Back in July last year, when I was chilling and grooving to THE DEAN's "Crystals" I had no idea that months later I'll end up talking to one of those "4 creatives, lyricists, musicians and cave dwellers based out of Erie, PA". But yeah, life works in mysterious ways and here we are today sharing the story of one of the most creative and forward thinking artists I've stumbled upon in a while - Naji.
After his 2 flawless collaborations last week (w/ swindail & Insightful), I started digging into his sound and quickly ended up in this amazing world of soulful beats and really... how to put it, staggering soundspaces. Naji has also worked with some of our favourite artists here on the fox like MadBliss, Ian Ewing, The Kount... the list goes on and on.
Now it's time to share our interview and today's talk. Enjoy!
Hi, Naji! How are you today?
Hey! I’m just chilling, organizing files, writing interview answers, ya know. c:
Wait... is Naji your real name?
Yup, it’s my middle name. :) My first name is Kenyatta, but literally only 3-4 people I know call me that, so I just go by Naji.
How would you describe your music/style/genre to someone who has never heard any of your work and doesn't have much knowledge of the whole genre thingie?
I’d say I’m an Indie R&B boi, reminiscent of James Blake, Frank Ocean & Toro y Moi.
Playing music is a way to express yourself. You play pretty much everything, so if you had to pick one instrument only - drums, guitar, synths, singing - which one do you think would "allow" you to express yourself in the most comfortable way?
DRUMMMMMMMSSSSSS lol, I’m the most comfortable with those, because I’ve been playing percussion since I was 5 and drumming since I was 9, so I feel at home with them.
You're part of Fête Records and as of recently (correct me if I'm wrong about the timeline) Soulection. Both labels/collectives are doing an insanely good job to shape and push young artists and a whole culture forward. I know you and Fête go back in time - how did the crew there help you evolve and shape as an artist? Also - what's the story behind joining Soulection? I bet a lot of producers would kill to be part of that crew.
Fete found me when I was debuting as a singer/songwriter & producer, and they were just starting up, back in June 2015. Honestly, they helped most by giving me a platform other than myself to branch out on. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of Fete or helping Fete grow myself. Lol, funnily enough there was a period in time where I was scared I was gonna get booted out because they made a deadline for the group members to produce a song every month (that whole thing didn’t last long, lol) so I’ve seen peeps come and go and I’ve felt everyone’s growth since the beginning.
As far as Soulection goes, Monte Booker actually caught wind of my song “Fallen” that J.Robb put out under his Mmr. surf account (RIP mr. surf), which led him to hear the original and hit me up over twitter. I sent him stems and he disappeared for a few months, hahaha. He was working on a few different projects at the time though, so it was totally expected. Some time after he got less busy, he sent me a song to work on (what is now “Mona Lisa”) and I finished 95% percent of it in 2 hours. I sent it off to him again, but, once more, radio silence. I just kinda kept doing my thing and months later, Krs dropped his remix of “Fallen”.
A few days after, Monty (head of operations and tech @ Soulection) reached out. Him and Joe had gotten wind of the Krs remix, and at that point I had their attention. Shortly after that, I heard from Monte Booker again, and we started tweaking Mona Lisa. Monty didn’t even know I was working with Monte Booker yet, but sometime in August, Monty had sent me a secret project to work on, and I sent it back to him super quick. Needless to say, they were impressed, and as a result, invited me to come chill with them at the Afropunk show in NYC last year. I took the trip with J.Robb, but we actually weren’t able to chill out with them during the show or after-party at all, so we thought it was a waste, but Monty came out and hung with us after finding out we weren’t allowed entry. My last day there, Monty invited me to dine with the Soulection crew and I met the team for the first time. We ended up back at their Airbnb and just kicked it swapping unreleased tunes and whatnot. At that point, I got to share my tracks with them, and shortly after I’d gotten back from the trip, Monty mentioned that they would love to have me join the family. So I did!
I recently watched the first episode of your new YouTube series The Goodie Bag. Besides learning a few cool things, I had quite the laugh throughout the series. Have you ever thought about pursuing an acting career?
