Views From The Studio: Nova Wav’s Seismic Industry Presence Swells With Faith And Confidence
The South is known for producing some of music’s most notable songwriters and producers. From Bryan-Michael Cox to The Neptunes to Jermaine Dupri to Polow Da Don, the revolving door of beatmakers and lyricists has been turning since R&B and hip-hop’s heydays in the ‘90s to early aughts. While those aforementioned names, among others, all have this career in common, it’s not obscure that they’re all men.
In a field dominated by that gender, it can feel like an uphill battle for the opposite sex to not only make names for themselves, but also receive the proper recognition. But for Nova Wav, that obstacle is no match for their talent. Comprised of Brittany “Chi” Coney who hails from Tampa, Fla., and Denisia “Blu June” Andrews of Tallahassee, Fla., the songwriting/production duo has crafted hits for Rihanna, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Monica, and most recently Teyana Taylor on her K.T.S.E. album.
Part of the magic behind Nova Wav is centering their faith in God, which fosters an unbreakable aura of trust between the pair. Not to mention, honesty is the name of their pen game. “We pull from our own experiences but we also try to keep in mind that we are trying to deliver the vision for somebody else,” Blu says. “But even songwriting, period, honesty is the best policy. We write everything from the heart.”
For VIBE’s latest installment of Views From The Studio, Nova Wav dishes on working with The Carters on Everything Is Love, gaining one of their first smash records with Rihanna, and being a source of inspiration for young women looking to follow in their footsteps.
VIBE: While songwriting is one of your many talents, talk to me about how producing also elevates your creativity?
Chi: It gives you a lot of control. It lets you know what we like to hear, how we like it to sound, how hard it needs to hit and even as songwriters and producers, you understand a producer can actually put one sound in a track that will completely throw you all the way off as a songwriter. Even just from that perspective of knowing what we really, really like. It always creates the flow and better songs because we’re just very in tune with what we like.
Blu: Yeah, we just like to be in control.
I did an interview with Key Wane and he mentioned that sometimes producing can influence a creative to write a song as well. Do you think producing can help to inform or inspire one to pick up the pen?
Chi: I think music overall is a feeling and when that feeling touches the inside of your body you just can’t deny it but just to pick up the pen and go with whatever comes out. I definitely agree with that.
Blu: And also to add to that, I used to tell Chi all the time, me as a top liner sometimes the beat inspires you. Sometimes you can hear a beat and a certain instrument inside of the beat and you get a concept, almost like the production is vivid. It paints the picture and the story is already told, you just have to put the melody to it. That’s when it’s all organic and it’s natural. You just have those types of moments sometimes.
Have you ever listened to the instrumental for a song that incorporates a sample, which then helps you to write the song? Has it sparked something in you to begin writing?
Blu: I’m going to be honest with you: I’m not a big fan of samples. Only because I feel sometimes as a songwriter I think the sample limits you. I like it without the sample because it’s like a blank canvas to me and I can go in any direction, but sometimes the sample can help you. For certain people, if you are creative enough, the sample can stagnate you and kind of put you in a box. We try not to use a lot of samples in our production, mainly because they take a lot of the publishing and we want to keep our publishing. (Laughs)
As a duo, describe how your chemistry meshes to create songs with meaning?
Chi: Between the both of us it’s a level of trust and knowing what we do, what each of us brings to the table, knowing when to let the other person step in. Not having an ego, trusting each other, knowing that there is no judgment on how creative we want to be. What’s important for us always is that we keep God in the mix. We keep good positive energy in the mix. A lot of times we will pray before our sessions so it’s no ego, no judgment and knowing our positions and wanting to say, “You know what? I’m tripping right now. Let’s coordinate, let’s figure it out.”
What was it like writing your “Loveeeeee Song” for Rihanna?
Blu: I will be honest, the first thought that comes to mind is that it was a lot of pressure because we knew what type of record we had in our hands and we knew it was delicate. We knew we needed to deliver but at the end of the day, we had fun with it. We wrote from our hearts and being around Rihanna and knowing her personality and having her in the room helped so she could give direction and her input as well. It was one of those things like once we started, it almost felt effortless. It didn’t take much time and that’s when you know it’s special when it doesn’t feel tedious. Those are the moments you pray for. All of these songs we do, those are the moments we wait on. Those natural feeling moments where you just know it’s a God-send.
