J Noa is already a juggernaut. For the past several years, she’s been leaving her mark on the Dominican music scene, earning the nickname “the daughter of rap,” thanks to her lightning-fast rap speed, insightful lyrics, and ability to capture the realities of the island. Oh, and she happens to be 17.
This month, she’s released her new seven-track EP called Autodidacta or “self-taught,” the perfect phrase to describe songs with a sharp political edge and clever, educational wordplay, all blending into a style that’s uniquely her own and that has the ability to shift the culture.
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J Noa comes from San Cristobal of Santo Domingo, a common playground for foreign creatives but a tough neighborhood for its residents, similar to the neighborhood of Capotillo. Growing up in San Cristobal inspired J Noa to start making music when she was just eight years old, as she told the famous radio host Brea Frank.
J Noa developed into a powerful performer and storyteller after achieving visibility through her impressive freestyle “Frente a Frente,” featured on the legendary DJ Scuff’s YouTube series. Feeling that the subject matter in rap culture at the moment is somewhat repetitive, J Noa had a particular goal for Autodidacta: “I feel like I came to revive rap,” she tells Rolling Stone. “To me, most rappers should be intentional about what they write, about what they recite. Otherwise, why would rap serve them, or why would they be considered rappers if they don’t live the reality of what they’re rapping about?”
A self-described fan of the genre and all that it offers, she’s eager to demonstrate the complexity of Dominican culture, identity, and challenging lived experience on this project. At the same time, she wants to show the nuances and dignity of her home.
Her lyricism highlights the tragedy of adolescents forced to “grow up too fast” and the vicious cycles that cause the same problems to repeat over again. Noting the difficulties that she witnessed firsthand alongside her young peers, J Noa pulls from an array of real-life topics, from teen pregnancy to gang violence to even drug addiction. On her Autodidacta’s emotional track “Betty,” she turns her lens on parents who are still maturing alongside their kids.
“Some parents are still adapting to technology and they themselves are growing up while they raise their children,” she says. “In ‘Betty,’ I speak to how adapting or not doesn’t necessarily make the difference in domestically violent situations in the households, and some need to realign their priorities”
In other songs on the EP, she boldly calls out the government’s inability to allocate funds for what Dominicans on the island need. “Que Fue” looks at the frustration over leadership’s negligence and lack of resources, like gas and electricity, that has become a growing problem across the Caribbean. The issue has been highlighted in the past, by Luis Ovalles in his classic Eighties merengue classic “Se Fue La Luz,” by Poeta Callejero in “16 de Mayo,” Guaynaa in his “Maria” freestyle, and Bad Bunny in “El Apagon.”
“Una Carta,” another song on Autodidacta, is one J Noa drafted when she was sitting next to a classmate, hearing about their experiences: “My friend sat down next to me in class and began telling me the story of a man who went to reclaim the stolen belongings of his daughter, who was robbed in his hood. By the time he finished telling me the story, I finished writing the song,” she says, laughing. The song is a testament to how fast she is, not just with her rap delivery but her pen game. “I want people to be aware of how people try to trap you into dangerous scenarios if you’re not paying enough attention,” she says, noting that the song reflects an everyday reality for young people in D.R.
Her delivery is worth noting: J Noa raps at impressive speeds in a distinctively Dominican way. Through her lyricism and unique style, she wanted to combat the backwards idea of Dominican Spanish being “bad Spanish.” Instead, she shows its beauty and complexity.
Achieving such respect and critical acclaim as a young artist isn’t easy, especially in a culture whose art is constantly reduced to stereotypes. Genres like Dominican dembow are constantly diminished, and their depth is often ignored. Dominicans often face the racist burden of “proving themselves” to outsiders, despite all of their crucial contributions to music at large. And yet ironically enough, the country is constantly exploited for its cultural richness.
J Noa is making it her mission to enter new spaces with her unique sound while holding onto every bit of the essence that makes her who she is. By pouring her all into the music, she shines a light on both the strength and vulnerability of the world she comes from while showing a brilliant sense of pride in herself.
“My self-esteem is never low,” she says. “If people say, ‘What a pretty girl who’s dark skinned.’ To them, I say I’ve always been too much to handle. When it comes to my skin color, my pride is as high as an 180 mile tall skyscraper. In other words, nobody is ever bringing me down.”
Currently, J Noa is finishing high school at an alternative school to ensure she can keep up with the creative demands of Sony, her label, who signed her in January 2023. On Autodidacta, she boldly decided not to include any features, adequately using every minute of each track to say what she had to and putting more weight on her courageous outspokenness.
The project also comes with bold visuals that show that J Noa has her eye on every detail of her project. She worked alongside her collaborators Lennyn Salinas and Daniel Bethencourt and made it a point to create videos that went beyond the obvious. “We created straight movies because that was what was needed to reinforce what you were hearing lyrically,” she says.
Autodidacta is a display of Dominican excellence. J Noa’s clear direction is a testament to her discipline and the care she puts into her work. “Autodidacta speaks to my intelligence and my strength as a young, Black female rapper. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to show, as well as the notion that in rap, it’s about obtaining the public’s confidence and their respect, too.” She’s working toward a better future, and instead of standing by and watching, she’s contributing to a reality she can be proud of.
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