Navani Knows 10 Women Who Rocked the Music Scene in 2015

As the year comes to a close and all the “Best of” lists have gone viral it has come to my attention that as per usual, women are left out of the conversation when it comes to lists for music. Maybe the people in charge just don’t bother to listen to female artists, or some will argue that this was an awful year for women in music in general. In any case, I’m taking a moment before this year officially ends to pay homage to the ladies of 2015. In case you can’t remember how much influence women still have here are my 10 fave moments of women ruling the music scene in 2015 (in no particular order).

  1. That time when M.I.A. dropped a timely political video about the refugee crisis LIKE A BOSS. When the video for “Borders” dropped I played it on repeat almost all day. How could you not question our country’s politics after listening to those lyrics:
    “Borders (What’s up with that?)
    Politics (What’s up with that?)
    Police shots (What’s up with that?)
    Identities (What’s up with that?)
    Your privilege (What’s up with that?)
    Broke people (What’s up with that?)
    Boat people (What’s up with that?)
    The realness (What’s up with that?)”
    Asking all this while sitting perched on top of a pyramid of refugees only accentuated the message. Such a powerful visual for a powerful cause. M.I.A. never shies away from the controversial topics that need to be addressed.
  2. That time when Missy Elliott made her comeback with puppets in “WTF”and the internet lost its mind. I mean, I lost my mind back in February when Katy Perry bought her on stage and the beat for “Get Your Freak On” dropped. It was a little foreshadowing that there would be more to come from Missy this year. But when the video finally did drop for “WTF” I was in Argentina and I still felt a collective “YES” scream across the world from here. YES! for creativity, YES! for dancers, YES! for being a dope female musician in a blinged-out track suit. Oh Pharrell can’t make the video shoot? No problem, we’ll just make some fly dancing puppets. Oh Missy, how we missed you so!
  3. That time when Erykah Badu dropped a mixtape featuring a collabo with her baby-daddy Andre 3000 called  “Hello” and made us reevaluate our relationship goals. When Andre says, “Okay, challenge/Leave your phone unlocked and right side up/
    Walk out the room without throwin’ your bitch off balance/
    It’s either on or off, ain’t no in between when it’s valid.” It’s his first verse of 2015 and it’s OOF, super deep. I love the entire concept of “But You Caint Use My Phone” being a social commentary on the influence and obsession of our phones in this day and age. So much so, that how we interact with them around significant others is the new test of a relationship. I mean yes, Erykah is my spirit animal so she can rarely do wrong in my book but still, this song reminded us what soul music could be.
  4. That brings us to the OTHER “Hello” of this year: That time Adele dropped her album 25 and sold more copies than anyone in one week –  3.38 Million copies in the U.S. alone to be exact. Then continued to sell over a million copies two more weeks, breaking other records along the way. BONG.  I love it when artists can rely solely on their talents to win big and not make the focus about their appearance. Adele does that brilliantly (in my British accent) time and time again. Kudos to her also for having Tristen Wilds AKA Mack Wilds AKA Michael Lee star as her love interest in this video:
  5. That time the Amy documentary came out and gave us all the feels…
    I can’t talk about Adele without thinking about my other fave British Songstress, Amy Winehouse.  I miss her so much at times like this. Luckily, this year we had the release of Amy, which gave us a few more live moments of her on the big screen to hang on to. The documentary gave an intimate look into the back story of Amy’s quick rise to fame and her fall from grace. As sad as it was to watch, I really appreciated the movie for giving an honest portrayal of someone completely overwhelmed not only with her demons but with her unwanted fame. I left with an even bigger respect for Amy as an artist, someone who valued her process and her artistry over everything else. She didn’t care about being a  pop star, she just wanted to make authentic music.
  6. That time when we learned how to say twins in Yoruba with the release of the debut self-titled album from Ibeyi. Two Afro-Cuban Parisian sisters rocked my world with their Yoruba chants over self-made hip-hop infused drum beats. If this is the year of authenticity and showing up as you are, these two take the cake. They sing about dealing with grief, loss of love, and paying homage to our ancestors in ways no 21-year-old should know about yet. Cheers to women that honor every aspect of their culture and their soul. It was an amazing album that bough traditional Afro-Cuban Yoruba music to the mainstream. And kudos to their hat-tip to Jay Electronica in the song “Exhibit Diaz” Can’t wait to see what’s next for these sisters.
  7. That time Jennifer Lopez hosted the American Music Awards and killed the opening performance, reminding us she is still a ‘Fly Girl’ at 46. And, she looked amazing doing so. I mean come on, did you think I would have a list and not mention her? Have we met?  Yes, I ride for JLo regardless but she really killed it! she performed the year’s hits better than the artists themselves. Say what you will about her as a singer or actress, but at the end of the day she is a true dancer at heart and her skills cannot be questioned in this performance.
  8. That time Florence + the Machine dropped their third studio album and it was even better than the first two… I didn’t think it was possible but then there she was, Florence and her tambourine were back with a vengeance in How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Songs like “What Kind of Man” and “Hiding” became my living room dance party anthems. I immediately channeled my barefoot, inner-hippie and followed her all the way to Montreal just to catch a peek of her singing about love, loss and her drinking problems. This album was extremely raw and personal. Well done, mate.
  9. That time Janelle Monae reminded us that #blacklivesmatter with the song “Hell You Talmbout.” It’s been a tomultrorous year in the fight against police brutality, especially on the heels of the non-indictment ruling of Tamir Rice’s case. We are hurting and tired, we scream Black Lives Matter but feel like it falls on deaf ears. Janelle Monae screamed back and let us know we were not alone when she dropped this song along side her Wondaland crew. In it she recites the names of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and the many other lives unjustly lost to police. I dare you to listen to this song and not get chills.
  10. Lastly, that time Aretha Franklin, her clutch and her fur coat, graced the stage at the Kennedy Center Honors and made President Obama cry with her performance of “Like a Woman.” Yes, she was paying homage to Carole King who wrote the song, but we know who made the song a hit. Aretha plays the piano, she drops her fur coat and all without missing a beat. If you forgot what the Queen of Soul looks like, here is your reminder.

