Nina Chanel Presents “BIG”

Birmingham doesn’t have the international reputation of Atlanta, its bigger, busier neighbor to the east. But Birmingham loves hip-hop just as much as Atlanta does — and it’s loaded with young, hungry rappers who are ready to represent Alabama to the fullest. Birmingham is just a fraction of the size of its Georgia cousin, but it’s not a dissimilar place: it’s got the same combination of Southern charm and transnational brawn, massive wealth and extreme poverty, stifling heat in the summer, and surprising coldness in the winter. It’s a pressure cooker, in other words, and a place built for those who dream “Big.” Nina Chanel is an artist like that, and she joins Yung Bleu and NoCap in the ranks of young Alabama artists making national waves from the Yellowhammer State.

Chanel’s music epitomizes Alabama virtues. She’s a lean, tough, hungry rapper, a direct, driven, no-nonsense storyteller, a giant personality who leads with fearlessness. Her songs can be steamy, but she’s rarely salacious; she can get violent, but never gratuitously so. Often, her rhymes are clever, but she’s not here to impress you with wordplay for its own sake. Every syllable has a purpose, and not a word is wasted. “Big,” her latest single, makes her ambition manifest: it’s a declaration of her ravenous appetite for the good life and a demonstration of her immense talent. She tells you she won’t settle for compromises, and she won’t accept half-measures. By the end of the first verse, you’ll believe her. By the end of the song, you’ll worry for anybody, or anything, that gets in her way.

The production, too, is relentless: trap beats, whirring synthesizers, nods to Southern soul, deep gospel, and a roughness that borders on punk immediacy. Chanel rides the beat effortlessly, spitting cadences, drawing connections and delivering punchlines, earning comparisons to the best rappers in the American South. Her clips show Birmingham at its grittiest (she fits right in, naturally) and portray her as a criminal mastermind and a ruthless, scrappy, by-all-means-necessary street battler. In the “Big” video, she kills an adversary right in front of her crew, and she does it without remorse and without breaking a sweat. Yet she’s also at ease dancing under the Alabama sun or slinking into her apartment dressed in black, with an attack dog on a chain. No matter what she’s doing, it’s clear — she’s nobody to mess with.