I expect this isn’t the last I’ll be hearing about Najee. When I put together articles, social media is a crapshoot. Sometimes, the publication and the subject are savvy — sharing the story with their own audiences and adding layers of relevance or meaning.
Others do nothing — or put together a post that is worse than nothing.
Najee gets it.
My friends at The Listening, Inc. get it.
Those hard-hitting discussions (suicide, authenticity, Billie Eilish’s scandal) produce quotes that make people look up and say something.
Artist Interview: Najee Koncept Won’t Waste Your Time
Najee sincerely apologized for being late — even though he was just a few minutes behind.
I was waiting in the back room of The White Hart Cafe. Five painfully self-aware students crowded around a single table — made to seat two people. Across from us, the larger tables were occupied by single individuals — headphones on, laptops open, and cords splayed — tech-spreading.
Comfortably waiting in an appropriately-sized seating arrangement, my writer’s schadenfreude occupied those extra minutes.
Najee’s apology felt like overkill, until you understand how he views time. As Najee talks about his work, you can hear the countdown inside his head — making sure he doesn’t miss his moment.
Danielle: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Najee: I’m from Michigan but, raised here in Lynchburg. I fell in love with hip hop in elementary school. My mom had a mix CD with Tupac and Biggie. We were going out and she played it in the car. She said, “Don’t let your dad know we listened to this.”
I fell in love with it. I don’t even remember what I liked before that — you know what I’m saying?
D: They were both gone by then, right?
N: Yeah, they were both gone. But, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I recorded my very first song at 16. I got signed to a label here in 2018. I’m still under contract with MG Productions now.
D: How did you connect with them?
N: I actually knew a guy, Robert Williams “DCK”, on that label. He came to my church and performed. I fell in love with his music.
He thought I didn’t like him. But, I loved his style. So, we became really close. He’s like a brother to me now.
He introduced me to his manager. We just took it from there.
D: You guys were competitive at the beginning – at least from his point of view.
N: Oh yeah — I was like, “Bro. You got it!”
D: So, what are you working on now?
N: I am working on “The Red Tape.” It’s going to have 5-7 songs on it. My album just came out last August. That’s doing well.
D: Is “Funny” going to be on that?
N: Yeah, “Funny” is part of “The Red Tape.” Working on that is teaching me the business side of music – marketing, networking, and branding.
D: What else do you do?
N: That’s all that matters. I work at Rent-a-Center. But the music matters most.
D: Did you go to school for music?
N: I didn’t.
D: Just straight out of high school you were like, “I know what I want.”
N: I wanted to go to a school of art but, it didn’t really work out that way. I knew what I wanted to do.
Now, I thought when I got signed, it was going to take off. But, my manager was like, “It doesn’t work that way.”
You see celebrities and their stories. You hope you’re going to take off.
D: How did you connect with The Listening?
N: I met Nick George at an event. He’s always wanted me to go to an Open Mic but, the timing didn’t work out until “We The People.”
D: Are you involved with any other aspects of music or production?
N: Just songwriting and performing. I don’t have time. I love production but, it’s a lot of time and patience.
D: So, you collaborate with others at your label.
N: Yeah, I have a producer and all that.
D: From what I recall, you had an interactive style. I noticed you feeding off the audience. Talk to me about that.
N: That’s all thanks to my boy DCK. He told me a while ago, “If you get the crowd on your side then, you’ve got them. It will push your performance to the next level.”
I use it to separate myself from other artists. I want you to know that I have something to say. I want at least one person to take something away from my performance. If you can reach one you can teach one. I try to interact as much as I can.
D: What’s it like from your perspective? You’re performing and you’re trying to get people to come along with you.
N: Sometimes, I’m going to be honest, it can be annoying. People don’t want to engage. You never know the mood. You gotta take control.
As soon as I step on the stage, I can feel what it’s going to be like. It’s like a home for me. I touch the microphone and I know it’s over.
D: Let’s talk about music in general right now. Who are you paying attention to?
N: I don’t pay a lot of attention to current rappers because I feel like they aren’t teaching anybody. If it doesn’t touch my soul, I can’t listen to it.
D: So what themes do interest you?
N: I look for the struggle. I look how to overcome it. People go through things every day. And people want to know how to overcome the things that they’re dealing with.