Navani Knows Curly Girls! My Latina Magazine Video Shoot


I didn’t always embrace my curly hair. I know, it sounds awful saying it out loud, but it’s true. I went through my moments fighting it and not knowing what to do with it and therefore wishing my hair was different. (Please see my previous post about curly hair dedicated to my cousin)

But finally, I learned to accept and love my hair just the way it is (gotta love adulthood). And now it has become my best accessory. But who knew I’d actually see the day when I’d be rewarded for my curly hair! My friend Sugey sent me a link to a contest Latina Magazine was throwing for a “Curly Girl Makeover” sponsored by Mizani hair products. I read it over and figured I was def qualified. I never win anything EVER so I didn’t put too much thought into it, but I figured what the heck.

Funny thing is I was a winner! Three girls in total with three different types of curly hair were picked to get a Mizani Makeover to be filmed and made into a promotional video for Mizani True Textures products. I am always game for free hair products so I was in. Plus, I was told breakfast and lunch would be provided, score.

I never realized how much work goes into making something that is only 4 minutes long. The day started at 7 am and didn’t wrap until 5 pm. During that time we had before make up done (I never knew there was such a thing) and before shots taken. Then there were lines to learn and say – sometimes taking 7 or 8 takes for each girl. Then there was the lighting to consider – the sun kept coming in and out and making the videographers lives hell. Each time the lighting changed, adjustments inside had to be made and items rearranged. Then there was the actual process of washing and styling my hair which included twisting all my hair into tiny double twists and then sitting under the dryer for an hour. Finally, the “after” takes and more reading of lines. It was fun to get dolled up and great meeting and chatting with the other curly girls – Mariela and Karla. All in all it was a really great day! And as I stated in the video below – it was so nice to be in an environment that not only understood curly hair but welcomed it.

Check out my hair modeling debut on Latina.com.

Navani Knows: Rooftop Legends 2011 Recap

This past weekend was the 4th Anual Rooftop Legends opening exhibit that took place on the roof (hence the title) of the New Design High School in LES. I have never been to this spot before but apparently it is a space known for embracing street art. Going onto the roof for the first time is a surreal experience, like being transplanted in time back to the era of the “Style Wars” documentary and the origins of hip-hop, breakdancing and graffiti culture. Murals of all styles and substance are on display, from the political to the artistic, extravagant to subdued. Having these works in a school, in such a protected way, both ensures there remains a place for graffiti art in New York City, even with tighter laws and enforcement and at the same time has become an effective fundraising tool for the school administration.

