NATIVE Exclusive: Enter Into The Creative Universe of Nova
"the most important thing is finding different outlets to express myself."
"the most important thing is finding different outlets to express myself."
Sometimes a cold email isn’t the most unsolicited thing in the world. Sometimes, it’s a move towards discovering a potentially great artist, one whose brilliance requires more discussion. This was the feeling a few minutes into NATIVE Mag’s recent interview with Nova, a Toronto-based artist who’s been laying down footprints in the media and music scene for a while now. He’s a multifaceted creative, frequently switching in between modes to relay different aspects of his narrative, all of which began with music.
“Have you seen that Drake meme that is going around that says ‘Combination’?” he says when I ask about his early music. “I started rapping when I started making music and then over time evolved. I started doing more melodies and started singing more. But the more I made music it was all about being able to find my sound. It was about bringing my skills today to be able to really express myself in a cohesive way.”
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Nova’s latest single does just that. A showcase of his wavy sound, “CTL” imbibes thorough narrative background, from the song down to its visuals. It is produced by Toye Aru, the Nigerian-born producer who Nova has been working with for a while. Translating as ‘Cross That Line,’ he explores “a relationship between a guy and a chic [and it’s also] an interesting play on how, once you fall in love, or engage with Nova there’s no going back.”
The song’s direction also influenced the visual ideation, which Nova considers an extension of his interest in animations and cartoons. A conversation between him and the director Damola Rufai spawned the creation of a vampire character, whose circumstantial fatality also played on the song’s title. The most novel element was however the utilising Artificial Intelligence, which Nova admits has been a big discussion worldwide, seeking to put limits on their adaptation.
“We were just thinking,” he tells me, “the way people are using A.I right now, it’s not really infusing creativity into this new technology. And we were able to use generative A.I to create a universe that creates an audiovisual journey for the audience to get immersed into the experience of what [the song] means, to create a beautiful story that not only resonates but looks visually stunning as well”. By and large, Nova and Damola achieved their goal; I found the visual for “CTL” aesthetically empowering, its cartoonish movements and flamboyant hues melding into a distinct emotive vibrance.
Stars have frequently spawned off the universe that is the diaspora. Across the Atlantic, home has been wedged into the art of black creators, especially young people who are willing to connect stringent lines of cultural history. Nova’s music does just that—he is a fan of R&B, as of Hip-Hop and Afropop, arriving at the intersection between all three, and some other more sounds. Early on, though, he was more Kendrick Lamar than Burna Boy.
An early record like “Olumide Macaulay” bears the sound of 2010s Hip-Hop, influenced by the blog era in its self-immersed subject matter and flashy imagery. That stateside awareness was evident on “Higher,” accompanied by haunting production that seems cypher ready-made. However, as Nova himself acknowledged, the musicality was peripheral to the rapper aesthetic, and that began to change when he began to release projects. “Lust,” the opening record off the ‘S.T.A.Y (Still Think About You)’ series showcases that growth, a rich body of sound that strips the bars in favour of emotional heft. The Katasha J-featured “Precious Diamond” reveals his tightening grasp on afropop, the soft patter drums matched with sweetly delivered lyrics about love and expressing intimacy, whether through the sensitivity of pressed bodies or the carefree allure of bodies dancing, brought under the rhythm of feeling for another person.
Born Mobolaji Adeyemi, Nova The Great was born in England, but spent his formative years in Nigeria. That meant going from the nursery to secondary school system, living consciously through the bubbling cultural period of the 2000s and 2010s, basically touched by experience and knowing the songs he loved, listening to them for the first time where he did—these are images the artist remembers. “My uncle used to drive me to school and you’d hear him play the dopest music—like Wyclef, DMX, Lauryn Hill,” he says. “For me that was really inspiring and exposed me to different kinds of music. I think that motivated me to want to try and create.”
During the flamboyant era of secondary school, Mario’s “Let Me Love You” was released; Nova remembers singing it everywhere he went. “From there I started playing around with my friends, we started making music,” he recalls. Professionally, music came into the picture around 2015, when his brother’s friend who loved his music linked him up with the Nigerian-born, Hunger Games actor Dayo Okeni, then a fresh university still auctioning for roles. For some years Okeni managed Nova and it was he who taught the musician how to be a good independent act.
“He gave me a platform,” he says, “to understand it’s possible to do music independently and it’s possible to be creative and just accomplish your goals if you work towards them in a very strategic way.” In Nigeria, Nova also worked with Urban Vision, the architecture and design company owned by Tola Odunsi, otherwise known as Bobby Boulders. They welcomed esteemed clients like Wizkid, Mr Eazi, 2Face Idibia. “It was a good spot to really meet different artists across different levels and just learn from people,” he says.
Mobolaji’s expertise also extends into fashion and communication, both being longtime interests. He’s worked with a few brands merging both sensibilities for their potential customers. In one unraveling response, he provides context into how he’d usually craft a chain of progressive stories.
“For me the most important thing is finding different outlets to express myself, because I feel like that’s what creativity is about,” he says. “Even when I got into fashion, I was seeing African culture making waves globally, however when people talk about Africa they seem to talk about the continent like it’s a country. However, Africa is so diverse—between Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola—like, the diversity between people is so vast. I wanted to use fashion as a medium to express the diversity of Africa, so I started to put a more urban interpretation on traditional African outfits.”
One of his first experiments was turning a Dashiki into a Poncho, playing around with form and using the origin of the fabrics to create narratives around the outfits. This deliberation extends into his music. His ‘S.T.A.Y’ series capture postcard moments, issues vast and near brought under his remarkable pen, and his ever expanding ear for sound. While the first project was a solo effort, the next which was created during the pandemic embraced a multiplicity of voices through its collaborative process, holding up the perfect image of how Nova was feeling at the time.
He’s primed to release the third project in the series, but before then, he’ll be putting out “Tatiana”, along with other singles until Project Time. To Nova, sharing music, or any art for that matter, feels a bit like “the end of a relationship,” he says with a laugh. “But it’s almost like a relationship with a child, because you nurture the song up until the point you release it, and then you’re just like, ‘I just have to let you go.’”