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Vinny Nolan

The Shield


I started playing football around the second grade, so how old are you in the second grade, like eight years old? I wasn’t even really trying to play football. I was at my auntie’s house and she was watching us because my moms was at work. So my cousins was playing football and my auntie said, “Since your cousins play, you might as well go up there and play too.”


That just happened by accident. I never was like, “Oh I want to go play football.” Nah, it wasn’t even like that, but I was just good I guess. I don’t know. I was just doing it all the time from the time I was like eight, nine years old. Then, I did it the next year, the next year, the next year. So I guess over time I grew the affinity for it. That’s how it happened. And I just wanted to keep going.


Football was definitely what I thought was my path toward success. I mean, shit, you ain’t got that many options where I come from in The Trenches. I wasn’t thinking about being no lawyer or doctor or nothing else like that. I just felt like if I was good at football, I’m gonna get paid to play it eventually, so that kinda was my motivation, too. I knew kids that really loved football, loved it, was going to do the extra work to go do it, do this, do that, cause they really wanted to make it. A lot of my friends was like that. A few of them went to the league. A few of them didn’t. They just ended up coaching or training. I just played because I feel like it was a way out. I get out of school early if we had a game. I’m good at it, I can play it. So that’s what I’m gonna do. I know it’s a horrible message to send out, but that’s what I was just doing.

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Vinny Nolan

Eventually, I played at a Division II school because I never had like good grades or nothing. I never was a school person. I always did the bare minimum. I did enough just to get by. I told myself I’m not trying to excel at this. I’m only here for eight hours because I guess I gotta be here, technically. I tried to learn some stuff while I’m at it. I don’t wanna walk around like I’m illiterate or nothing. But I never was like oh yeah, I wanna make sure I do this, make sure I do that to do well in school. Then I had to go to JuCo. I did pretty good my first year. My second year was kind of a fall off and then I still didn’t have no grades. My grades were so bad, I thought I was going to have to quit football. So I went to the first school that was like oh yeah, we’ll take you no grades and all. That was a school in New Mexico. Honestly, I went out there because my uncle kinda made me go out there. He was like, “You’re about to leave. You’re about to get away. You’re not about to just be around here and do nothing and get caught up.” So he sent me out there, but it didn’t end up saving me from trouble. 


I got kicked out of school and the football dream really was over. I was living bad out there. When you go to a Division II school, you don’t get a whole scholarship depending on who you are. They can only give out so many full rides. I didn’t have that much money, so when I was out there, I was doing stuff that I wasn’t supposed to do. I got in trouble for it and I got kicked out. 


I couldn’t call my mom after all she’d done and sacrificed for me. I didn’t have the courage at the time to call my mom and tell her I got kicked out. I didn’t want to disappoint her or nothing. So I couldn’t really call her.

I was sleeping on my boy’s couch Laureal, he’s from Atlanta. He used to make beats and while he was in class, I used to just record on my own. One time he came back and I was like, “I made a song, you should listen to this.” He listened to it and was like, “Oh man, this is kinda tight. You should really try to do this.” I was like, “Man, I don’t wanna be no rapper. What I look like being a rapper?” But he saw something that sparked the next chapter for me.


Just like football, I wasn’t really into rapping like that. I wasn’t like, “Yeah, I wanna rap.” It kinda found me in a way. I wasn’t searching for it. Shit, I had nothing else going on. Then when I finally mustered up enough courage to tell my mom what was going on, I came back home and I still wasn’t rapping. Laureal would still call me, “What’s up, man? I’m sending you some beats. Just try to check ‘em out and listen to ‘em.” Finally one day, I was just like fuck it, I ain’t doing nothing else. I just started rapping and I’ve been doing it ever since then.


And like football, my music career just happened naturally. I noticed I’m good at it, but I had to learn to work hard at it. I learned if you do something like music and you do it halfway, it’s gonna show. Sometimes it don’t, but nine times out of ten, if you don’t do something a hundred percent, and there’s people around that’s doing a hundred percent, you gotta compete against them, ‘cause this is real competitive what we’re doing. And not competitive “I wanna be better than this, I wanna be better than that” but competitive as in your work ethic gotta be top notch for you to separate yourself. So I just felt like with music, if I was being serious about it, then I gotta take it serious. So out of all the shit I’d previously done — football and school — music is the only thing I’ve taken serious in a long time. Probably my whole life.

