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.