At the beginning of Summer 2016, one of the UK’s fiercest female MCs dropped a new video, ‘Back To Live’, after what seemed like years of absence. Whilst the aggression and rawness mirrored that of her prior releases from ‘Too Fucking Facety’ to that infamous verse on Mikey J & The UK Female All Stars ‘Roc The Mic’, this time, it felt different. The energy was positive, and the aggression was balanced with a sense of self-awareness and clarity. What followed on from that release were a string of visuals and new sounds, which up until now include her most recent effort, ‘Crud’.
Straight off the stage from opening up for Shakka in Manchester the night before, Roxxxan and I take a seat as we try to remember the last time we met. It’s been a few years since I last interviewed her, before the comeback (or what she refers to as a grow-back). We both recall being at a Music Potential event in Birmingham a few years back, which kicks off her reminiscing about the big move she made to London when it all started. “I received an email about an internship opportunity, and I was doing some stuff in Birmingham at the time with Punch Records…” she begins. “They’re like the Urban Development of Birmingham, I kinda’ grew with them. I was always on their case, like; if anything comes up let me know. About a year later, I got an email for an interview at Parlophone, EMI, for an internship. I went down on the Friday, got it, and started work on the Monday.”
This was back in 2009, “It was an exciting time, Professor Green had just signed to Virgin EMI, I was there when Glyn Atkins signed Emeli Sandé. The week I started, I was writing the massive cheque for Tinie Tempah, you know they do the big presentation cheque.” This was before RoxXxan really started making substantial music, “I was just creating a few tracks and rapping for the sake of it” as she candidly describes.
RoxXxan’s ambitions to be a rapper were present from early. So when the move to London came, despite her lack of knowledge surrounding the industry and business, the energy she came with was unparalleled. “I was working the Professor Green launch party, they had Scream Djing that night. I remember just jumping on stage, grabbing the mic, and started spitting. I was savage. We don’t have these opportunities in Birmingham as much, so I took them here in London. I was hitting up everyone, I wanted them to know I could spit. Everyone you can name, I hit them up, but I just wasn’t getting my F64 back then.”
Shortly after a handful of open mic performances, Roxxxan found herself scouted and signed within 9 months. Before you know it, she was putting out the type of music that still has YouTube commenters exclaiming their jubilation on her return to the scene. I put the question to RoxXxan about whether it was this early rejection she was facing in the industry that was partly responsible for this consistent undertone of animosity in her music. She addresses it serenely and explains how, ironically, the label was a major source of this.
“After splitting with the label, there was still this buzz, but there was also these forces opposing me. We weren’t really seeing eye-to-eye. I wasn’t old enough to understand myself or what I wanted to be as an artist. And the label… there wasn’t enough urban music for them to understand how to release me… if that makes sense. We weren’t on the same page. They were showing me a path I didn’t want to take, the “quick” path to commercial success if you like, you know, get the R&B artist, write a ballad, hook and have a rapper like me Hip-Hop the verses up a bit, then call it authentic Black music. Not to take away anything from artists who took a similar path, they had to do it to open the doors to get where we are now.”
Sound: "Hard, raw, British, edgy and honest. It's basically RoxXxan as a person, but through sounds. It represents my personality -- from Mikey J's crazy productions to my tongue-in-cheek lyrics."
Inspiration: "When I was younger, it was artists like Nenah Cherry, Lauryn Hill, Dizzee Rascal, Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes. These artists have more than just songs; they have a unique identity and sound."
Female Rappers: "I don't think the hip-hop scene has become friendlier towards the ladies, I just think that the ladies have started playing by different rules. We just haven't had such strong female rappers since your Lauryn Hill's and Missy Elliott's and Lil Kim's. That's why everyone is so excited about it now -- it seems more "female friendly" because, now females are allowed to be more than just sexy, they're hard as well. They can bar and flow like the guys and are better than a lot of them, too."
Future: "In five years, I want to be an internationally-known artist, selling out tours, making hits and still working hard. I want to be seen and respected as a female rapper and an all-round artist. Hopefully by then, 'Backpackgang' will be a worldwide thing, and I'll still be loving what I do."
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