Naomi Sharon, OVO’s First Woman Signee, Is Guided By Love

Following the release of her debut album, Obsidian, Complex spoke to Naomi Sharon about making the project, signing with OVO, and following her heart.

OVO

Naomi Sharon—Dutch singer, songwriter, and first woman signee to Drake’s OVO imprint—stares inquisitively at my neck after taking a seat at Complex’s NYC studio. “Are you a Cancer?” she asks in reference to my crab chain. “I’m a Capricorn, but this was my grandfather’s necklace,” I responded, to her surprise, leading the singer to give me a crash course on sun and moon signs before we started rolling. 

This is a snapshot of who Naomi Sharon is, an artist deeply in tune with her own energy and constantly seeking to understand the energies of others. She’s been surrounded by music for her entire life. She grew up with parents who would constantly flood her house with jazz music, giving her a natural inclination to artists like Bill Withers and Destiny’s Child as she would “make up my own type of English” to sing songs. Sharon also took theater classes in high school, which helped jumpstart her career in musical theater in shows like The Lion King and Dreamgirls. She also participated in the music game show The Voice Holland during the early goings of her career, which was an experience she says taught her more about herself as an artist. 

“I think it kind of showed me that I wasn't ready back then,” Sharon says. “I remember the audition with the chairs, and I was so scared. I was so occupied with this feeling of, ‘Oh my God, are they gonna like me? Are they gonna turn their chairs?’ I was not present, and I think that once that was over, I realized that being present when you're performing, or just in general in life, is so important.”

Now after years of refining her craft, the outside noise doesn’t bother Sharon. She eventually caught the attention of Drake, who discovered her on social media in 2019 and later reached out asking if she would join OVO, and Sharon officially became the first woman signee to the label this year. “I think [I add] some guts to try some new things because I went from neo-soul and a bit of alternative R&B to up-tempo things and I was like, ‘Oh, this is scary,’ but I did it and I think that's because of [Drake] as well, and the label, or even Noah, who told me like, ‘You should also try that, just try it,’” Sharon says of what she adds to OVO.  

Her debut studio album under OVO, Obsidian, released on Oct. 20, is a reflection of years of emotional and spiritual growth. The project is named after the gemstone that is believed to have powerful healing and protective properties but also forces you to confront negative energy head-on. “And I was like, that's interesting because I love something that confronts me and puts me into a feeling of discomfort because then I can investigate what that is,” she explains. 

"I love something that confronts me and puts me into a feeling of discomfort because then I can investigate what that is."

The gemstone and Sharon’s debut both share the same core elements—confronting moments of heartbreak and longing with beautifully crafted ballads about love lost and regained. The album opens with Sharon fearlessly spilling her feelings onto the canvas with “Definition of Love” before letting her thoughts melt into deeper hues of emotion as the album progresses. Sharon’s voice sounds like a blend of Sade meets Yebba with hints of Adele sprinkled throughout. Obsidian's tone shifts from longing on “Another Life” to recovery on “Holding In Place,” and finally acceptance on the closing track “Hills.”

“Every time we went to the studio, I wanted to create something that was so truthful that I would 100 percent resonate with,” Sharon explains of working on the album. “And I always say this, if I resonate with it or if I do something that is me, then I think it will find the right people or the right audience that is like, ‘Oh I'm going through that as well,’ or ‘I know what you're talking about.’”

Naomi Sharon’s music is powered by a sense of self-love and self-assuredness that can only be achieved by putting in the hard emotional work and really looking in the mirror. Following the release of her debut album, Obsidian, Complex spoke to Naomi Sharon about making the project, signing with OVO and working with Noah “40” Shebib, the importance of intuition over politics, and more. 

Thinking back to doing covers of “Time After Time” in 2013 to now, how has your vocal prowess improved? How did doing covers early help you?
I think there's a lot of improvement. You kind of exposed me here but it's fine. [Laughs.] I think that I was just trying things and I wanted to keep it close to myself. And back then I could choose songs that were more up-to-date, but “Time After Time” is such a beautiful song and I was really into the nostalgic vibes.

But when I listen back to that, and I haven't because I wanted to delete them, there is a lot of improvement. I was very timid. I was kind of insecure but in a sweet way, but right now if I would do it again, I would do it so differently.

When and how did you get involved with music?
I think from a very young age, from the age of like, 4. My cousin was performing, she did a show where you could win something and she was performing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” And I was with my mom and dad and all of a sudden they were like, “Oh, where's Naomi?” And I was onstage, I don't know how at 4 years old, but I crawled up the stage and I was out there and performing.

