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NAZ TOKIO | NOT YOUR AVERAGE ARTIST

January 22, 2021

Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!

Naz Tokio is a fireball of energy, a true lover of life in all art forms. Hailing from Maryland & ATL but now residing in sunny Los Angeles, Naz is a Grammy-nominated recording artist who’s worked with everyone from CeeLo Green to Izzy Azalea, living somewhere in the midst of pop, dance, rap, and R&B. With over 110 million streams accumulated to date, she proves you don’t have to be put in a box—in both life and your career.

Describing herself as a “crazy person who’s into so many different things,” Naz is a creative, a giver, and someone who’s all over the place in the best sense. She states, “If something is different for a black woman to be doing, I want to do it. I’ve traveled to Russia, Japan, and all over the place. I saw no black people when I was in Russia, I went all the time. I learned at bit of Russian, because that’d be weird if I spoke Russian. Anything that’s not expected is what I want to be doing.”

Her talents as a recording artist and songwriter have landed her placements in television shows such as Ballers, Vampire Diaries, EMPIRE, and the film Daddy’s Home 2. And still, her biggest song to date is Listenbee’s “Save Me”—merely one of her endless collaborations with the elites of the music industry.

Beyond her musical talents, it was Naz’s role on reality show Ashlee + Evan playing BFF to both Ashlee Simpson and Evan Ross that captivated audiences, as they quickly fell in love with her bubbly personality. Currently a free agent but signed to several single deals with Dallas Austin and his Rowdy Records imprint, the multifaceted Naz continues to exercise her passions in life, putting in the work necessary to turn her dreams into a reality.

Flaunt caught up with Naz Tokio in downtown Los Angeles, who arrived in high spirits as 2021 arrived. Read below as we discuss her background in Maryland, working with Tank, her entry into the music industry, moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles, placements on television, inspo behind “Wasted,” collaborating with Lauren Hashian and Natalie Martinez, being an artist versus songwriter, and more!

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How did you end up in Russia?

My buddy from Copenhagen was doing a lot of music over there, he said “do you want to be paid to go write for some artists in Russia?” I said yeah, go get us some suitcases of money to go write over there. [laughs]

What did you learn from being overseas?

I learned that the way I grew up was good because even though it was tough and I lost a lot of friends to violence, it made me aware. Over there, it was a lot of Nazi marches and crazy stuff going on over 8 years ago. If I saw some weird looking crew across the street, I’d avoid them with the quickness thanks to those street smarts. I learned different cultures, how to be able to communicate with people that can barely speak English, and still make amazing music together.

How was it growing up in Maryland?

Maryland was pretty intense, but I came from really good parents. Super grounded, my mom was a very Godly woman. My dad was very wise. My mom was strict, but my dad was like “let the kids be free” so there was a good balance. I lost a lot of friends to murder growing up there. I’m not happy I lost friends or went through those tough times but in a way, I’m happy that it made me tough. I see so many people let the smallest things break them. I’m like what, you’re crying over that? [laughs] It takes a lot for me to cry or be sad. Being able to breathe is such a blessing itself. For me growing up there was tough, but it made me who I am. Made me have tough skin, made me built for the music industry.

When did music come into play for you?

I was friends with this big R&B singer who was also a writer for Aaliyah back in the day, Tank. He told me I could sing. I’m like okay really? I wrote some songs that I recorded so when he came into town again, I played them for him. He said “alright, move to California!” [laughs] It took me two years to finally make a move, but then I did. He put me on his first album, which is a Grammy-nominated album. You know when Drake said “Love Sex Pain baby I be on that Tank shit,” it was that album.

How did it feel to get a Grammy nomination so early in your career?

Oh amazing. It makes you know, “oh okay, I’m supposed to be doing this.”

What are your highlights from working with Tank?

