At just the age of 23 years old, Nija Charles is undoubtedly one of the music industry’s most sought-after songwriters. Her list of collaborators is a dream cast of names that any songwriter, or any artist at that, would love to have at her age. Cardi B, Meek Mill, The Carters, 21 Savage, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Drake, and Summer Walker are all people she’s worked to great success. Between chart-topping albums and top-20 Billboard Hot 100 songs, Nija’s resume shines on its one.
In 2020, Nija hit the jackpot — twice. She scored two No. 1s, the first being Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s “Rain On Me” and the second being Grande’s “Positions.” Her elevated success as a songwriter earned her recognition on various platforms. In 2020, she appeared on Rolling Stone’s Future 25, BET’s Future 40, and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 lists. Two years after she topped the charts as a songwriter, Nija is aiming for that same success as a singer.
Fresh off the release of her debut project, Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You, we caught up with Nija to discuss her success as a songwriter, her goals for her own artistry, and how she’s able to do it all.
As a songwriter, 2020 proved to be your biggest year after you landed No. 1s with Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. Ahead of your next chapter as an overall artist, how do you look at those moments when you reflect on them now?
Yeah, back in 2020, I didn’t realize how hard I was working and I’m just appreciative of my drive during that time. Getting two No. 1s, especially in pop, is not something you see every day, so it just proves to me that I could do anything. Working hard comes naturally to mean and I was able to put that into my artistry, that type of drive. Working during the pandemic, I got to be able to go back to how I usually work before I really got into writing professionally. I was in my room and just doing what felt good to me. That was really dope that I got to go back to my old self and I feel like that played a big part in my success during that year.
Even though you had success as a songwriter, were you concerned that these No. 1s would box you in as a writer and make it harder for you to be your own artist?
No, I never had a fear because I’m the type of person where it’s like if I want something, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it happens. I know the music I make is good because I just love listening to music and making music for myself. So as long as I like it, that’s really all that matters to me. I’m glad that everyone else likes it. But no, there was never really a fear because I do it for my own enjoyment.
What’s one of two things that factor heavily into your success as a songwriter, as in, without them, you wouldn’t be as consistent as you are at the moment?
Humbleness and being grounded for sure. I would say that because I feel like a lot of people chase hits and success, but for me from the beginning, I make music because I want to make what I want to hear on the radio. I’m a fan of music so that’s how I always approach every song. I make it so that I can listen to it in the car and listen to my friends. I’m not chasing success and I feel like that plays out in the results. Two, I would say drive and just being a go-getter. I’m always on call, I’m always gonna finish something, [and] I never half-ass things. I feel like that’s definitely played a part in my consistency and it’s also why a lot of people trust me and call on me because they know that I’ll get the job done and I’m going to see things through.
Since these pair of No. 1 singles, how have you grown in your art and what’s contributed to this growth?
Yeah, I’ve grown a lot because one, I feel like I’ve actually been able to experience life more. When I stepped foot in the industry, I was still a teenager and just entering my 20s. So now, I’m learning life like before I really had anything to go off of, I was just writing about what I saw or things that I just heard about, but now I have my own life experiences to draw from through talking with friends and just maturing, that definitely played a big part. Creatively, music progresses and I’m inspired by other artists that I’m listening to and just broadening my music library and just taking inspiration from all types of genres. So yeah, maturing and expanding.
I remember a post you shared in early 2021 where you celebrated your signing to Capitol Music Group. What made that the perfect time and the perfect place to lock in a deal?
It was the perfect time because the three years prior, I just kept leveling up and I’ve worked with about 99% of the people that I looked up to. My first year, I worked with Beyonce and Jay-Z, my second year, I was a big Chris Brown fan growing up and I was able to score one of the biggest cultural records with him. Then, the year after that, I got the biggest pop songs, so it was just like, where do I go from here? I definitely wanted to try something new, and having so much success so early and so quickly, I just felt like that was the right next step. Also, the year before that, Beyonce featured me on “My Power.” So it was really the best timing for me. The reason why I chose Capitol was I was signed by Jeff Vaugh (Chairman/CEO of CMG). Me and Jeff, we’ve known each other over the years because he used to work at Artist Partner Group, so we’ve worked a lot especially at the beginning of my career because he was Kehlani’s A&R and I’ve worked a lot with her — my first hit was “Ring” with Cardi and her. My main thing was I wanted to go somewhere where they were passionate about me, and you know, he was the chairman. He really, really saw my vision as well as Amber Grimes (former SVP and Global Creative of CMG), so that was the perfect place for me.
