Rising R&B Star NEZI Talks Making Music During COVID & Prioritizing Mental Health

NEZI | Image by AlexisEngineers

Brooklyn-based, R&B singer-songwriter, NEZI has been honing her talent for the past few years. Having been involved in music her entire life, this summer her presence was amplified thanks to former president Barack Obama adding hew new track to his Summer Playlist, as well as being listed as one of Apple Music’s Breaking R&B artists. No big deal!

The summer of 2020 was a tumultuous time for many reasons. For NEZI, as an artist it was a time for her to channel her emotions into music. The result was her breakout track ‘So Hard’, which is a reflection of her adversity – with raw and relatable lyrics accompanied by a smokey, classic R&B sound. As an individual suffering from depression, NEZI took it upon herself to let her feelings of distress fuel the creation of this masterpiece.

The vocal arrangement of this track provides a sonic manifestation of the heavy hearted nature of depression in which listeners can empathize with the lyrical content while relishing in the somber, yet punchy production. Beyond the instrumentation and vocal arrangement heard in ‘So Hard’ NEZI uses this opportunity to release her feelings of heartache in a cathartic showcase of passion and pain; the singer delivers an incredibly emotional, yet polished performance.

The singer-songwriter took charge of the concept and melodies, and collaborated with her manager and audio engineer, Alexis “AlexisEngineers” Cunningham to complete the lyrics in the second verse of ‘So Hard’. Upon hearing the beat for the single, NEZI found herself reflecting on her grief. “Just write how you feel,” she thought to herself, and soon after, she allowed the truth of her experience to come to life through these raw lyrics.

Although it is the perfect track for any vibe, it is the quintessential “bad day” type of song we find ourselves listening to when the world feels the most against us. Music like this allows fans experiencing similar feelings of sadness to feel comforted and seen. We wanted to get to know NEZI a little more and find out about her creative process, which you can read below.

But first, take a listen to a preview of “So Hard” below…

Tell us about the story behind “So Hard” and how it all came together? 

So Hard came about due to my depression. I just felt very stagnant in life and on top of that, I was working a minimum wage job part time and on top of that, I had Covid-19. So I got the beat from a producer named Donavelo. I just remember telling myself, “Write how you feel.”

I first wrote, “I didn’t ask to be here” and from there, I laid down the melodies and the first verse and the chorus. I sat with that for about 3 weeks and had a session with Alexis, (my manager and engineer) and we finished the second verse lyrics together.

Where did your music journey start? 

Like most artists, I’ve sung my whole life, but professionally, Since 2018 as far as creating music).

Who were some of your musical influences growing up? 

My musical influences include Brandy, Monica, Toni Braxton, Jazmine Sullivan and Mya.

How did you incorporate your struggle with depression and grief into ‘So Hard’?

I just wrote from the heart. I wanted to speak about real life struggles – like bills being past due, healing from relationships and feeling like you didn’t have certain advantages in life – which I relate to.

You have been listed in Barack Obama’s 2021 Summer playlist, and Apple Music’s “Breaking R&B Playlist”. NBD… How did you feel when you first heard this news? 

Completely shocked! I thought someone was playing a huge joke on me. Then I saw it and was completely floored like, “Woowww how did the Obamas find ME?!”

Getting added to an Apple Music playlist has always been a goal of mine so when it happened, I felt so accomplished and proud of myself.

NEZI | Image by David Coy

Can you tell us more about moving from Chicago to NYC to pursue your music career, and what that journey was like for you? 

Well, most people don’t know, originally, I’m from Chicago. I moved from Chicago to Pine Bluff, Arkansas so that is where I identify the most with – The South. If you’ve ever been to Arkansas, you know there isn’t a lot of musical resources there. It was when I was in undergrad when I realized I need to move to LA or NYC. I got into NYU’s Graduate Music Business program, which has helped to shape my knowledge of the music business today.

Who are some of the artists you would like to collaborate or work with in the future? 

So many, but I guess to name a few: Giveon, Drake, 6lack, Rihanna, Wizkid, Kehlani and Jvck James

What has it been like songwriting and making music during COVID? 

It’s been fun and somewhat challenging! I try and write something everyday. With Covid, it’s kinda hard to network and meet other producers but I have managed, through social media, to connect with a few, along with other songwriters.

What do you want listeners to take away from listening to “So Hard”?

I want listeners to feel seen and related to. I feel like there aren’t a lot of songs that talk about real life situations and I just want listeners to feel seen and to prioritize mental health.

You can download and listen to ‘So Hard’ on Spotify.

NEZI “So Hard” artwork by Graphic designer, Sarah Duvivier | @rarediamondzz