The biggest thing is that somebody who made it pulled somebody else into it straight away with the biggest writers, biggest producers… paying it forward. Aaliyah’s the one who gave him a chance, she put him on tour as a backup singer and said, “hey, you should be doing your album.” They ended up label-mates. It’s nice when someone who got blessed by someone else says “okay, let me do that for someone else too.” It was surreal because I went from working with his camp to working with Dallas Austin, to working with T.I. and all of these big cats. I never started from the bottom as far as the music industry, I went straight in. Another writer named Andreas Carlsson, he wrote all of the NSYNC and Backstreet Boys hits. He said “you’re my favorite writing partner.” What?! To be respected by these legendary people, even T.I bringing me to all those sessions to write with him, it was crazy.  

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What did you write with T.I.?

We were working before Iggy Azalea came out, right during that time. I worked on a lot of the Iggy stuff and songs like “Wildside” with T.I and Asap Rocky. We used to be together all the time writing in Atlanta.

What brought you to Atlanta?

Me and Sevyn Streeter used to be writing partners. We were in Orlando, Florida working, then we started driving up to Atlanta to work. We’re working with Hit-Boy, Polow da Don, Oak…all of the best. We’d do three sessions a day without sleeping, going in. People said “man y’all need to meet Dallas Austin, he’d love you guys.” They’re like y’all so talented so we went and met Dallas and it stuck. Sevyn ended up going into a girl group, me and Dallas started rocking. He became one of my best friends and writing partners. I moved there, I’m not gon’ leave now! [laughs]

When did you come to LA? 

I came to LA when Dallas became VP of Island Def Jam, so he left and all of my other friends with him so I wasn’t going to stay in Atlanta by myself. I came out here for two weeks. Well, it was supposed to be two weeks because at the time, I was working on Tip’s album in Atlanta. He’s like “yo, when’re you coming back?” I said “uhh, I don’t know yet.” I got a one-way ticket and never came back.

Do you love LA? 

I love LA like I loved Atlanta, Atlanta’s still one of my favorite places in the world. One of my favorite clubs is MJQ. The problem with Atlanta for me was I’d work on projects for a whole year, one project. I was working on Usher’s album one time for a year. Whatever the newest song is if you’re not around on the last cuts, you might not make the album. I wanted to be able to work on more than one thing. Here you have film and television, you have pop, R&B, you have everything here. For me, LA was a better fit because I could do everything. The TV stuff, the writing.

Talk about your song placements on television, I know you were on Ballers. 

Me and Lauren Hasian have a song in Ballers. Lauren used to be at Paramount Pictures in the Music Sync department, and Warner in the Sync department. She’s the one who connected me to her old boss at Paramount Pictures, he was sending me everything. I started being able to write to the Daddy’s Home 2 movie, all that. I signed to UMPG as a songwriter so I did a camp with them for Fox for EMPIRE leading to a song with Mario.

How is it writing for television versus music?

Writing for television, I actually enjoy more. Me being an artist, I understand you’re emotional and you change one day to the next. You could scrap a whole album and go a different direction. Whereas in film and TV, they know what they want and they stick to it. It’s not as emotional so you’re given a clear cut: this is what we need, this is what we want to fill the scene. It’s less “my man broke up with me so I’m getting rid of that album, and now it’s going to be a sad album.” You’re like “well we just spent a whole year working on it.” I enjoy it more and the checks are good. [laughs]

What placement meant the most to you? 

Hmm, probably my song. I had a song I did with a DJ named Listenbee, we ended up hitting 111 million on Spotify. It was in so many shows and movies. The moment I realized oh if I did me, it was way bigger than me doing it for another artist. I got into music as the artist, but I used to hide It.

Why? 

Because I didn’t want to ruin relationships. All of these people I was working with were signing artists and I didn’t want them to want to sign me until I saw what they were doing with their artist. [laughs] My businesswoman brain was like “let me see how you do business before I ruin this relationship: tell you I’m an artist, you want to sign me and I say no.” It was always the real passion but because I pretended to be a writer for so long, people didn’t realize I really was an artist. They’d be in there trying to convince me “you’re the artist, you’re the artist.” It was that vindication that oh when I actually did a song myself, it blew up.

