New Jersey-born, L.A.-based singer and songwriter Nija was just 13 years old when she started life as a producer, making beats in her bedroom.
“It was my hobby, and it was something I would do on the side, after school,” she says. “But I really started taking it seriously when I was 16, because that’s when I started looking at colleges and schools, and really trying to figure out what I wanted to do and go to school for. The next level of me really taking it seriously was when I was 18 or 19, and I had to figure out if I was going to stay in school or not. Everything started moving with the songwriting stuff—it actually happened by accident. That was when I was like, ‘OK, this could really become a career.”
Nija’s big break came when she got a songwriting credit on Cardi B’s hit single “Ring” (using her full name Nija Charles). She had another credit on Cardi’s smash Invasion of Privacy album, with “I Do,” too. Nija was up and running.
“Invasion of Privacy was such a big album at that time, and that was her debut album, so for me to have two really big songs on there, especially when ‘Ring’ ended up becoming the single, it really going crazy – that was really my big break.”
Nija cites Usher, Chris Brown, Beyonce, Drake, and Kanye as her favorite producers and rappers growing up. As for her sound today… “It’s R&B foundation with rhythmic and hip-hop, rap melodies,” she says. “A more rhythmic sound where I’m bringing all these genres together.”
Nija’s latest release is the Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You EP. “I recorded that in about a year, because I was in the midst of writing my stuff and then also writing for other people,” she says. “A few of the songs I recorded myself at home, and the rest of the songs I recorded with my engineer in the studio. So it was either my bed, or in a studio in NoHo.”
It’s a wonderful piece of work—honest and heartfelt, and a seamless blend of genres—and she deserves the plaudits after writing hits for SZA and Ariana Grande, as well as Cardi B. Of course, the pandemic came along and threatened to derail everything.
“It actually had a big impact,” she says. “It definitely benefited me for recording because I was able to get back to how I used to record, which was in my room, not having a lot of people in the studio, like it was just me, the engineer, and the producer. But when it came to the rollout, we had to do a lot over Zoom, meeting with partners, so that definitely impacted and made it a little harder, but we made it through.”
Nija made the move from New Jersey to Los Angeles literally on New Year’s of 2018, in order to further her career.
“I had to move to L.A. because my songwriting career took off, and in order to really succeed, I have to be in a room with artists to get placements,” she says. “A lot of my success came from being available and on-call. Artists would hit me up and be like, ‘Hey are you around right now? I have this song that I need done.’ So just to really make myself available. I did my deal with UMPG [Universal Music Publishing Group] and dropped out of school, and moved out to L.A.”
She doesn’t regret it for a second, as she’s seen her career go from strength to strength. All the creatives, she says, are on the West Coast. That said, there are things she misses about New York/New Jersey.
“I miss the authenticity of it,” she says. “All my friends and family are out there. I miss the food for sure. The inspiration. There’s never a dull moment. You won’t see the same people every day. It’s unpredictable. That’s something I love, which definitely makes for a lot of inspiration, compared to L.A. I remember I was telling my manager when I first got out here, it was a culture shock because it’s not fake, but it’s not real life. Sunny weather and palm trees every day. We don’t even really get to experience autumn. I don’t get to see the leaves change colors out here. You don’t get a real winter. Christmas feels weird. I make sure I go back home because it’s literally the same thing every day. La-La Land. Pleasantville.”
There’s plenty of authenticity in Los Angeles, and there’s nothing Pleasantville about, for example, Downtown. But we get what she means. She also thinks this is a healthy time for R&B in the States.
“I think right now is a time when R&B is having a resurgence,” she says. “I feel like a lot of people are experimenting, especially how we’re seeing more influences from international music as well. So I feel like everyone is inspired and pulling from different places to help innovate the culture and the genre.”
Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You is out via Capitol Records, and the artist says that the label is a good home for her.
“I’m pretty seasoned in the industry already so it was always about having the right deal, the right support system, and making sure I have the right relationships in the building and not just with one person,” she says. “So I’ve definitely felt the love and the backing and the support from Capitol, and that was really my main thing going into a partnership with whoever I was going to do it with, for my artist side.”
Looking deeper into 2022, Nija wants to get out on tour, and release more music.
“I want to start doing features, a bunch more videos – I love doing visuals,” she says. “Putting my face out there and showing them my creative side. I’m going to put another project out and I’m working on the album right now. So just more music. I want to stay consistent and flood people.”
Hitmaker Nija is Doing her Own Thing: Nija’s Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You is out now.
– • –
NOTE: The advertising disclaimer below does not apply to this article, nor any originating from the Village Voice editorial department, which does not accept paid links.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.