Naji had me at “hello” when I first heard his 2016 track Fallen, released with Australian producer Howle. It remains in heavy rotation; a gorgeous, aching track that showcases Naji’s effortless voice.
I’ve been following Naji ever since, tracking the slew of singles, EPs, and diverse collaborations he released while awaiting a full-length LP. Happily, it has arrived in the form of Misfit.
Setting aside what personal meaning or reflections Naji had in mind in naming the record, it’s a perfect descriptor of the music he’s laid down here and of the musical career path he’s blazed to-date. He’s wildly eclectic, with his fingers and toes in electronic music, dance, hip-hop, progressive R&B, and neo-soul and a talent for gleefully warping any genre he touches. There are easy comparisons to Sampha, but Naji’s is a decidedly distinct artistic voice.
“Yeah, I’m a misfit and I love it / I’m a misfit cause I know I love it all.”
The album starts off with the title track; a full-throttle introduction to all of the weapons in Naji’s arsenal. Bent, wildly pitched electronic synth notes and a highly syncopated beat provide a dislocating backdrop for Naji’s soulful crooning, which rides over the boozy production until the beat changes, a gentle piano comes in, and his vocals just soar. Then, it’s off to the races again until a gentle close.
The album is cleverly split in stylistic thirds. The first and final third draw heavily on electronica and hip-hop, with Naji sing-song rapping with a chameleon-like voice (even veering between Lil Wayne and Pharcyde on the track Affairs). The middle third taps deep into modern R&B and soul (featuring Canadian singer/songwriter Sara Diamond throughout) and has some of my favorite moments on the record.
On his Facebook page when he annonced the release of the album, Naji wrote, “Hope you find something to love from it.” I definitely did. But, more than anything, that sentiment is what I get from Naji’s music: an authentic offering of self and an abiding love for what he’s doing and putting out in the world.
You; me; we all need more Naji. Check him out.