There used to be a time when rap music had b@!!$. A time when rap didn’t fear being politically incorrect; unafraid to challenge the status quo. A time before the glamour of Hollywood stifled the voice of a culture born from the injustice and social inequalities of American society. A time when the rapper took that voice from being the proverbial fallen tree with no one around to hear it, and shared that sound with the world. If the once unapologetically honest culture has lost its voice, then Avian Nalej is breaking the silence.
At just 24 years old, Avian Nalej (born Joshua Najee Muhammad) has the ability to bring balance with words of wisdom coupled with melodic pop & soulful music sensibilities. A native of Chicago, IL, Avian grew up on rhythm & blues and house music that played from the radio of his Mother’s car where he formed an interest in the songs of Michael Jackson and R. Kelly. His tastes in the soul of music grew as he listened to Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Curtis Mayfield. In later years, he immersed himself in the world of rap, largely inspired by poetic rapper Nas and fellow Chicago-bred artists Common, Kanye West, & Lupe Fiasco in which traces of each can be found in Avian’s own music.
“I’m just one of many that are ushering in this new bronze era of Hip-Hop. On the west coast there’s Kendrick Lamar who’s this party loving rapper with paramilitary influences reminiscent of the Black Panthers like Tupac before him. Then in the south you have Big K.R.I.T. who’s this reminder that southern rappers are thinkers too like a Scarface or Outkast before him.”, says Avian Nalej who defines the meaning of his name as “Higher Learning”, “And then you have me from the Midwest bringing soul and social awareness that Chicago is known for from artists like Kanye West & Common, but also the political commentary and edge that came out of the east coast from Ice Cube and Public Enemy in the early 90’s.”
Rise of a Rebel is Avian Nalej’s first independent release, and his first attempt at the genre blending sound that he is progressively defining for himself. Scheduled to be released on November 6, 2012, the project is the lead in to three already self produced releases to follow. His first single "The Shining" is a short, gritty introduction to the young rapper's vivid world of self proclaimed rebellion.
“I’ve literally spent years developing my skills, building my brand, and educating myself so that I’m not just some money grab or ‘token blackie’, that I can actually be an artist who can compete on a world stage…and I’m still growing.”
Raised by the teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad through the tutelage of the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Avian Nalej is a rarity in the world of music. He spent most of his childhood at Muhammad University of Islam in Chicago, IL where he had an early start in stage performance reciting spoken word pieces of black empowerment at his kindergarten and 8th grade graduations.
When he was 10 years old, he began writing songs and had aspirations of becoming an R&B singer. “I had grown up listening to a ton of Michael Jackson. R&B music had such a range of song structures to me then. I would write whole notebooks of just songs with different topics and arrangements yet I had no life experience. I couldn’t stop though. I loved to create songs.” At 14 years old his desire to produce music ignited after his mother bought him music production software. “She got this program for me called Cakewalk. Unfortunately, it wasn’t compatible with the computer we had so I couldn’t use it. I remember just sitting staring at the box trying to imagine the sounds all the knobs and levers would make and creating a song in my head from them.”
Avian kept his aspirations of singing until his senior year of high school when an event changed his course. “I was the President of the African-American society at my school and for Black History Month we would put on a talent show”, recalls Avian. “So I decided I was going to do this song I wrote where one verse was singing and the other verse was rapping. When I got on stage and started singing though, the school starts booing the s*** out of me. I just remember getting angry and going into my verse, spitting super hard and fast with all this emotion. The whole crowd gets up and starts screaming like ‘Oooh!’ They were in shock. I got a standing ovation for that rap. That’s when I knew.”
After high school, Avian enrolled at Columbia College Chicago and finished in 2010 with a B.A. in Arts, Entertainment, & Media Management. “The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan had taught me to go and learn what collegiate institutions were teaching their students and to apply it, then bring it back to my community. So that’s what I set out to do.” During those years he started teaching himself music production and worked to improve his lyrical writing to the self made beats. Fueling his passion for creating songs, he quickly built a hefty catalog of unrecorded music. Eventually, he formed his own identity, embracing his roots in the controversially known Nation of Islam and using it as an advantage to differentiate himself from his contemporaries.
With the independent release of his first project Rise of a Rebel, Avian Nalej invites listeners into a peek of that historic world. On the project, Avian is the author of a story that has never been told, through a compilation of musical chapters that add to the library of music from Chicago’s artists and the rich history of Hip-Hop. His personal beliefs and background are on full display as he unabashedly tells the truth through his own eyes. “Well I was born in the Nation of Islam for a reason. I’m proud of it. I’ve had to walk my life with people often having pre-perceptions and judgments of me. So this is my podium to tell my story”.
A story Avian Nalej has barely even begun to scratch the surface of. He is actively working on his next three self produced projects with more in the early planning stages. He aims to make music that will have wide appeal yet represents the culture from which he came. “I always heard artists that were influenced by ‘The Nation’. The history runs deep. But I wondered where our artists were that could rise to the same level. From that dissatisfaction I ended up creating what I was longing for within me.”
Rise of a Rebel releases on November 6, 2012 available for digital download via aviannalejsocial.com