“I believe NAK is all of the positive qualities of who I personally am and is the embodiment of who I believe God called me to be.”
Over the past month, NAK (pronounced as an acronym) released a pair of EPs, Ashley Court: Chapter 1 and Ashley Court: Chapter 2 in which he wants to show that there is meaning in the mundane parts of life. Daniel Estrella, better known by his stage name NAK, grew up on Ashley Court in a suburban city in Southern California.
“If we’re able to train ourselves to see the extraordinary within the ordinary, I believe that’s the discipline that will enable us to see God moving first and foremost, [not only to see the spectacular] but to realize that everything is laden with divine purpose.”
The cover of Ashley Court: Chapter 1 features a house, NAK’s house, with an American flag hanging in front of it. “My parents are first generation [immigrants] and that would make me second generation from the Philippines. My dad and mom are both very firm believers in the ideal of America and the American Dream.”
“I think the Filipino-American experience was one of the primary motivations behind this album and within the framework of the Filipino-American experience did I experience a lot of these other phenomena I discussed in the album.”
NAK was one of few Asian-Americans in a majority white community and similar schools growing up. “We have a lot of typical Filipino practices that made me somewhat ashamed in comparison with what my peers were doing.” As an outlier in what he described as a homogenous community, he felt marginalized. “I just wish growing up [that] I received more validation for being Filipino-American or Asian-American. With this album, I hope to bring light to that plight.”
Throughout his youth, NAK “was in love with hip-hop. I really fell in love with it the first real time that I heard it and from there I started honing my skill[s] as an artist and a lyricist.” His love for hip-hop made him even more of an outcast, as very few people in his community and school were into the genre. He speaks about this love and how he was seen for it in “White Rice.”
“People who’ll look at me and say ‘No, you can’t do hip-hop because you’re Asian.’ [or] ‘Look at this little Asian guy, he’s gonna rap for us.’”
This sort of common response from people were very discouraging, “A lot of people didn’t recognize that this is my passion. This is what I really feel called to do, but because I don’t fit the mold of what a person who does hip-hop is supposed to look like, in that sense I was overtly looked down upon and even hated on.”
“Love’s Absence” tells of how NAK knew that his parents loved him in part due to their absence from his life. His father served in the U.S. Navy and his mother worked from before he woke up and did not return until 10 pm. “For the most part I was raised by my cousins or I was alone at home all the time.”
“I wrote that song because I wish that was expressed overtly to me.” NAK said that in Filipino culture, it can be taboo for men and elders to express their feelings and emotions.
“I came to realize that even though it hurt that my parents were away all the time, I grew to understand the motive behind it and it was ultimately because they did it out of love.”
The second verse of “Love’s Absences” has NAK speaking to his potential future family and children about how he may be absent for periods due to his love for them. “My family has a lot of pictures, photo albums, and I wanted to somewhat document my family life so that my family, the future generations could listen to it.”
“Translated Letters” begins with “She told me ‘How can you say you’re Filipino if you don’t speak Tagalog.’” He said the song is his attempt at a response of his cultural identity as a Filipinio-American. NAK has always wanted to connect to Filipinos, but has often not felt welcomed as one of them. In high school, he made some Filipino friends, but felt excluded from being like them because they all spoke Tagalog, the language of the Phillipines, and he did not.
“I still feel like I’m kind of in the middle of both things and it sucks because there’s expectations on both sides and it kind of makes you wonder which side has precedence and which do I value more or should I even value one or the other…”
“Anesthesia” is NAK’s favorite song on Ashley Court: Chapter 1 and is about his experience in church. “There is embedded within the culture, at least of the churches I’ve experienced, there is a culture of superficiality. I’ve even experience multiple times instances within church where it is kind of taboo to speak of your struggles.”
As a result of seeing that trend in churches, he saw it again within his family. NAK said there is a numbness in his relationship between him and one of his closest family members who he should be able to confide in. “It seems as if even though we’re here together and though we’re talking, we’re not really speaking.”
“This is going to be a lyrical album where it’s gonna require a lot of introspection.”
Stay tuned for an article about Ashley Court: Chapter 2.