#SpotlightOn Nyota Parker: a neo-soul rapper who refuses to be boxed in

“Individuality is at the core of my music. That’s really what keeps me going, it’s a constant pursuit, and that’s the message I try to push through my music too.”

Nyota Parker may only be 24-years-old, but the self-assurance with which she writes would make you think that she’s been in the game a lot longer. Her confidence is infectious, her artistry brilliantly self-actualised, and the result is a level of musical maturity that is pretty astounding.

She dropped her sophomore album two days ago, Intrusive Thoughts, and it champions her versatility as a songwriter. A blend of hip-hop and neo-soul forms the heart of the record, but there’s colourful influence beyond her stoic rap beats. R&B, jazz, punk rock – Parker doesn’t conform to one genre, and we love her for that.

“I wanted the record to take you in a hundred different directions. For every track to be as surprising as the last, and kind of creep up on you in the same unexpected way that intrusive thoughts do,” Parker tells me.

Taking influence from the likes of Erykah Badu, Robert Glasper, Mick Jenkins, Saba and Noname, Parker creates with conviction. Her samples are fresh and soulful, her flow is bold but also restrained when it needs to be, unfolding to the contemporary blush of many musical tones.

Opener “MIDST” almost feels like a Tyler track, with that same biting, introspective playfulness. The song is a deft reflection on the challenges of creative blocks and daily life struggles, emphasising the unwavering connection between Parker and her art. 

“As a child I always felt like an an outcast,” she tells me, “and I got to a point where I realised that the expression of my music was the only way to fight that isolation.”

Although currently based between Montreal and New York, Parker grew up in South Africa with a cultural background as diverse as her sound is. In fact, perhaps that’s the reason for it. Half-Irish, half-Congolese, Parker’s family was always proud of their mixed heritage, to which she adds, “That’s definitely where I get my confidence from.”

But South Africa certainly left an indelible mark on Parker too. “There’s such a strong community of artists in South Africa that you just don’t get in many other places,” she reflects. “Seeing people rap in whatever language they felt comfortable, seeing how the community would catch on and support them, that was really inspiring to me. It was a lesson in being true to yourself. And knowing that there would always be a community of people waiting for you.”

Tracks like “Whatchu Say ?” and “In My Head” (feat. Zmny) may not resemble South African rap music at first, but as you go deeper beneath the album’s rhythmic skin, you hear traces of Amapiano and even Kwaai Jazz, albeit reimagined.

“Intrusive Thoughts Outro” packs one final switch-up. Halfway through a tingling synth-string instrumental gives way to a breezy Lamar-esque meditation on love and relationships. Nyota Parker doesn’t cease to surprise, and she does so with precise style. There is cohesion to this record. There is composure. And behind it all, there’s an artist who will always stand out from the crowd, because she has the courage to celebrate her differences.