Just a few days ago, Atlanta-based R&B singer-songwriter, Queen Naija, celebrated her 25th birthday. While, in many ways, she is still quite a young person, Naija has, nevertheless, already seen a great deal of life. She is a mother to two little sons, she’s been married and divorced, and she’s already built up several prominent careers. But, if you ask her, she’ll tell you that she’s “only just getting started.” The often-glamorous, smooth-singing talent will release her debut LP, missunderstood, October 30th on the heels of several successful single releases and her self-titled Queen Naija EP. But, despite the many gains, Naija continues to focus on topping herself. For the new LP, she wrote and rewrote dozens of songs before landing on the cohesive collection that comprise her forthcoming record.
“When you search for a new house, you don’t want to stop at just the first one,” Naija says. “You want to keep looking in case there is something better.”
Naija, who grew up singing, says that she’d completed the work on her full-length – or, so she thought – over a year ago. Her 2018 EP had done so well on streaming platforms and with fans, that she wanted the follow-up to be a great step forward. So, she kept listening to the songs over and over again. As she waited for the albums’ guest features to arrive in her inbox, Naija came to a realization: she needed to keep working. At the time, she’d wanted to show off an eclectic, versatile creative flavor but now she wanted to flips that. She wanted cohesion.
“This is my debut,” she says. “So, I want to make my mark and make very clear who I am. As I listened to the album over and over again, it let me find the sound.”
To fall in love requires selectivity. Just like with a new house purchase or with a romantic relationship, it’s best not to jump in to the first option that presents itself. So, for Naija and her debut LP, selectivity became the name of the game. But to be selective requires a pool of options from which to select. So, Naija opened herself up to working with co-writers and new producers. She had themes she wanted to tackle and while she first wanted to do it on her own, she knew it would be better to keep her ear available. And given the extra effort (coupled with the recent pandemic), Naija pushed the release date of the soon-to-be 17-track LP until it was finally ready – October 2020.
“What I wanted was a classic album,” she says. “I wanted to peel off more layers of who I am. I’m not just a girl who’s been cheated on. I’ve had more things happen to me, I can vouch for more than just that. I know that’s a sad thing but there’s more I can use to empower women, and people, in general.”
A few years ago, after Naija gave birth to her first son, she started a YouTube channel with her husband, the boy’s father. But not long after, devastation hit. Naija discovered her partner wasn’t faithful. Their marriage ended. She left their YouTube channel, which had a massive following. Naija had to rebuild. And that she did. She started a new channel, released her EP, wrote more, gave birth to another son and she continues to be a mother to the boys as she navigates a career with millions of fans and a forthcoming, anticipated releases.
“I’m finally at a place now where I feel like this is the one,” she says. “I was going to name this album – because of this whole experience and everything else going on in life – trial and error. But one night, I went to sleep and I heard missunderstood in my head. I woke up and that’s the album name.”
At the beginning of 2018, Naija released her first single, “Medicine.” The song hit number-45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April. It now boasts nearly 180 million views. Naija, who remembers singing along with her mother at three-years-old, harmonizing to Mary J. Blige, has always loved songs. She started a girl group in third grade, she won a talent show in high school. She was also influenced by the music she heard and sung in church. She began writing early on and, to this day, she’s influenced by the many aspects of her life. Naija, who, after high school, had a successful American Idol tryout, often uses vocal techniques similar to those utilized in music from the Middle East, where her father is from.
“I think about my mom who’s Black and my dad who is Middle Eastern,” Naija says. “It’s so funny because I was raised on old school music from the 70s through the 90s. I think that has a big affect on the soul of my music today.”
Naija is empathetic. Though she’s been through a lot, she says, she doesn’t want to see anyone else feel the same pain. She doesn’t wish ill on anyone. She’s worked too hard to bathe in those waters. Turning 25-years-old, she says, was a “milestone.” While others may stay stagnant in their lives, she pushes ahead, children and career in tow. She’s also in a relationship, with a boyfriend that helps keep her up on the latest style and trends. It’s easy to look backwards, but that’s how one can get tripped up. Naija keeps her eyes open and front facing.
“I’ve been through so much,” she says. “I’ve had these different lives. I got to experience the life of being poor and not having it at all. Now, my life, I do have money and I’m taking care of my family. It’s just how crazy how far I’ve come and I’m not even where I’m supposed to be yet.”
But more than anything else, it’s music that keeps Naija grounded through her day-to-day trials and errors. Music is the means through which she processes the world for all its positive and negative pendulum swings. While Naija says her family – especially her young sons – keeps her on the straight and narrow and away from her more impetuous side, music keeps her head clear and her mind capable.
“I always tell people that I’m a better writer than I am a speaker,” Naija says. “Sometimes I can talk in circles. That’s why I write it down and sing it. Going through moments in dark places, sometimes the only way to let the pain out is through music. It’s helped me – I just love the affect it can have on my day. It can put me in a whole different state of mind.”