I'm Dutch, so I was always making up my own type of English. And then later on, I wanted to become so many things, to be honest. Surgeon, designer, and whatever, but I always stuck to singing and I created my own songs in Dutch, but it was still small and innocent. Then I think during high school you could choose this extra thing [to do] in school and I did theater. So you explore what your voice sounds like and I was doing all these musical things. I never aspired to be a musical star or whatever, but I became one.

Even before you were on The Lion King and heavy in theater, you auditioned for The Voice Holland. Did that experience help prepare you for the competitiveness of the music industry?
I think it kind of showed me that I wasn't ready back then. I remember the audition with the chairs, and I was so scared. I was so occupied with this feeling of, “Oh my God, are they gonna like me? Are they gonna turn their chairs?” I was not present, and I think that once that was over, I realized that being present when you're performing, or just in general in life, is so important. And I think back then I was a little bit disappointed when I lost the battles, but I think it was good because I needed some time to be like, “OK, what was that? How did you feel and how can we improve?” I think that musicals really helped me feel comfortable with a bigger audience and just myself onstage every night.

Do you see any similarities between that experience and working in the American music industry now?
I think the pressure, but what I like right now is that I do it for myself and not for a show or a company. The pressure that I'm feeling is something that I can translate into this energy because I think it's good to feel something when you're performing. I'm never too nervous, but there should be some excitement going on in your body. And so whenever I feel a little bit like, “Oh, this is scary.” I use it to channel it down into this like, “OK, we're gonna do this. It's good that you feel something.”

Why is “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers such an important song for you?
It brings back such good memories. It's such an uplifting song as well and I just love it. Every time I'm talking about older songs, I feel it as well. Like it unlocks something in me, and I think that whenever I listen to these songs, I have a lot of respect for artists from back then because they didn't have Autotune. It's really authentic, and so there's a lot of emotion in these songs. I think with “Lovely Day,” it makes me very happy.

Your voice has hints of Sade meets Yebba. Who are some of your musical inspirations?
A huge one is Sting, just the way he writes and his melodies and the way he is a big storyteller. He's so good at telling a story and being truthful. I think another one is Eva Cassidy. She died unfortunately at a young age, but she is so good and my mom used to play her songs, and then of course Sade. But I think later on when I was a little bit older, because these music genres, I grew up with that. But I thought it was so annoying every time I came back from school, I came back home and it was like jazz. Very intelligent music, but it makes your brain [flustered], so when I was younger, I was always like, “OK, whatever, let me just listen to “Destiny’s Child.” But when I grew older I really had so much love and respect for that type of music, of course. Sade is, I love her timelessness but I love that from Sting as well and all these other artists that I just mentioned. I love timeless music. You just mentioned Yebba, I think she does a great job at that.

How would you describe your brand of R&B?
I think it's a fusion of a lot of things. I think there is some world music in it. I think there is some soul, some neo-soul, alternative R&B. And I tried some new things as well, but as long as I stick to myself and stay close to that, I think artists also have the ability to create their own kind of genre or vibe. I don't want to be like, “I have my own genre,” but I think we kind of do that or can pay tribute to doing that. When we were creating this album, we really made sure that we made something authentic and refreshing. The feedback that I got was about that, and I was like, “Oh, that's nice.” Thank God. That's what we wanted to do. So it's a little bit of everything. 

What was the experience like doing your TED Talk? You talk about self-love a lot during it and in your music. What’s the key to maintaining self-love, especially when faced with industry criticism?
First of all, staying true to yourself, and that's hard because sometimes you get out of that comfort zone and try new things and you're orientating or exploring, whatever you want to call it. But I think as long as you go back to your bed and be like, “Hey, that was me, that was authentic and I kept my integrity.” I think that's a good sign, and of course the people that you surround yourself with, I attribute that to it as well to staying close to yourself. So you should always do something that makes you happy, and that by itself is self-love, that you choose yourself above everything else.

"You should always do something that makes you happy, and that by itself is self-love, that you choose yourself above everything else."

