[Photo: Katja Ruge]
akua naru is a hip hop artist, poet, producer, lecturer, and activist. Named the “Toni Morrison of hip-hop” by renowned scholar and public intellectual Dr. Cornel West
for the unique and layered ways she inscribes and expands the possibilities and nuances of language within the hip hop context. Her body of work, like Morrison’s, always holds Black folk at its center, a sonic love letter ssprawled across 4 albums and countless features. .naru’s poeticism, musical acuity and powerful ability to relate the interiority of Black women’s lives has earned her praise from the likes of scholars such as Dr. Tricia Rose who says she is carrying “the torch for global Black music” and Dr. Mark Naison who describes her as: “a hip hop artist with the flow and dexterity of Rakim, the poetic brilliance of Lauryn Hill, and the ability to invoke, through [her] art, the full weight of Black women’s history the way Nina Simone or Toni Morrison does.”
She released her debut album, “...the jourkua released her debut album, followed by a live version in 2012, “Live & Aflame Sessions”. With this project, naru showcased her craft as a self-described “poet of passion” backed by a sonic spectrum ranging from the soul tradition-conscious rhymes, classic head-nod Hip Hop to Blues, Jazz, and West-African sounds. “Poetry: How Does It Feel?”, the 14th track on this album, masterfully blended her musical and lyrical talent and was well-received. A live performance of the song has garnered more than eight million views on YouTube.
Since releasing these projects, akua has released two other albums, “The Miner’s Canary” (2015), and “The Blackest Joy” (2018). The former was birthed from darker reflections on the history and present of Black America than the latter, as suggested by their titles. After two years of work, “The Blackest Joy” stepped into the light as a celebration of Black and Afro-Diasporic being and culture. As she stated in an interview with Afropop Worldwide, “The Blackest Joy” theorizes Black joy “as a form of resistance, as a political act, as a force in and of itself.” “Celebrated by AFROPUNK as “burst[ing] with nostalgia, power, and struggle, but ultimately joy”. naru has performed hundreds of shows in more than fifty countries across five continents with her 6-piece band. She has recorded with Tony Allen, Eric Benét, Angelique Kidjo, Tuneyards, Questlove, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Christian Scott, Rah Digga, Mulatu Astatke, Bernard Purdie, Cody ChesnuTT, and more.
Towards a larger vision of empowerment, naru has hosted workshops, healing circles, lectures, and participated on panels that explore topics such as African spiritualities in relation to hip-hop and sexism in the hip-hop industry. She has lectured at several universities, including The Ahfad Women’s University In Khartoum, Sudan, Harvard University, Oxford, Cornell, Princeton, Brown, Fordham, University of Cologne (Germany), and Pivot Point College (China).
Moreover, naru’s mission to embody and celebrate her ancestors is realised in her conception of theKEEPER, a groundbreaking online multimedia archive of women in hip-hop. To pursue this project, akua was awarded the Nasir Jones Fellowship at the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University (2018-19) for scholars and artists “who demonstrate exceptional scholarship and creativity in the arts in connection with Hip hop.” naru continues to lead the realization of this project as an Archivist at the Center for the Study of Race & Ethnicity in America at Brown University. She is currently a Spring 2022 Artist Practitioner Fellow at the Yale University Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.