JAYE NAIMA by Ayika
Born February 5th, 1998 in Raleigh, North Carolina—to an entrepreneurial Black father and a homemaker African-American mother—Naima discovered, at an early age, her ability to sing and dance. For a short period, she lived with her father in New York City, eventually electing to move back to Raleigh in pursuit of her music career. Her mother nurtured her daughter's artistic talents by exposing her to music, and that brought Naima closer to her family. Later, Naima used poetry in rhythm—as she called it—as an outlet to cope with the bullying she endured throughout her school years.
Not only did Naima's rhythmic poetry evolve into a rap style, but it also became a craft she spent time developing. She began to take her skill seriously, looking up to artists like Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Lil Kim, Left-Eye, Kanye West, and Beyoncé as musical inspirations. Her music served as her escapism, self-expression, and validation.
Thanks to the accessibility of the Internet and social media and her charismatic personality, Naima has built a strong brand with foundations rooted in her art. She holds a secure connection to her fan-base, who can reach out to her with the click of a button. Even with the ability to connect with her nearly 7,000 social media followers, she still favors the traditional idea of an artist-consumer relationship. She appreciates the mystique of artists before the time of the social media landscape—the mystique that cultivated and solidified the celebrity statuses of cultural icons like Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, David Bowie, and Prince.
Standing at 5'11, Naima's height is a precursor to all things planning or attempting to stop her artistry. She is ready and unhesitant to knock adversaries—and all things adversarial—down.
Ayika: How are you feeling right now? What are you up to?
Jaye Naima: I feel stressed, but in like the motivated way. I have so much to take care of, and I’m like—oh my god can I sleep? And then my mind says “sleep is for the successful” [giggles]. I’m so irrational with myself.
A: Ha! Oh no, you deserve sleep, although I do feel guilty about falling asleep a bit too.
A: Growing up, what were you most attracted to as far as interests? Was it always music and dance or did you have other interests in addition to those two?
JN: Well, my schools never had good creative art classes, so I learned poetry after my brother used to do it and I saw how cool it was, and I felt like it was a good outlet for me to get my feelings out because I didn't have very many friends growing up. I loved video games, drawing, graphic design, beauty, and a lot of other creative things as a child. [My ass got bullied all my school life. I had to start fighting in order to get respect. Believe it or not, I used to be a little bitch.]
A: Did you have any childhood obsessions? I’m not sure why, but this honey-colored blonde woman named Beyoncé and this man called Michael Jackson captivated my little psyche. Whom were your idols growing up?
JN: [Laughs] I used to love Rihanna and Lady Gaga. It wasn’t until I got older when I started to love Beyoncé. They inspire me a lot in music. Prince did too—Chris Brown always had a captivating voice to me.
A: Now as far as art, were music and dance things you knew you have a special inclination to or did others have to make you aware of your gifts?
JN: I always was weird as fuck. I loved music; I taught myself how to do everything. Nobody taught me anything or gave me any classes because my mom couldn’t afford it as a single mom. I love being creative, and I’m a girl who wants to know everything. I didn’t care what it took to find out. I found out!
A: Having a poetry background and now rapping, you have an appreciation for words and structuring them to make something compelling. When did you realize you were also a songwriter? At what age did this dawn on you?
JN: I knew that I was unimpressed with a lot of the artists coming out and I was kind of like “where’s the art in this? Where is the wordplay? Can you come up with something else?” I just was like I know things from English class, why don’t I incorporate it in where others have not. I use my literary devices in my raps, and I use a lot of literature to get my point across because it helps me draw a picture better.
A: I just thought of the Ms. Juicy clip where she says, “can you come up with something else,” she was disgusted [laughs], that’s how I feel about a lot of newer—or maybe upcoming acts that are getting mainstream attention.
A: Do you produce your own music?
JN: I don’t at the moment, but I’m working on it. I find all my beats though and track them out.
A: Do you choreograph yourself?
JN: Yes. I do all my choreo by imagining the music video in my head.
A: That’s right! You have to see it in your mind’s eye first. Where does the inspiration to create come from now?
JN: I think it comes from my drive to be a star. I’ve always wanted to be a star as a little kid and entertain others. I love entertaining people, even my close [loved] ones will tell you that I light up a room. It just came natural to me.
A: Music, art... well really anything is a collaborative process. Do you have people you trust that help you bring your vision to life?
JN: I try to, man. I’m so damn picky, I have a hard time telling others what I want because [for] one, I’m so bad at articulating myself—anxiety. [And] two, I want it to be my way and when I don't get my way I don't want to do it anymore.
A: In your song Catwalk you mention doing it on your own. Is that all true or was that a little cheeky bravado moment?
JN: Yes, I do everything on my own ‘cause I’m an upcoming artist and I am also super cheap. I am not very frivolous. Anyway—I can save my money—I do it myself. So, I write my own music, A&R myself, market, graphic design, style, makeup, sometimes hair. My mom always said if you want it done right do it yourself.
