Nija Charles is the 24-year-old singer, songwriter and producer behind so many of today’s biggest hits. She’s one of the songwriters behind records like Cardi B‘s “Ring” featuring Kehlani, Summer Walker‘s “Come Thru” featuring Usher, The Carters’ “LOVEHAPPY” and even the multiplatinum single “No Guidance” by Chris Brown featuring Drake.
Charles recently made the decision to step into her own solo career, but not before she served up fans with receipts of all the amazing anthems she’s penned. In Dec. 2021, she threw TikTok into a frenzy when she shared the first video of her series, “Songs of Mine You’ve Heard but Didn’t Know It Yet.” The series gave unsuspecting viewers an inside look at the entire creative process behind their favorite songs — the first video, which explored the creation of Teyana Taylor‘s “Bare Wit Me,” currently sits at 2.2 million views.
21Ninety sat down with Nija Charles to discuss why she felt TikTok was the perfect platform to share her creative process with her fans, how she’s able to improve her skills as a songwriter, what we can expect as her solo career unfolds and more.
Jadriena Solomon: What inspired you to create this series, “Songs of Mine You’ve Heard but Didn’t Know It Yet,” and share with the world your role in creating these hits?
Nija Charles: Two things inspired me. One, I remember when I was younger, I used to see videos on YouTube that Ryan Leslie would post, where he would show the exact process of how he made some songs that we heard on the radio from start to finish — like the production process, then going into the songwriting process. Two, when it came to TikTok, I had actually seen Charlie Puth do it. It was good to see his demo and, you know, see people’s reactions. So I figured, let me just do TikTok — I love TikTok and I just wanted to think of some content to do. So I showed one of the songs and it went viral in 10 minutes, and I was like, ‘Oh, people actually like this.’ So that’s what really inspired me to do it.
JS: Why did you feel that TikTok was the perfect social media platform for this series and how do you feel it’s been able to further assist you with connecting to your fans?
NC: Well with TikTok, I feel like it’s the perfect app for self discovery, and honestly it wasn’t very strategic for me. I feel like with TikTok there’s so many different categories of things to watch and there’s a big music following on there. So it was really just me having fun with it — it wasn’t ‘This is the way for me to connect with my fans.’ But once the videos went viral, then I realized, ‘Oh, this is a perfect way to engage with my fans.’ And just the entire nature of the app — you know, talking to everybody through the comments and everyone reacting to the videos — it’s a very tight-knit community that TikTok has created.
JS: Before the age of 21, you had worked with artists like Cardi B, Beyoncé and JAY-Z who are a couple years your senior. So people have always been curious as to how you’re able to write from other people’s points of view and experiences at such a young age. And, from my research, you always explain it through the comparison of acting and songwriting. Can you explain that comparison for people that have never heard you talk about that before?
NC: Yeah. Songwriting is like acting because, especially with me being young, I didn’t go through a lot of things. So I kind of have to act as a vessel because I’m writing other people’s stories and being a storyteller. And in order to get inspiration, I know a lot of people write from what they’ve been through. But again, with me being young, I had to put myself in their shoes, talk to them, talk to my friends or draw inspiration from something I watched on TV — or just having that conversation with the artist and hearing them explain their experiences for themselves. And then, from there, I have to be able to act as if I’m them and play out what’s going on in their mind. So having to pull from that instead of my own experiences is how it’s like acting.
JS: Yes, I’ve never heard anybody else explain it through that comparison, and it really does break it down seamlessly so that you’re able to paint that clear picture for us. So becoming a better singer or dancer is definitely more on the straightforward side, but how are you able to improve your skills as a songwriter?
NC: The way to being a better songwriter is education. And when I say education, it’s educating yourself on all types of music, even from the past. I think that’s what helped me a lot, and it’s what gave me a head start because I was already hip to a lot of music from generations ago and also different cultures. Being from Jersey, it’s like a melting pot — you’ve got house music, Hispanic music, Korean music, Caribbean music, Afrobeat, rap, rock, pop. And my family comes from a gospel background as well. So it was just a whole bunch of different genres of music that I grew up on.
So I kind of had that in my pocket, but listening to music has also been a hobby of mine ever since my childhood. When I got an iPod, I was always looking for music on YouTube or DatPiff.com or SoundCloud, and always trying to see what’s out there because there’s billions of music out there. So it’s just always making sure that you know a whole bunch of different music and how you can take inspiration from that and innovate it.
JS: Some of your musical inspirations include The Dream, Kanye West and Pharrell, who are not only incredible artists but multifaceted talents like yourself. You can write music, you can sing, you can produce — which really leaves you the option of not having to depend on too many people to create your art. Why is it so important for artists to be multifaceted and self-sustainable in the music industry?
NC: I feel like the importance of being self-sufficient, number one, is that it allows you to be able to speak those languages with other producers. It opens up your mind so that you know exactly what you want and you’re not just going into the studio blindly. If you’re a songwriter but you know engineering, then you can talk to the engineer and go above and beyond the average conversation. You can tell him which VST you want to use. You can tell him exactly what sound you want to hear instead of having to describe, which may make things more difficult for both of you.
