Rapper Naya Ali opens up about her influences, her ‘Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude)‘ LP and adjusting to quarantined life.
Canadian-Ethiopian rapper Naya Ali hit everyone’s hip-hop radar back in 2018 after dopping her EP ‘Higher Self’ – which included her debut single ‘Ra Ra.’ The summer following her EP, Naya heated things up with her track ‘Get It Right’ which would serve as the first single to her highly anticipated LP. Naya continued to make noise as she found herself booking show after show and even performing at some of the country’s biggest events from OSHEAGA to Canadian Music Week.
After much earned success from her first EP, the Montréal-based rapper returned in March with her latest project, Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude), the first drop of a double-release. As Naya rises from her Higher Self, her latest LP introduces us to an artist who is more vulnerable, honest and brings to light her true experiences – whether good or bad.
With the first half of her debut album, Naya Ali re-emerges a refined artist and offers additional melodic layers to her sound as she tunes in with her vocals and pairs them with her undeniable hip-hop talent. The Canadian rapper leaves us wanting to her more from her ‘Godspeed: Baptism’ album, anxiously awaiting its second release.
As the music industry faces a new set of challenges, we are hoping this doesn’t take away from what Naya may have planned for music this year. In the mean time, we will be here patiently waiting for ‘Godspeed: Baptism’ part two.
Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude) is out now on all music streaming platforms!
XMPL: Can you tell us a bit about your music influences growing up? How did you find yourself later pursuing music as a career?
Naya Ali: I had a pretty eclectic musical upbringing as a kid. My mom would play country music, Motown and Ethiopian traditional and Ethiopian jazz. As I grew older, I loved the whole Bad Boy era with Diddy and Mase but I really started to fall in love with rap and hip-hop with Lauryn Hill.
From that I started writing poetry as a teen then raps until I was about 22, where I stopped and decided to focus on my studies. Fast forward, I’m 27 working a marketing job feeling unfulfilled among other things, so I went back to music as a form of therapy. Honestly I didn’t wake up one day and choose music as a career, it happened kinda organically, as if the universe pushed me back into my love for music. I realized that the million dollar idea I’ve been searching for all my life was in me all along. I was the idea that would change my life, that’s when I jumped.
Are there any artists or producers from the Montréal area that you’d like to collaborate with?
Yea for sure, I’d say High Klass.
How would you describe the current hip-hop scene in Montréal?
The French scene is budding and it’s beautiful, the media has been integral to its rise. However on the English side, it needs a little more to catch up, more love and coverage from the city’s English major media outlets would be a great start.
Following your EP “Higher Self,” you’ve returned with your full-length project – Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude), which is set to release in two parts. (Prelude) being the first. What made you decide to split this project into two?
It wasn’t initially supposed to be a two part project, but funny enough it came to be the best decision for its release, especially given the current times. The reason why it was split in to was for administrative reasons, but in hindsight it’s another confirmation that the universe has my back way before I even know it.
What was the inspiration behind the name “Godspeed: Baptism”?
It’s a new life, a baptism into the league of greatness. The prelude is an introduction into my deeper universe, the good, the bad, the dark and the light. The first chapter of the beginning.
Sonic wise, Godspeed: Baptism is a complete elevation from Higher Self. Bigger records, bigger confidence, bigger presence. Although still raw, hard hitting and honest – this time around I’m pushing myself to explore more sonic territories. More layers, more musicality, more melodies. I’m using my voice as an instrument a lot more this time around – and I don’t necessarily mean just singing.
From the tracks on either parts of “Godspeed: Baptism” – which one would you consider personally significant to you?
Shea Butter. It’s about finding your light despite the darkness. It’s addressed to my inner child, everyone’s inner child and actual children; that self-love is greatest love.
The lyrics are so simple but they’re one of my most poetic, I feel.
Last fall you dropped the remix to “Get It Right” with Quebecois artists Souldia and MB – can you tell us how you came to working them on the remix?
I met Souldia a few months before his vibe was honest and pure, we just clicked immediately. As for MB he was suggested by my manager Patrice, I felt that he can bring a different melodic sauce to the mix.
What challenges might you be facing as an artist from Montréal breaking into the Anglophone/US market?
The same as any other artist that is aiming to break into a new market and especially one as immense as the US. Spreading the fire to those that don’t even know it exists.
You were supposed to be a performer for SXSW and tour in the US before COVID-19 did a complete culture shift. Artists are now resulting to live streaming and other methods to adjust. How are you adjusting to the current situation and do you see yourself hosting a live-stream concert?
We are observing the way things are going and recalibrating. Adjusting our strategies, i.e we were supposed to shoot a video for For Yuh in Jamaica last month – now we’re looking at different options. Content wise, definitely focusing more on web, with freestyles, IG lives, etc. I’ll actually be having my first live-stream concert, with the benefits going to a local organisation, Toujours Ensemble, that supports youth in difficult economic and social situations.
You’re off to a strong start for 2020, with the release of your debut album, earning the Anglophone Musical Artist of the Year at the 2020 Dynasty Gala and even booking SXSW pre-Corona. With our current situation being the new norm, what can listeners expect from you as the year progresses?
Uhm…well more hard hitting bombs. These last couple of months my energy has been contained in quarantine and I feel like I’m about to explode…so I don’t even know what it will look like haha…