At age 17, Nohelys Jimenez, better known as J Noa, raps with great urgency about the same social-economic calamity that author Mikki Kendall describes in Hood Feminism, calling out the ugly blanket of poorness that swallows up marginalized women into a forgotten cave of impoverishment and misfortune.
“Poverty is an apocalypse in slow motion, inexorable and generational. Sometimes a personal apocalypse, sometimes one that ruins a whole community,” Kendall writes in her best-selling book, published in February 2020. “Yet millions of women live right there; they grow up on that precipice, raise children there, and have to navigate life in the shadow of potential destruction.”
J Noa herself, the self-proclaimed “hija del rap,” is familiar with the financial deprivation in the Dominican Republic. She grew up in it. She knows it. And she wants to make sure everyone understands what happens when you yearn for resources and support systems that simply don’t exist in your reality.
“I’m working on a new song,” Jimenez tells Refinery29 Somos over Zoom. “It’s about a girl in my hood that got robbed. The incident led to an altercation where gunshots were fired. I remember I was in the neighborhood that day and everyone was scared to leave their homes.”
"She crafts poignant, rap-infused lyrical stories about peers who fall into ruin because they are a product of vast material scarcity."
J Noa observes life en el barrio before erupting into a fiery soliloquy about what she just witnessed. She crafts poignant, rap-infused lyrical stories about peers who fall into ruin because they are a product of vast material scarcity.
In “Qué Fue,” she warns about the trappings of drug addiction in the hood. She also challenges the Dominican Republic’s corrupt government by questioning why there is no electricity and why food is expensive. And most importantly, why do politicians steal money instead of pouring it into the country’s most vulnerable communities?
“Aqui no hay luz, que fue /ya no hay gas, que fue/la comida cada vez mas cara, guay que fue/la gasoline por el cielo, dime a ve, que fue/y el gobierno como siempre lo robo y se fue,” she raps.
J Noa grew up in the 5 de Abril neighborhood in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, raised by a single mother with three other sisters. To make ends meet, her mom would clean houses, sell jewelry from a catalog, and sell fruits with a large basket on her head or in front of a cafeteria near their home. Jimenez always helped her mother.
“I’ve never said this before, so I’m going to say it now,” she says. “When my mom used to sell avocados, I would sell them myself. I’ve always tried to behave and be good to her because I know all she’s been through. Her life hasn’t been easy, and she has worked so hard to make sure my sisters and I were OK.”
Eventually, J Noa’s mother got jobs as a house maid in different homes on the island. As her mom worked hard to support their family, J Noa began honing her rapping skills. It became a musical self-discovery as she furiously moved her pen.
Now she can begin to pay her mother back. The rap star recently signed with Sony, after an A&R from the label ran serendipitously saw a video of her freestyling on Instagram with DJ Scuff called “Frente a Frente.” He slid into her DMs, and as they say, the rest was history. At press time, the video currently has 558K views.
On this balmy Friday night, J Noa’s braided hair is tucked into a neat, pretty ponytail. Red sunglasses sit comfortably atop her hair. And she speaks with confidence while comfortably asserting her strong sense of self.
"I can keep rap going by staying on the path that I am on. Real rap is about social protests and history. Rappers aren’t using the proper tools to create substantial music anymore."
J Noa’s talent is undeniable; watching her freestyle is a hypnotizing experience. She drags you into her fast, carefully created word play. Melymel and El Lapiz are her inspirations. And Rosalía, Ice Spice, Eladio Carrión, and Travis Scott are her dream collaborations.
“I feel like in a couple of years, [rap] is going to get lost,” she admits. “I feel like I’m the only one in my country doing what I’m doing. At any given point, it can be lost because nowadays people don’t want to sit down and spend the time analyzing song lyrics.”
She continues: “I can keep rap going by staying on the path that I am on. Real rap is about social protests and history. Rappers aren’t using the proper tools to create substantial music anymore.”
And there’s so much she wants to say and explore through her craft. She’s looking to write a song about intimate partner violence, a topic she hasn’t rapped about and that remains especially pertinent for her home country. She thinks the song will cause controversy based on her delivery and language. (According to the Dominican newspaper Listin Diario, approximately 3,000 women have been killed due to femicides or homicides in the last 17 years in DR.)
Potential controversy aside, the message is timely and personal for J Noa. And no matter how she chooses to deliver it, fans know that her unabashed truth will be at the center. That’s what makes her music a catalyst for real change.
“I am not someone who sugar-coats things,” she says. “I’m very blunt and direct, so I feel like my language will cause controversy. It doesn’t matter though. I don’t romanticize anything. I need to get my message across.”