NYC-based producer, musician, and DJ Nar Angel Rokh recently received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would make even the most cynical of us jealous: he got to work with Rihanna. That's right: Badgal RiRi, the commander-in-chief of Rihanna Navy, the high-fashion Bajan beacon of what no-fucks-given pop superstardom looks, feels, and sounds like, erstwhile actress because why not. Most recently, the star has added CEO of Fenty Beauty to her already-inimitable resume. And since its inception, the record-shattering brand has the beauty world shook because she created a perfect red lip that looks good on absolutely everyone, a mystery that has alluded cosmetics companies the world over for eons.
Related | Break the Rules: Rihanna
What Fenty Beauty is perhaps even more well-known for, though, is its inherent DNA of inclusion: across gender identities and expressions, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and body types and sizes. The product itself features a range of more than 40 foundation skin tones and shades, so it would seem that Fenty Beauty has done the unthinkable in creating a brand that is truly for everyone, and not just paying lip service to the idea of inclusion. Putting her money where her mouth is, Rihanna has intentionally employed a range of models including plus-size icon Paloma Elsesser and PAPER cover star Duckie Thot, in addition to behind-the-scenes producers and creatives.
Nar is one of those creatives: a trans male artist of color with his own distinctive point of view. He created hard-edged, immaculately produced instrumental music that wound up being selected for Rihanna's Moroccan Spice campaign and her just-launched Flyliners collection. Below, Nar candidly opens up to PAPER about his process, working with Rih, and what the industry can do to be ever-more inclusive.
PAPER: How did you and Rihanna connect?
Nar Angel Rokh: We connected through my good friend and brilliant director, Mitch Moore, who happens to also edit content for Fenty Beauty. For this campaign they were looking for music with a Mid-East aesthetic, which is very much my vibe and since Rihanna has been following me on Instagram for about 6 years now, they thought it would've been a good look to have me produce a couple of original tracks. I was gagged about the opportunity and screaming when I was finally confirmed. I felt that all the hard work I put into making music since I was kid had been validated and to all the people that thought I did this for fun and wasn't a serious producer, now see me in a different light. I don't want to be famous, I just want to be respected which now I feel I've earned.
When it came to the overall sound, creative direction, how did you pair the music and imagery?I actually didn't get to the see any of the footage, so I had to go off of the references they gave me and my imagination. I created a number of original tracks to pitch to them, which are then reviewed for campaign sizzles or how-to videos. It's easier to edit videos to tracks that are already done. So once a track is considered, they will then edit the same video to a number of different tracks as options to be shown to Rihanna and her team. In the end, she has the final say so it's nice to know my tracks have been favorited over other competing producers. I try to stay true to my artistic integrity of producing "experimental" club music while adding elements of mainstream sounds to create beats that resonate globally. Reading the comments on both the #moroccanspice palette and the #flyliner ads, I've yet to read one negative comment about the music, so I shockingly believe that I've achieved my goal.
"Once we all learn to embrace our flaws, is when we mold the beauty standards towards authenticity."
Rihanna is an example of someone using their platform to spotlight, uplift, and intentionally work with trans, queer, and POC artists. What are your thoughts on how celebrities and major brands can continue to be more inclusive?Celebrities and major brands have been stealing and profiting off of trans, queer, gender non-conforming POC's ideas and looks without giving us our rightfully earned credit and/or compensation. We make your clothes, do your hair and makeup, teach you how to pose and been put on moodboards for decades. Now we're coming into the spotlight as our own and it's time to make us the face of brands and campaigns. Not by exploiting and capitalizing off of queer culture as if we're a trend and not a people, but by hiring us for our triumphs and resilience. I'm sorry, but adding a rainbow to your campaign during pride month does not make you more inclusive or revolutionary. Hire and pay us. We're all beautiful and don't conform to your ideals of contemporary beauty standards. Which is what Rihanna has done — she's been vocal about trans/POC issues and inclusive in her products and casting. She's a great example of what brands should be doing and I'm proud to now be affiliated. If you're trans, queer, GNC, POC, plus-sized, disabled, or have medical conditions... know that you're still beautiful, loved and desired. Understand that celebrities and major brands don't dictate what is beautiful, but that beauty radiates the most when you are your truest self. Once we all learn to embrace our flaws, is when we mold the beauty standards towards authenticity.
Photography: Hao Nguyen