Just from listening to the songs you all have written, there’s a lot of honesty that comes out through the artists singing your words. How much do your experiences inform your work? Are there any subjects that y'all have had to confront in songwriting that occurred in your own lives?
Blu: One of the songs I know for sure is “CRZY” that we did for Kehlani, we produced and wrote it. Just being women in the industry and always feeling like you have a wall in front or you or you have a ceiling above you that you have to break and just wanting people to know when I walk in the room I’m just as capable as anybody else. Man, woman, dog, child, it doesn’t matter. I think that was a personal song for us. We knew exactly what Kehlani was feeling and what she wanted to say. I think that’s for sure one of the songs and even on the K.T.S.E. album, I would say “Gonna Love Me” was one of those songs where I spoke from my heart. It was about a situation that I was in where I felt maybe at times I wasn’t being my best self for the person. We pull from our own experiences but we also try to keep in mind that we are trying to deliver the vision for somebody else. But even songwriting, period, honesty is the best policy. We write everything from the heart.
And you never know who it could also resonate with as well. You mentioned “Gonna Love Me,” which is a hit in my opinion. So I agree, you never know what personal experience might hit home for a stranger.
Chi: Even what inspires us is when we can sit down and have personal conversations with the artist and really dig into their feelings. We’re really great at portraying exactly what people want to say. We move with a certain energy. We always want to take care of the artist and we know at the end of the day we’re vessels for those artists and for God’s mercy to flow through us. We had a long conversation with Teyana, actually on FaceTime. She was in Bangkok or China, she was getting on a plane, and we literally had a conversation for maybe about two hours. At the end of it, we were all crying on FaceTime. Literally, our first time meeting her. Just for her to open up and really be that delicate with us with her emotions, it just panned out for all of us to really go in and create a vibe.
That’s interesting you brought up being delicate with artists and what they convey as well, specifically women artists. How does your songwriting encompass all facets of being a woman? You also wrote for Kelly Rowland, her recent song is about empowerment, and with Teyana Taylor who taps into that vulnerable side. How do you encompass all of those areas of what it means to be a woman?
Chi: We’re such strong, beautiful, intelligent black women and honestly we just want to portray that to everyone else via these artists. We want women to be motivated when they hear another woman say something very empowering. We don’t take sh*t and we like to talk sh*t. We were actually talking to each other a couple of weeks ago and we were like you know this year we worked with a lot of black women and that’s something we enjoy concentrating on because we feel like we are probably the most delicate musicians for them or writers or producers because we’re really going to dig in and feel it out and see what they want.
Blu: It dates back, the representation of music of female has been male. When you think back you think about The-Dreams, the Ne-Yos and all these great songwriters; the perspective of the woman was from a man. Nobody understands a woman more than a woman so that’s why I’m so happy we feel so grateful to be able to be in this position to be able to give that perspective from a true woman’s emotion. We take our time and we take it seriously whenever we go in with artists to make sure we’re saying the right stuff, the things that people really need to hear because it’s a responsibility at the end of the day.
What roadblocks as women in this industry have you encountered?
Blu: On the songwriting side I can’t really honestly say that there’s been many roadblocks. It’s like any other songwriter, not really being taken seriously when you don’t have that “hit record” or sometimes feeling like you’re being slept on. But we totally aborted those types of thoughts. That whole being slept on mentality to us is your time is your time. Whoever you’re supposed to align with you’re not allowing that person when you’re supposed to. From that perspective, I can’t say it’s any different from any other songwriter’s journey but as far as the production side goes we still fight every day to receive the same accolades as a male producer or male production team would receive or just getting a chance. We have to work 10 times harder to get the same respect.
Chi: As she said, we have mostly struggled on the production side. I think we’ve changed our mindsets as in more so maybe being upset that we weren’t being able to be put in those positions to more so seeing it as a challenge and when we do surprise people it’s more joy than it was if they just would’ve let you walk in the room and do what you want to do. The journey of knocking down doors has opened up a newfound passion for us.
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It brings in a lot of accolades like being nominated for Grammys and recently you received the Women In Film’s Artistic Excellence Award. What was that moment like being honored on that platform?
Blu: It was surreal. We’ve actually been talking about, in the past year, how we needed more visibility. Just being a part of that really spoke to our vision. It felt good to be in a room full of people that never heard our names before and now they want to give us opportunities to do songs for films.
