As of 2021, Rakiyah is one of the most interesting things happening in R&B, K-pop, and any of the genres and scenes she’s a part of. Her latest single, the airy and sensual “Naughty X Nature” (2021), shows why she’s an artist worth paying attention to. And it also shows why she deserves a place at the forefront of the spacial, futuristic trend happening in pop since 2020 and now (Lady Gaga, Doja Cat) — which, by the way, is more than just a trend for Rakiyah.
The singer, songwriter, and rapper, whose educational background is in industrial and aerospace engineering, is curating and combining sonic and visual references in ways that come across like a revival of the creative miscellaneous of 1990s hip-hop. It’s a fresh approach that connects very deeply to her identity. Her music since 2018 has been consistent in sound: smooth, condensed R&B. But it was her last EP, Into the Cosmos (2020), that set the scene for the futuristic concept of “Naughty X Nature”, which informs both its aesthetics and music production, and places Rakiyah in the lineage of several acts that innovated in hip-hop, and popular culture.
The allusions are all there: the song’s title recalls the rap group Naughty by Nature, the intro recalls the hook of Isley Brothers’ “Footsteps in the Dark” (1977), the vocals transport us immediately to an Aaliyah album, and the futuristic visuals calls back to the fashion and music videos of Lisa Left-Eye Lopez and Missy Elliot (who Rakiyah have said to be inspired by, during a live stream on IGTV in the night before the single’s release). And if those names are worth pointing, it’s more because Rakiyah does them justice than for any lack of originality on her part. Produced and mixed to sound like an extraterrestrial experience, “Naughty X Nature” show Rakiyah’s vocals at their sultriest, while her rap delivery brings you back to earth.