A three-year-old Nate Robinson played his Muppet Babies drum set until it fell apart.
“That’s kind of when [my parents] knew I might be serious,” he told Rapzilla, “and they got me a little better drum set after that.”
Robinson became serious, all right.
He became so serious about the instrument that, years after wearing down another drum set or two, he was sought-after to perform alongside Grammy Award-winning artists — the latest of which is Lecrae.
“Nate is one of the hardest working guys I know,” said Lecrae, who had Robinson produce the title track of his album Anomaly. “If he can’t do it, he’s going to try anyway just to be sure. Whatever he is today is a shadow of who he’ll be tomorrow.”
Robinson, 37, has performed with Lecrae for over four years, and he will man the drum set on another round of The Anomaly Tour this spring. Fans should recognize him more than ever after he released his debut album, Heard Not Seen, on Tuesday under his stage name theBeatbreaker. And they shouldn’t expect to stop hearing his name anytime soon.
“He’s a workhorse, man,” said JusThoughtZ, a hip-hop artist featured on Heard Not Seen. “From being there for his family, juggling recording music for his album, doing music on other people’s records, being on The Anomaly Tour and we’re working on an EP together, he just keeps going and going and going.”
By the age of 6, Robinson had worn out the successor to his Muppet Babies drum set. He lived without his own drums for a while, though he often built a makeshift set out of the covers of his parents’ vinyl records.
“I would be doing that for hours,” he said, emphasizing the word “hours.”
Finally, in seventh grade, his parents bought him another drum set, which he shared like it was one of the most memorable moments of his life.
“I can tell you where I was,” Robinson said.
His parents surprised him with the gift when they picked him up from his Houston middle school one afternoon. As thrilled as he was, though, Robinson temporarily prioritized another pursuit over drums — one that middle school boys typically find “cooler” than an instrument.
“I thought I was going to the NBA,” Robinson said.
However, unlike like the three-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest champion with the same name, Robinson recognized that his lack of size would be less detrimental on the drums than the court. Not that it influenced his decision, but unlike basketball players, he also could get paid before going pro. And he did, receiving enough invitations to play drums that, by the time he attended Prairie View A&M University, his connections helped flood his schedule with jobs.
As Robinson’s network grew, so did his platform.
He soon received a call from NBA player-turned-bass guitarist Wayman Tisdale to play in his band. Several years later, he moved to Atlanta to play for Grammy-nominated singer Kelis. He also connected and worked there with Grammy-winning artist Jermaine Dupri.
Robinson spent years performing for prominent secular acts. But after he got married, he said there was “certain stuff” that he didn’t want to be around, though he shied away from expounding. It’s why when Reach Records contacted him almost five years ago, before Lecrae had won two Grammys, he agreed to be his drummer.
“It was the best fit for me ever,” Robinson said.
The Best Fit
Robinson, who grew up in the church, not only appreciated the Christian community Reach provided, but also its desire to be a part of hip-hop culture. It’s why he called performing with Lecrae at the 2013 Rock the Bells festival, which also featured hip-hop legends Rakim, Common and Wu-Tang Clan, his most memorable moment working with Reach.
“[Rock the Bells] is 100 percent mainstream,” Robinson said, “and that’s one of my favorite moments because that’s when it feels the most authentic. We’re right in the midst of where we want to be.
“Some people are made to preach to the choir, and some people are made to go out and preach to the streets. I’m not really built to be in the walls. That’s part of the reason why I like to do music education: I really like to look for kids who can’t afford lessons. Those places are where my heart is, so the heart behind wanting to be out in [secular] worlds is the same thing — those are the people who need to see something different, so that’s where I need to be.”
Robinson’s time with Reach also helped connect him to prominent artists in Christian hip hop. Sho Baraka, Derek Minor and Propaganda are just some of the many features on his album, which is a 13-track compilation that he produced.
Robinson dug through his computer’s hard drive deleting files one day when he unearthed unused songs that he had worked on for several artists. Rather than delete them, he decided to use them to craft his own album.
“I’m working with a lot of people all the time, and I really enjoy that,” Robinson said, “so I decided to basically just document that.”
Not all of the artists featured on Heard Not Seen are rappers, and, as a musician, Robinson naturally aimed to make the project more musical than most hip-hop albums. However, he explained that hip hop is still the primary influence on his album because that’s where his roots lie.
“I was one of those kids who grew up playing music their whole lives,” Robinson said. “I should’ve been at the performing arts school because that’s where those kids go. But I didn’t go to the performing arts school. I went to school in the hood. I was the music geek who grew up in the hood, so that’s what my music reflects.”
Buy Heard Not Seen on iTunes.