When it comes to earning a spot on the Hot 100, there’s unusual, and then there’s *unusual*. DJ Luke Nasty, 25, who went from playing the saxophone in his high school band, to DJing at his college radio station, to three weeks at no. 1 on Rap Airplay (and 10 weeks on the Hot 100) with his off-the-cuff rendition of Anderson .Paak‘s 2014 song “Might Be,” falls into the latter category. Below, the High Point, N.C. native (also known as the “Furniture Capital of the World” and home of American Idol‘s Fantasia Barrino, he was quick to note), shares how it all happened ahead of his upcoming album on Othaz Records/Empire, Highway Music: Stuck In Traffic (out May 13).
Billboard: How did you first start making music?
I caught wind of it early on, just from being in school and doing poems and stuff. I played the saxophone in band, and eventually joined choir. In high school, I started just freestyling at the house, and when I transferred schools I joined this group that was called 336 Boyz. We started traveling throughout the state, and were even on 106 and Park. My whole high school to early college years, I was in this group trying to get it right. I loved it so much, what else are you going to do?
Where did you go to college? And what did you study?
Winston Salem State University — I studied Mass Communications. In college I had a radio show on campus, and I also used to stream my set live from the club. I was a DJ, so at the end of the day, music was going to be my life whether I was making it myself, or doing radio or doing interviews — just anything to stay in the culture.
Was being a DJ and having to keep up with new music how you first came across Anderson .Paak’s original version of “Might Be”?
Me making that song was just understanding what was hot and what was falling off. I ain’t going to say falling off, but at least losing steam. I came across the Anderson .Paak record last year around May or June, when one of my homeboys showed me one of his girls in Texas — it wasn’t nothing crazy. I heard [“Might Be”] in the background, she was dancing to it. I was just like, “Oh, that’s pretty dope.”
So when you say dancing, do you mean dancing like *dancing*, or dancing without clothes on?
Yeah, without clothes on — what everybody sends their significant other, or whoever they get on with. You know, you just want to be sexy sometimes. She did it, and it changed my life — it’s great [laughs]. It was just one of those blessings that came in the weirdest way. You don’t really argue with it.
Then you decided to redo it?
Yeah — I couldn’t find the instrumental and I produce, so I just produced it myself. I didn’t like how it sounded anyway. I wanted it to hit harder, and for the sound to be much clearer. And I understood the tempo: I wanted the BPM to be 74, because [Fetty Wap‘s] “Trap Queen” was coming down, and [Yo Gotti‘s] “Down In The DM” was going up. Me being a DJ, I was like, “This is going to be a dope transition record.” I didn’t even think it was going to be a single.
So the way you remade it was pretty strategic.
Yeah, but it was for my own personal pleasure. It wasn’t like, let me do it and put it out and see what happens. It was like, let me do it so I can ride home to it. I play new music at the club all the time, so when I ride home, it’s just my time: to listen to my music, listen to old school music, just vibe out. So when I made it, I had it for like two months before I even put it on my SoundCloud, just vibing to it. I thought it was pretty dope.
After you put it on SoundCloud, what was the first indication that it was going to be a big deal?
Just the way WSSU gravitated to it. My DJ at this moment is the resident DJ on the campus and they just played it — it just caught wind. Me being from North Carolina, it’s a college state so it was everywhere. So it was literally from one college to the next. With all these college students being from different places, it was just a virus — it just spread. Then one of my brothers who DJs was like, “I’m actually going to play it on the radio.” I was like, “You can’t do that — you got to get permission.” But he said, “Nah bro, I believe in you — I think it’s the one.” So he breaks it, and I’m thinking he going to get in trouble — but the radio lines just blow up. It just generated the buzz. Me putting in my groundwork for so long — I’ve been doing this for 10 years. So from 15 to 25, I sort of earned the respect of my city and my state, so all it took was for me to find that one thing to get a hit.
How did you eventually get clearance from Anderson .Paak?
It was a weird situation at first — just miscommunication. I never thought it would get to the point it did, you know, since people do freestyles everyday. So when it started getting overboard, he reached out and was like, “What’s going on?” And of course anybody who does music would be mad, so he was upset. But I just explained that this wasn’t one of those situations I knew was going to happen. And being a DJ, I’m [usually] somebody who can tell you when something’s going to pop. I guess when you hear your own stuff, you’re more like, “Nah, this ain’t going to happen.” It turned out we were under the same distribution company [Empire], so we just got the business taken care of. My manager and Ghazi [Shami, Empire founder] are just real close friends — family at that — so it’s just a matter of business and conversation. And at the end of the day, it’s about the music.
What is it like getting a hit single so unexpectedly?
Everybody wants to figure out a formula of what’s hot — but it’s nothing. It’s just you and timing. You know like they always say, the stars align just right. Then you get the light shined on you, and have to figure out what to do with it. I’m blessed to have this song, always going to keep coming. People look at the charts, trying to figure out how they can do it, instead of just doing themselves. Everybody is such in a rush to get somewhere that’s already coming to them.
I’m a big Seahawks fan and I love the line, “On my Marshawn Lynch/You know what I’m here for” — are you really into football?
Yeah — I’m actually a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, but I’m a huge fan of Marshawn Lynch. His realness and understanding and his pride, you know. A lot of top people don’t know how to act, or don’t know when to say no to things — he’s just a dope athlete. I keep up with him, and when he had his whole interview where he just said, “You know why I’m here, you know why I’m here,” [before the Super Bowl in 2015] I thought it was just dope. So every time I talk to my shorty, it’s always, “You know what I’m here for,” you know? She used to get mad, but it was just trending at the time. Hopefully he’ll link up. He’s just a dope individual some of us can learn from.
What’s your next move?
I’m releasing a project through Empire entitled Highway Music: Stuck In Traffic. Like I said, the whole concept of my music is the late night drive for the DJ after the club or just for third shifters in general. Whether you’re coming home or going to work, it’s just mellow vibes. I always tell people I’m not here to rush. I’m just learning. I’m traveling and doing shows, networking with radio, making sure I’m on time, just evolving as a man. Everybody gets their whole trial and tribulation of becoming a man, and I feel like this is mine. You got your athletes who do theirs, you got your chefs who go to their school, hairdressers, barbers — as an artist this is your time to learn, and a lot of people get their time to learn mixed up with fame. There’s a big difference. So right now I’m just trying to evolve, be a better man.
Anything else you wanted to add?
If y’all are going to put this in interview, somebody needs to have Rihanna call me, so I can pull up at her spot. We need to work together.
A shortened version of this article originally appeared in the May 7 issue of Billboard.