Less than 1% of music producers are Black women. With Beyoncé co-sign, Nova Wav defy the odds
Brittany “Chi” Coney wouldn’t necessarily use the phrase “Black girl magic.” But she and her songwriting and production partner Denisia “Blu June” Andrews are both Black women in an industry dominated by white men. And it might take some magic to win a couple of Grammys and top the Billboard 200 album chart.
Chi and Blu constitute the hitmaking duo Nova Wav. In a typical session, Blu’s on the mic humming melodies and words and Chi’s at the computer stitching the pieces together, but the longtime friends trust each other to trade places. The L.A.-based pair has worked on hits for Rihanna, Kehlani, Ariana Grande and DJ Khaled, but they’re perhaps best known for their work with Beyoncé. All told, they’ve collaborated with the superstar on nine songs, including her Juneteenth “Black Parade” single and the “Mood 4 Eva” and “My Power” tracks off of “The Lion King: The Gift,” which eventually helped form the aesthetically rich “Black Is King” visual album.
Last week, Blu’s 80-something-year-old grandma caught a “Black Is King” video on Facebook and gave her a call.
“She said, ‘Oh, my God, baby I’m so proud of you,’” Andrews told The Times. “She was like, ‘I saw the video. I saw the people dancing to the song that you helped write.’ And I was like oh, so now she gets it. Yeah, Grandma, I help write the songs that the artists that you see on TV perform.”
There aren’t a lot of Black women who do what Nova does. Eight out of 1,093 total producing credits went to women of color between 2012 and 2019, according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Brandra Ringo, senior director of A&R at Warner Chappell Music, has been in the industry for almost a decade. She doesn’t know of any Black female producer writing teams other than Nova.
“They have to carry a heavy burden,” said Ringo. “They have to deal with the oppression of being Black female writers and producers, when they just want to be creative in the studio.”
Nova have worked with everyone from Grande to Jason Derulo, but as Black producers, they’re still sometimes typecast into doing R&B and hip-hop.
“There have been times where there will be a pop session, and they’ll only bring us in to give it an ‘urban flair,’” Blu said. “So it’s like, OK, why can’t we just come into pop sessions? Because we can write pop records as well.”
“It’s been a lot of people not wanting to give us any room,” Chi said. “Walking into studio sessions, the guys just assume that we’re only there to write and not to produce. It’s been super tough.”
Blu and Chi hail from Tallahassee and Tampa, respectively, but Nova Wav began as a partnership nine years ago in Atlanta, where “the brewing of the culture” happens, Chi said. Their first big break came in 2012, when they got the call to co-write Rihanna’s “Loveeeeeee Song.”
“It almost felt like, uh-oh, this is where the pressure begins,” Blu said.
After moving to L.A. in 2014, they worked on hits for Ariana Grande (“Best Mistake”) and Kehlani (“CRZY”). Not long after, they found themselves in the court of music royalty: at the home of Jay-Z and Beyoncé, sipping wine and listening to music over the course of a five-hour session for what would eventually become the Carters’ Grammy-winning “Everything Is Love” album.
“In that moment, you realize how bold you have to be and how confident you have to be,” Blu said. “‘Cause Jay says, ‘No, I think the lyrics should say ‘Someday, somehow,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I think it should say, ‘Someday, whenever.’”
“It’s super dope to work with another female producer and artist and A&R in her own right,” Chi said of Beyoncé. “I remember being in the middle of working on ‘The Gift’ and hearing the different records. And then the way that she put it together at the end? She’s such a genius, man.”
“Working with my sisters is always a pleasure,” Teyana Taylor told The Times in an email. Nova Wav wrote and produced multiple songs on Taylor’s latest, “The Album,” which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200. “We have real convos when we collab, leaving our hearts in the booth. Nova gets it.”
Now that Nova has come into their own (they just dropped “What U Need” with JoJo last week), they’re looking to give other young women a leg up — whether that means an open inbox or supporting a studio intern.
“I’m always looking for somebody to mentor, especially young women,” Chi said. “There aren’t a lot of women that do what we do. Just being an example is the most important aspect of it: To really just put your head down and say, ‘I want to wear the crown.’”
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