How Grammy-Nominated Producers Nova Wav Are Breaking Music’s Glass Ceiling
The duo, known for hits like Beyonce's "Cuff It," is ready to change the industry for good. In four years, Denisia "Blu June" Andrews and Brittany "Chi" Coney went from co-writing a song Beyonce was featured on to working on more than half of her latest album.
Better known as the creative duo Nova Wav, Blu June and Chi first received a co-writing credit on "Top Off," the 2018 DJ Khaled track that features Future, Jay-Z and Queen Bey. More sessions rolled in, and Nova Wav wound up penning four songs on Beyonce and Jay-Z's collaborative album, Everything Is Love, as well as Bey's The Lion King: The Gift, including the Juneteenth anthem "Black Parade."
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On Renaissance, the superstar's daring exploration of dance and house music, Blu June and Chi not only co-wrote eight of the 16 songs, they co-produced five tracks; Chi also engineered some of the songs, and Blu June sings background on "Alien Superstar" and "Pure/Honey." Now the duo is nominated for three Grammy Awards, including album of the year for Renaissance and best R&B song for the viral hit "Cuff It."
"I would definitely credit Bey as the artist who has allowed us to evolve as creators," Blu June tells THR. "The level of trust is impeccable. We aren't who we were 10 years ago when we were sending Beyonce records, but she could still see and hear the potential. We were always given chances, and we stepped up to the plate. Everything is timing, and it is our time."
Adds Chi: "A lot of our blessings come from us understanding what it means to be patient -- we play chess and not checkers."
The songwriter-producers met in 2009 through a mutual friend -- Blu June was living in her hometown of Tallahassee, Florida, and Chi was based in Atlanta -- and worked virtually to create music. Blu June eventually joined Chi by moving to the A, and the duo earned their first placement with Rihanna's "Loveeeeeee Song" from her Grammy-winning 2012 album Unapologetic. But Chi's name didn't appear in the songwriting credits. "[Chi] was absolutely a part of that record. We actually created that record together. It was just some industry BS, but we ain't even going to give that no energy," Blu June explains.
The song was an album favorite and reached platinum status even though it wasn't a single, making it clear that Nova Wav had the juice. More platinum hits -- like Kehlani's "CRZY," Nicki Minaj's "Megatron," Teyana Taylor's "Gonna Love Me," Jazmine Sullivan's "Pick Up Your Feelings" and DJ Khaled's "Just Us" and "You Stay" -- poured out of them. They also crafted songs for Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Kelly Clarkson, H.E.R., Zayn, Meek Mill, Saweetie, Jason Derulo, Pop Smoke, Kelly Rowland, Lukas Graham, Ludacris, Keyshia Cole and Monica, whose Nova Wav-produced single, "Commitment," topped Billboard's Adult R&B Songs chart.
The duo -- also nominated for their work on Mary J. Blige's Good Morning Gorgeous, up for album of the year -- says they feel honored to help tell stories, particularly narratives about issues that resonate personally. Says Chi: "We're talking about Black women moguls. We were on top of that shit. There's a level of trust and level of respect we have with them, and it feels really good. Now you have Black women emerging as producers ... I think it was time for a perspective change."
Women held only 3.9 percent of all producing positions across the songs on the 2021 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts, according to a study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, and navigating that world hasn't always been easy for Nova Wav, who were snubbed in the nonclassical producer of the year category at this year's Grammys (five men are nominated, and a woman has never won the award). "I think we've been marginalized for a very long time," says Blu June. "We just want the advancement of all women in music, and to be honest with you, we kind of want to be able to drop the fact that we are 'women' producers." "And," Chi chimes in, "just be one of the top producers."
In addition to fighting for more diversity in production, the pair is also working toward fair rights for songwriters. Typically, producers (who work on the beat) will earn an advance when working on a song, while writers (lyrics and melody) get paid through royalties if the song performs well or is promoted as a single. Nova Wav says too many times songwriters produce but don't get the full credit. "For the most part, the words are 50 percent and the music is 50 percent, and that should be allocated differently," says Chi. "Songwriters should be respected way more than what's going on."
To make the playing field even, Nova Wav -- when working on a song as writers not producers -- will request a songwriting fee. ("People haven't been excited about it, but I mean, that's the way it should be," Chi adds.)
Navigating the music industry has been a roller coaster, but Chi and Blu June say they feel deeply close to each other, a connection they liken to psychic abilities. "It's been very magical," Blu June says. "It's the chemistry, the intuitiveness, the togetherness."
Adds Chi: "People talk about loyalty a lot, and it's a word that they throw around but don't understand. And we really had to stand on that. We were tested a lot. People are going to try to come in between and divide you and get you to go one way or the other, but you've got to stay firm on what you believe in."
Their bond is stronger than ever, and it's the third consecutive year that Nova Wav have been nominated for multiple Grammys. Their first nominations came in 2021, when they were up for song of the year and best R&B song for "Black Parade" and best contemporary Christian music performance/song for co-writing Lecrae and Kirk Franklin's "Sunday Morning." Last year they competed for album of the year thanks to their work on Back on My Mind by H.E.R. and best R&B song for Jazmine Sullivan's "Pick Up Your Feelings" -- the song that won Sullivan her first Grammy in another category.
"I remember sitting at my job when I was in Tallahassee, and Jazmine had a song with the lyrics, 'I gotta dream big/ 'Cause when it happens, it's gone happen real quick.' I really identified with that song, and 10 years later to have a song with her, it's like, 'Wow. Full circle moment,'" Blu June recalls.
Now, Nova Wav wants to win their first Gramophone, and they have a strong chance since "Cuff It," which recently cracked the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has had an explosive run on TikTok, is the frontrunner in the best R&B song category.
"To help create a record like that during the pandemic when nobody was outside and to make a feel-good record like that basically out of thin air -- it's just God and us putting in a lot of work. These are the moments we worked hard for," Blu June says. "It honestly feels the best because it's with Bey, the person who really gave us a real chance."
Nova Wav has worked with everyone -- but they still aspire for more. The two have a starry wish list of potential collaborators, including Adele, Drake, Doja Cat, The Weeknd, City Girls -- and that superstar singer and upcoming halftime show performer whose next album has been heavily anticipated since the 2016 release of Anti.
"Rihanna, we are waiting on you, girl," Chi says. "We are waiting for you to call."
"We're going to manifest this Rihanna single," Blu June says, before Chi jumps in with: "Album! This Rihanna album!"
A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.