With a Hyper-Transcendental Album Misfit Naji is Insanely Inventive
Evan Dale // Dec 8, 2018
In recent years, as the developments of R&B and neo-soul have transformed into two of the biggest and most recognizable yet impossible to define platforms on the international stage, experimentalists merging electronic production techniques and implementing influence from across music’s spectrum have made the vocally dominated traditions the most fertile ground for groundbreaking risk-takers and risk-taking groundbreakers alike. Modern producers have become electronic composers and have jumped ship from only collaborating with themselves, pop vocalists, and strict hip-hop artists. Now, they’re finding open arms awaiting them in the space that used to be called contemporary urban and is now simply the world’s most artistically keen and diverse collective of writers, vocalists, rappers, and producers, who more often than not, are all practiced delving in each elemental directive.
In today’s news for the vocally dominant, creatively unique, and experimentally supreme comes Californian multi-dimensionalist Naji and his new album, Misfit.
A fitting title if ever there was one, Misfit is a thesis on Naji’s knack for doing it all without ever being anything definable or really, anything ever done before. Constantly jumping cadence, seamlessly flowing in and out rapping and singing, and finding stability only in his consistency to make what can best be described as really fucking good music, Naji is an enigma – a misfit. But at a time when misfits and enigmas are running music and creatively expanding its very definition at every border, Naji seems to be well on his way to becoming king of the grey areas he so craftily navigates.
Misfit isn’t his first project of the year. It’s not his second either. Instead, it is the tertiary culmination of a six-month effort to build a full-length project piece-by-piece, leaving literal and month-long intermissions between Act l, Act ll, and this, the final stage where Misfit’s last three tracks have been added to its end. Act l, which now as Misfit’s opening five tracks and first intermission darkly traversing the fluid grey area between hip-hop and R&B, begins bouncy and bright. But the shades are slowly drawn. Affairs is the kind of baby-making slow jam that feels right in all the wrong ways. By the time Forget About It and its nighttime baroque production courtesy of Insightful rolls around, the energy has done a complete turnaround from the beginning of the project.
Part ll, which as a piece of Misfit is the romantic meat of the project, unfolds again in a completely unpredictable manner. In what is really a quartet of collaborative duets with the pristine vocals of Sara Diamond, Naji, his counterpart, and his producers stay close to Misfit’s R&B roots. Trust Issues is a ridiculously adept display of Naji’s falsetto and an easy favorite for any fan of more traditional vocalism. Lessons is an emotionally-evoking exhibition of both artists’ ability to transcend and invent song structure and pull together one of the most layered and complex tracks in memory. Progress is wholesome and heartfelt, and somehow never comes close to being cheesy, and leads right into another fittingly fun-loving, experimentally nuclear intermission.
The final three tracks – the only new additions to the project – again take on an identity separate yet complimentary to the rest of the album. The most production-focused corner of Misfit, Drive, Blow, and Id (When I’m Around You) are introspective, dizzying, and so fervently influenced by hip-hop that it’s hard to believe that just a few tracks earlier, the same artist was exploring the endless range of his falsetto.
And yet, it all works. Misfit is an exploration of R&B’s entire modern soundscape interpreted so successfully by an individual artist with such an impossibly gifted collaborative team, that listening to it decades from now would sound like a greatest hits mashup of the late 2010’s best vocalists. From Sabrina Claudio to PARTYNEXTDOOR; from K. Forest to SZA, from Brent Faiyaz to Daniel Caesar and JVCK JAMES to Ravyn Lenae, Naji touches it all, but finds a lane so unique to himself that he now undoubtedly deserves a seat alongside every one of those names. Misfit is quite possibly the most emotionally-evoking project of 2018 and deserves every bit of discussion as to be included on a list of best vocal albums in the new era of post-genrefication R&B and neo-soul grey area.