The Rooftop Legends Opening Reception was a pretty awesome event with art from a plethora of artists including TOOFLY, TRIZ (TS5) & SUEIE (CAC), COPE2, SIEN alongside TATU (XMEN) and more, curated by Jesse Pais. The exhibit  spans the size of an entire NYC block, which is unheard of and overwhelming in a great way. It feels almost like you are in a museum with a live DJ and awesome city views (minus the fire we witnessed down the block). I strongly urge anyone who is a fan of street art to check it out. For more info check out the RoofTop Legends Blog.

Pics after the jump….

Continue reading

Navani Knows Exclusive: DJ Eclipse Recaps Working on “Illmatic”

I am still on a natural high from seeing the Nas performance at Rock the Bells last weekend. I have been beaming all week. I loved it and continue to tell that to anyone who will listen – including my colleague and homie DJ Eclipse. Upon mentioning to him that this is the show I had been waiting for since I was sixteen-years-old and declared Nas to be my baby’s father he replied, “oh too bad you weren’t around when we were working on Illmatic.”

We??? I was intrigued. I had no idea of his involvement on the album and wanted to know more. Hearing first-hand stories and and inside information is interesting to me as a fan. So, I figured I would post it and share it with all of you. Check out what Eclipse had to say about almost getting on the album, being in the studio with Nas and what the production process was like.

You were there firsthand during the making of Illmatic. How did you come to work with Serch around the time he “discovered” Nas and started the Illmatic project?

It’s kinda like six degrees of separation kind of a thing where at the time I was living in South Carolina in 91. A friend of mine that lived in South Carolina named T-Ray had moved back to New York to work on music. He started getting production gigs and ended up producing half of Serch’s solo album. Serch hit the road to do promo and when he came down to South Carolina he actually stopped at the record store I was working at at the time and I dropped T-Ray’s name and he’s like yeah that’s my boy. So I started telling him how we’ve worked on beats together and he asked to hear some, so I literally went out to the car and played him some beats I had. He liked what he heard, so after he left the store he called me and said he really liked what he heard and we just hit it off from there. He invited me up to New York to DJ for him and also produce for him.

So how did Nas come into the picture?

T-Ray had got a production deal with Big Beat Records and was doing stuff for the Artifacts and actually getting beats out there. I forgot how exactly T-Ray came across Nas but he’s the one that put Serch up on Nas. He told him, “yo this dude Nas is dope and you should check him out.” When Serch was doing “Back to the Grill”, he told T-Ray to invite Nas to the studio. So he came down to the session and ended up getting on the track. So that’s how he and Serch connected. At the same time, Big Beat records was actually interested in signing Nas. At that time Stretch Armstrong and Reef were A&Rs for Big Beat and were already up on Nas and offered him a deal. But Serch met him and asked if he was signed and Nas told him not yet but that he got an offer from Big Beat. Serch told him he could get him a better deal so Nas didn’t take it. So Serch shopped his stuff around, pitched it to Russell but he turned it down because he said it sounded too much like G Rap and didn’t think he’d be anything big. Then, Serch took it to Faith Newman at Sony and she got it, she liked it and the rest is history.

What did you think of Nas when you heard his stuff? What made Serch and everyone else want to work with him?

Lyrically, it was just dope. He can spit. He definitely had a little G Rap in him and some Tragedy influence – just that Queens kind of style. But it was just the stuff he was writing and the way he was kicking it was real poetic and that’s what got the spark going with a lot of people. That’s definitely what captured me and most of the people I knew was that his lyrics were ill.

Were you ever in the studio with Nas?

Yeah, I went to an “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” session. I went to one of them because there were several sessions for songs back then. It wasn’t like today where you meet once and do the joint. Back then they would go in and Nas would lay his lyrics down and then he might go back and change it a few days later. Large Professor actually ended up changing the music for that song several times whether it was different drums beats or different patterns; he switched it up a few times. So, one of the sessions I went there to check them out over at Power Play [studio] and hung out for the session. But usually, at that time I was living with Serch at his place, when we would see Nas it was because Serch would send a car to Queens Bridge to pick him up and bring him to Serch’s crib in Long Island.

You almost had a beat get placed on Illmatic, right?