Now that you’re forging your path as an artist, how has it been balancing creating work for yourself and other artists?
I feel like I’ve had to be more focused add more structure to my schedule. I ended up carving two or three days for me and/or two to three days writing for other people. So it’d be one and off three and two and separate them for each, so that was a big thing. I had to take like a month and a half off just to solely focus on me. I wasn’t doing writing sessions, which was different for me because that’s my everyday life, going to sessions and working with other artists, but I was locked in with myself. Creatively, I had to approach songs differently than I would when working with another artist because I had no boundaries. I was able to use my whole range, I was able to experiment with different melodies and flows, and not be scared or have to limit myself for it to work for multiple people. So it was definitely a lot of change.
The title of your debut project, Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You, and the music within it presents a double entendre to listeners which is your arrival and impact in the music industry and the energy and qualities you bring to the table in a relationship. Was this intentional, if so, how did you fit them together?
Yeah, it was definitely intention because there are two sides to me, right? Everyone knows that I’m a songwriter and it’s hard to break out of that stigma of songwriters making it out and transferring into an artist and into the spotlight. But, I would never box myself in and I would never let anybody box me into one thing. It’s me telling the music industry and just telling the world, don’t say I didn’t warn you about how I’m coming and in the music that I’m creating, and I’m gonna beat the odds. Then, the story that I’m telling is about my past relationships. It was toxic, it was up and down, and you know, it was me saying “don’t say I didn’t want you” to him. So definitely, it was very intentional with the double entendre.
What were some of the sources of inspiration for this project?
The sources of inspiration were definitely Pop Smoke because I wanted to experiment with the New York drill scene. One of my main things was definitely combining R&B and drill. I’d been saying for months that I wanted to hear an actual singing song on top of a drill beat, so that was one of the inspirations. Also, I was listening to a lot of rap, a lot of pop, and a lot of R&B, and I just really wanted to combine all of those while using freeform melodies, flows, and structures on the records. Content-wise, where I drew inspiration from was just the past three years of my life being in my past relationship and the ups and downs of what we were going through and the feelings after a breakup. Also, me going through my 20s, maturing, becoming an adult, and just being young and successful and dealing with all of that. Achieving so many of those things while also learning how to be an adult at the same time. It definitely gave me a lot to talk about.
Another notable thing about this project is that you’re always in control on these songs, like “You Don’t Love Her” for example. What was your thought process with this direction?
For me, I always want to come from a position of power. I feel like a lot of the R&B that we listened to today is very — I don’t want to say, in the victim realm — but it’s always like, “Oh, you hurt me. Oh it’s me, I’m so sad.” We’ve seen a change within the female rap genre and they’re always in a position of power. I love listening to female rap and the power that they stand for and just always having such confidence. I want to hear that in R&B music. That’s the energy that I carry in general. I always want to make sure that I never feel like the victim or like I’m taking the L. I always want to come out on top because pride is a big thing as well. I never want to feel like I’m losing or just being a victim.
Was there more pressure for you behind writing and create creating content for this specific project as opposed to writing creative content for other people?
Definitely, I feel in the beginning there wasn’t a lot of pressure. I was just doing my own thing and really taking time for ourselves. But when it came down to the wire and it was like, okay, we have 75% of this and we see where this going and see how good this could be, that’s when the pressure was on. I just had to make sure that my mind music matched up to what people know me for. I have a lot of hits under my belt and there’s oftentimes where people feel like the songwriter gave their best songs away. I never want it to feel like that about me, especially because I feel like this is some of the best work that I’ve done. These are my stories, these are my sounds, I feel like I can’t hear other artists singing these records. That’s what’s most important to me. So the pressure was definitely on towards the end of it.
For those who are hearing you in front of the mic for the first time, what do you want them to keep in mind as they listen to your debut project?
One thing I one thing to keep in mind is that I am not the other records that you’ve heard me pen on, they were meant for other people. I want everyone to listen to this with an open mind and a clean slate and not compare this album, or this project, to my past work, that’s one thing. Two, I want everyone listening to this with expecting to heal, especially if they’re going through a toxic relationship. I feel like this is one of those projects where it’ll help you overcome those feelings. It’s definitely not something I’d be down in the dumps with. So those are definitely two things that I want them to keep in mind.
Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You is out now via Capitol Music Group. You can stream it here.