Why You Need to Have Afro-Dominican Teen Rap Star J Noa on Your Radar This Year

Edgar Núñez
Edgar Núñez

As the rap sound continues to make waves across the globe — often far from the Black communities that birthed it — a young artist is emerging in the international scene, who is using the genre as a platform to speak up for her community. J Noa, a 17-year-old Dominicana from the San Cristóbal region, was recently signed to Sony Music Entertainment. Calling herself "La Hija del Rap," she's rising in the scene as an artist with a style that is reminiscent of the genre's rebellious beginnings, all while adding her own fresh take, her native Spanish language, and authentic flow to the mix.

"With me being young, people are often like, 'Wow, her with that age, she's already with Sony?'" she tells POPSUGAR during an interview, reflecting on navigating the industry as a young teen. "But also because of my age and because I'm a girl, people don't take me into account, and so it can be difficult to make it in this genre filled with men . . . it's a little complicated, but that doesn't stop me."

J Noa, whose birth name is Nohelys Jiménez, speaks with confidence in her voice. The young artist's presence is uplifting and empowering in a space that too often overlooks young negras like herself. "I don't care what people say, 'Oh that's for men' or whatever. I like it — so I do it. And that's it," she says.

The rapper's talents first became evident through freestyling competitions she'd partake in in the streets. In the barrios of the Dominican Republic, freestyling is thriving, especially among the youngest of them all. While it's mostly the young boys and men rapping, girls of all ages are taking up their due space too. J Noa began freestyling when she was just 5 years old.

"In the barrio where I lived, they called me 'La Biblia' (The Bible) because I've always been like this. I'm not afraid of expressing myself," she says. "The first fear we [teenagers] have to let go of is the fear of adults, because that's the problem. "

Edgar Núñez

J Noa composed her first song at 8, about teen and underage pregnancy. Through her music, she has become one of the faces of an expression being revived in the barrios of the Dominican Republic, where residents are faced with exceeding financial scarcity and a lack of opportunities, leading to a rise in violence. For young girls, these concerns as well as a lack of sexual education and the oversexualization of teens mean the violence is compounded. Amid all of this, the cultural production in the barrios is gaining newfound strength as a form of expression and as an emotional outlet. Artists like Angel Dior and Tokischa, rising from these conditions, have gained international notoriety. While Dominican women in dembow like Melymel, La Perversa, and Gailen La Moyeta hold it down within the country amid sexism in the music industry.

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J Noa is a product of those worlds, and she addresses this in her music — while speaking up for the need for something new. In "Qúe Fue?" she includes a line about her fellow teens facing drug addictions, adding that she doesn't want to partake, "Solo pretendo abrir la conciencia" ("I only want to open consciousness").

"Betty," the first single J Noa wrote and released since signing with a label, is a storytelling journey into the conditions that teen girls her age live in in the barrios. In the song, she flows seamlessly all while rapping about harsh issues that plague her community, from teen pregnancy to rape. Toward the end of the single, she raps, "It's not too late for you to be a tender girl," reading like a love letter to girls whose innocence is often taken too soon.

"The song was based on stories of what happens in the barrio," she explains, "I put them all together and made one song, 'Betty.' The process for the song was fast, you know? Because when you already know something it's not the same as when you're starting [to write about] something you don't know about."

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While J Noa remains confident, navigating the rap scene hasn't always been a seamless process. Often women come up only with the cosign of men rappers or some sort of collective. Yet J Noa truly has emerged through the power of her penmanship, her flow, and the help of her team. Perhaps the biggest testament to this is a recent online debate she got into after the release of a new version of the single "Capea el Dough" featuring all girl rappers. J Noa's fans quickly noted her exclusion from the single meant to highlight young Dominican women rappers.

"Capea el Dough" started as a single in 2006 by popular men rappers Lapiz Conciente and Toxic Crow. Since its release, it has become a classic, and several remakes have been produced featuring different artists. The most recent one was an all-women version. J Noa said that when a connection was made among others in the industry for her to be featured in the single, she was excluded and told she was not fit for the project. So, a few weeks after the debacle, once she was signed with Sony and the promo for her single "Betty" was completed, J Noa released her own version of "Capea el Dough" — shutting down any doubts about her talent.

"Don't talk so much drool, the wordplay that I bring, you have to take it with a spoon so they can digest the heaviest female rapper," she raps, shutting down any doubters. Dembow, and rap overall, is often derided as violent and looked down upon by the elites of the country, and yet for those in the barrios, freestyling and music making often serve as an outlet from the violence that they face — rather than a cause of the violence itself. J Noa has been a defender of the genre and has spoken out on this issue before.

"Urban music has given more color to the movement, but also rappers, we speak on what's going on and what people who are on the outside don't see."

"Urban music has given more color to the movement, but also rappers, we speak on what's going on and what people who are on the outside don't see," she said in a Noise Colectivo documentary regarding her art. When she began working with Sony, J Noa said that she and her manager took on the task of working with about 12 diverse beats that were sent her way. In these beats, she recorded dancehall, trap, and reggaeton, among other genres. And while much hasn't changed in terms of her process since signing, she is very excited about showing her versatility as an artist.

"I'm an artist, and being a true artist is about showing versatility," she says. "I'm a rapper first, but I can do any rhythm that's in those beats."

As J Noa continues to shine, she's also becoming a powerful mirror of the hood that made her. As the young rising star speaks on her plans for this year, she welcomes the growing platform with anticipation and enthusiasm. Still, it is no surprise that while she's reaching new heights and audiences, she's most excited about reaching her people.

"For this year, I want to establish myself in my country, [so] that everyone here in the Dominican Republic knows who J Noa is. I don't want to be famous somewhere super far while no one knows me here," she shares. "Then I can have tours and establish myself elsewhere. But my goal this year is to establish myself here."