Most of us couldn’t even imagine going blind. Out of all of our five senses, perhaps the gift of sight is the most treasured of them all. While most of us would barely be able to muster up the strength to live in a world full of darkness, many extraordinary people like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musicians Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder turned their setbacks into milestones in music history.
In the same way that these exceptional individuals won the hearts of fans from the grassroots “chitlin” circuit to superstardom and beyond, Baltimore-born, Virginia-raised blind rapper NovaCain is on the fast track following in their same footsteps via his own promotions/ management company NovaCain, LLC.
Within three short years as a solo artist, he has garnered almost two million online streams of runaway singles “Snapchat Party” and “I Should Have Went to College.” And with his latest single “Swag Killin’ Everything,” NovaCain officially makes his intentions known in the music business.
“The core of my brand is the blind culture and the blind community. I’m representing that community with my voice,” he explains. “Some of the things I was able to do being blind is crazy…Blindness was the best route for me. It saved me and so many other people around me.”
For 20-something-year-old Mario Nelson, going blind at the age of 17 was the least of his worries. The first 13 years of his life were nothing but constant physical abuse from his mother. The product of incest rape, his mom took the pain of being sexually assaulted by her own brother out on her offspring.
“As a kid, I was confused. I didn’t really understand what was going on. I was like ‘what did I do?’” he recalls. “It was confusing, challenging and emotionally draining. But it toughened the hell out of me. And I ended up being really aggressive towards people.”
The abuse came to a head when Cain was 13. He came into the house, and his mother thought that he was high and tried to hit him with the first thing she got her hands on. Unlike any of the other beatings, the youngster ended up taking the object from her. “I told her ‘look, I’m too old for this. This ain’t gone happen anymore.’”
The next thing he knew, young Mario was placed in a group home in Norfolk and spent the next five years being shuffled across the state from group home to group home. During those years, he was considered a hellion and willing to go toe to toe with anybody at the drop of a hat. To calm his nerves, the group home staff pumped his body full of lithium. Little did anyone know, he had the trait for a neurological disorder known as Leber’s.
“That gene got activated because the group home was giving me enough lithium to knock out a horse,” he remembers. “It triggered that Leber’s gene and that’s how I lost my sight.”
But losing his sight was nothing compared to the torture he had already endured as a kid. “I went through physical abuse with my moms, going to group homes and having to defend myself,” NovaCain expounds. “I really became this aggressive person. It toughened my skin all the way around. So when I went blind, it didn’t really bother me. I had already been through so much in my lifetime until I was like what the hell is blindness? What is this?”
Around the same time, his stepfather succumbed to diabetes, making Nova even more determined to be strong. “I didn’t want to let my stepdad down for what he went through. He gave us a real father. He made some mistakes but he gave me the morals that I have today,” says NovaCain. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be 10 times more evil. Seeing him raise six kids that weren’t his, going through diabetes, being in a wheelchair and not breaking, that’s where I get the strength and how I’m able to do what I do blind.”
It wasn’t until losing his sight and his role model he could ever see himself with a successful rap career. He had always dabbled in freestyling as a kid, and after enduring such tragedies, NovaCain spent more time with music. But it wasn’t until he learned to actually write his rhymes would he take it seriously.
“I conform my mind to look at a notepad. I’m looking at a notebook in my head,” he explains. “I had to figure out a way to make music because being blind wasn’t going to break me. I’m going to still be the same person I was before.”
At 22, his mother died. Still suffering from yet another loss, Nova formed a group with his brother called Paranormal Gang. By this time, they both had migrated to Evansville, Indiana. After putting out several mixtapes, singles and an EP, they made quite a regional stir. But after a few years, however, they broke up and went their separate ways.
NovaCain never gave up on his music. He reinvented himself and reappeared as a solo artist with 2015 mixtape Jukebox. The locals ate it up like crazy. Keeping the fans satisfied, he spent the next couple of years pumping out a string of hot singles, including regional runaways “Snapchat Party” and “I Should Have Went to College,” collectively garnering almost two millions spins online. And now, his latest single “Swag Killin’ Everything” has garnered over half a million streams.
What’s even more amazing, however, is that he has done it all with clean, non-vulgar music.
“I do clean rap. All my music is clean, but I’m not a gospel rapper or a conscious rapper,” NovaCain explains. “I just keep the roots of hip hop alive. I do club songs and stripper songs that don’t have one disrespectful word. The music is so good that people don’t even notice that it’s clean…Where I’m at now looked impossible to me when I was 18. It looked like a fairy tale.”