Akil Nadir was the Philosopher King, the straight-ahead MC known for his battle rhymes and sophisticated bravado. To his friends, he was Claude Lumpkin, an educator and father who let his heart speak through the music (and on his funny blog).
The veteran D.C. rapper died this weekend. He was 34.
As word spread of Nadir’s death, his peers flooded social media with solemn words of remembrance for the MC, who once taught English at Washington Metropolitan High School in Pleasant Plains, in addition to releasing a steady stream of music over the past few years.
“He was plainspoken, witty and clever,” recalls Rhome “DJ Stylus” Anderson, a veteran of the D.C. hip-hop scene. “I used to liken him to Ludacris, as the guy with great punchlines and clear enunciation. He was the clever asshole that wasn’t an asshole. He was one of the younger kids who you’d see just rhyming.”
Nadir first navigated local hip-hop as a teenager in the mid-1990s, before D.C.’s rap scene had attained its current visibility. Then, MCs were confined to small clubs along U Street NW, since go-go still ruled the era. Nadir, a native Washingtonian, graduated from Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1997 and attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, where he met Foreign Exchange vocalist Phonte Coleman in freshman English. The class had to write short stories for their peers to review. Coleman reviewed Nadir’s story and gave it a perfect score. “I thought ‘this dude is kinda different,'” he recalls. “He was really sharp and very smart.”
Elsewhere, the two would rhyme in ciphers at the university. On his 2007 debut, Magnificent Bastard, Nadir—known then as Cool Cee Brown—featured Coleman and Asheru on a track called “No Fear.” “We were definitely kindred spirits in some way,” Coleman says of Nadir. “There was definitely a mutual respect and an admiration there. He was an extremely talented dude.”
Nadir and Joe D.—known collectively as Dirty Water—made the kind of music Acem of Gods’Illa says he wanted to make: intelligent, street-wise hip-hop based on real-life experiences. Nadir and Joe appeared on Gods’Illa’s landmark 2011 project, CPR: The BlendTape. “Dirty Water inspired me to start writing real heavy,” Acem says. “Their music always came from a grown-up perspective. I looked up to Akil Nadir. He tells you exactly how it is.”
“He dealt with a lot of issues grown men could relate to,” DJ RBI says of Nadir. “Certain guys come along and remind you of how great the culture of rhyming and making music can be. He was somebody people really paid attention to. People really enjoyed listening to him.” Nadir, RBI says, was an uncanny combination of MC Ren and Ras Kass; he could spit acerbic rhymes or dismantle you with technical wordplay. And he wasn’t afraid to show his emotions. “He cared about his people,” RBI continues. “He cared enough to speak about his frustrations. He was a phenomenal MC.”
Kokayi remembers a young Nadir from the now-defunct Freestyle Union, which used cipher workshops to teach emerging artists how to rhyme.”He wasn’t just a talented MC, he was a talented writer and thinker,” Kokayi says. “Claude was a funny guy. I’mma miss the dude, man. This music life is deeper than stage names.”
Listen to Nadir’s most recent EP, Optimist’s Cookbook (which dropped in January), below.
Photo courtesy Jati Lindsay