Courtesy of Cornell University

Hip-hop artist Akua Naru brought her signature voice to Ithaca on Monday.

November 13, 2018

Hip-hop Artist Describes Black Experience Through Jazz and Soul

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Hip-hop artist Akua Naru explores the myriad experiences of Black women through jazz and soul. She is also Harvard University’s Nasir Jones fellow at the Hutchin Center for African and African American Research.

The distinguished New Haven-born musician brought her signature voice to Ithaca on Monday evening, speaking and performing at the Africana Studies and Research Center after making an appearance in Munich, Germany less than a week ago.

Prof. Oneka LaBennett, Africana studies, helped host the conversation, which covered a range of topics from Naru’s artistic process to her political messaging.

In the spirit of Toni Morrison, Naru said she aspires to use her music to magnify the often-silenced voices of black people, adding that she speaks for all black people even if she uses her voice to resist the powers that actively limit the black female voice.

“In my experience, the people I have been in conversation with don’t necessarily have the language to pinpoint exactly what the experience is,” said Naru, addressing the lack of awareness about the oppression experienced by black females. Naru aims to use her lyrics to offer a message of female empowerment and black pride in an accessible medium.

Naru released her newest album The Blackest Joy earlier this year — her first project since The Miner’s Canary in 2015. Both of these albums have been distributed through Naru’s own independent label, The Urban Era, which she founded.

Naru believes that her role as producer in the two most recent albums has allowed her own individual message to shine through, according to an interview with

LaBennett praised Naru for her commitment to touring in Africa.

“I’ve critiqued big-time artists who have production budgets way bigger than yours who don’t ever go to the continent, but you’ve managed to do that,” LaBennett said.

The artist also detailed her creative process, describing it as a lengthy, emotionally intensive affair.

“Normally I write very slowly,” Naru said. “I lay down and I think about it. A lot of writing for me is thinking. I feel like I’ve linked into that experience so deep that sometimes I can’t get out of bed, I could just cry for days until I feel all of it, and then I can write.”