8 May 2024 ///

The Nirvana of The Mind: Inside The Intrusive Thoughts of Nyota Parker

I’ve always found it remarkable how scientists within biology and psychology distinguish between the brain and the mind, functionality-wise. While the brain takes care of critical bodily functions, the mind – a great mystery of its own – houses the elusive window into the nirvana of our thoughts. One candid spirit who balances the not-so-libra scale of our mental heaven and hell is multifaceted Congolese Irish rapper, singer and songwriter Nyota Parker. Hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Nyota spent the first 5 years of her life in her birth country, Ireland. A staunch Hip-Hop purist at heart, this incredible talent possesses an artistic maturity that belies her age, seamlessly blending alternative R&B, Neo-Soul and other genres into the core of genre-bending sonic discourse that has won her the minds, hearts and ears of a generation that prides itself on holistic enlightenment in it’s all its glory. 

At the heart of Nyota’s craftsmanship and lyrical message is going against the grain and challenging societal norms and expectations, from outdated gender roles to superficial judgments of appearance and identity. Nyota, whose name means “star” in Swahili, began writing music for fun at the age of 11 before venturing into music and performance at 16, where she won a competition to open for South African rap contemporaries Nasty C and A-Reece. As she continued making waves in 2017, she released her first mixtape, “The Age of Enlightenment”, which marked an experimental phase, followed by the “Purification Project” EP released through Red Bull Studios in 2018, not to mention 2019’s “Energy EP” and her debut album 2021’s “Spectrum” complimented by Deluxe in 2022. The critically acclaimed Converse Create All-Star Series alumni, who got to workshop and receive mentorship from Tyler The Creator in 2022 saw Nyota gracing 2023 with the release of her single “ALRIGHT”.

Being late to the party, Nyota initially caught my attention this year with her Jay Jody collaboration “The Cycle”, which piqued my interest in her and sent me down one of the most soothing rabbit holes of the 2020s so far. Vibing to an onslaught of singles since then including “Whatchu Say”, “MIDST”, and the second Jay Jody collaboration, “LIKE THIS”, that set the tone for the paradigm shift sophomore album, “Intrusive Thoughts”.

“Intrusive Thoughts”, a labour of love and liberation, is assembled by an impressive roster of producers and featured artists, including Jazz Groupiez, Jay Loopz, Uno July, Proda, Deem Spencer, Origami, Zmny, and Mercer Shavelson harkens Purity and introspection. Being captivated by the entirety of the artistry that has embedded itself as the soundtrack to mine and, hopefully, the reader’s spiritual evolution upon multiple meditative listens, I enjoyed the pleasure of a deep dive into the psyche of Apple Music’s Up Next cover star to unpack her origins, her inspirations, her lineage, the craftsmanship behind her album from the artwork, collaborations, my favourite quotables and much more! 

Could you tell us more about your upbringing and how you got into creating music? 

Nyota Parker:My journey traces back to 2000 when I was born in Ireland, but my time there lasted only the first five years of my life. While I don’t have many memories of Ireland, I know it’s a part of my heritage, as my dad is half-Irish and half-English. When I was five, my family relocated to Cape Town, South Africa, where most of my relatives reside, particularly on my mom’s side, hailing from Congo originally.

Many people moved to South Africa during the turmoil of the Congolese civil war, seeking safety and opportunity. Settling primarily between Johannesburg and Cape Town, my family established various businesses, with my grandmother playing a significant role in managing them. Cape Town became home for me; it’s where I grew up and feel rooted.

In late 2019, I moved to New York City, where I spent four transformative years pursuing my passion for music. Before that, in 2016, at 16, I began my journey into music, diving into recording and performing. One of my earliest gigs was at a venue called ‘The Bank’ in Cape Town during the summer of July, where I had the opportunity to open for artists like A-Reece and Nasty C just as they were beginning to gain recognition. Looking back, it’s fascinating how everything fell into place.

After my time in New York, I’ve spent the past year in Montreal, continuing to explore and evolve as an artist. Music has guided my travels and experiences, shaping my identity and aspirations along the way”.

Being Half Congolese and Half Irish surely has exposed you to opposing worldviews. How have your roots influenced the culture you world-build into your music?

Nyota Parker:I’d say it’s more than just being Congolese and Irish—it’s also about growing up in Cape Town, South Africa. That adds another layer, you know? It influences my music because I can’t be boxed into a specific genre. It’s reflected in how I approach my message, which revolves around not conforming to societal norms. This versatility allows me to connect with people from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and life experiences, whether they’re reflecting on their own lives or observing the world from a broad point of view. My lineage helped me communicate effectively; I believe it comes through in my music. It’s a remarkable aspect of what I do”.

