DC native Njena Reddd Foxxx should be on your radar if she’s not already. You might remember her from Zebra Katz’ hit single “Imma Read,” which became an Internet sensation back in 2012. With her rap cherry popped, Njena is ready to take the hip hop game by storm. We had the chance to sit down and chop it up with the visual artist turned emcee back before she preformed at the Black Weirdo party in Brooklyn. Small in stature but big in personalty, not only does she spit fire but she is also a spitfire, cracking jokes non-stop throughout our interview. That personality is magnified when on stage. During her performance she leapt onto speakers, rushed the crowd, rapped upside down and even did an impressive handstand. All the while, managing to keep up with her rhymes.
Mass Appeal: Where are you from?
Njena Reddd Foxxx: I’m originally from DC, but I’ve been living in NY since 2000.
MA: Which borough?
NRF: Started in Manhattan, went to Brooklyn, went back to Manhattan, went back to Brooklyn and didn’t leave Brooklyn. Actually, that’s not true, I did one year in Philly. But never again [Laughs]. I have motto’s like, ‘Don’t die in Philly.’
MA: Oh word [Laughs]?
NRF: No, no I got a lot of love for Philly, but I mean, people say if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. No, if you can make it in Philly you can make it anywhere.
MA: That’s true, they’re hardcore over there. I lived in Philly for a while and it was a little wild, so I understand. So, how did you get started in the music industry?
NRF: It was all by chance. I’m a visual artist by trade, or I was. That’s what I was doing at the time. And I was friends with Zebra Katz, so I was over there and he was like, “Hey, get on this song!” So I did it, and I heard my voice back, and I was like, “Okay, I can kind of do this.” And then, just from there, that song got kind of popular and people started asking me, “Wait, where’s your music?” So that’s how it started, it was that organic. And now, it’s like gotta keep it moving.
MA: Do you write your own songs?
NRF: Of course! Every bit of it, who’s going to do that for me? [Laughs]
MA: So, it started with that “Imma Read” track, but did you ever think about going into music before that?
NRF: Definitely not. But rap has always been the main form of music that I was into when I was growing up, and into adulthood. It’s still just an artform, so it doesn’t really feel like it’s that different from making visual art. It’s just a new medium, in the way I look at it. You still have to get into a studio and work, and that’s just what it is. So, I never really thought about it, but in terms of even my visual art practice, it changes from project to project what you might have to do physically with the materials.
MA: Now that your focus is on music mostly, are you still doing visual art?
NRF: I still am. The two are so inextricably connected. If you started out doing one and then you add the other, I don’t think you stop doing the other, just because you’ve added something to it. I feel like you’ve just added something to it, it’s another aspect, another element.
MA: How did you get involved with Black Weirdo?
NRF: I met Stas and Cat through Dream Hampton, and it’s been like a little secret love affair [Laughs]. No, but really, I really love them. I met them out in DC actually, they were doing a show and I went up to meet them, and it’s been all love ever since. And then we did a show together at SOBs.
MA: Do you get a lot of shows just meeting people?
NRF: Yeah, just peripherally in Brooklyn everyone is kind of just six degrees of separation, more like two, one and a half.
MA: Probably closer than that [Laughs]. What advice would you give someone who’s trying to break into the music industry?
NRF: Ooh, I would say that if you’re really passionate about something then to just keep doing what you’re doing. “Imma Read” was around, like three years before it popped off. It was just sitting. So, you never know what’s going to happen with something just because it doesn’t happen immediately. Jenifer Lewis always says, “The elevator to success is broken, you gotta take the stairs.” So, you gotta keep working at it, and that should be the joy of it.
MA: Do you have any new projects that you’re working on?
NRF: Yes, I just released an EP last month. It’s called Needful Things. It’s up on SoundCloud. I made that project with this London based producer named Jeopardize, and I really liked working with him, so I’m still working with him. We have a couple of tracks that are unreleased, I’m just trying to figure out how we’re going to frame that as a project. And also, I’m going to premiere a video in a few weeks.