Chi: Even being in the room with women like Regina Hall, she’s well-known and so sweet and nice. We were floored and honored just to be in the building with powerful women that have been in the industry for a long time breaking down those doors and for them to invite us there it was amazing to get that record.
Blu: Also being young black women, we didn’t have anybody like us growing up to look up to. It was exciting for us to know that we’re pioneering a path. We give little brown girls something to look up to and say, “Wow, okay, I can be a producer,” or “We can have a dope songwriting team. I just don’t have to be an artist. I can be an engineer.” Just even for that, I think, is really dope.
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BIG THANKS to @womeninfilmla for honoring us with the 1st ever “Artistic Excellence Award” at the 45th annual Crystal + Lucy Awards! We are super elated and honored to be recognized for our continuous strides toward gender equality in film, media, tv, movie & music production! We appreciate everyone who helped to make our night special .. @chloexhalle they couldn’t have chosen a better duo to introduce and present the award to us, WE LOVE YOU🌹. Styled by: @maxmara Makeup: @a_caroleartistry
Missy Elliott was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Being that she's such an iconic figure in music, what did that moment mean to you ladies as acclaimed songwriters that a woman, specifically a black woman, in a male-dominated arena such as hip-hop is being recognized?
Chi: I saw that on Instagram the other day and I was like that is so inspiring. If you talk about her, she’s the G.O.A.T. If you listen to her music she was absolutely amazing and again to see someone that looks like us be the first, it’s attainable at this moment.
Like how her resume is diverse in terms of the artists she’s written for, you ladies are similar. You've written for major singers from the pop realm like Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, to those within the R&B genre like Kehlani and Keyshia Cole, and even within hip-hop with Kevin Gates and DJ Khaled. What goes into having a versatile pen game?
Chi: Blu said, “I think we’re just dope.” (Laughs) On top of the fact that we’re just dope, we’re very versatile people in the way we think. We’re very open-minded, we listen to all kinds of music. Sometimes we just listen to talk radio in the car, we don’t listen to music. Sometimes we listen to the trappiest thing ever. We love all the pop songs that come out and even for me I grew up in the suburbs and I went to predominantly white schools and Blu went to predominantly black schools so it kind of gives us a huge dynamic as well. But again, like she said, we’re just dope and well-rounded.
Blu: And through God’s grace. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We go into sessions and we just want to have fun and try different things. We don’t pigeonhole ourselves and say we only do one type of thing. It’s weird to us when they call us urban writers or urban producers because I’m like, “Y’all don’t know we did Britney Spears, too?” For us it’s fun to surprise people because you can never lock and box us in ever. We’ll always come out swinging with something different and new and I think that’s why people love the Nova Wav sound because it can be anything any day.
What has been the biggest moment of your career so far?
Blu: Working with Beyoncé and Jay on Everything Is Love. That was a dream of ours. We really love them as people and finally having that chance to have worked on four songs on their album I feel is legendary. Most people won’t be able to say they did that so I think that’s been our most cherished moment as of yet.
What was it like working with Beyoncé and Jay-Z on Everything Is Love? To me that was an album where they weren’t hesitant to say what they truly feel, to be vulnerable. What was it like interpreting their vulnerability within your songwriting?
Blu: It was a lot because we had to dig deep. Anytime that we work with Jay and Bey I feel like we’re always at our best. They pull something out of us that at times we don’t even know we have. Whenever we work with them we come out better. With Bey being such a powerful woman, it’s like we know how she feels. Even though we aren’t married and haven’t been through some of the stuff that she’s gone through, we know how she feels. On the part of Jay, he played basketball, I played basketball so I was a tomboy growing up in school and having a bunch of homeboys so we understand Jay too, we understand his swag and the male perspective. I think that’s how it’s easy for us to just tap in on both sides and translate how they feel. Also, Beyoncé is a writer. A lot of people don’t know that, but we’re in a room with Beyoncé and she’s giving bars all day. It’s always great working with them.
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How y’all mentioned similarities with them and looking at the album overall, it’s important to enlist help from people that look like you. On certain songs like "Black Effect" it touches on racial history. How does your blackness inspire your songwriting? That’s a song that someone that comes from a background like Beyoncé or Jay-Z can only help to write.
