Despite witnessing some grisly scenes while living in New York – the current epicentre of the coronavirus crisis – and suffering a career slowdown, Nelson Dialect is helping out the only way he can.
Nelson Dialect offering free poetry lessons is the purest thing to come out of the pandemic
SPECIAL REPORT: COVID-19 ADELAIDE
Nelson Dialect, real name Nelson Hedditch, moved from Adelaide to New York in 2018 to cut his teeth in the city’s hip-hop music community.
Since landing in the Big Apple, Nelson has completed a six-month residency and internship with Bronx-based record label Red Apples 45 and released a number of tracks with features and beats forged from new connections within the States and Europe.
With a tour and some studio work slated in Europe, 2020 was going to be another big year for the musician – whose buttery bars mix colloquial and literary references, flanked by rich and interesting production – but it was not to be.
When COVID-19 cases started to emerge in France, Nelson made the call to cancel his tour and remain in his New York apartment.
“But I’m not some special person out here,” Nelson says via Zoom. “I lost 11 gigs.”
New York is now the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic – on Thursday, 23 April, the state’s death toll from the virus passed 20,000.
The gravity of the situation is impossible to ignore. It’s especially present on the streets where Nelson’s laid new roots.
“I went to a friend’s house nearby the Wyckoff Medical Centre (a hospital in Brooklyn), and that’s where the portable morgues are,” he says.
“When I saw that, and seeing bodies lifted into these set-up morgues, I was like, wow.
“You’d be at a friend’s place and you’d see an ambulance come by and pull someone out. It’s those moments where the COVID-19 crisis is kind of heavy and it does impact you.”
Nelson says hip hop is embedded with narratives of individuals doing it tough and making it out the other side, and so he thought about what he could offer during the crisis.
He’d heard from extended family that raising and home-schooling children was challenging right now, and with five-years experience working on-and-off in education as a side hustle to his music career, something clicked.
“I just wanted to say, ‘If you wanted a break, I can do a lesson,’” Nelson says.
“I can try to think of a lesson plan and stuff and do little poetry things, and it’s been cool. It’s been a good response.”
Prior to the pandemic, Nelson had worked with the University of Colorado (Boulder) and literary critic Adam Bradley to elevate hip hop as a vehicle for literary expression.
He also volunteered for the not-for-profit after-school group Notes for Notes, which provides young people with free access to musical instruments, studios and guidance.
Despite Nelson knowing a thing or two about poetry, he says he’s learnt a lesson in positivity from the virtual sessions.
“I was trying to communicate how poetry is a way to express how you’re feeling when you’re going through something, but with kids and how childlike they are, a lot of them don’t want to talk about this,” he says.
“They’re like, ‘Let’s try to think about something else,’ which is really sweet.
“I think as adults it’s easy to just be consumed by this but you’ve got to keep living and go out of the box and not get wrapped up in it.”
Nelson isn’t going to let the pandemic slow his music career, either. He will drop a 22-track album titled The Isolated Papers soon, a record filled with jazzy samples and ruminations on life in lockdown.
Despite being a product of his current situation in New York City, The Isolated Papers has a strong Adelaidean undercurrent.
“This guy from Adelaide, James Hartley, I grew up with, he took photos for this album cover,” Nelson says of his new release.
“The production is by a guy called Delicasteez and he runs Clinic116 in the city.
“You know, I love home. I want to keep that connection and there’s so many good, young artists in Adelaide right now.
“It’s not like I’ve got some massive platform, but I’d rather work with people from home and shine a light on what Adelaide’s doing, especially now with the arts being so affected and live music being totally out of business for a while.”
Nelson still has work in New York and plans on staying for the foreseeable future. Although he misses going outside and the face-to-face contact that comes with collaborating with other creatives in the studio, he’s busy making music.
Like the kids he teaches, he says smirking, “I’m pretty easily amused.”
Nelson Dialect is on Spotify.
While we had Nelson’s ear – and because while in isolation we’re churning through our reading list like never before – we asked the poet and musician for some writers we should add to our poetry collections.
Nelson suggests dipping into work by Amiri Baraka, Tracy K. Smith and Adelaide wordsmith Manal Younus.