A Chat with Naji, Soulful Hip Hop Producer
Naji is a superbly-talented artist from Pennsylvania who has found a home at Fête Records. He’s on the rise and it’s only a matter of time before his grooves explode into the mainstream consciousness.
JZ: Tell us about your background and where you grew up.
N: I grew up between Pennsylvania and New York City mostly, but I’ve lived all over the north east coast. I’m currently living in Erie, PA.
When and how did you get involved with music?
I’ve been involved in music since I was five, mainly because everyone in my family – especially on my dad’s side – is a creative. Dad is a percussionist, my Uncle John is a producer, and my mom is a poet and photographer. It just made sense that I’d follow the family legacy.
You also happen to play drums and covered a number of tracks by Hiatus Kaiyote and Sam Gellaitry. Did your dad influence you to pick this instrument?
Yeah. I would tag along on his gig rehearsals, picking up all sorts of juicy tidbits and rhythms, and it just got me enamored with percussion in general. But my mom really locked me into drumming when she bought me my first new drumpad instead of a PSP for Christmas [laughs]. Definitely a good choice.
You run an active Youtube channel and your most recent video is about Jammy, who appears to be close to your heart. Tell us about her.
Jammy is a pretty cool dude. I met him through my collective, Fête, and he happened to live in my favorite city of all time, Montreal. We just casually chatted until I went up there for two weeks and met him for the first time. He was surprisingly lit for a dude with bleached dread tips [laughs]. I was blown away by his DJ set. He inspired me to want to be that good. He showed me around the city and made me feel like I was fully taking advantage of my time there. Needless to say, I respect him a lot, and when I heard he was feeling down, I thought it’d help to show him what he showed me. He goes by jåmvvis on Soundcloud.
The music scene in Erie is great…if you like rock. It’s got a low-key jazz scene, but the hip-hop scene is abysmal. I seriously don’t use it as a metric for anything I do, because it has no substantial audience for my style, unless I play for free. It’s disheartening because it’s definitely a college town, but all the biggest acts that roll through here are some rock derivative. As a result, I stopped performing live here, and looked to my surrounding cities like Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
You’ve done a gig with Fête Records recently and you’ve been involved in one or two releases from the label. Tell us about how that relationship and how it began.
Fête is family. We’ve been with each other since the beginning and we’re responsible for each other’s exposure. Abhi, one of the co-founders, slid in my DMs and the rest is history. That was a little over a year ago.
You just hit 10,000 views in a single day which is simply astonishing for a rising artist such as yourself. What was the main inspiration behind “10 Cubed?”
I’m still humbled. It’s the first time seeing a response like that on my own page, as I’m usually releasing on other channels most of the time. As for the reasoning behind it, I’ve been pumping out songs since I released “Fallen” every week, but they’re all in reserve so I can release them the best way. But all this behind-the-scenes work doesn’t look like anything from the outside. I just seem like a recluse! So, frustrated with looking like I’m just doing nothing, I sat down (yesterday) and made that little ditty in two hours. I’m a stickler about mixing most of the time, but I just wanted to get the vibes out, so I grabbed my iPod headset and laid some vocals out, ’cause they happened to be next to me. Simple, sweet, and honest.
Soft synths or hard synths?
Hard synths are boss if you get your hands on ’em, but I usually make everything with soft synths, so they win out for being utilitarian!
What’s your favorite way to unwind?
I love catching up on my favorite shows or movies and just making myself fat in bed. Alone time is the juiceeee.
If you could only play one more record ever, what would it be?
Kurt Elling’s rendition of “Nature Boy.” Gorgeous and sums up how I live my life.
I’m looking forward to finally being able to start releasing what I’ve been making for months! From now until the end of the year, you’re in for some big collaborations which I can’t reveal quite yet. Got a few EPs in progress as well, so 2017 is going to be jam-packed with my sound. Be on the lookout in the remaining months of the year.