I knew I needed to take something seriously because I’m not even supposed to be here. I got shot on my 25th birthday. I got shot 28 times. I don’t think I was targeted or nothin. I’ve never gang banged. But I know how the streets are. That’s just the circumstances of the streets. I remember being rushed to the hospital and people yelling for me. I had to have three surgeries and I was in a coma. While I was out, I remember I didn’t fear death. I remember talking to God and thinking about the music. I knew that I was gonna survive and I was gonna tell my story through music.


Getting shot is what really put the battery in my back behind music. It gave me drive. It gave me a sense of purpose. If I’m not rapping, what am I doing with my life? I’m not supposed to be here. I got shot 28 times. So it’s like man, you gotta keep on going. I’m here for a reason. I’m not here for nothing. I could just be like man, my life is miserable, my life is over. But nah, I just bounced back and kept on pushing. 


Right away, I made my debut EP, “Hard Times Shaped Me.” I made all those songs after I got out the hospital. Like as soon as I was released from the hospital, I got straight to making it. I was writing and writing and recording and making it happen.

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Vinny Nolan

The response has been incredible. I’ve gotten a lot of DMs, “Your story is crazy,” whether it be my story of getting shot and how I overcame it or “Your music is inspiring, your music helped me get through this day.” I had this one girl tell me that her cousin was going to get “Hard Times Shaped Me” tatted on her. I don’t got a lot of music out, but the amount of content I do have, for it to be touching people really means a lot to me. 


When I traveled with T.F on Curren$y’s West Coast tour, people was coming up to me after the performance telling me how they were impacted. I only did one song, but it still resonated with them. “Yeah, man, that song hard. That shit touched me.” Or having Ski Beatz — he made Reasonable Doubt — to have him tell me, “Hey you got something, you’re good man, you just gotta keep on going,” that’s just reassurance. It’s like man, sometimes that’s better than getting the money for real.


Hard times happen to everyone. Maybe they don’t get shot 28 times, but they can relate to what I’m saying. Sometimes your hardship defines you as a person. Your true self shows whether you’re gonna continue to keep going or some shit happen and you’re gonna fold. I’ve seen a lot of people fold under pressure and I just feel like hard times make people stronger. You come up out of that. You grow from that. You learn from that. Where I’m from, the hard times are always gonna define you. It’s not gonna be the good shit that defines you. It’s not what you do that’s going to define you. It’s how you bounce back, how you recover. That’s what matters the most. That’s character. It’s all about your character.

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Vinny Nolan

Part of that character really is work ethic. I try to write every day, record every day. Even if I don’t record, at least work on my pen. I know people who are “I’ve been rapping since I was seven.” “I was rapping since I was 15.” That’s cool. But that’s not my story. This music shit, it found me. I didn’t go chase it. I just ran into it, picked it up and kept on going. Like a handoff, just keep running with it. Keep running, keep running, keep running. You’re going to get tackled, next play, keep running.


Even if I didn’t fully commit to football, I’m grateful for how it’s parallel to life in a lot of ways. Pay attention to detail, keep grinding. And I do love football because it kept me out the way. I would be a totally different person without sports. It shielded me. It’s the shield. 


That’s why my Undrafted logo is the shield. I didn’t get drafted or nothing, so being undrafted is kinda like saying you’re the underdog. If you go through history and you search undrafted players, you’re going to see a lot of them like Rod Smith, he played for the Denver Broncos, he undrafted. He got two Super Bowl rings, he’s one of the greatest receivers ever. Undrafted is for the underdogs in sports, in music, in life.


No matter what, if you’re getting overlooked right now, if you keep working, you keep pursuing your dreams, eventually all that shit is going to pay off and you’re going to get rewarded. Protect yourself, protect your dreams at all cost. Don’t succumb to the pressures of feeling like you gotta get on right now or it’s gotta happen right now. It’s like nah, consistent slow grind, slow grind, day after day, lay a brick a day, lay a brick a day, eventually you’re going to have a house.

Listen to my new EP "The Score" below. 


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