Nija is a songwriter and producer who’s spearheading the landscapes of R&B and hip hop.
She has already garnered numerous GRAMMY nominations, two number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100, and a placement on Forbes’ ’30 Under 30′ list – all at the age 23. With a sound that’s parts trap, parts R&B, and parts electronic, she’s worked with the likes of Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Ariana Grande, Post Malone, Meek Mill, Travis Scott, 21 Savage, and Drake, just to name a few. We had the opportunity to sit down with Nija to discuss how R&B music shapes her sound, her favorite songs, and where she thinks the genre is headed next – read on for highlights, and check out her hand-selected Collection of sounds created by Black creators here.
Beyoncé’s “MY POWER,” produced by Nija
What is your personal history with R&B? Where did you first hear it, and when did you decide that you wanted to create your own R&B music?
The first time I heard R&B was the day I was born. I can’t say that I remember the exact moment I heard R&B music, because it’s always been around me. It’s the genre that was most played in my household, so it’s something that was just a part of my lifestyle growing up.
Who inspired you as you learned the craft of R&B? Did you have mentors or artists who you looked up to? Where did you go to learn more about making R&B music?
Some of the people who inspired me while learning the craft growing up are The-Dream, Usher, Ryan Leslie, and Chris Brown. I grew up with a production background, so for me I was looking more so at the producers. I used to watch Ryan Leslie break down how he would craft a song on YouTube all the time.
What’s your favorite R&B memory or anecdote?
My favorite R&B memory would be my first concert in 2001. I was three or four years old and my mom took me to Usher’s 8701 Tour. I got to see him perform “U Got It Bad,” “U Don’t Have to Call,” and ‘U Remind Me’’ on Heelys (the shoes).
How has R&B evolved since you got involved with it? How have the sounds, the people making it, or the places where it’s heard changed? On the other hand, are there certain aspects that have stayed the same?
I feel like R&B has evolved to a place where artists are more honest than ever before, and they don’t hold back lyrically or melodically. We don’t really stick to the ‘structure’ that we were taught for how a song should be written. I would say melodically we still have those known R&B melodies and progressions that you wouldn’t hear in other genres, so between that and still singing from the soul, I think we’ve still kept a lot of the foundation of R&B.
21 Savage’s “A&T,” produced by Nija
Where do you think R&B is headed? Who are some artists who you think are pushing the genre forward today?
R&B is headed to being mainstream again – a place where people are able to have fun with it, as well as connect with the songs in the most honest and descriptive way when it comes to their feelings and the things that they’re going through. I feel like it’s more personal than ever before, and that’s why listeners connect with it. Some artists that are pushing the genre forward are SZA, Summer Walker, Chloe x Halle, Kehlani, Jhene Aiko, and H.E.R.
What are the hurdles this genre faces as it heads towards the future you’re envisioning, and how might the R&B community overcome them?
The hurdle the genre faces is the bar that the artists in the ’90s have set. In the ’90s, R&B was at its peak and was so mainstream. Now, it has evolved into a different type of sound. But, I think with streaming, TikTok, and all the different outlets to discover music, the genre is pushing through and it’s finally coming back to the top of the charts. For example, Chris Brown’s “No Guidance (feat. Drake)” and “Go Crazy,” SZA’s “Good Days,” and Ella Mai’s “Boo’d Up” were all over the top ten of the Hot 100, so I think R&B’s on its way back to the forefront.
February 17, 2021