A: How important is it for you to be self-sufficient? In this era, we see a lot of artists deliberately choosing to be independent of a major label. We even see artists who were once signed to majors choose the independent route. What do you want for your career? Independence or a label backing?
JN: Honestly, who knows what will happen. Like maybe tomorrow a label will message me and be like “aight girl let’s go,” or maybe I’ll never even get offered a deal and it’s kind of like that’s how the music industry works. Tomorrow you might wake up, and your life can kick-start.
A: If you're ever signed to a major label do you plan to implement ways to allow you to be as autonomous as possible—omething along the lines of a record label of your own or an entertainment management company?
JN: I plan to be smart with my money. I’m not impressed by big figures because I have a brain and I know that my career will take a jump-start if I use my money wisely and budget. I’ll definitely have an accountant and entertainment lawyer right off the bat. Jaye does not play about her money.
A: I need to take notes [laughs].
A: How often do you think about the business aspect of your artistry? In the past, creatives were encouraged to just be creatives and not worry about the logistics of their careers—maybe they still might be. We’re starting to see a shift in that ideology on the part of the creative. It is especially interesting to note when the creative is a woman and/or femme. Beyoncé has Parkwood Entertainment, Rihanna has Westbury Road Entertainment—and even owns all of her masters. Is owning yourself and your art just as important as the art itself?
JN: Yes, because it’s how you get your money back. Doing 360 deals in the industry is only for marketable artists who are debuting because your label will make their money back and you’ll get your endorsements which you get to keep. After that, it’s kind of like “well what now?” “How do I keep my name relevant, so I don’t owe these bastards any of my money.” You have to know how to play the game which I could because I’m marketable, but I think I have a better plan.
A: Personally, building this magazine cultivated new talents and skills I’ve never dreamt of or even aspired to have—but out of pure necessity, they came about. What are some skills you’ve attained from your first poem up to this point?
JN: Congrats! I bet that feels liberating. I guess for me, being able to grow as an artist made me understand art better. I wanted to be multifaceted, so I’ve worked hard to get where I am sonically.
A: Do you believe necessity pushes innovation and creativity or does that come from having the resources already?
JN: Yeah, when you’re at your worst, you definitely go harder ‘cause it sucks to be slapped on your ass.
A: Established, typically mainstream, artists who are backed by machines have the luxury of not even having to participate in the creative process of their work. They have entire teams dedicated to portions of their artistry—they have songwriters, engineers, mixers, producers, vocal and instrumental arrangers and composers, creative directors and many more people in their camp who are responsible for creating the end product. All the artists need to do is show up, maybe sing or rap—but even then we see that it’s optional. How invested are you in your creative process—especially in the creation of a song.
JN: I mean I can’t say that I would never need assistance, but I do take pride in writing all my material and being creative. I’m not knocking anyone else who needs it, because not everybody may be talented where you’re at, so I don’t judge. I say just be honest and don't take credit for something you didn’t do because that shit will come back on you.
A: Your songs are quite complex structurally, lyrically, and conceptually compared to that of your male counterparts and a lot of new femcees. Your skill really shines. Your single Robbery has a refrain, a bridge, and a pre-hook. Who is even doing bridges on mainstream radio, let alone rap?! I think the intuitive artistry like riding the beat and finding the pockets is a true gift that only some are born with.
JN: You know I never broke down Robbery like that. Thank you. I literally just wrote it so quick and thought it was hot. I showed my mom and brother and they were like yeah this is the one. I just wish the producer would give me the trackouts so I can mix it better and we could have a hit. Robbery is that girl.
A: She is! [laughs in agreement]
A: Your voice is similar to percussion on Robbery, it maintains a distinct bear on its own. Some of my favorite moments, one of which is in your second verse, you draw out the words ‘you gotta’ to build tension and you release it on ‘be’ which is delivered on the One. As a listener who isn’t that musically literate you understand that special things are happening all throughout the song. You change your cadence from the refrain to the bridge, to the pre-hook. You even have internal rhymes, couplets, feminine and masculine rhymes; you play with vowels, I was very proud when listening to you.
JN: Thank you! I’m glad you noticed the “two-spirited-ness” of it. That song was meant to be a song the boys and the girls could bop to. I wanted it to get you hype in the club. I loved the Caribbean influence and the hardness of the beat. If you didn’t notice I reference[d] the whole “Fairy God Motha” thing when I said, “Be inherited with the yenny; Remy Buxaplenty.” I say little subtle things only people who are creative would catch.
A: When you say you want to “push your pen,” do you mean in the story-telling, the actual flow structure, or both?
JN: I push my pen, as in, I can do better. Catwalk had 49 different verses. I had piles of trash in my room at sixteen, being frustrated and throwing away scrapped verses. It actually started out [with] “not a bitch, leave the edges left, never leave out your thread and weft, Fresh breath with the fashion dress, she catwalk leave the girl’s impressed.” I hated it [giggles]. I got frustrated and just said “come on!” and then it just went from there and I said, “come on, come on these bitches they wanna get it on.” That line set the mood of the track real quick. I will never forget that moment, but that’s what I mean by pushing my pen. I don’t settle for “okay.” When you hear Jaye Naima, you’re gonna get her best quality. I don’t do bullshit.
