THE RETURN OF ROXXXAN
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.”
I wasn’t old enough to understand myself or what I wanted to be as an artist
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.”
I understand. No one owes me anything
“So yeah, even when I left the label there was a buzz. I left the same week as the ‘Roc The Mic’ verse, but I was still at the bottom of the food chain. Even now, people still have a reluctancy towards me. I used to take it personally, but now, having gone through these past few years, I understand. No one owes me anything. I expected people to just have my back, back me, post my pictures up, etc etc, but no one owes me any favours.”
The energy in the room tames when our discussion moves onto those 2 or so years, following the split from her label, when Roxxxan stepped back from music. “During your twenties I think it’s normal to have some kind of little breakdown,” she reflects calmly before illustrating her challenging times. “There are hard times, and they’re when you learn everything about yourself. It was my period of evolving. My Nan and I had a very close relationship, and when she passed, I was going through a breakup with my partner at the same time. I was 22, stress free, living in London, feeling free, it was a mad high, then all of a sudden, it all came crashing down. I took a step back from music and I moved back to Birmingham.”
“I think it [the aggression] was just everything. Anger towards myself, for stopping myself from being creative, believing that I’m blocked; it’s all in the mind. Myself before anyone I would blame. I feel like I’ve got so much to prove.”
I ask RoxXan if the city was there for her, when she moved back, and her confident response is the epitome of the Birmingham spirit that has the city grasping for the scene’s top spot right now. “100%. They were there for me when I went back, they still are and I believe they always will be. I’m always flying that Birmingham flag. The relationships I built there, stayed. So being there helped a lot, before it was time to move back here…”
Birmingham is our next quick detour before addressing her current comeback to the scene. The rise has been well documented, and RoxXxan is heavy on supporting the cities finest talent. “I’m listening to everyone, what’s happening is amazing. Lotto, JayKae, Mike Skinner. I’m so proud of us. Jorja Smith, Preditah, Leshurr, MIST. We got the sauce right now…” laughing. “Everyone loves an underdog, and we are very underdog.” Even though the move to London was seemingly the finite opportunity for her at the time, she makes it clear that it’s not the case anymore when quizzed on the proposed necessity to come to the Big Smoke. “Not anymore…I don’t think you have to come here. It’s not even just Birmingham proving that, you’ve got Manny; Bugzy and IAMDDB, Bristol, Nottingham doing their thing. These days you can do it yourself, your phone is your label, your social media your PR team. If the music is good, people will find it.”
It’s not even about being gay, not every tomboy is gay. Again, stereotypes
Another subject matter RoxXxan has always been synonymous with is femininity. It’s a topic ever-present and addressed throughout her content, lyrically. Contrasting it, however, is the murky, grittiness of her visuals, most notably, ‘Rumplestilskin’, ‘He Said She Said’, and ‘G Code’. “I consider myself to be quite a feminist…” she begins as she addresses the topic. “Looking into the scene, there was no woman that really represented what I’m about. The tomboys, the no-so girly girls. It’s not even about being gay, not every tomboy is gay. Again, stereotypes. I want people to be aware so that women can feel comfortable in everything.”
“I understand, you know, love yourself…” as she responds to the over-sexualisation of women in the industry. “If you’re comfortable being naked on camera, CUS it makes you feel good and gives you the right self-esteem, then cool. Do it for the right reasons, for the positive. If it’s not for that, if it’s for the IG, the likes, I can’t really have respect for you, if you don’t have respect for yourself. It’s hard right now, there’s no one in the middle. You’ve got like, MA, one end of the spectrum, no makeup, very openly gay, and like Stefflon Don on the other end, curvy, sexy. I see myself in the middle. A tomboy but very girly. Feminine.”
I’m trying to be a big misfit, and be for misfits in the world.
And being that big misfit, there’s a lot of pressure on RoxXxan to make the next step correctly, given the momentum she has built right now. Whilst beneficial to her craft, being the perfectionist she claims to be threatens this momentum should new music not come soon enough, as she totally understands. “Yes I do feel under a lot of pressure. I’d like to say no, but I do, I need to get it right. I’m trying to portray me the best way I can… and I’m super hard on myself ‘cus it means so much.”
Before wrapping up, Roxxxan emphasises that as a Gemini, she’s trying a bit of everything, giving the impression she has been experimental with her new sounds. “I’ve been in the lab, making music. As you can see I’ve done a lot of Grime, I guess it’s just letting out that frustration before the new music comes. The music is ready, I just need to be sure it makes sense, that it fits now.”
Regardless, following the release of ‘Crud’, it’s needless to say with the excitement for a new project – it can’t come soon enough.