Chi: As black people, we’re just it. I’m going to be honest, we’re just it and there’s a certain essence of black culture and us as black people that when we are in a room with these very powerful people that have broken down these doors and did an amazing job at being entrepreneurs and being the first, Beyoncé being damn near the queen of the world and her being a black woman, I think it empowers us to throw in the struggles and really teach things as far as when we’re writing as well. Informing the black culture…
Blu: We understand each other’s struggles. I understand what they mean when they’re like hands up, don’t shoot. I’m just a black woman or black man walking across the street. I did nothing wrong. We understand those struggles so it’s easy to understand when I walk in the store and you’re looking at me and you think I’m stealing but I got more money in my pocket than you do. I think it’s a natural flow of things, we understand everything that they were speaking about and everything that they wanted to say.
Is there a song on that album that you had the most creative fun working on?
Blu: Probably “Friends.” We were drinking Hennessy that night in the studio. (Laughs) Black people love Hennessy. It’s one of those things where Beyoncé had the template, she knew what she wanted to talk about. A lot of it was there so it was easy because it’s one of those things where everybody feels like that. Everybody has one or two friends they ride or die for. We put our perspective on it, made it young, fun and cool. I think it’s one of those things where you don’t have to think too hard or try too hard with. We just let it flow naturally and it came out to be a dope record.
Chi: Even if you listen to “Friends” there are little nuggets that we tried to drop as far as in the bridge. At the end, it says, “They pray for me,” things like, “There’s no ego involved in our relationships.” There’s a lot of nuggets that we collaborated with Bey and Jay that we wanted to put out there, to start the conversation of “You know what? I should pray for my friends. Why am I not going home and praying for my friends?”
Blu: Like when we’re in the car and my friends are in the back with the aux cord bumping Bey. It’s like my friends are playing my music and hyping me. In our music, we’re always going to drop nuggets. There’s always going to be something in there that’s going to make you think and say, “Damn that’s a dope perspective.” We always try to throw some knowledge into every record.
I can tell you go beneath the surface when writing music.
With Teyana Taylor's K.T.S.E. album, what was that experience like?
Blu: It was long and it was a very trying time for us because it was different than any of the other projects we had worked on. Kanye is a stickler, he’s extremely hard to please. Just him entrusting us to do that project meant a lot. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we want it to do well but also not really having the freedom we wanted as well. We didn’t have a lot of freedom and everything was funneled through Kanye. I think it really tested our faith, tested us as songwriters, our creativity, our patience, and I’m really grateful for that opportunity and journey as well. I would do it all again if I had to. But all in all, we had a lot of fun creating that album.
I would not have guessed you all went through hardship because the songs...you wouldn’t be able to convey that from the music.
Blu: Thank you.
Songs like “Gonna Love Me,” and “Issues/Hold On,” there’s something about the way the lyrics come in and out.
Chi: It’s just a flow of the feeling. When you have those soulful feeling tracks it’s a lot easier to just mumble a melody and see what comes out, what words come out, if anything is freestyled. Let the beat basically write you and then you go back and just fill it in.
Blu: At the end of the day, it’s really important we know the introduction of a record. That’s the most important for us, the very first line. Sometimes we’ll teeter for an hour just figuring out the right things to say. We never want to just say the first thing that comes to mind because I think those are lyrics that are truly forgettable. “Fighting to keep us together, think it’s worth a try,” it immediately sets the tone for what the song is about. It immediately grabs you and you want to know more like, “What’s going to happen next?” With “Gonna Love Me” it’s “Sometimes we do things that…” immediately you get to the point so you don’t have to drag it out because you only have three, sometimes two minutes to tell a story and you want to set it up as soon as possible to grab the audience, to set up the emotion. And when doing those songs with T, a lot of that was freestyle. It was literally emotion, line by line. We didn’t even write it down because it was so natural, honest and true.
Was that a similar process for “Rose In Harlem?”
Blu: Yes, just went in the booth and mumbled things, whatever you felt, whatever came out and then going back and saying this sounds like this is what this should be about. And to go back to how you asked about the sample, we actually did play on the sample with that one because it made total sense being that she’s from Harlem and we could really tell a story.
And for “Never Would Have Made It,” does that play off your faith?
Blu: Absolutely, and T wanted to tell her story with Junie, her baby, and paying homage to her mom and family. That definitely played off of our faith as well.
What’s coming up next? I know you all have been working with Monica?
Chi: The song is called “Commitment.” I think it was No. 4 on the R&B iTunes chart the other day. It’s doing well and if you listen to that song you’ll basically know it’s Nova because the way the lyrics are, we’re really talking about some real sh*t on there, for real.
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