Walking through the process of making Obsidian? When did you start writing it, was it before or after you started working with OVO?
During [my signing to OVO], I think 1.5 years ago or two years now, we went to Toronto and I said “we” because I brought Bo Knox, an incredible artist, writer, and producer with me. We already set the goal to make an album. I think that back then we were like, “OK, we need a batch of songs and just go,” but then we were there and we were like, “No, no, no, we're going to make an album and we're going to try that in the weeks that we're there.” So initially, we were there for like a month and then it became seven weeks and we created a full body of work which was very healing at the time. Sometimes you go through things during special events or during big moments, and we made something out of that. We went to the studio every day and of course, we could use some amazing facilities such as the studio of Noah “40” Shebib. He is incredible and he lets us just be there in that space and write and experience all these beautiful moments with other writers as well.

And was this your first time writing or making music outside of Europe?
No, but because we did it every day, it was definitely the most intense [experience]. And it was really about me and what I wanted because I had sessions before and it was always fun. But when you do a session with people you trust and people who are like-minded and on the same page it's way easier, of course. So I was really lucky to have a team with me that really respected my vision.

What does the title mean to you?
I'm pretty much into gemstones and I have an amazing shop in Rotterdam and it's like a spiritual shop. I went there and it was like, I want to have a crystal. I never had a crystal on my neck. So I went there and I grabbed the obsidian not knowing it was an obsidian. So I went to the desk, and the cashier was like, “OK, do you know what the stone is like? Because it's a very powerful stone.” I was like, “No, I don't,” and she kind of was like, just figure it out yourself. She was like, “It's very heavy. So just know that whatever happens is…” So I went home and I kind of forgot about it and I was wearing it and I was like, “Oh my God, I'm going to take this off because it was very powerful.”

The next day I came back because I wasn't sure if I wanted to have it and she gave me the option to bring it back. She was like, “Yeah, it's obsidian and it's like the most confronting stone. It's healing, it's shielding you from negative energy but it's a very powerful one and it's not for everyone.” And I was like, that's interesting because I love something that confronts me and puts me into a feeling of discomfort because then I can investigate what that is. And so back to Toronto, we went to another spiritual shop to have some incense and whatever, and I saw the Stone Obsidian and I was like, “Oh, this is actually a good name for the theme that is happening in my life right now.” It's healing, it's confronting, it's a lot, and it's interesting. So I was like, OK, and let me buy that one as well, and let me use that name for the album title.

What would you say is the perfect environment to listen to this album? I think of songs like “Outro” and “Hills” and could only imagine listening to them from a hammock somewhere tropical.
Probably in the car. I'm a very dramatic person, so when I'm listening to music, I'm in the car and I'm like, “This is a movie scene, rain is falling on the window,” and I hope that you can listen to it from the front to the back, but I wanted to create this like movie type of feeling that it's like a storyline and it goes somewhere. So that's why I'm seeing a car because sometimes you're in a car for a while, but also in your room in the corner when you're crying. 

You tweeted in 2020, “Intuition over politics.” How did your intuition guide you in the decision-making process for this album?
Every time we went to the studio, I wanted to create something that was so truthful that I would 100 percent resonate with. And I always say this, if I resonate with it or if I do something that is me, then I think it will find the right people or the right audience that is like, “Oh I'm going through that as well” or “I know what you're talking about.” I think that was part of the intuition, to just do me and to really pour my heart into it and to use it as a diary and shadow work; because it's funny when I listen back to some of the songs sometimes I'm like, “OK, so you manifested that,” or “Oh, that's interesting that you went through that and you had these thoughts or emotions.” When I make music I'm completely in my own bubble as well. So whatever happens outside, which is a lot, it's, it's there, but I'm here.

You signed to OVO officially at the beginning of 2023, but you have been tapped in with Drake and the crew since 2019. How did the working relationship start and did you ever think you’d become their first woman signee?
It started with a follow from Drake and I was like, “That's interesting.” Back then, I had an aesthetic on my profile. It's blue, gray, black, and white vibes, and I was just making sure with the visuals I was making that it was very inviting. So I got some attention from people already and then it happened to be him as well. Later on, we ended up in a conversation where he was like, “Hey, I have a label and I wanna talk to you about it” and I was like, “OK, let's talk about it.”

And it was nice, because being an artist right now, I think we have the ability to become something without all these labels or whatever, but if you have one and it's a good one for you, then it can really help you. So I was interested in it because he's very much like an A&R because he's doing that for his own music as well. He really digs deep into all these new genres and new artists, so whenever he was reaching out to me, I was like, “OK, this is something special,” and I took that serious and I could use that help as well because he’s such a genius. He’s like a mentor as well, he's very inspiring. The conversations I had with him about music and creating it were very inspirational to me and it helped me with making the album.

