At only 23, R&B/Hip-Hop newcomer Nnena is carving out her own new lane in the industry, while gaining major cosigns from the likes of Issa Rae and J.J. Abrams.
These Hollywood sign-offs are fitting for the Cleveland native, as she actually got her start crafting mellow musings on the pain and glory of relationships while writing scripts for film projects.
Nnena’s journey into music started unexpectedly as a student at Ohio HBCU Wilberforce University when a season of heartbreak and tragedy led the promising young college ballplayer to turn away from her beloved sport.
“The guy I was dating [at the time] got married on me, and I remember my best friend passing away around the same time,” she shared. “So I wound up quitting. I can remember me and my coach, we were just crying because I didn’t want to tell her what happened. [Partly because] I was embarrassed, but [also because] I didn’t have any control over this shit.”
With stress and emotional turmoil rattling her focus and amplifying her aggression on the court, Nnena felt forced to step away from the sport and find another way to channel her feelings.
“I needed something to direct this energy at, but not towards anybody,” she said.
“I would just do funny-ass skits on Instagram and I would post them. Then I got the opportunity to create a show through school,” she shared. “I’d never written a show before, so that was just new. I finished the script, and then it was time to start looking for music. And I did not know what the f*ck I was doing,” she laughed. “I had no clue that music licensing was so expensive.”
Faced with an unforeseen dilemma in a foreign medium, Nnena simply tried her hand at making her own music for the project.
“I figured, ‘I created this show, so I don’t think it’ll be too hard for me to create some music for it. If anyone knows what this is about, it’s me,'” she said. The end result ended up becoming her first single off her debut EP, Bipolar AF, entitled “Not the Thumb.” Drawn in by the ease of the process – creating the song was a far quicker process for her than writing the script had been – and the release it provided, she eventually began paying less and less attention to the script and more to the supporting music she could create.
For Nnena, it was a welcome opportunity to express the things she didn’t hear anyone else say out loud.
“[It’s all about] the woman’s voice,” she said. “It’s the sh*t that a lot of us want to say, but a lot of females, we think too damn much. I just say it. I’m going to just say the things that they won’t say, the things that we go through.”
“We go through a lot of bullsh*t, I’m not going to lie. The older I get, I’m like, ‘Yo, this world’s not kind.'”
That raw candor applied to heer unique musical style has more than paid off. Her debut EP was released under Loud Robot, the newly formed record label partnership between JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot and RCA Records. Her single “Fun” was recently featured on Insecure: Music From The HBO Original Series, Season 5 soundtrack. She’s performed on NPR’s beloved Tiny Desk concert series and made her late-night debut on The Late Late Show With James Corden just last December.
Nnena’s unapologetically honest music reflects her many eclectic influences, ranging from Otis Redding to Kendrick Lamar. Her latest EP, …Just Cause, is four tracks full of robust, descriptive storytelling to the tune of mellow, R&B tempos with some reggae/pop/soul flares woven throughout, featuring guest appearances from artists Childish Major, DaVionne and WESTSIDE BOOGIE.
As fans take a listen to her two EP projects, and her soon-to-be-released debut album, there’s really only one thing Nnena wants her new fans to know: “There’s another crazy b*tch out there just like them.”
“I truly don’t give a f*ck,” she said of her approach to style, music, life. “I’ve never been a good follower – which I know can sometimes be a bad thing.”
Still, she values doing her own thing above all, and thinks others in her age bracket should give it a try more often.
“I’m not going to say I wish a lot of people thought like me, but in a way I wish they could just take small little pieces [of my mentality].” she continued. “If people just were to do them, it would be so much easier.”