Pharaoh is an outlier by almost any measure. The 20-year-old Vallejo native is fresh off of his self-titled EP, which was issued through E-40’s Sick Wid It Records. That tape spawned a hit in “Big Tymin,” a Cash Money-nodding anthem that became a favorite with both critics and fans as the year drew to a close.
“Being around E-40 is like the rapper’s guide to longevity,” Nef says of his new label boss, who just released an EP of his own, Poverty & Prosperity. “Everything he says is wise, he never does me wrong.”
XXL caught up with Nef at the end of his breakthrough year to get to know the Bay Area’s newest star a little bit better.—Paul Thompson
Name: Nef the Pharaoh
Hometown: Vallejo, Calif.
I grew up listening to: Soulful music—not even really rap. I grew up listening to George Clinton and Earth Wind and Fire and Parliament and stuff like that. I grew up listening to funk, really. I was raised by a bunch of people. [Laughs] I was raised by my grandparents, and my grandma was one of those people who, if she saw you on the streets, she would make you come in the house. My grandparents lived in a three-bedroom with 18 people. So I was raised around country, R&B, a variety of different music.
My style’s been compared to: Mac Dre, but I could never be Mac Dre. There’s only one Mac Dre. I’m Nef the Pharaoh—when people try to compare me to him, I wanna veer from that. Of course you hear him coming out of me because we come from the same place, we’re both from Vallejo, I listened to him growing up. I’m bringing my own style, and of course I’m going to remind you of the late, great Dre, but I don’t want to be compared to anyone.
Most people don’t know: That every magazine that Michael Jackson’s ever been in, I own it. I collect every magazine that Michael Jackson’s ever been in.
One of my biggest moments: When G-Eazy brought me out at KMEL Summer Jam and there was 20,000 people singing my song. G-Eazy is like my brother from another mother.
My goal in hip-hop is: To be a household name. I wanna be up there with the Jay Zs, the Biggies and the 2Pacs. I wanna be a living legend. I want everybody to know Nef like they know E-40, like they know Puff Daddy. I wanna be somebody who monopolizes the rap game.
If I wasn’t rapping: I’d probably be a teacher, with little kids man. I like learning, and I like passing knowledge on to people. So I’d probably work with the kids, man.
Standout: "Big Tymin"
Nef The Pharaoh EP