Derek Minor fired his road manager, Dylan Phillips, in the summer of 2014 because he rapped too well.
Phillips began to intern with Minor’s record label, Reflection Music Group, his junior year at Middle Tennessee State University. His internship turned into a job as RMG’s merchandise manager and then Minor’s road manager.
Throughout this time, Minor lent Phillips the keys to his studio to record music with his friends. Minor never heard the music, until one day he stopped by to pick up something as Phillips’ song “indie.” was playing.
“Who is this?” Minor asked.
“This is me,” Phillips said.
“This is you?!” Minor asked, before he shared the song on Twitter: “This dude @nobigdyl got bars.”
nobigdyl. is Phillips’ stage name, but at this point, he intended to stay backstage.
“I’m kind of a really careful person,” nobigdyl. said. “I never saw being a rapper as a career, just because I knew so much luck, right-timing and connections had to go into it.”
nobigdyl. traveled with Minor on Winter Jam 2014, but, months later, when nobigdyl. visited Minor’s home to drop off merchandise, Minor sat him down to talk. He had heard enough good music from nobigdyl.
“Be honest with me bro,” Minor said. “Ten years from now, do you want to be a road manager?”
nobigdyl. answered no.
“You’re fired,” Minor said. “You are too young to be not chasing your dreams. Go and thrive, man. I won’t let you fail. I got your back. You’re really, really good at rapping. Don’t waste that talent, man. Thrive and do what God has called you to be.”
“From there on out,” Minor added, “that dude has been on fire.”
Fire from the Farm
nobigdyl., born in Oakland, California and raised by parents from urban areas, cried when his family moved to Bell Buckle, Tennessee. The nine-year-old didn’t want to live in the south.
Bell Buckle, which is an hour from Nashville, boasts a population of 500 people. nobigdyl.’s first home there sat on a farm. His second was in a subdivision surrounded by farm.
When he left for school in the morning, cows would occasionally greet him in his front yard.
nobigdyl. brought hip hop to the cows. He had become a fan as early as he could remember through his father. Near Nashville, though, rap wasn’t nearly as prominent as country, which his initial resistance to didn’t last.
“At first I was like, ‘I hate country,’” nobigdyl. said, “but it was always being played. I started to appreciate how they could affect the listener with their stories.”
If nobigdyl. sounds different than the average rapper, it’s partly because his resistance turned into embracement.
“In hip hop, you got wit, metaphors, similes and alliteration,” nobigdyl. said, “and there are storytellers, but, most popular stuff that you hear, they’re not really telling stories. In country, on the other hand, even the really popular stuff, they’re storytelling, even if it’s what they did over the weekend.
“Country and folk music also have a component where they tell stories that really grasp your emotion — tear-in-my-beard country music, as we call it. I think I really grew from that influence. That’s something I wouldn’t necessarily have gotten from just listening to hip hop.”
nobigdyl. started rapping in fifth grade. The following year, he formed the group Southside Epidemic with his friends and recorded an album. Big Smo, a country rapper signed to Warner Music Nashville, heard it and offered to sign them.
“But our moms were not down for it,” nobigdyl. said.
Years later when nobigdyl. rapped and played banjo for Broken Folk, a group he joined as a student at Middle Tennessee State University, he said Big Smo reached out to him again. nobigdyl. declined due to a lack of interest in his subject matter. He identified with RMG’s more.
After firing nobigdyl., Minor featured him on “All Hail the King,” track No. 2 of his fifth studio album, Empire, which drops on Jan. 27. Minor said he enjoys featuring lesser-known artists on his albums, comparing this to when an unknown Dirty Rice produced for him on his 2011 release Dying to Live. Since then, Dirty Rice has won a Grammy Award for his production on Lecrae’s album Gravity.
“With Dylan, I feel the same way,” Minor said. “He’s just good. Dirty Rice was just good. They were artists and producers who needed to be heard.”
Part of why nobigdyl. needs to be heard, Minor said, is that he’s unique.
“Dylan is his own person,” Minor said. “You might see him do something that’s weird to everyone else, but he’s 100 percent comfortable in his own skin. It does not bother him at all. He brings that same type of bravado to his music.
“He has a song where he raps over a Taylor Swift record, and it has over 250,000 views on soundcloud. Any other rapper would be like, ‘What are you doing rapping over some Taylor Swift stuff?’ He’s like, ‘Man, I like Taylor Swift, so I remixed her song.’ That’s Dylan.”
Given RMG’s family persona, nobigdyl. would seem like a fit for the label.
“I would love for RMG to sign Dylan,” RMG rapper Tony Tillman said. “He’s an amazing artist. I didn’t know him as a rapper when I first met him, but knowing him as a rapper makes me a fan of him … He has a way with words. The thing I like about Dylan is that I know when I listen to his music, I’m going to get substance from it. He’s going to cause me to think.”
Until a label comes calling (with an offer better than Big Smo), nobigdyl. will work with indie tribe, a collective of artists, producers, videographers and graphic designers he met while at Middle Tennessee State. On Monday, nobigdyl. released his debut EP smoke signal. for free on Rapzilla. The project drew the title because it’s a notice of things to come, most notably his debut album, tribe., in late 2015 or early 2016.