Neo Nao Jessica Joshua

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Nao, or Neo Jessica Joshua, was just an ordinary person who took song writing as an everyday hobby and transformed it into a career. Nao rose to fame in the mid 2010’s and has been at the top of her game since. Nao is a Brit and MOBO nominated singer from East London. The singer and songwriter has embodied and coined the sound/term of “wonky funk.” The mixing of R&B, Soul, Techno, and Funk are combined to make her unique and angelic sound. Neo Jessica Joshua sung in an all girls a cappella group for six years called the Boxettes, but by 2014 she debuts her own EP, So Good, that gained her attention through out the United Kingdom. She signed with Little Tokyo Records in 2014 and from there her career has only to new heights. I wanted to bring light to a new and upcoming artist, who is in-between being well-known across the United Kingdom and just becoming a loved artist in America. I love the Nao sound and the new and refreshing beats that she brings to the table. 

Early Life

Born to the name Neo Jessica Joshua, Nao was born in Nottingham, England on December 20, 1987. Raised in East London with her father, she along with her four siblings bounced back and forth between homes as her parents raised their children as “friends”. In East London, Nao learned how to play piano and took singing lessons. Neo grew up in a single parent household with four other siblings. She was the youngest of the five children in her Jamaican house and was raised on strong beliefs. Joshua grew up loving artist like Missy Elliott, Nas, and Brandy, but formed an appreciation for Gospel music. “I just listened to Gospel all the time because the singers were the most amazing” she told NPR during an interview. A lot of her current sound is influenced by Gospel and singers like Aretha Franklin. At just 16 she taught a children’s choir as her first job, peaking her intrest in a career in music. While attending Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Neo studied vocal Jazz and aspired to be a singer songwriter but before she took off, she settled for a music teaching position in London. In 2014, a manager discovered Nao in a nightclub singing and guided her to the spotlight.  

Early Career

The first time Neo Jessica Joshua stepped on stage it was to preform as a member of an all girls group called the Boxettes. Members of the quintet group- Belle Ehresmann, Alyusha Chagrin, Yvette Riby-Williams, Neo Joshua, and Kate Brown- all studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. The group’s roots lied in jazz, but they had grown to embrace the hip-hop, soul, and grime sound of the 2000’s. The Boxettes brought a lot of talent to the forefront as they would sing a cappella, beatbox, harmonize, and used distinctive vocal techniques. The Boxettes were active from 2007 til around 2014 when Neo Joshua broke ties to pursue a songwriting career. She later sang backup for Jarvis Cocker and Kwabs where she began to gain confidence in her talent and branded out a final time to become Nao.  

Sample of Boxettes

Up and Coming Artist

Debuting her EP, So Good, in 2014 with new and coming label Little Tokyo, put Neo Jessica Joshua on the map in the UK. Neo had the option to sign with record labels after she had gained online attention through Soundcloud, but she opted to go the independent route and create her own outlet, Little Tokyo, with an A.K. Paul collaboration. By 2015, Neo had collaborated with UK hit Disclosure on the chart topping song, Superego. Artist from everywhere were branching out to new hit female artist Nao, that by the end of 2015 she was nominated for a MOBO award of Best Newcomer and the Brit Award for Best New Female Solo Artist. 

Neo partnered with major record label RCA Records for many of her newest singles and album “For All We Know” that gained her top spots in the top UK Charts 17 and gave her access to fame in the United States. Through television series like Insecure, On My Block, and the movie Uncle Drew, Neo was able gain fame overnight among an American audience. 

Beacon of Excellence

Though Neo Jessica Joshua is still considered new to the game of music, she has forever been a beacon for new age feminism and Black excellence. She encourages young girls to take their future into their own hands and not to wait around for someone to come along to help. Nao is a leader and a natural born icon in the making. Her unique sound will take her far in the music industry and she is steadily gaining fame across the world. 


Bassett, Jordan. “Nao: The Emerging Soul Star Who’s Ready  to Make the Move into the Limelight”. NME Journal 2016. web.

De Lerma, Dominique-René. “Black Music Now!” Music Educators Journal, vol. 57, no. 3, 1970, pp. 25–29.

Emerson, Rana A. “‘Where My Girls At?”: Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos.” Gender and Society, vol. 16, no. 1, 2002, pp. 115–135.

English, Daylanne K., and Alvin Kim. “Now We Want Our Funk Cut: Neo-Afrofuturism.” American Studies, vol. 52, no. 4, 2013, pp. 217–230.

Kellman, Andy. “Artist Biography- Nao”. Allmusic, 2014, web.

Keyes, Cheryl L. “Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces: Black Female Identity via Rap Music Performance.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 113, no. 449, 2000, pp. 255–269.

McGinty, Doris Evans. “Black Scholars on Black Music: The Past, the Present, and the Future.” Black Music Research Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 1993, pp. 1–13.

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