Local Spotlight: Najee Janey

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Leading up to his Boston Calling debut, the Roxbury talent lays the blueprint on how to build community as a budding independent artist. 

Roxbury hip-hop artist Najee Janey and his partner Empress settle into a paint-chipped, rickety park bench on the outskirts of White Stadium: a serene backdrop of walking trails and rustling, ready-to-bloom trees that reside just beyond the confines of the Boston Public Schools’ playing fields. Carrying a full plate he has served himself at the buffet for independent musicians — with heaping helpings of solo albums, collaboration albums, feature appearances, workshops, and performances of all sizes —  Janey possesses a calm identical to the park’s environment, coupled with an indelible spirit for collaboration and collective growth that informs his every move. 

His community-minded artistry unfolded the previous evening, as Janey hosted an interactive workshop titled “Village of Hip-Hop” at 3rd Space in Downtown Boston. Open to all ages, the workshop sought to empower participants to find their unique voices and channel their creativity through songwriting, rap, poetry, and other creative mediums. “I wanted to create something in which I could express what I have the most experience in towards the youth,” Janey says. “Growing up, people in similar programs I attended always did that, so this was my idea of creating a new system for people of all ages to enjoy.”

The origins of this workshop stem from Janey’s previous life as a teacher at a charter school, where he “big brothered the youth” by establishing and instructing hip-hop programming. Now firmly planted in the entrepreneurial stage of his career, Janey has expanded his vision by collaborating with organizations such as Copper Collective — A Roxbury-based non-profit founded by Sean Webster, a business partner of Janey’s — and fostering community in the process. “The purpose of working with Copper Collective is to share resources, share ideas, share knowledge, and uplift and empower the… I’m not going to say minority, but the majority community within Roxbury,” Janey gleams. “We’re a tribe of people looking out for each other because not too many resources and information is handed down to places where we grew up. It’s a system of giving back.” 

Looking out for each other is a practice tethered not only to Janey’s work, but also to his core. “I put myself in the shoes of whoever’s in front of me and how I would want to be spoken to, so I just fit that parameter,” Janey explains. This came alive during the workshop, as he asked each participant to jot down their life’s purpose within the confines of a complimentary mini beige journal. The last member to share, Janey articulated that his purpose is to bring people together and help each other grow.

STL GLD. He recalls the interaction centering around his 2019 song “This Time I’m Leaving” — an empowering R&B cut that illuminates the last straw of a fleeing relationship.  “It was the first time someone came up to me after a show in tears like, ‘Yo bro, I really needed to hear that song: I just broke up with my girl, and that song really resonated with my vibe,’” Janey recounts with visible appreciation. 

He analogizes the reciprocity of interactions with fans: “It’s like constantly planting. Sometimes I’ll be the plant and the person telling me about how the song affected them is watering me, and then whenever I’m performing, speaking, giving workshops… that’s when it’s my turn to water.” These random encounters fuel him, a form of healing for an independent artist propelled by the knowledge that his output heals others.

The figurative community garden Janey has tended to sprouted him into Saturday’s lineup at Boston Calling on Memorial Day Weekend — a career benchmark met with much excitement, according to Empress, though it also served as proof of manifestation. “We were talking about him performing at a festival, and a couple people last year were saying that they saw him on big stages in their dreams, performing in front of a lot of people,” Empress recalls. Janey adds his own memory from last year’s edition of Boston Calling, when he told himself, “I’m gonna perform there. Watch.”

perform at First Night 2020 following a show in front of seven people — “One of them was the daughter of the head editor for NBC,” he clarifies — the proof is in the “Cherry Blossom Pie.”

The list of benchmarks to succeed Janey’s Boston Calling appearance runs long: collaboration projects with Boston-based acts such as FUNERAL Ant Bell, Jon Glass, and $ean Wire coming to fruition; songs written years ago landing big; courses and workbooks selling and distributing to local communities; and family providing, to name a few. “Remaining independent, building my empire, and just executing on everything that I said I would do,” he summarizes. “Everything counts, so I’m looking at everything as a benchmark.”


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