Killer rhymes, social activism, teaching and sound, clothing and perfume design. These are just some of the traits of musician and activist Nejma Nefertiti. Nejma creates art in order to create awareness. Her music is her sword as she fights for social justice and a more equal and positive world.
I interviewed Nejma once before as part of the Afro Yaqui Music Collective but now I wanted to learn more about her own music and her take on the turbulent times we live in, especially in her native United States.
Halldór Kristínarson: You just dropped a new video for the song ‘Blue, White and Red’. Can you tell us about this song and the motivations behind writing it? How was it rhyming over the piano played by Nina Kennedy and how did that cooperation come to be?
Nejma Nefertiti: “Blue, White, and Red” is a collaboration between myself, classical pianist Nina Kennedy, and producer Mike Gutta, who originally designed the beat. The track was re-created by musician/producer Brenda Alderman. It was released in 2019 to honor Juneteenth. Producer April Gibson, shot the video back then but there were complications that led to it’s editing and release being postponed till this year. Sometimes you have to trust the process and the universe because Juneteenth, 2020 was the perfect timing.
The motivation for the song was inspired by the systemic racism, oppression, and exploitation, of Black and Brown people in the United States and the rape, murder, and displacement of First Nation people. We wanted to make sure it was ready to honor and celebrate the legacy of Juneteenth this year. The core people of this project are all friends or family in some way. It’s a blessing to create with people you love and respect.
Rhyming over Nina Kennedy’s piano playing was classic. We mixed our genres together and put it on a trap beat which made it something entirely different altogether. Nina has a strong and interesting history in music. It was an honor collaborating with her. Check out her newly released book: Practicing for Love: A Memoir.
HK: More recently you released ‘Create A Path’, which has some brilliant, personal lyrics. Can you tell us about how it has been for you creating your career in the rap game?
NN: Lol. I don’t know if I consider myself to be in “the game.” To me the game is the industry and I’m on a different path, one I had to carve myself. It’s been a journey of ups and downs like everything in life and a process that’s ever growing. I’ve definitely received beautiful opportunities being an emcee and revolutionary spirited artist.
I would have never thought years ago, that I would be teaching Hip Hop Culture to students and becoming a resident of universities. I’ve traveled all over the United States, to Venezuela, Iraq, Montreal… it’s been incredible to practice my craft in such a way, and perform for many different audiences in many different settings. I’ve connected with amazing people and that continues. It’s all about having a platform and what you do with it.
My earlier years were filled with lots of struggle, which advanced my work but also set it back. Right now I’m in a strong place. I have my community to thank for that. The further I get, the more I change this “game.” I’m new to many things, but not rap. I deserve to be here and to be recognized as a woman contributing, building up, and advancing Hip Hop culture. The best thing about it, is that nobody owns me or my work. I am free to be exactly who I am. I’ve learned to work with people who believe in me and accept me for who I am. If they don’t, it never works out. It’s almost always disappointing but I realize every single time, that it wasn’t meant to be and that greater things come out of the process. The process is always bigger than the product.
HK: Much of your work is very activist driven, your lyrics, your music and your work outside the music. Do you feel things have always been the same in your country or do you see any changes on the horizon?
NN: I think this country has been through many changes over time, and in my lifetime, there has always been a struggle for peace and justice. But there has always been a broken system built off of greed, capitalism, patriarchy, and racism. We can see that in history way before I was here. This country is built off of lies, murder, and deceit. It’s gone on far too long and that’s why a revolution is taking place. This country also has a history of revolutionaries fighting for justice, equality, and freedom. That will continue until we see real change.
I see changes actively taking place right now and it will continue. Nothing lasts forever, not even evil empires. I think this all goes far deeper than we may imagine but truths are being revealed because the people are saying “Enough is enough!” Things are being recognized and people are awakening. I didn’t know if I would experience this in my lifetime, but we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.
HK: For readers outside of the U.S., can you describe your feeling for the situation right now in your country?
NN: It’s about damn time and it’s just the beginning. I’m proud of our people taking the streets and the many things people are doing beyond that. There’s many ways to be a part of this. It’s part of our story and legacy. We are taking back what’s ours. The demands are clear and powerful. Now let’s continue to get justice for stolen lives and free these children from cages. The list of to do’s is long but I know that together we can make it happen. We ARE making it happen. Viva la Revolución!
HK: Do you feel musicians are using their voices in protest more now than before?
NN: I do. We’re in revolution. Musicians are inspired and feel compelled to contribute creatively and are also out in the streets protesting, making music, doing virtual live shows supporting the movement, etc…it’s beautiful, the solidarity. The world aligned globally for the first time when the covid-19 pandemic went into effect. We are still dealing with that. Then when George Floyd was murdered for all the world to see, it ignited everything you see going on now. Be careful which news sources you watch and read though. The media is also corrupt. This revolution is about years and years of systemic racism and oppression. It’s important to care about all struggles that are going on in the world, whether it’s close to you or not. It’s crucial to care about all children, not just your own. This is a unique and grand opportunity to evolve our world. Musicians have always played a part in that. Voices are being amplified as they should. Musicians reflect the times and are often ahead. I can’t speak for all musicians, because there’s a wide range of consciousness out there, but the musicians I know and love are fighting for justice, truth, and freedom.
HK: What other music projects can we expect from you coming up? How are your other business ventures going like your animal friendly shoe brand?
NN: I have several projects in the works right now that I’m really excited about. Voltage Contrlr & I got a nice body of work cooking. It’s a New York/Los Angeles collaboration. I love the sound we create together. This is gonna be a jewel for Hip Hop.
I got a project going on with Napoleon Da Legend. We are several songs in. He’s one of my favorite artists to work with and is also a great friend. You know it’s gonna be that strong boom bap.
There’s some cool collabs and singles coming out, and a few surprises. Ya Habibi Part 2 is a part of all that. Something to make you wanna dance. What’s a revolution without dancing?!
My vegan sneakers are in production permanently. The black and gold, and all black. It’s just the beginning of my endeavors in streetwear. I love working with and supporting independent clothing companies and I strive to have a few of my own fly designs out there. For me, that’s what being an artist is about. I like to connect anything I do to the path that I’m on. For example, the sneakers I designed are about “Walking in your purpose”.
My preference would be for revolutionary minded people to wear them. But anybody is welcome to. I’m working with a really kind family company who believed in my vision. I also create natural perfumes and beard oils. It’s all about layers for me. Whether it’s music, perfume, food…
I definitely gotta give my Afro Yaqui Music Collective fam a shout out. For one, that’s how we became acquainted because of our interviews with you in the past. Afro Yaqui is working on an album as we speak, and I’m on that. Also, we’re having a final event, which will be the premiere of our student’s jazz opera on June 30th from 7:30pm – 8:30 online.
It’s a multimedia work that combines jazz, hip hop, spoken word, dance, and visual art, animated and illustrated by students and guest artists. I worked together with Ben Barson and Gizelxanath Rodriguez’s “Artivism: Intercultural Solidarity & Decolonizing Performance” course students. The piece reflects themes of police violence, migrant justice, systematic racism, climate change, and visions of a new world. The performance will premiere on the UW-Madison Arts on Campus Facebook Page and will be followed by a live Q&A session with the artists. It’s been incredible working with everyone and you will definitely want to see this piece, even if you miss the premier.
Thank you for having me Halldór! It’s truly a pleasure. I appreciate the love and support you show us all. Blessings upon blessings…
Visit Nejma’s webpage for further updates and info:
Cover photo by Roy Cox
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