BY David Michael Conner
March 24 2010 6:20 PM ET
Gay singer-songwriter Nhojj made music history twice in the past year — first as the only black male ever to win an OUTMusic Award for his song “Love,” and then, more remarkably, hitting the coveted number 1 spot on MTV’s music video chart this month. The “Love” video is a narrative that culminates in two young black men embracing in a bed. Nhojj’s sensual vocals drive the imagery, singing, “Our thighs now meet, our souls are singing, harmony sweet.”
But Nhojj’s life’s trajectory was just as unpredictable as the success of his explicitly gay music video. Born in Guyana and raised in Trinidad, Nhojj was brought up in an extremely religious Caribbean family that still struggles to fully understand his homosexuality. Nhojj moved to the United States to attend New York University, where he studied economics. He talks to The Advocate about how he ended up in music and how honesty and “Love” have brought him so much in return.
The Advocate: Congratulations on making history. Did the “Love” video taking the number 1 spot on the MTV chart take you by surprise?
Nhojj: Oh, absolutely. [Laughs.] I had no idea. I remember when MTV actually added the video to the catalog, [my publicist] Ron and I were like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if it went to number one?” But we never, ever expected it to get to number one. That was a huge, huge surprise. A pleasant surprise!
The “Love” video has quite a backstory, from the Sundance Film Festival to premiering on Logo’s NewNowNext Pop Lab before hitting the mainstream ...
Yeah, there’s an independent film called Blueprint, and I submitted the song “Love” for the film. The director, Kirk Shannon-Butts, he really liked it. It was exactly what he was looking for, and he essentially made it the theme song for the movie. You hear the song at a crucial time in the movie.
Blueprint is about two college males who kind of ... I don’t know if you’d call it falling in love, but they have this strong connection that develops over the course of one day. So the film Blueprint did the film festival circuit, and it eventually ended up at the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years ago. So that was pretty amazing when it happened. And then it was Kirk’s idea to do a music video, because when I released a DVD, it would be good to have a music video of the song. He incorporated some of the scenes for Blueprint, and he filmed some new scenes of [me]. So that’s how the video got made, and we had expectations for it, but I mean, it was just a kind of simple thing. I met Kirk and we really connected and we thought, yeah, you know, let’s do this. It’ll be fun.
The song was actually released on an album prior to the film, right?
Yes, on Soul Comfort, in 2008.
So this success was a long time coming.
[Laughs] It really was! It really was! And you know, when I was working on that album, “Love” was not the song that I thought would take off. When I was working on it ... “Love” never crossed my mind as the song that would connect with so many people.
You could say that “Love” has brought people together ...
[Laughs] Absolutely, absolutely!
You remain connected to the Caribbean, even joining Rihanna last year at the Barbados music awards. Have you had any resistance to your openly gay public image in Caribbean countries?
Not of late ... you know, I live in the U.S. right now, and I’ve lived here for over 15 years. Since I’m not living in the Caribbean, I don’t really experience ... you’re not going to feel it, really feel it as if you’re living there. But they’re making strides, especially in Guyana. In Guyana there’s an organization, SASOD, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, and they actually have a film festival and they’re doing some incredible work. They’re raising awareness and kind of, you know, connecting the straight and gay worlds down in Guyana. So things are slowly changing ...