A: I love both songs. Catwalk marries gay lingo and traditional rap bravado. Robbery feels like a fantasy. I feel like I’m in Oceans 8. You also do something that isn’t highlighted a lot, but you bring attention to feminine power. When we think of power a lot of the time we think of masculine power that takes and is violent in order to get its way, meanwhile feminine energy invites people in to get its way. Robbery, although the title itself might alarm people to masculine power, it is quite feminine. You say, “don't need to threaten you n*gga, you know!” I found that to be pleasantly delightful because we don’t need to mimic men to be powerful, there are more ways to be powerful.
JN: Yeah like the female spirit just has that THING. Girls can give you that look, and you just know “aight, I’m good.” You have to know that as a woman you have so much power and control over yourself, and you can order yourself. I channel that a lot in my music and I want people to feel liberated in my music.
A: It is definitely felt.
A: Is your music more conceptual than it is autobiographical?
JN: Well, I think it’s both. Conceptually I do like to follow a theme in my music and give people a good story, but also that makes it biographical in a way. Sometimes I can do Hip-Hop, and some days I do Rap. Some people don’t know there is a difference.
A: Honestly... I’m one of those people. I have no clue [laughs].
A: How do you want your art to be consumed? Is that something you think about or do you leave that up to the listener?
JN: I want people to want to feel like they can seclude themselves and escape from stress. I want to explain things that were never explained and represented in that way if you know what I mean. My art is a gift, and I want someone else’s attention to be my reward.
A: How do you feel about lyricism? Women and femme rappers have to deal with accusations of not writing their rhymes. In recent years, one of the faces of rap—Drake—was accused of not writing his songs and having one or even a team of ghostwriters. Cardi B isn't afraid to point to her collaborator, admitting that she doesn’t take ownership of every lyric that comes out of her mouth. Are you more of a rap purist on this topic or are you comfortable with an era that allows emcees room to have major contributions from others when it comes to lyrics?
JN: I mean, to be honest, I think it is irrelevant because everybody gets help. I may not get it now because I have time but when you have so many other things to take care of, who has the time? It’s really about your delivery that people hear. You can’t fake delivery. That's why I can tell the difference between a lazy artist and a hard-working artist. You hear Beyoncé’s songs, and you hear so many layers and tracks it’s kinda like—damn how? Then you realize she has an awesome team to help her for the time she doesn’t have. You still respect it cause her delivery was there.
A: I argue that sometimes, I find it hard to believe that artists, especially the branded artists, have time to curate their work all by themselves. It’s just not humanly possible. I do see the purist side because so much of the genre is about authenticity and quite literally lyrics.
A: If you had a budget of 100 million dollars and you could only make one project be it a feature-length film, visual album, EP, painting—anything. What would that project be?
JN: My album. I’ve always wanted my album cover to be on Times Square Billboards, and I have the name and everything now. It’s so me. It’s so perfect. It’s so my life. I have the album cover in my head, and I can’t wait to do it. Although my ass wouldn’t end up spending 100 million on it though… my cheap ass [chuckles].
A: [Laughs]. Finally, in the spirit of the Oasis, we like to check in. These are going to be quick questions just so you can come back to this moment—this interview—and remember where you were at this point in your life.
A: What are the three major stressors in your life?
JN: Not being where I want to in life. Not being able to help others the way I want to. Not being heard.
A: How do you cope with your stresses, if at all?
JN: Of course! Listening to music, some green stuff, I like watching YouTube videos of gameplays, makeup tutorials—I love Jackie Aina, and I do happen to read articles a lot. I love articles about aliens and world’s scariest sounds. Stuff like that you find on the deep web.
A: [Clutches neck] why’d I think Dark Web [laughs]. This interview was going to turn into an intervention [laughs].
A: Do you have goals you set for your life overall?
JN: I want to be at the VMAs in 2020. I got a plan, but it's probably stupid.
A: What is your process for achieving these goals?
JN: [Makes ‘shhh’ noise] A magician never reveals their secrets.
A: What is your daily mantra, if you have one?
JN: GET THAT BAG.
A: Are you happy where you are in life?
JN: No, I’m not. I wish I was. I choose to be happy, but am I satisfied? No.
A: Do you feel you can alleviate these hindrances or do you feel they are bigger than you?
JN: Hmm. That’s a big question.
A: What are some pressures of society you wish didn’t exist?
JN: Being perfect. It doesn’t help my mental disorders at all.
A: What would be one thing you don’t have, but you want at this very moment—it can be tangible or intangible?
JN: More fans to love and cherish. [Forms heart shape with hands] add a unicorn emoji.
A: What do you do for self-care, if anything?
JN: Eat. I love food like a dog love to get their belly scratched. Give me food, and I’m set.