“Wasted” out now, who or what inspired this record?

“Wasted” happened because me and my friends were sitting in the studio, we’re talking about those moments when you meet a person that makes you go crazy. You have this wild ride, not sleeping. You’re raging, you’re almost getting kicked out of clubs because you’re so out of control. Everything’s a big blur. You’re wasted in the moment but you remember everything about it because it was so epic.

A real life story?

Yeah. [laughs] We wrote about that. We sent Dallas the guitar and the vocals, he made a track around it because he loved it. Dallas has worked with TLC,  Madonna… huge.

Talk bringing that record to life in the visual, I saw a guy with an alien head. 

We were in Atlanta, they had this epic lightshow going on. We’re like “let’s shoot this guerilla style so we don’t have to pay for a set, let’s go do it.” We’re running around, drinking tequila, filming all these beautiful epic things that were already pre-set for us. [laughs] Having a good time. We also shot at Dallas’s house because he has one of the most beautiful houses in Atlanta. He won MTV Cribs, his house is like a spaceship.

How was collaborating with Lauren Hashian & Natalie Martinez on “Ride The Wave”?

We actually recorded the song before Covid and it’s nothing like being able to work with your best girlfriends, and do music. It’s always fun having a blast. Eric Zayne is one of my favorite music collaborators. He’s so talented we’re always having fun. Lauren had this idea, and we all got together and wrote it. Fast forward Covid hit, we’re like “we should still try to shoot this video.” We figured out how to do it… making the props, Natalie called a huge director buddy. Our friends were the ones in the videos: the makeup artist and stylist, were getting in the shots because we wanted to keep the set close. We had a Covid specialist on there, so we didn’t even get to see each other‘s performances unless we were in the scene together. We didn’t see it until we saw the first cut of the video. It was all these rules: mask up. It’s not the same, but we’re happy we were able to get it done. To actually put something out while Covid was going full blast.

How did The Rock end up in the video?

Honestly, we really didn’t know he was going to jump in the video until the last minute. He’s so supportive though, such a good guy. Anything he can do to support his wife, he will. It’s awesome to see. We normally like to joke that we paid a lot of money for that cameo. [laughs]

3 things you need in the studio?

Pre Covid, the right partnership. Either Mike Zombie who I love working with, Eric [Zayne] or Dallas [Austin]. Mike is one of my favorite producers. Tequila, and palo santo. It’s like sage.

You acted in a recent documentary on the Ocoee massacre of black Americans in the 1920s for trying to vote. What was that like? 

I acted and sang in it. It was dope but there was a moment where I didn’t want to travel and Covid was going crazy. I hadn’t been on a plane yet, but it was such an important thing I felt I had to do. I had to fly to Miami to do it. The fear of flying in Covid meant less than bringing awareness because a lot of people don’t know about it. They killed so many blacks for wanting to vote and took their land. It was a bunch of people coming together to make it happen, to bring it to light 100 years later.

How important is it for you to be a strong black female in America today?

You have to really voice things and have purpose behind your actions. Stay strong and be aware of what’s going on, also still try and find peace.

Talk about being head producer of a video game company.

I used to be head producer of a video game company, but we’re about to reunite again. We do games on Xbox, Nintendo, PlayStation. The new games will be some cool stuff that will bring awareness to Black culture.

Do you play video games too? 

Yep! I play games like Injustice, Mortal Kombat. I like to get straight to the fighting. [claps] I don’t like to search and be in a world for days and weeks, I’m losing time. [laughs]

What can we expect next? 

I’m about to do a live thing with some of my celebrity friends. We’re going to play video games live, maybe Call Of Duty making some teams. I’ve also been working on my album, my Solo Dolo.

 What can we expect from your album?

You can expect to see the real me. I’ll never stop doing my collaborations but I’ve never released the real deep stuff. I’m complicated, so the whole thing will show the complication of all of my sides. My gumbo. [laughs]

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