That’s why I listen to a lot of old-school hip hop. They were actually teaching people. It wasn’t just about struggling, depression, anxiety, suicide with no answers. They were teaching people how to overcome it.
Everything now is just about being crazy and there’s no point. That’s not helping anybody.
A lot of these artists are crying for help — how are they going to help you?
D: Because of the timing of this interview, I have to ask if you watched the Grammys?
N: I didn’t. I would have liked to though. Did you?
D: No. Afterwards, I watched the “Old Town Road” performance because I wanted to see the stage.
N: I saw a piece of that. And Lil Nas X brought out Nas too. He’s so creative.
D: I wanted to see how he managed all that. Also, I thought it was an interesting way to acknowledge that his song became so popular through the covers. People can get snobby about that. But Lil Nas X understood that his song became what it was because it inspired other people.
N: I would love for somebody to cover my music! Then, you’ve arrived.
D: And then — after all of her wins — Billie Eilish set off everybody on Twitter in her interview with Vogue.
Billie Eilish said, “Just because the story isn’t real doesn’t mean it can’t be important. There’s a difference between lying in a song and writing a story. There are tons of songs where people are just lying. There’s a lot of that in rap right now, from people that I know who rap. It’s like, ‘I got my AK-47, and I’m *****’ . . .’ and I’m like, what? You don’t have a gun. ‘And all my bitches. . . .’ I’m like, which bitches? That’s posturing, and that’s not what I’m doing.”.
What’s your hot take?
N: She’s telling the truth.
D: So, that’s where you’re at with hip hop?
N: I hate lying, man. I love authenticity. I hate when people lie in their music.
We have a platform and I feel that the platform needs to be used for positivity — and positivity only. If you’ve been through something, tell that story. But, tell how you overcame it.
Kids look up at you. I don’t think some artists realize how much they owe these kids. They’re the future and you need to tell them the truth.
D: What do you think of the people who are hating on Billie ?
N: People are afraid of the truth. And she’s telling the truth.
D: So, I listened to “Funny.” I noticed you were working with Brianna. How did you come to collaborate with her?
N: She is awesome. She is one of the dopest singers I ever encountered. Her process is different. She’s a hustler. She gets in. She gets it done.
We met through the label — the guy who produced that beat.
D: People tend to think that producing content, particularly music, happens quickly. So, if you were explaining that process to someone, how would you describe what goes into a song like “Funny”?
N: I’m moved off by the beat. I listen and marinate for a day. That’s how “Funny” started. Briana had already sung her part. I wanted to flip it and make it “Funny.” I asked, “What real situation can I make a joke out of?”
Sometimes, I can take 10 minutes and be done — if I am really moved by the beat.
D: If I had heard that particular track without your part, it might have come across sweet. You made it ironic.
N: I didn’t notice that until I was finished with it.
D: When you think about meeting with me to talk, what questions are you hoping that I ask?
N: I like to talk about what inspires me. I love cities. I love Michigan. There is so much poverty and unhappiness. I just want to be that one spark that can change the world.
I believe we have a platform and we can do it.
D: If you ever feel like you can’t, what song or artist would you put on to push yourself through?
N: Probably Tupac.
N: He was so motivated. He did so much in so little time —movies, music, writing — so much! Millions of records sold worldwide.
I was just talking to my sister about this. I feel like I have to be that good — or better — to feel like I’ve done my job. Between that and looking at my son, I’m like, “I can’t fail”.
D: What about your son brings you there?
N: Making sure he doesn’t live the way I did. I want to make sure he has everything he needs and wants — period. Because he deserves it.
D: I think once you become a parent, it’s hard to explain that.
N: Sometimes. All my friends don’t have kids. I’m like, bro….
They want to go out and waste time. I’m like, I can’t do that. I have to grind. I have to hustle. I have to focus. I’m not into wasting time anymore.
Especially now, when it’s easy for someone who can’t rap to become famous. Good artists are being pushed aside. I’m like, “I have no time to waste”.
D: Some of it is just the hype at this point.
N: I don’t have time for it. I’m determined to be successful.
D: So, what do we need to listen to now?
N: Check out my album, “The August Diary.” It talks about everything: my son, relationships, the world, and my friends. It’s streaming in over 50 countries right now.
I had that feeling that I could do it. Now that I’ve done it, it’s mind-blowing.
If you enjoyed this interview, please read our other stories with local artists who have performed at The Listening. CLICK HERE to see the full list.