As a multifaceted artist who blends genres like Hip-Hop, Neo-Soul, and Alternative R&B, how do you navigate fusing different musical styles and maintaining sonic cohesiveness in your album structure?

Nyota Parker:My music blends Hip-Hop, Neo-Soul, and R&B elements, drawing inspiration from artists like A Tribe Called Quest and Mick Jenkins. This diversity stems from my reluctance to confine myself to a single genre label integral to my brand and artistic expression.

Despite the contrasting influences, I strive for cohesion in my sound. This cohesion emerges from my approach to recording, particularly in how I layer vocals and convey the message of each track. Whether the song leans towards an R&B vibe, embraces a straightforward Hip-Hop sound, or encompasses the eclectic mix found in my latest album, my creative process naturally aligns with my artistic identity.

It’s almost unbelievable how easily everything comes together throughout the recording process. From the flow and rhythm of my verses to the emotional impact of the hooks, being dedicated to the fundamental message guarantees that whatever I create reflects my genuine voice as an artist”. 

Nytoa Parker by Vishan Charamis

Nytoa Parker by Vishan Charamis

Your album artwork features mystical, natural, urban, and technological components intermixed. What statements were you making about harmonising different influences or aspects of the human experience?

Nyota Parker:The album artwork for “Intrusive Thoughts” is quite eclectic and mystical. I wanted to visually translate the things that frequently cross my mind. The title, “Intrusive Thoughts,” represents the various thoughts and ideas on the cover.

You’ll notice elements like skateboarding, plants, nature, tea, and little gremlin-like creatures at the bottom, which could indicate the darker aspects of our minds. It’s an assortment of anything and everything I often think about or notice occupying my thoughts.

The main goal was to encapsulate and accept the diverse range of light and dark thoughts that go on in the back of our minds. I know many people deal with intrusive thoughts that don’t necessarily come to the forefront, and this album art helps me acknowledge and embrace that.

Shoutout to the graphic designer, ELLIS D (not to be confused with the drug LSD,), who did an excellent job translating my vision. When we collaborated on the details, he captured the essence of what I wanted to convey remarkably well”.

With such a lethal pen, one can tell that you are an avid reader. Is there a book or books that influenced your songwriting when creating “Intrusive Thoughts?”

Nyota Parker:That’s a great question because I’ve been reflecting lately on my reading habits—or lack thereof. I gravitate more towards listening to podcasts and watching random documentaries and interviews than dedicating time to reading, which I’m actively trying to change. I have a few books on my shelf that I’ve been meaning to dive into, particularly ones about indigenous wisdom, like “Braiding Sweetgrass.” It’s a captivating read, but I’ll admit, I’ve struggled to fully immerse myself in it. Having someone encourage me to prioritise reading definitely boosts my motivation.

I also have a deep appreciation for the Bible. Growing up in a Christian household has been a cornerstone of my spiritual journey. Beyond its religious significance, it is incredibly inspiring and full of profound metaphors, life lessons, and introspective insights. My mom and I often have Sunday Bible study sessions, which deepen my understanding and serve as a wellspring of inspiration for my music. One particular verse from Romans 12, urging us not to conform to societal norms, has been a guiding principle for me creatively”. 

Nyota Parker by Dorothy Mombrun

“Intrusive Thoughts” album cover by Ellis D

It’s interesting how, instead of narrating from the perspective of being consumed by intrusive thoughts, you established an overarching theme that advocates for healing; why take that creative direction in the thematic narrative of the album?

Nyota Parker: It’s crucial to acknowledge the chaos and turmoil within our minds, as it often leads us down intriguing paths that demand recognition. Understanding these depths is essential to addressing the root of our challenges. In both my music and life, recognising the source of these struggles is pivotal. It’s about bringing light and optimism into my life rather than dwelling on past events. While it’s important to remember these experiences for the lessons they impart, I focus on progressing forward, embracing healing, and connecting with others facing similar journeys. Through discussions on wellness and coping mechanisms, we navigate life with a renewed perspective, moving beyond mere acknowledgement of our past to actively seek healthier paths forward. I’ve noticed a gap in music that not only acknowledges our struggles but also encourages optimism and personal growth. That’s why I approach healing in my music—offering a reflection on the past and a roadmap to a brighter future. It’s about fostering an optimistic mindset and realising that better days lie ahead”.

Collaborations play a significant role in “Intrusive Thoughts,” with contributions from artists like Uno July, Deem Spencer, and Zmny and producers like Jazz Groupiez and Stoic. How did these collaborations shape the album’s sound, and what role did your musical instinct play in selecting such diverse talents?