Especially during the pandemic, that’s how I was able to get ahead — because I was self-sufficient. And I didn’t need to rely on an actual studio, or rely on engineers, in order to create anything. I was able to do everything in my room. So because I was able to do that, I was able to keep working throughout the pandemic and get those songs out to the artists. So self-sufficiency is best, and just being able to have knowledge in all different areas of music, and not just one.
JS: I definitely agree with you. So you always knew that your next step from producing and songwriting was stepping into a solo career, but how did you know when it was exactly the right time to make that transition?
NC: I knew it was the right time for me when Beyoncé featured me on “My Power.” And it was just a point in my career where I had already accomplished so much — especially when the video came out — I had so many number ones on the radio, Grammy nominations, Grammy wins. I had number ones on The Hot 100, different genres of number ones on the radio — and I just felt like I had worked with most of the people that I dreamed since I was a little girl. And it was just like, ‘What is the next stepping stone?’
And being featured on a song with Beyoncé, like that is rare. Beyoncé doesn’t do a lot of features, and who else can say that besides a few people? I’m a big believer in signs, and that was a sign that there was something more and it was the right time for me to make that transition.
JS: Yes! What could be better than that nod from Queen Bey! So you released your debut project, Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You, in January. How was that experience of putting together your own body of work and switching gears from songwriter to artist? Was there anything that surprised you in that?
NC: Something that did surprise me was on one hand, it was easy because it felt like a breath of fresh air and that I didn’t have to hold back, but that area was also hard for me. I had to dig deep for my solo artistry, whereas I’m so used to being kind of general when it comes to songwriting and not having to pull from my actual experiences all the time. And working on my album, I had to talk about everything — and I’m a private person, so having to put my problems on front street was very different for me. So that was a little bit of a challenge, to take it there. But it was fun and it ended up being therapeutic for sure.
JS: You and Capella Grey most recently teamed up for your latest single, “Confujawn.” Both of you are talented singers, songwriters and producers, so how was it combining your talents and working on that record together?
NC: It was so fun and organic and just very easy. Just because we both have experience in all of those departments, we were able to tell the producers what type of vibe we wanted.
He went into the booth and did the hook, and then I went into the booth and did my verse. And the song just came along very quickly — very, very quickly. And, you know, he’s just a really cool guy. He’s so funny. He always creates the vibe in the studio, so it was a dope time. We were in New York, so it just felt right.
JS: So you’ve composed music in all different genres, from pop to Latin to Afrobeats. Your debut single, “Ease My Mind (Come Over),” even mixes the genres of R&B and drill. Will we be hearing you explore different genres of music in your own solo career?
NC: For sure. I never like to put myself in a box, but I don’t want it to be a reach either, so I think that it’s going to come slowly. But I’ll definitely always be making different genres. That’s something that is very fun to me, so you will definitely hear a lot of that.
Even my single “Not One of Them” blended pop, R&B and drill together because the actual chords of the guitars are pop, then you have drill drums, with a R&B, “rappy” pop line. It’s something that I just love to do with everything, so you will definitely hear more of that, for sure.
JS: Will we be able to get a peek into the creation process of your solo songs on TikTok as well?
NC: You know what? Yeah, I actually never thought about that, but I will. I actually wanted to do that on “Beautiful Lies,” but I’ve been super busy for a couple weeks. But once I get some time, I’m going to definitely dive in because I know that a lot of people on TikTok really like to see the creation, the behind the scenes, on that. Especially now that people are tapped in with my artistry, I’ll definitely start doing that on TikTok.
JS: Awesome! I’m definitely going to be tuned in, waiting to see. So for my last question, in a recent interview with Audiomack World, you explained that you’ve accomplished so much at such a young age. You often ask yourself the question of ‘What do I do next? What’s the next best thing?’ And of course it doesn’t help that you have the added pressure and expectations of the music industry. But industry aside, expectations and pressure aside, what are you personally striving for as you move into your solo career and just the next 25 years of your life?
NC: I never think small and if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it right. And I’m going to do it to be the best at it. So that’s just how I’ve always gone into everything. So for me, in the next 25 years, my end goal is to be a music mogul. I want people to look at me like how they look at JAY-Z — you know, as someone who has different avenues to success.
I’m building my publishing company and production company right now. I already have producers under me. And as for my solo career, I want to have number one albums on the Billboard charts. I want to get Grammys for my own music, not just through the songs that I write for other people. Another focus is scoring, doing soundtracks and really focusing on creating music for movies and TV shows.
I’m a creative first, so that doesn’t just involve me writing songs. It’s just me doing any and everything that I put my mind to. So that’s what I’m really focused on right now — making sure that I’m the best that I can be in my artist career, building out my companies to give other people those opportunities that I had and seeing where else I can go.