[W]ith unstoppable flow, razor-sharp lyricism and a commitment to a signature style that has influences from grime to afrobeat to old school hip-hop, Ms. Banks isn’t interested in lazy comparisons to other females in the rap scene. Instead, she’s on a mission to go global, remain an independent artist whilst doing it, and to pass her driving test.
The South London MC has come up the hard way, working part time jobs to pay for studio time in the beginning and fighting for recognition in the crowded London scene. That scene is now thriving, with the meteoritic rise of Stormzy and the international success of Skepta, Giggs and Lady Leshurr paving the way for UK rappers to take their place in the mainstream. With two boisterous singles already behind her – “Get Loose” and “OMG” – and new projects in the pipeline, 2017 is the year that Ms Banks becomes a name you need to know.
Hey Ms. Banks, talk us through your latest single, "Oh My Gosh"...
It’s all about how I felt when I heard the beat, it’s very hype, very upbeat. I was angry about something. I can barely remember what it was but that gave me a vibe and then the hook is just about how I felt when I heard the track. Once I get the chorus I just go with the flow.
Does your writing depend on the emotions your feeling at the time?
It always does. If I’m heartbroken everyone’s gonna know about it. If I’m happy in love, everyone’s gonna know about it. If I’m hungry everyone’s gonna know. So yeah, it’s definitely emotion based stuff, it’s very much my release. I’m calm today, but when I write it’s full of passion.
It follows on really nicely from from "Get Loose", neither track is giving in to commercial influences, how important is it to stay true to your original sound?
It’s really important to me. I just choose not to follow the crowd. I made “Oh My Gosh” a year ago and it still sounds so different now. Imagine what it would’ve sounded like if I’d dropped it last year? I’m all about experimenting, I’m a music lover, from grime to hip-hop to afrobeat. Those sounds have all got a place in my heart, I just love those sounds. So I just do what I want and if you like my music, you’re gonna like it. I can’t force feed it to you and I can’t just do what everyone else is doing just to cater to everyone, it’s more about trying to inspire people to like what I do. It’s really important to me to just be unique and stay true to myself. At the end of the day there’s no other you, you may as well just do what you love and make the sounds you like.
"Growing up where we grew up it was the thing to wear tracksuits. I just wanted to change things up a little bit. I wanna do me. Even if it’s as simple as dressing a bit more girly."
Can you look back and see where that attitude came from for you?
I think it’s just growing up in London. There was a time when I was really young that I was really boisterous, I was just hanging out with a lot of boys but when I got to 16 I wanted to dress a bit more girly and stuff. I felt like I couldn’t do it because all my girls were still very boisterous on the corner on pedal bikes with the mandem. I felt like I couldn’t change. One day someone said to me, “Nah just dress how you wanna dress. Why do you feel like you can’t? If you don’t feel like dressing like your girls then change it.” And I just did. Everyone treated me funny. The boys started looking at me different. And the girls thought I was doing it for attention. I was wearing more pink. I stopped wearing my hats so much. I didn’t get it at the time but that was the first step to becoming someone who doesn’t care what other people think and doesn’t do things just to fit in. Obviously growing up where we grew up it was the thing to wear tracksuits, it was the thing to wear Air Forces and TNs and I just wanted to change things up a little bit and I’ve taken that aspect into every part of my life. I wanna do me. Even if it’s as simple as dressing girly.
So many of the male artists are similar, why aren’t people talking about that?
Is it extra hard to own your femininity in a male-domintaed field?
A little bit. But I always say the same thing – It makes me feel like I stand out. The only thing I can’t take is the comparisons. You know if you wanna be sexy they compare you to Nicki Minaj, if you wanna be a bit house-y they say you’re like Azealia Banks. You can’t get away from the comparisons and this idea that you’re trying to be someone else. Of course you’ve listened to these people and gained influence and inspiration, but that’s all. At the same time it has helped me to find the things in myself that do make me unique, so it’s a bit of both to be fair.
You've jumped on stage with Stefflon Don and posted her songs online. Is there a sense of unity among the female MCs coming up right now?
I feel like there could still be a bit more. Everyone always talk about the relationship I have with Steff because they see the love is genuine, but it could be with even more of us. We don’t have to, it’s not like any of us is not going to make it if we don’t, but there’s less of us in the scene and we’re all trying to spread a message, to look after our families and inspire our friends, so why not support each other if you can?
I don’t do it because I need someone to post my video or bring me out at their show, I do it because I want to show other females in the scene that there is some unity and we are for each other and we can do more together. People are always trying to pit us against each other, they’ve made it seem like there can only be one female MC out there and that’s not true. It’s like you can’t have a similarity with another female artist. So many of the males are similar, why aren’t they talking about that?
So yeah, there is some unity, but we could be doing so much more. There are so many sick female rappers, why not?
Overall though, there does seem like there’s a huge movement coming out of London right now with artists lifting one another up on a global level? The support for Stormzy has been phenomenal...
Yeah, you have to support someone like Stormzy. That’s what the UK needs, that’s what we’re about innit. When someone shows the full quality of what we’re doing you have no choice to get behind it. It’s amazing that someone could do so well without a label and we can come together as people and just support the movement. It needs to happen more often with the talented artists we have here. I definitely feel part of it and I definitely support Stormzy to the fullest as well. He’s dope.
How important is it to your to remain an independent artist? It's an incredibly challenging career path, especially when you start out...
It’s difficult because there’s a lot of money and time that goes into being an artist.Going to the studio, paying for it by the hour, getting your music mixed and mastered, paying for a video. It can be really hard. It’s a journey. And as you grow as an artist and become more famous and you might be in a certain job because you need money to pay the bills but people are recognizing you and you’re under pressure to invest in yourself and put money into your music. You just have to put your faith in the unknown. It was a big jump for me to say “oh I’m gonna quit my job” and I had times when it was difficult when I was waiting for the next show to come through. But if you look for opportunities you will find them. It’s a crazy journey but you can do it.
What's coming up for you for the rest of the year?
With “Oh My Gosh” I’ve had so much support from radio but I want the track to get playlisted. Only if the public want it, but I would like the song to get there. And I’ve got my practical driving test coming up. I’m trying to get my license, then I can celebrate. I know it’s not that important to people in the city but I’ve got to get to shows, I’ve got to get to the studio. That’s just a personal one. So yeah, I wanna get playlisted and get this license out the way.