September 23, 2021
Charlotte-based singer-songwriter Nia Johnson, a.k.a Nia J, has released her debut EP, Rabbit Hole. The 18-minute, seven-song project takes listeners on a soulful and serene voyage unveiling the simple complexities of life, love, growth, sexuality, and finding yourself.
Starting on a gentle note with the song, “Not Delivered,” the piano-centered track delivers a melody of strikingly soft chords that accompanies Nia’s silky vocals. It’s fitting that the first song on her debut EP includes an accompaniment written by the self-taught pianist. Playing the keys is a rare occurrence for her on this project with most of the EP produced by frequent collaborator Ike Byers of the Charlotte music collective, Living Quarters. However, this track showcases her musical roots and love for the piano, introducing the audience to more of her artistic background.
Vulnerability takes the forefront of this song, and the emotion builds as she sings, “Why won’t you come over? / The sound of my name and the look on your face lets me know that I’m broken.” Throughout the song, Nia uses a combination of angelic backing vocals and repetitive phrases that give the song an airy feel and accentuates the song’s emotive nature, while her stacked vocals during the chorus create captivating harmonies that leave you lingering on her gently delivered words. Together, they result in a magnificently dream-like layered production that emphasizes the contrasting sentiments in the track.
“Not Delivered” is an enchanting track that opens the portal to Nia’s journey. “I wanted it to be like a fairy tale; And the [theme] of Alice in Wonderland fits because she goes into this rabbit hole [where] she grows, changes, and nothing makes sense,” she said.
The songs for the project were written over the course of a few years, but it was the final song she wrote, “Rabbit Hole,” that tied together the EP’s focus and ultimately became the inspiration for the title.
Nia describes the essence of Rabbit Hole as navigating the “chaos and wonder of life and love.” Although many of the songs, such as “Daytalk” (feat. Tre’ Ahmad) and “Dopamine,” discuss romantic relationships, she dives deeper, becoming more personal with her audience about her journey to love herself.
“All the songs were brought together by the idea of falling in love. Not just like with someone else, but also with myself,” she said. “[I’ve] been trying to understand and love myself [while] falling in love, and it’s like a rabbit hole…it’s something that you learn to embrace.”
The second track, “Hazy,” contrasts the delicate nature of “Not Delivered.” It begins with distorted guitar plucking and Nia’s feathery vocals singing about starting something new with a potential partner. However, this is more than just a love song exploring the possibility of a new relationship.
“‘Hazy’ is kinda confronting that ‘I like what I like’– that whole line [within the chorus]. Coming to terms with my sexuality has been a journey itself, so [I’ve been] learning to love myself in that way,” Nia said.
Once the beat joins in during Nia’s catching chorus, “Don’t it feel good? / I like what I like / I just might think I like,” the song transitions, bringing in a mellow, easy-flowing bassline, a lively beat track filled with resonating hi-hats, and a guitar melody that feels like summer.
As you get further into Rabbit Hole, Nia becomes more intimate, taking us deeper into her personal journey. In the laid-back, heartfelt track, “Daytalk,” Nia opens candidly with, “Come over later, let’s roll this paper / Get down to the basics, while we vibe to your playlist.” She sets the scene of an everyday moment between partners– when you talk about your day and problems while relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. The heart of this song is the upbeat, rhythmic acoustic guitar that joins a pulsating beat track to give the song its optimistic character. Her passionate chorus features her signature layered vocals with soulful harmonies. The song’s vibe only feeds into the idea of comfort within this budding relationship that Nia describes in her lyrics.
The ethereal “Meadowview” is the most fairy tale-inspired track, tying back to the EP’s Alice in Wonderland theme. She builds this fairytale sonically through hypnotic harmonies layered upon whispered, echoed ad libs that bring upon chills. The softness of her voice carries throughout the song, transporting the listener to the tranquil and magical realm of Nia’s vulnerability. In the first verse, Nia opens up on her hesitation to rush into things. Instead, she wants to take things slow: “Let me be the one to say, my past is not a place I like to go / But we can turn the page and if you’re patient, give and take, maybe we’ll grow.”
Ending with the title track “Rabbit Hole,” the enchanting song addresses mental health in relationships. “I slay the dragon that lives in your head / climb up the tower and into your bed,” she sings in her opening line. For Nia, loving someone else inspired many of the songs on Rabbit Hole, but she especially wanted to convey the complexities of mental health in relationships. “More recently, loving someone, especially someone who has mental health issues, inspired the album. I have mental health issues [too], and learning to embrace those things throughout this journey is something I wanted to address.”
Nia J keeps you enthralled every step of the way through her soothing cadences and layered vocals. The pacing is immaculate as she gives the listener a combination of lighthearted love songs and some with more serious subject matter. Through it all, we get to learn about Nia and witness her growth as a young woman and artist. Rabbit Hole gives us an extremely polished sound filled with stories and experiences that many can relate to, leaving you wanting more when the fairy tale ends.
Listen to the EP Rabbit Hole by Nia J.