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When Montreal rapper Naya Ali says her new video for “Another One” is “all black everything,” she means it.
“The set, the car, the swag, we even got a black German shepherd,” Ali said from the video shoot location—a dimly lit warehouse lined with classic cars in the industrial section of Anjou.
“It’s about elevating to new heights, as much for myself as for the culture, because everything that I do, I really take it to heart. I want to bring value to people’s lives and the culture, even art as a whole. So this is a celebration of Black Excellence.”
For the video, she’s decked out in black attire from Montreal designer Guillaume Chaigne.
“It’s not just hoodies, I can get swagged out. It’s pretty badass,” Ali said with a laugh.
“We’re going to have extras with black braids because the song references winter and you have to braid your hair in winter because it dries out. It’s protective styling. That’s me saying I’m Ethiopian and Canadian.”
Given her ground-breaking 2020 in her home province, it’s perhaps not surprising she feels a certain responsibility on her shoulders. As an Ethiopian from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce who raps in English, Ali no doubt faced an uphill battle in gaining recognition for her craft from the Quebec industry machine, yet every time she’s encountered a wall in her career, she’s managed to break it down. Her face and music have made it in places you wouldn’t expect.
“When I say culture, it’s also important for me to connect with the culture of my city.”
Her 2020 EP, Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude), became the first rap album to get nominated for Best Anglophone Album at the ADISQ, the notoriously stubborn and stodgy Quebec equivalent of the Junos. She also became the first English rapper to perform at the awards ceremony. (“This is for where I’m from and the kids that couldn’t dare to dream” she said at the time.) Earlier this year, she appeared in her first fiction role in webseries L’Arène on Télé-Québec.
She’s also been known to bridge the gaps, breaking linguistic barriers by dropping collaborations with in-demand francophone rappers, from “G.O.A.T. Talk (Remix)” with Benny Adam and White-B to “Air Ali (Remix)” with respected elder statesman Connaisseur Ticaso.
“When I say culture, it’s also important for me to connect with the culture of my city,” Ali said. “Here, people jump from English to French to French to English, so it just makes sense to do it on a track. And to make it natural sounding, so it’s completely seamless, that’s the goal.”
Like most anglophone rappers in the city, Ali’s begun venturing beyond her borders as she looks to take the next step in her career. Over the pandemic, she wound up working with Grammy Award winner Adrian X in Toronto. Hitting up Canadian rap’s capital took on a greater meaning than simply network building—her new surroundings helped shape her sound as she preps a sequel to Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude).
“I wanted to explore some Ethiopian influences, and I’ve wanted to do that for a while, but I didn’t want to do it in an obvious, corny way. We sampled Ethiopian jazz and it brings such a distinctive sound. It made sense. It brings me back to my roots in a subtle way,” she said.
“Working with Adrian in Toronto had this supernatural vibe. It felt like I was going to visit a cousin. He has such a laid-back vibe, we would talk and chop it up for two hours, then create the records from scratch, we’d see if we could catch a vibe or some flows on the mic.”
There are also new thematic boundaries Ali is pushing with her next project. She’s known for her philosophical side, often over rapid fire verses, but she admits there’s a light hearted approach that’s creeped into her latest tracks. Call it the chilled out Adrian X effect, the exploration of pop-oriented writing or just wanted to show multitudes as the oeuvre and audience expands.
“I’m not always serious,” Ali said. “I’m still finishing the album, but maybe on the new record you’re going to see another side. You’ll get a more fun, hook side.”
The sequel to Godspeed: Baptism (Prelude) comes out later this year.