The journey of an independent artist is one that is not always understood, especially when that journey is the equivalent to making an ends meet. We look at the artists on the top 40 charts and ultimately think ‘money,’ and then we look at the artists who, by faith, decide to dominate and make the independent route their own and we might think ‘crazy.’ The constant view that we look out to through our consumer-framed windows is what we see everyday and the hard work and background story of each artist is what we fail to hear. Hip-hop’s relevance and value today is one topic to be argued, and while many of us tangle with the many sounds and choices in music that is available independent artists such as Noa James continue to stomp loudly enough so that one day his sound is heard by all.
Known as the “Intelligent Elegant Elephant” by many, James has the passion and story that many fans flock to when they hear his music. Grimy lyrics and heart prevailing stories are what this emcee intends on giving in each song and word that is mastered. Soultrain.com had the pleasure of speaking with Noa James about his musical tastes, his upcoming album Dionysus Lifestyle, and his career.
Soultrain.com: What would you consider the best highlight in your music career so far?
Noa James: Performing at the Paid Dues Festival; it was something I wanted, I campaigned to get it and I got it. It really showed me that hard work pays off.
Soultrain.com: So if you were to predict a highlight that could happen in the next five years, what would you want it to be?
Noa James: Performing in Japan. I have a song that caught a lot of buzz out there and gained fans, so it’d be dope to perform out there.
Soultrain.com: Today there are so many different hip-hop artists, especially on an indie level. With so many different styles and sounds, do you ever find it hard to not sound like “the next guy?”
Noa James: No, I figured out if 100% of your music is you it’s easy to avoid sounding like someone else. I just make sure it’s really me in my music, nothing fake, all original and genuine. I put a lot of passion and emotion in my music. Not to say the next guy doesn’t, but I put so much in it I can break down.
Soultrain.com: It’s interesting when listening to your music because you can’t help but notice the different sounds you like to pair with your style. When it comes to music outside of hip-hop, what musical influences contribute to your sound and style?
Noa James: Blues. I listened to a lot of blues with my grandfather. Blues artist had so much passion in their music, I believed everything they sang about, I felt it all with them. In my music I want people to feel it.
Soultrain.com: A lot of times we hear artists name musical influences such as Tupac, Biggie, Lil Wayne and other big names in hip-hop. Do you think music today pays enough homage to the soul, oldies and jazz artists and genres?
Noa James: No. People are probably influenced by soul, oldies and jazz but don’t even know. People are so caught up in the music they do that they forget about the other genres that influenced them to do their music.
Soultrain.com: The music industry is in a very different place than it once was many years ago. You’re signed to an independent label called Black Cloud Music. Do think you might stick to the independent route forever?
Noa James: I think the independent route is the best for me because I can have full control of my music. If you have enough money you can grind like you’re on a major, get the same sponsorships and light the majors get. This is the D.I.Y era.
Soultrain.com: You have an album coming out this year called Dionysus Lifestyle. Tell us about the concept of the album, the name, and the direction you’re taking this project compared to your past projects.
Noa James: Dionysus is the demigod of wine harvesting and wine making. His birth made me intrigued to read more about him; the way he was born is the way I’ve been feeling all my life. He was birthed twice; he almost died in his mother but his father Zeus grab the fetus and sewed it in his thigh and that’s where he fully developed. I relate his birth to my life because I feel that my grandmother saved me [when] my mother couldn’t take care of me.
This project is about everything I’ve been feeling since Paid Dues. I’m writing about everything and when I put it together it is all cohesive somehow; it just all fits together even though I’m not sitting there purposely writing certain things to go with something else. My past projects were mostly about things I wanted to get off my chest. This project is about things I want to get off my heart.
Soultrain.com: With Dionysus Lifestyle, what type of reception do you hope to get from your fans and even new listeners and fans who are hearing your music for the first time?
Noa James: My thing right now is I want people to know that I put my heart in this music, I put a lot of passion behind it, I want them to really feel it.
Soultrain.com: You’ve worked with a lot of different artists. Who would you like to work with in the future, both indie and even mainstream?
Noa James: I would love to do a collab project with Murs; he has mad fun on projects and energy. I do music with a lot of energy but not fast BPMs. I would love to do a track with Adele; after seeing her perform at the Grammys I really loved the emotion and passion in her performance. I think if I did a song with her it’d bring out another emotion in me and tap into something else. Curren$y is another artist I would like to do a track with because, “Hey hey hey! Smoke weed everyday!”
Soultrain.com: West Coast hip-hop is in a good place right now. Being that you’re originally from the East coast, do you ever feel as though you are one of the many underrated artists that’s seen and heard but still looking to be seen and heard on a larger scale?
Noa James: No, because my time is coming. I truly believe that. A lot of artists feel like they’re being slept on. I’ve learned how to campaign and market myself so eventually I will get myself the light and shine I want.
Soultrain.com: Hip-hop wouldn’t be what it is today without soul, but what would you consider your favorite era of music?
Noa James: This is a hard one because I could listen to soul music all day. I can listen to Barry White, Smokey Robinson and Willie Hutch all day, but there’s something about 90s hip-hop that I just love a lot.
Soultrain.com: It’s safe to say you grew up during the Soul Train movement. Do you have a favorite memory?
Noa James: I used to go to Soul Train and try to get in while in high school but never got in. Some of my friends got in, though; it’s a good memory I can share with those friends and anyone who watched Soul Train.
Soultrain.com: What type of lasting impression do you try to leave listeners, and how do you think you would be remembered if you died a Greek hip hop god?
Noa James: I want people to be able to listen to old and new music and be excited like they’re listening to it for the first time and then want to share it with friends and family and be like “listen to this, look how he did it, he did it right”
I think I’d be remembered as the “God of Smiles and Power Bombs.” I’d be a god who was aggressive but uplifting.
Danielle Turner is a Southern California-based music writer with a passion for sharing new and upcoming artists through R&B and Hip Hop to the everyday music junkie. A contributor at TheWellVersed.com as well as running her own music blog, Headphonemonsta.com, you can always find Danielle via Twitter @thisisdanielle.