A seasoned collaborator's solo venture tackles cultural appropriation and honest relationships with women

by Dre

All images by Stephany Hildebrand

Where do we put all of the girls we could have been if we had only believed in ourselves a little bit more? Our psychic filing cabinets have the tendency to remain untouched, but Naadei cracked hers open and the result is a body of work that is pure and unadulterated Her. After time spent in France and Miami recording and collaborating with prominent artists such as French rapper Booba, Wyclef Jean and most recently 2 Chainz, the Ghanaian-Canadian released Her I'm Fine EP last winter. The EP represents not just a culmination of a rich breadth of cross-cultural experiences that only a Montréalaise could have, but a proverbial middle finger thrust in the face of creative self-doubt.

“I had this idea in my mind of what I wanted to do . . . I had been doing music for a long time but always on other people’s projects, you know, like featured on this, featured on that,” She shares. “And then I was like, ‘I wonder what I sound like when I do what I want to do.’

“It was so weird because I had, like, no idea if it was even good. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done because I really meant what I wrote. It was traumatizing [but] it kind of just validated that I can do this and it’s not too bad.”

Not only is I'm Fine not bad — it’s important. The standout track is “Lisa”, which uses a close friend as inspiration to describe a wealthy white girl devoted to trap music culture and aesthetic in a way that some may consider problematic. According to Naadei, it raises questions about how cultural appropriation can exist in a grey area.

“[It] became a person who’s not necessarily Lisa, but kind of embodied a phenomenon that’s omniprésent,” Naadei explains. “It’s a part of the culture we’re consuming, and is it okay or is it not okay? . . . Are you allowed to claim the culture? Are you not?”

In the small town in northern Quebec where She spent most of her childhood, Naadei was “not only the only black person, but the only non-white [person].”

The debate “is something that’s also part of me, because when you see me, I’m black, but I grew up in a super white environment, my mom is white, so it’s always something that I’ve been in the middle [of] . . . Because I’m such a melting pot myself.

I have the most complicated relationship with the women in my life. I feel like that’s where you draw most of your inspiration from as an artist, through things that you don’t grasp properly.
— Naadei

“I didn’t want to take a position because I don’t have the answer, but I was happy that I could raise the question in a song that’s very fun. Not everybody’s gonna pick up on it, and it’s okay, because if you just want to dab to it in the club, it’s cool. But if you want to listen to it and be like, ‘It’s true, this is happening, how do I feel about it,’ then you’re more than welcome to ask yourself the question.”

I'm Fine's other tracks also deal with the complexity of relationships between women, from the “Selma” interlude to “Angie”, which expresses maternal feelings for a struggling younger cousin far from home.

“I have the most complicated relationship with the women in my life,” says Naadei. “ I don’t have a dad, so I don’t have that many guys around me in my life [and with] the friends I have that are guys, relationships are very simple, like just . . . tranquille, compared to the relationships I have with women.

“I feel like that’s where you draw most of your inspiration from as an artist, through things that you don’t grasp properly.”

I'm Fine shows a courageous maturity. It represents a bold step towards authenticity and vulnerability, and a kind of self-awareness that inspires.

“Before the EP came out. I felt like the furthest thing away from fine . . But I’m completely incapable of holding the things that I think inside. It’s out of my nature. So I usually say it as I think it.

“For me, it gives me peace of mind — that’s the most valuable thing in my life, peace of mind.”

Naadei is a singer. Listen to her on SoundCloud, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Dre is a naked red light bulb.