Yeah. I was always up in the attic working on beats and Nas would come over and hang out with us and I’d play a bunch of tracks and he would listen to them and see if there were any he liked. There was one time when I had played a beat and he started vibing to it and right on the spot he came up with a loose chorus and started saying some ish over it. So he was like, yo I think I want to to fuck with that for the album. So, I was like ok, cool you got it. A little time went by and I guess he decided he didn’t want to use it for the album. By that time Serch had started liking the track and like what Nas had kicked over it so Serch asked Nas if he could use the chorus Nas made and he said cool. It ended up being on an unreleased Serch album that he recorded in ‘92/’93 but didn’t come out till a few years ago. But that was my little five minutes of fame for Illmatic. [Laughs].

You also did a remix for “Life’s a Bitch” too, was that an official remix?

The remix was actually supposed to be an official remix for the single, but out of the three versions that were done (me, Buckwild & Meach Wells/Def Jef) they went with Jef’s version.  Which I thought was nowhere near as good as mine or Buck’s.  Actually Buck ended up doing 2 different versions and they were both dope.  Oh well.

How did the idea for having various producers come about? It wasn’t the norm back then usually it was the one producer and one emcee formula.

Well, that was because there were so many groups that had built in producers – you had Gangstarr, Pete Rock and CL Smooth. So, for the most part, yes a lot of the albums would be heavily produced by one producer. With Nas, his closest connect was Large Professor. That was the dude that put him on the Main Source project and did some of his early demos. But Nas didn’t have someone that that close to him that was a super producer. Large Professor was busy doing Main Source stuff at the time. People were so hyped about Nas they were like how dope would it be to get one track from DJ Premier and one track from Pete Rock, one from Q-Tip – all these people that were kings of production at the time in Hip-Hop. The idea was to have the best tracks ever done and just have an incredible album. We were just all hype over Nas and wanted him to work with the best producers out.

How was Serch able to get the biggest names in production to work with someone brand new?

Well there was already a buzz about Nas from “Live at the Barbeque”; people knew what he was capable of. Then once you tell them we have so-and-so on board then it makes someone else want to be on board. Then during the actual recording process of the album there were joints that people did over like a competition. Like the two songs Premier did – “Memory Lane” and “Represent” – he did them but after he heard what Nas did with some other people like Pete Rock etc.  and was like oh shit, I can’t give him what I did, I got to redo it. So he went back and did all new versions of those two songs and those are the ones that are on the album. The original ones were dope but Preme definitely out did himself with the newer versions. But that’s what it was about – wanting to work with Nas because of what could be and also the fact that producers wanted to out produce each other. Everyone wanted to make sure they had the best cut on the album.

The album is pretty short with only nine songs, what was the decision behind that? Were they picked from a bunch of songs made?

Nah that was pretty much it. I mean he had several demos done that he used for when he was shopping for a deal. I think “One Time for Your Mind” was the oldest track on the album. That came from a demo that made it to the album. But everything else was made from scratch. I don’t really remember what the decision was to go with nine tracks, it might have been because it took them a minute to get done and major labels always push you to get your shit out there in time.

So you went to Rock the Bells and saw Nas’ performance, what did you think?

Man it was crazy! It was like being in little kid mode you know, knowing the lyrics to the songs and waving your hands in the air. As soon as New York State dropped it was like you just see a crowd of thousands and thousands of people all singing along, it just gave me goose bumps. For me personally some of the highlights were seeing “Live at the BBQ” with all four original members performing, which was never done live before and seeing “Back to the Grill Again” with MC Serch, that’s what I wanted to see. He has so many dope songs; it was just great to see him do some of the dope ones in our opinion at Rock the Bells. I would have to definitely attribute a lot of that to Premier for kind of being in his ear and saying we should do this, we should do that. He personally told me the direction they wanted to go in and I think they nailed it, it was a great show.

You can follow DJ Eclipse on Twitter @itsdjeclipse

All photos via Robert Adam Mayer

Navani Knows What Happens When…

I celebrated this past Valentine’s day much like I do my birthdays…. spread out in more than one day with multiple events. My V-day was split into two parts and it spanned two days. Part one, I coordinated by putting together a menu and cooking a meal a la Top Chef Style in the comfort of my abode.

Part Two took place the next day, and was thankfully not left up to me. My bf was left to his wits to pick a place for dinner and By, Golly he did swimmingly well. Enter What Happens When. At first I thought it was simply a new posh SoHo spot I hadn’t heard of yet. But what I experienced was way more substantial than that. Turns out, What Happens When is a temporary restaurant installation that transforms every 30 days for 9 months, offering guests an ever-changing culinary, visual and sound experience. So in lament’s terms: a pretty cool experiement in art and cuisine.

