Mattapan rapper Nay Speaks aims to lift spirits on album 'Nayborhood Healer'

Nay Speaks (Courtesy Aaron Cooley)
Nay Speaks (Courtesy Aaron Cooley)

Mattapan’s Nay Speaks represents the growth of urban music in Boston and Massachusetts as a whole. The 19-year-old is being called the “princess” of the scene by cemented rapper’s like Boston’s Avenue. She’s also getting attention from some big names outside of the Bay State. Drake was recently in town for a concert and Cortez Bryant, who had a helping hand in Drake’s success and is also Lil Wayne’s manager, met the young artist and said to her team, “It’s only the beginning.” (He also took the time out to write it again under a recent Instagram post.)

And this acclaim is warranted. On her new project “Nayborhood Healer,” Nay aims to create the energy that helps heal her own neighborhood, but that energy also transcends to other neighborhoods. On the album, she explores growing up in Boston and navigating the city as a young woman, trying to figure out love and figuring herself out as an individual in the midst of it all. A blend of spiritual hip-hop and R&B, Nay says her music “feels like soul food, the chicken, mac, greens and yams. It’s a safe haven for those who need validation or security as we are all growing in different directions.”

The rapper-singer shares that some of her biggest supporters are men with daughters. “I’ve had many fathers approaching me telling me they have daughters and appreciate the content I speak about in my music,” she says. “I love hearing that because it reflects my commitment to making music that people can learn from and doing so in my own way. Not only am I inspiring the generations before me but I’m making a change for those who come after.

“We all know sex sells, but kids have to see what authenticity can do, especially for young ladies. Attention and money are not everything, and the media does not show you that. All of my music, regardless of the slang or curse words used, is constructed from me being educated and aware.”

Nay met her manager Ikenna Ndugba through the 617Peak youth arts nonprofit, which he founded. He watched her talent develop as he was chasing his own basketball dreams, all while giving back to his community via the program. (Ndugba is currently a guard for the Santa Cruz Warriors, a minor league team in the NBA.) She met Boston hip-hop veteran, Avenue, in the process. She also has the support of a budding wordsmith in FUNERAL Ant Bell, and she’s developed a similar talent of crafting heavy and witty bars with calculated storytelling. This is on display in songs like “Affirmations” where she raps, “Like Ms. Jackson/ I’m sorry for breaking your son’s heart/ Its so tragic/ I bring it back in pieces/ And patch it up on the porch/ Then hold it to your window/ Like we passing off the torch.”

In addition to “Affirmations,” my go-to songs on the project are “Post Up” and “Sister Souljah.” In the latter, there’s a specific line that felt particularly profound: “The reason you can't float is because you’re not relaxed in the water.” Nay drew inspiration for this line during her freshman year at Spelman College. “Being away from home, everything I had going on was my responsibility and I was having trouble finding balance. No one tells you to get up and go to class or go write music,” she says. “You have to decide what you want to do and commit to it…I had to build better habits and work on my schedule to figure out what worked best for me…Once you relax and think about things deeply, you free yourself from certain anxieties that cause that ‘drowning’ feeling.”

Such spirit and knowledge from someone so early in her career. Nay Speaks’ “Nayborhood Healer” is a 37-minute journey over 15 songs. Deon Chase engineered the project with cover art shot by Frank The Butcher and executive produced by Ikenna Ndugba. Blending and bending poetry, R&B and hip-hop, this is only the beginning for Mattapan’s Nay Speaks.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Nay Speak's age. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on July 31, 2023.


Noble Music Writer
Noble is a music writer and contributor to WBUR.



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