As a young girl, Nija Charles started out making music in her grandmother’s basement. Those humble beginnings paid off. Today, she’s on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for 2020 and one of the most sought-after songwriters.
“It’s crazy because it’s like my favorite artists are now like the people I work with,” Charles told ABC News. “Maybe like 10 years ago, not even 10 years ago — like two years ago, I was at their concerts and now it’s I’m in the studio with them.”
Growing up in Union, New Jersey, Charles was always around music. “My dad’s a DJ. My mom is a dancer,” Charles said. “My grandmother was in the choir, so my aunt and uncle, they produced,” she added.
God gave me a talent & I learned work ethic from a strong black woman—my mama. Don’t let anyone tell you that you CAN’T do something. From a young age, my mother always made me feel like I can do whatever I put my mind to & I hope that I inspire others to as well #ForbesUnder30 pic.twitter.com/9Wv5CCtGMJ— Nij (@amnija_) December 3, 2019
She started making music at age 13 when her mother bought her a keyboard which she used to make beats. Not limiting herself to making beats, Charles advanced into writing songs.
Charles soon caught the attention of producers whilst in college at New York University and soon got acquainted with some of the biggest names in the music business. In 2017, she signed a deal with Universal Music Publishing Group.
Joggling between school and being on the plane from one concert to the other wasn’t an easy task, so eventually, Charles dropped out of school. She set up an in-home studio in Los Angeles.
Charles has been described as Beyoncé and Cardi B’s secret weapon. The 22-year-old is a Grammy-winning songwriter, artiste and record producer.
She wrote “Heard About Us” and “LoveHappy”, two tracks from “Everything is Love,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s first album as The Carters. Cardi B’s “Ring” and “I Do” and Drake’s “No Guidance” in her debut album “Invasion of Privacy was also written by her. The album was a hit, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
The two albums did so well and won award at the Grammys. While The Carters won the Grammy for the Best Urban Contemporary Album, Cardi B’s won for the Best Rap Album.
Charles was nominated for best R&B song for her work on “No Guidance,” the hit track from Chris Brown featuring Drake at the Grammys.
Additionally, three other albums she contributed to were nominated for Grammys: Beyonce’s “The Lion King: The Gift,” for the best pop vocal album; Meek Mill’s “Championships,” for best rap album; and 21 Savage’s “I Am > I Was,” also for best rap album.
She’s also worked with Under 30 alumni including Post Malone and Travis Scott. Recently, she took to the mic alongside Beyoncé and Tierra Whack on the Lion King soundtrack’s “My Power.”
“It’s rare to find a talented songwriter like Charles in such a male-dominated industry,” her mentor Cardo revealed.
“She’s actually opening up the door for more females to do what she’s doing, and that’s incredible, you know. So I feel like they’re going to see something from her and feel some sort of inspiration from her,” Cardo added.
Charles also got to work with Jason Derulo on the official 2018 World Cup song.
She does recognize that being in a male-dominated industry has its own challenges.“When I walk [in] and no one’s really paying attention, but once they hear what comes out, and then I walk out, they’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, you know, you’re hard. You’re hard. Let’s do it again.’ So then it’s like, as soon as I get out, I get that respect.
“Every time I’m in a room with full of males, I have something to prove because I feel like as a woman we don’t get as much respect and we’re also not looked at as the person who’s going to be writing, you know, co-writing with them. So every time I come in, I have to make sure they know that I’m on the same level as you guys,” Charles noted.
Beyond making beats, producing and writing songs, Charles has a good vocal and she wants to pursue her solo music career as well.