When Nadia Rose and her “Skwod” of dancers descended on the streets of London in her Mobo Award-winning 2016 music video, it looked for all the world like one of the UK’s hottest new hip-hop/grime acts had arrived.
The south London rapper, who drew easy comparisons to her heroes Missy Elliot and Eminem, finished fifth on the BBC Sound of 2017 list; before her debut EP, Highly Flammable, introduced listeners to more of her wickedly funny wordplay.
But as the grime scene caught fire, hitting the mainstream, the heat around Rose’s career curiously cooled.
Now, several years on, as she returns with her “outlandish” follow-up EP, First Class – via her own new label, Qwerky Entertainment – the 27-year-old tells the BBC about the “incredibly frustrating” machinations of the music industry that interrupted her flow; taking back control; and being on texting terms with her songwriting buddy Rihanna.
‘Full control of my destiny’
“I feel super liberated, I’m gassed,” Rose beams.
“With my old label it felt like there was a lot of knockings of heads, I guess. Too many cooks spoil the broth, as they say.
“I was creating music that then wasn’t seeing the light of day, so in order to actually have music out I had to leave that situation.”
“Then it was just about getting my own thing set up as a bit of a middle finger up to them, as well as knowing that I wanted to be in full control of my destiny,” she continues.
“And having had that experience, just wanting to do things the complete opposite way. Not just for myself, but obviously I’m interested in signing some other artists, producers, photographers, actors – it’s going to be a whole movement, it’s not just music.”
Rose believes that the delay has inadvertently helped her to develop her brand and sound – a mix of more “commercial” hip-hop and “gritty” grime and drill. Her latest batch of lyrics, while still playful, are as uncompromising as her recent business dealings. Perhaps even strengthened by them.
Inspired by the likes of Lil Kim, tongue-twisting tracks such as Bad and Bougee and Too Bad, find her confidently boasting about her money-making abilities, “real G” status, and sexual prowess.
Topics that have been more dominantly-discussed by male rappers.
“Everything that is either not expected from a woman or frowned upon – you better believe I’m going to do it,” says Rose.
“There’s some outlandish moments and [I’m] saying some things that maybe people would be like, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe she said that!’ But yeah, I’ve said it… and I’m gonna continue to say it.”
Private jets and sugar daddies
Another highlight, Sugar Zaddy, began life as an impromptu freestyle, uploaded to social media when she was on tour in France.
It soon attracted attention online, not least from another star (and recent London resident) who has kept her own fans waiting for years for new music.
“I was going through security at the Eurostar, and I was actually texting Rihanna,” Rose explains.
“We were talking and in the space of time that it took me to get through, she’d already boarded her jet in Paris and got back to London.
“So I thought, ‘My life needs to change!'”
“Then there was this pretty handsome silver fox chap opposite me while I was waiting, and I guess just a mixture of seeing how Rihanna was living and then seeing this silver fox created this sugar daddy moment,” she recalls.
“I did a little freestyle, I dropped it on my Instagram and it went crazy. Everyone was like, ‘Are you gonna make this a full song?’
“Then literally about 10/11 months later, there it was.”
The Londoner was selected by the Bajan pop megastar to join the writing team for her highly-anticipated ninth album, which is due to arrive soon. Rose’s own music contains Afro-Caribbean flavours – bass-heavy dancehall sounds and her use of patois words and phrases – thanks in part to the influence of her Jamaican MC dad and Ghanaian mum (in fact, her new EP dropped on Jamaica Independence Day on Thursday).
She was also handpicked by another music idol, Spice Girl Mel C, to appear on her forthcoming album.
So despite being out of sight for a while – bar a handful of singles and features – the Brit School graduate and former betting shop employee has been very much in the minds of the hit-makers.
Her own mind is set on releasing a debut album in the not-too-distant-future, as well as being involved in an as-yet mysterious acting project.
“Acting has been something that has definitely been a massive part of me, even before music,” she says, “My whole family thought it would be acting that I went into first, but life happens and music was what I gravitated towards first, but acting is definitely something that I’m gonna hone in on more as time goes on.”
Speaking of family, one of the first signings to her new label is set to be her sister and fellow rapper Tai Chi, who actually featured on her new boss’s debut EP; and with whom Rose took to the streets of the capital once again a few months back to join thousands of others at a Black Lives Matter anti-racism protest.
Like her cousin Stormzy, the performer has shown an interest in politics and also previously opined that the UK is a “racist” country.
Now, she says she’s noticed an increased interest in black artists of late, which “isn’t seemingly very genuine” always. She’s pleased though to see the movement (which she also points out “isn’t new”) go from “strength to strength”.
‘Incredible and inspiring’
Stormzy made cultural history last summer by becoming the first black British rapper to headline Glastonbury Festival.
Towards the end of is genre-defining set, he name-checked Rose, along with J Hus, Little Simz, Loyle Carner and many more; while reeling off a list of the cream of the next crop set to rise to the top, in their own good time and way.
“I’ve got big plans,” says Rose. “I plan to own those stages on my own at some point.”
“It was definitely great to see, like, ‘That’s my little cousin, absolutely smashing Glastonbury main stage. It was incredible to see and inspiring,” she adds.
“Him just being on there was a moment for hip-hop, for grime, for rap, for the UK; and so name-called-out or not, you should take something from that and carry on.”
Nadia Rose’s second EP, First Class, is out now.