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Naomi Sharon explains how she got signed to Drake’s OVO label. Our interview with #naomisharon is on Complex now. #ovo #drake

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What do you add to the label?
I think [I add] some guts to try some new things because I went from neo-soul and a bit of alternative R&B to up-tempo things and I was like, “Oh, this is scary,” but I did it and I think that's because of him as well and the label or even Noah, who told me like, “You should also try that, just try it.” And then I had so much fun doing that.

How has OVO helped your artistic development as well?
Well, the people on the team are very interesting people. I just talked about Noah, he’s like a wizard, and he helped me but he gave me a lot of freedom. He gave me some artistic freedom and I think that's really important as an artist that you can do you, and he respected that and everyone respected that. That really helped me to explore a little bit more. And of course, I had Bo Knox was already on the team because I took him with me. But then Alex [Lustig] came through, we met him via the label and that was a mesh and we started to make the music with him as well. And so he's a big part of the album as well. They have their people of course, like a whole arsenal, but they're just really good at curating these little moments.

Have you been able to record with Drake at all or picked up any tricks from watching him in the studio?
No, we listened to each other's album which was fun because he’s like, “here's my album” and I'm like, “Oh, here's my album.” But Noah taught me some tricks, but not [Drake] yet. It's funny because being on the label, we have a lot of good artists and it happened to be me and Majid Jordan that did a feature with each other, but it's something that needs to happen naturally. I think that's so important to not be like, “OK, we need to be in the studio with each other because we're on the same team.” It has to be natural and like, “Oh yeah, let's do this and let's see what we can do with each other and what we can create.” So there's no rush.

What was it like working with Majid Jordan on “Waiting For You?”
So much fun, they are the most lovely people. They have this family vibe and they're really loving. I met Majid and we were talking about the album. He was making an album with Jordan at that time. And then I played the album for him and he was like, “Yeah, let's go to the studio and try something,” and we did and it was fun. It was like a jam session and I love these sessions where there's no pressure. It was just natural and if it didn't happen, it was OK, and that’s the best energy, and it happened. But it was like, “Oh let's try this and let's try that,” and all of a sudden we have a song.

I was not in it for like, “Oh we're going to put this out.” I think that's the best intention when you're making something, like “OK, let's just do something. Let's just put our energy in it.” And then when they said that I felt honored, I was like, “Wow, thank you for choosing this track,” and then it was the first track that they chose for dropping their album. 

What would you say is your strongest trait as an artist?
I think I have the ability to create a very emotional, safe space. Like I said, I want to be truthful in my music and I think that it always starts off with a beautiful conversation somehow, like a spiritual conversation or something that we share with each other in the room that is for the room only and for our ears only. And so we create this safe space where you're allowed to be vulnerable. I think that's what I do and my power—to be vulnerable and to respect that from one another when we're there. I think when people feel vulnerable, they make the best things.

What’s the biggest misconception about you?
What I've heard is that a lot of people are like, “Oh, she's so strong.” I am strong, I don't want to say I'm not, but I am very vulnerable and very soft. I think a lot of people think that I'm this machine, and I can be, but I'm very soft. I’m a Pisces, we’re soft. Don’t fuck around though.

Now after dropping this album and being signed to OVO, what’s the next goal you hope to achieve?
I want to tour and see people and have these conversations because I call it a conversation whenever I'm performing. I don't know, just making more music and of course, being more successful and getting more engagement. But for me, the goal is to touch people, and if I can do that, even if it's intimate, then I'm happy. I can name all these fancy goals that I have, I have a list but I just want to stick to that because I feel like whenever I do that I remember we're making music to maybe heal someone. So it's really important to me and I think it's important for other people as well to listen to music with the right intention and purity. And so if I can keep doing that, I'm happy, and if I reach the other fancy goals, I’m happy too. Bonus.

What does success mean to you?
I think when you feel good about what you've done and not guilty, and just feeling happy with what you're doing. I think a lot of people, unfortunately, are doing things that are not really things that they want to do. It's the economy as well, it asks a lot and you don't always have the time or it seems like you don't have the time for that.

But I think that investing in yourself and being able to do something that, even if it's aside your other job, it's something that makes you happy. I think that's success and I think that's like luck as well. Like happiness and all that. I feel very abundant when I do something, for instance, for this new music video for “Push,” I was like, “I want to dance” because I had that background and I just want to put it in a music video and rehearsing with one of my favorite choreographers made me so happy and made me feel so abundant and that's like a little thing. So things like that.

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