Nyota Parker: The album was quite a journey in terms of curating the playlist of songs and organising them coherently. Some tracks were recorded years ago, while others were more recent additions. It was mostly spontaneous when selecting collaborations, except for the one with Deem Spencer, which was planned early this year to wrap up the project.

At its core, ‘Intrusive Thoughts’ is a collection that feels random yet cohesive. Each collaboration seamlessly found its place within the project without much effort. Many have asked how I curated the playlist, but truthfully, it was a bit of a mystery even to me. I listened to the music I had stored up, found common themes among some tracks, and built the rest around those themes to convey a consistent message.

It’s amazing how everything fell into place. The title reflects the album’s essence—intrusive and all-encompassing. Collaborating with other artists added layers to the project, enhancing the direction I wanted to take. It all felt natural, like puzzle pieces coming together effortlessly”.

In “In My Head”, you say, “Cause you’ve been in your mind hoping stars align,hoping they design a perfect life for you to get behind” How does the pursuit of perfection contribute to feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. How do you address these woes in your music and life?

Nyota Parker: You know, it’s like I always say, there’s this invisible line we walk, right? We’ve got to stay true to it. It’s crucial. Last year, I decided to step back and refine my approach. It’s an extension of that idea. It’s incredibly vital not to fall into the trap of comparison. Many of our insecurities stem from constantly measuring ourselves against others—whether they’re chasing similar goals or just people in our circles, maybe even celebrities. That’s where most of these feelings of inadequacy originate. I’ve learned to avoid comparing my journey to anyone else’s.

Being a perfectionist, especially in the final stages of music production, has its challenges. Sure, I focus intensely on the sonic quality during mixing and engineering, but I strive for rawness and authenticity when it comes to creating. I avoid getting hung up on minor details like cadence or flow because the music always finds its groove. I used to compare my music to other artists ages ago. It just left me feeling like I couldn’t measure up. I’d catch myself wishing I could sound and create like them. But that only stifled my own artistic growth. Discovering your authentic voice is hard when you’re too busy trying to mimic someone else’s.

In my lyrics, that is why I emphasise, “Did you even, in your mind, what the stars align, hoping they designed a perfect life for you to get behind and cooler unrefined?” Many of us come from rough beginnings and want to wear that as a badge of honour, but embracing the journey, uncertainties and all, is critical. It’s about accepting that the path is only sometimes smooth but finding beauty in its rawness and authenticity. That’s what makes our journeys genuinely unique”.

Your “Safe Space” verse touches on the idea of not feeling rushed and allowing oneself to grow at their own pace. Why do you think individuals must be permitted to take their time in personal development?

Nyota Parker:It’s crucial to invest time in personal development. From what I’ve observed, rushing the process can have consequences. It’s like cooking a meal hastily; it will not be fully developed. The flavours won’t meld, and you won’t appreciate every ingredient. Similarly, hurrying through personal growth can lead to confusion. It disrupts the natural flow, affecting both mind and body.

This lesson hits home for me, especially in creative endeavours like songwriting. I’ve noticed a stark contrast between hastily written and carefully crafted songs. Even with deadlines looming, taking the time to prepare before hitting the studio yields superior results.

The same principle applies to life. Rushing through experiences can lead to creative blocks and missed opportunities. Trusting your process and allowing yourself the time needed for growth and understanding are essential.” 

Thank you for joining us for this interview. Before you go, please share with us what you have in the future. Is there more merch and more music videos? Are you touring?

Nyota Parker:This year is about amplifying my album and showcasing more live performances. We’re planning to expand our shows, especially in Montreal and across North America. I haven’t had many opportunities to perform outside New York and Montreal, so I’m eager to tour more extensively throughout the US and possibly return to South Africa for special events.

Additionally, we’ll have plenty of merchandise available—T-shirts, tote bags, and stylish shoes—to complement the experience. As for music, there might even be one more track released before the year’s end. Looking ahead, I’m already lining up some exciting projects for next year.

I’m also excited to announce that I have been chosen as the Apple Music Up Next artist for South Africa. It’s truly an honour, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to further connect with fans. So, yes, a lot is happening, and I couldn’t be more excited about it all!”


Stream Intrusive Thoughts Here 

Connect with Nyota Parker:

Instagram: @Nyotaparker

Twitter: @nyotaparker

Facebook: @NyotaParkerOfficial

YouTube: @NyotaParker 

Spotify: Nyota Parker

Website: Nyotaparker.com


Written by: Cedric Dladla

For more news, visit the Connect Everything Collective homepage www.ceconline.co.za

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