Startisha may be loaded with impressive collaborations and left-field sounds, but don't get it twisted-this music comes straight from Naeem's heart, representing the journey he's taken to get to this point as well as what lies in the future for him. Baltimore-hailing Naeem Juwan has spent much of the last decade stretching his creative legs in a variety of ways: he's hit the road with artists ranging from the Avalanches and Bon Iver to Big Red Machine and Mouse on Mars, took part in a 37d03d residency in Berlin, and was selected as the music resident in 2019 for New York's Pioneer Works space. Through it all, he's been building the songs that make up Startisha, a record a half-decade in the making that featured Juwan pulling from creative circles all across the U.S. to craft a truly unique document of sound. After studio sessions in Philadelphia and New York, Juwan decamped to Minneapolis and holed up in Justin Vernon's home studio, where Startisha continued to come together with contributions from Vernon, Ryan Olson (Gayngs, Polica), Swamp Dogg, Velvet Negroni, Francis and the Lights, and regular collaborators Amanda Blank and Micah James. The guest spots came together "very organically. I originally didn't want any features at all. Over time, meeting people and sharing the record with them, things just kind of happened." For Juwan, the challenge inherent in Startisha was to "write songs from a personal place, and to write love songs - both things I've never done before." The album kicks off with a gorgeous cover of the Silver Apples classic "You and I," reinterpreted for today's fraught times. He describes "Stone Harbor" as "a simple love song to my boyfriend, written in and name after the shore town he and his family spend their summers, Stone Harbor, NJ." On "Simulation," the album's first proper single, Juwan offers a kind of treatise of creative resistance on art and culture. "I had been reading a few books, such as Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art, and they helped me solidify feelings I've had all of my life about surviving a society of institutions that presents fictions as fact, and often use these fictions to diminish my worth, or to convince me to join their gangs. So I wrote this song to remind myself, and hopefully everyone that hears it, that nothing is real, and our greatest defense in this life is our own creativity, and finding great faith in whatever sigils and icons we choose to guide us."