The best First Fridays in Oakland end with a late-night street party and a heavy portion of barbecue links, green beans and mac and cheese on the walk back to your car.
Those kinds of nights aren’t always the norm though, especially these days. Expensive city fees have made it more difficult to throw events since the start of the pandemic, and residents are on edge after seeing a rise in gun violence in the past year. But there are still powerful moments of healing and solidarity to be found if you know where to look. A mosaic of local advocates have tirelessly worked to preserve positive outlets. One of them is Nimsins, an emerging hip-hop artist and sage observer of his hometown’s complex, sometimes contradictory dynamics.
“I’m from East Oakland,” he proudly tells me outside of Renegade Running, a downtown sneaker shop where a First Friday crowd gathered to see Nimsins rock the mic last month. “It’s different. I’m not out here [in this neighborhood] much, but things keep changing.”
Minutes before performing, Nimsins is chilling outside, observing the scene and exchanging daps and laughs with friends. They’ve all driven from the farthest end of the city to celebrate Nim’s recent rise in the rap world, capping off a solid run of two albums, a few EPs, and a handful of singles since 2017. He’s all smiles and good energy—something he maintains throughout the night—but switches modes once he begins to deliver his truth to the audience.
“You don’t know how it feel [when] construction all in your hood,” he raps. It’s a line from “Don’t Know How It Feels” off his 2021 project, More To Life. The intimately packed listeners sway along, nodding heads, attentively tuned into his energy.
The song is hyper-appropriate for Oakland in 2022, where a soon-to-open burger joint glows with neon lights across the street, with two police cruisers parked in front. Its presence indicates a shifting city, which continues to invest into the development and protection of certain neighborhoods and populations while neglecting others. It’s something Nimsins grapples with in his life and music, while he seeks to highlight the solidarity in his city.