I’m a terrible actor, so I no longer think about it, but at one point I did!
Going back to The Goodie Bag - what's the plan for the series and how(does) this affect your time when it comes to the music-related things you've been doing?
I’m gonna be busy as hellll, but the plan is to have it be a monthly series, along with three other series that’ll be coming out weekly (so basically 1 video/week) and it greatly affects my entire schedule, but it’s worth it. The more I have on my plate, the more I am prone to scheduling things out, cutting out what doesn’t work and actually being productive, so we’ll see what happens in the long term.
What does an ordinary Naji day look like, besides getting up and brushing your teeth?
Actually, I have a remote day job, so I’m usually up and working first thing. Grab a swig of tea & down some vitamins, then I get cracking. The beautiful part about my day job is that it’s remote AND it comes with a bunch of free time because I’m mostly just waiting for calls to come in, so I basically get paid to work on everything else I want to do and answer the occasional call. After work is done, I usually try and finish up or get to a checkpoint on whatever I’ve started during my shift, get some food, and then I’m either rehearsing, making something or just chilling out with myself or the family.
As a "Creator & Thinker", what was the last existential topic you were really stuck thinking about?
I was wondering how one would go about accessing the parallel forms of himself consciously. Like, if I could actively choose to follow a guaranteed path to whatever outcome I desire, how would I tap into that consistently? It’s a radical thought, and really makes me wanna see what’s possible.
Where do you find inspiration in everyday life?
I find inspiration from every little thing. From watching K-dramas with my family, to learning how to appreciate a club banger, or figuring out how to actually take care of my body. I’m appreciative of everything that comes my way, even the bad. Maybe not in that moment, but eventually I come to find something of value in everything/everyone I’ve ever interacted with.
What's the hardest thing you ever had to sacrifice for music (if there was such thing)?
Hmm... probably my relationships. I’m personally at a point where I know that I have to focus on my craft and while I would love a relationship, I don’t think I’d be able to give one the justice it deserves. I’ve only ever been in one long-term relationship, and we decided to break up for a few different reasons, but one of the biggest reasons was that I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my end of the deal as much as she deserved. So I vowed from that point that until I was ready to give as much as I want to receive from a romantic relationship, I wouldn’t have one. That said, I’m not actively barring myself from dating anyone, I’m just taking things super slow with everyone around me, really learning to soak up who someone is and slowing my brain down so I don’t get ahead of myself.
Did you do anything special or celebrate when "Mona Lisa" hit that 1 mil on Spotify?
Nope, because it had already collectively hit a million a while before that, haha! That being said, I still absolutely acknowledged it, because it’s incredibly humbling to be supported by that many people.
If you could switch bodies with anyone in the world, who would that be?
Either Tessa Violet or Sara Forsberg. Both YouTube gals, but they make me so curious about the lives they live and how they operate, I would love to know what it’s like in their shoes.
Which producers do you look up to the most? How have they affected your musical journey so far?
I think my earliest production influences and inspirations would be Flying Lotus, Pharrell, and Timbaland. Those three made me incredibly curious about production and started me on my journey in the electronic realm.
Feel free to give shoutout and thank to anyone out there!
s/o to you for giving me the opportunity to answer these questions! :D
What's ahead for 2017? You just released a dope collab with SACHI and swindail and also took part in Soulection's 6 year anniversary show - it seems to be quite the kick-off!
2017 was supposed to be my album, but I realized that I had too much to do first, so be on the lookout for 20+ collabs with great artists, as well as some really cool interactive projects and compilations!
Naji, thx a lot for the interview, laughter and music, man! Any last words of wisdom? Let’s pretend this is a tweet and stick to the 140 chars.
Words of wisdom I try to live by as often as possible: “Do be do be do.” Take action, but allow yourself a moment to be and reflect. Be okay with just being.
If you want to stay up to date what's up with Kenyatta (ha, now I'm the 5th person)... AKA Naji - drop by his Stereofox artist profile.