NJOMZA spent the middle part of the decade amassing a sizable musical footprint. Prior to her move to L.A., Vitia landed on records with Midwest rappers like Dizzy Wright and left-field electronic acts like Tennyson and Two Fresh. Living in Chicago put her in touch with SaveMoney, the Chicago hip-hop collective at one time encompassing Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, and Towkio, on whose 2018 LP WWW. Vitia would make an appearance. Perhaps the most important connection Vitia made early was with Mac Miller, who put down a guest verse on her early mixtape Gold Lion. Later, Miller signed NJOMZA to his own Remember Music label after she appeared on The Divine Feminine track “Planet God Damn.” NJOMZA’s 2017 EP, Sad For You, marked the label’s first release.
On Sad For You, years of proximity and guest status for NJOMZA finally gave way to a relatable and infectious pop voice. The lead single presented NJOMZA as a standalone character, not a stranger to heartbreak, but facing it with a wry indifference that the listener can’t help but aspire to. Here, NJOMZA’s effervescent voice was given flesh and blood, and a shock pink wig to boot. Plus, the production list feels like the culmination of years of networking. Half of the record is produced by Tommy Brown and Mike Foster, who both worked extensively on Ariana’s Dangerous Woman. Meanwhile, “Hear Me” is handled by Papi Beatz, who also produced most of Vic Mensa’s excellent debut EP There’s A Lot Going On.
In recent years, NJOMZA’s has extended her reach into the dance music scene on singles with Skrillex, FKi 1st, Vindata, and DEVAULT. But all of these are small potatoes in the wake of fall 2018, where the first of NJOMZA’s two co-writing credits for Ariana Grande dominated airwaves. There was a moment when, between its incessant airplay and untouchable music video, “thank u, next” was virtually inescapable. The tongue-in-cheek tribute to lessons learned from exes also gave both Grande and Vitia an opportunity to pay tribute to Mac Miller together in the best way they know how. On the other side of the spectrum, the album’s second single “7 Rings” is nothing but flex, with Grande and her squad hitting Tiffany’s for some serious retail therapy. It was NJOMZA who urged Grande that they make a song out of it, and sure enough, it was a smash hit. On both tracks, NJOMZA found herself showcasing her songwriting chops in shimmering fashion.
Fall 2018 also marked time for NJOMZA to debut new material of her own. After a handful of singles, NJOMZA dropped the full Vacation project a week after “thank u, next” took the world by storm. Throughout Vacation, Vitia flips the script from Sad For You, spending solitary nights sad more for herself than others, with dreams of other places and other people, simplifying the complicated tethers of our lives.
It’s only fitting that a record structured around the motif of vacation be followed with NJOMZA’s first-ever North American tour. After years of creative work and networking and pushing herself, all has culminated in this moment, when Vitia shares the stage with no one. She’s put in the work, and now it’s time for the payoff.
NJOMZA. 8 p.m. Saturday, February 23, at Rebel Lounge, 2303 East Indian School Road; therebellounge.com. Tickets $15-18 via therebellounge.com.