So what does this mean exactly? A team of four: One Chef  + Two Designers  + One Composer + One Photographer
and One abandoned restaurant combine to create a totally inventive “experience” based on their interpretaion of a theme. The theme is provided every month by, well one of us. Anyone that was nice enough to donate to their project on kickstarter.com.  The Movement will touch on all 5 senses and create experiences that not only support but celebrate the menu. Pretty nifty huh?

This month’s theme was on reflecting (I didn’t have a clue at the time). The place was decorated much like an architectural draft. Outlines all over of where seats and tables should go. Line drawing on all walls and ceiling. It def had the feel of a work in progress. A blueprint if you will. Looking back now, I can see the vision was to create a  representation of dreams and internal reflection, and to do so they built ladders into the ceiling and made “dining houses” to eat under. I realized they used the actual plan of the restuarant within the decor, but didn’t realize it was part of an overarching theme. I was content on a cool looking artsy space. So, Kudos to them for having more to the story.

It was not only a great theme and experience, but great food too. The dishes were super creative and I love that when they are bought out to you the staff explain what it is you are getting. I felt very much like Padma on Top Chef and so more points for helping me live out a small, secret dream of mine 😉

So, if you are in the least bit into art and having an experience where everything is symbolic, this is the place for you. For more info go to their site. To make a donation and get your name on the wall check out kickstarter.com.

Photos via Lia Wong

Navani Knows: Vast Aire’s Exclusive Interview on Brooklyn Bodega Radio

There are times when my whole life comes full circle and the stars align and everything makes perfect sense. Not many, but few. Like for instance, when I cross paths with someone I grew up with in my present career. That’s what happened this past week when I was able to reconnect with my childhood friend, Vast Aire.

Vast and I met in high school working an arts-based after school job that his father ran. He stood out not only because of his size (some think that’s where his name was derived from), but for his vocal ability. He was a rapper, since before I met him at 15. He did rapper like things, for example, carrying around a notebook that he constantly wrote in, kicking verses at the drop of a dime and battling in ciphers. When someone asked what he aspired to be, he said with conviction, “a rapper.” This wasn’t as common or easy to say as it is today. Today, everyone is a rapper.But then it wascommon  to not take this seriously. I mean, no one we knew ever did this profressionally.

Cut to some 15 years later (yikes, totally dating myself) and we cross paths once again. Him as a rapper for more than a decade and me as a music journalist. It was a treat to be able to reach out to him not only on a personal level, but this time profressionally and ask him for an interview to promote his latest project. He’s had a long, successful career thus far that continues with the release of his upcoming EP and LP OX Street Odyssey 2010.

He agreed with only two days notice to come on the show. It was great to catch up.  Not only was he humble but completely candid as he addressed rumors of beef in the game and Cannibal Ox breaking up. It’s refreshing to actually speak to an artist this way, where nothing is off limits. It doesn’t happen often in this game where everything is scripted and publicists give a list of demands before any interaction.  

Most importantly, we also got to hear more about the making of his latest opus which features  Hip Hop heavywweights Raekwon, Cappadonna (he’s on the single “I Don’t Care“), Guilty Simpson and Vordul Mega. Check out the entire interview here on Brooklyn Bodega Radio.

OX Street Odyssey 2010 EP is dropping March 3rd. The LP due out in May.

Photos via Google

Navani Knows “Sour Diesel”

Being snowed in during the biggest blizzard in over 10 years kinda has it’s advantages. One being you can sleep in, two being I got all caught up on all my blog reading. In my reading I came across a new video from my homie Vast Aire. I am always excited to see the people I know doing big things, and Vast is one of them. Especially because he is the first actual rapper I ever did know personally. He was the first person to show me that rapping can actually be a career.

I remember in high school (95/96… yes, I am dating myself) when he told people he was a rapper, a lot of people including myself were skeptical. I mean he was talented but in the early 90’s it became a fad for people to start saying that’s what they wanted to be. You hardly ever saw people actual have any follow through. But when we graduated high school and went our separate ways, it made me smile to see the Cannibal Ox albums in Fatbeats. He really lived the dream and is continuing to do so over a decade later and for that I am proud.

So, of course I am gonna support anything he does when I can. So shout out to Vast and his new video “Sour Diesel” with Double A.B. off his latest project called OX 2010 Street Odyssey set to be released in February. For all those missing the Ox, here you go.