MA: I was just listening to your shit earlier today, that song has been stuck in my head, the one about eating Ahi seared?
NRF: Oh that? [Laughs]
MA: “Ahi Tuna Seared”, that’s my shit. I posted the lyrics to that song and my friend was like, “Wow, you’re going all out.” And I was like, “No, no, check out this song, it’s my shit.”
NRF: Yo, that song is just straight jokes.
MA: You drop the word “bitch” a lot on that track.
Njena: There are a lot of bitches in my songs. I’m always like, “It’s not you who I’m talking about.”
MA: It’s them other bitches?
NRF: [Laughs] It’s the theoretical bitch that we’re talking about. What does my mother always say? She says it’s not what somebody calls you, it’s what you answer to. So if you don’t hear your name in bitch, I’m not talking to you.
MA: That’s a good way to think about it. So, what do you want people to know about you?
NRF: I feel like I can do anything, and that’s not coming from a place of delusions of grandeur either. It’s just, I feel kind of fearless in trying new things. And, also having the confidence to know if I’m good at it or bad, and the self confidence to know, “Girl this is not for you” [Laughs]. Being able to separate things that are just a hobby from things that could actually be a career.
MA: Dope, that’s all it takes, some self-confidence and some swag [Laughs]. So, you just dropped this EP, do you have anything else you want to do? I know a lot of artists are doing merchandise like crazy.
NRF: Yeah, that’s step two. Step one is to get people into the music, and then you can worry about selling them t-shirts with funny slogans on them and shit. All the other stuff can just happen like that, [Snaps Fingers]. What I’m just focusing on is the music, performing live and getting the music out there. From the very beginning that’s what it was. It was trial by fire and just being thrown out to the wolves. But, then again, I feel like I’m further along because of just being thrown into it. Sometimes I’m shocked as to who my audience is. Like when there’s that one person who’s in the front who knows all the words, it’s really weird, they’re never the same kind of person. Oh, man, this dude the other night, he had on like a purple sheer shirt and a dog collar, and he knew every word! And, I was like, “I see you, I see you.” So I really like when I perform because you really never know who your audience is.
MA: That’s dope. Do you have any shows coming up?
NRF: After this one, I’m taking a little chill pill. I’ve gotta get myself together. I’ve done five shows this last month, just around Brooklyn and one at Hampshire College, which was really fun because it was in a barn, and there was no stage, and I’m short. So I was like, “How am I going to do this?” So I built some stilts, and performed on stilts for that show [Laughs]. That was pretty fun, that was a good one.
MA: That’s creative, I dig it.
NRF: Yeah, so that’s how I bring my art into it. No stage? Build stilts. Learn to walk on stilts [Laughs].
MA: What kind of visual arts do you do?
NRF: I do it all, I make sculptures, I paint. My last big projects where recreating rap music videos. I made this full-bodied crocheted costume, that was basically like a crocheted layer of skin. So, it looks really soft and cute, but it’s really fucking scary too [Laughs]. And then I made these South Park-esque backdrops and we performed the songs. And it was a lot of the Clipse music, so a lot of coke rap and all that stuff. But it was so playful in its imagery, but the words and stuff, you know, just working with that dichotomy. But, all of the props were my sculptures and some of my paintings were in there too. But yeah, those were my last art projects before I got wrapped up in all the music stuff. So there was a little bit of a connection, I was inching towards it, maybe not consciously.
MA: Subconsciously you were about that rap life.
MA: Is there a website where people can check you out?
NRF: Yeah, I have a website redddfoxxx.com you can find me on Facebook you can find me on Twitter, Instagram. SoundCloud, go listen to the music eff all the other stuff, go listen to the music, let’s start there. Then if you want to see what I look like, you know.
Take a listen to Njena Reddd Foxxx’s Needful Things EP, including the much talked about “Ahi Tuna Seared” track below.