WHERE many hip-hop artists from the UK disappear between the bars of grime and garage, South London’s Nadia Rose bursts through with confidence quantified by her own goals.
“Well, there’s the obvious: I’m a woman in the rap scene. I’m a minority, you know -‘good for a girl’,” says the 25-year-old rapper ahead of her maiden Australian tour for Melbourne Music Week. Her voice sounds as unwavering as it comes across on her tracks.
“A lot of people actually think I’m a grime artist, but I actually associate a lot more with hip-hop and rap. People think you have to follow order to be accepted, but I’m always trying to go against the grain by just being me.”
In ‘Skwod’, Nadia introduces us to her rapid-fire wordplay and likeness for comic melodrama. The video matches her wits to the momentum of her all-female posse as they dance in her hometown of Croydon.
“Cause if my bitches need me there, well I’m coming/And if I ain’t got the whip, shit I’m runnin’,” she proclaims.
The song is exemplary of a role she’s played in carving out a space for women in the underground. Over the past two years, she’s become a go-to voice for a new generation of female rappers who refuse to be tagged, bundled together, and ranked.
“People will see me as trying to go into one lane or the next, asking: which lane is she in? But I’m not actually in a lane and am not restricted to a particular box or category,” she explains, considering her ability to mix it up. “A million percent, fluidity is a part of me through and through.”
DESPITE a relatively quick ascent up the rap ladder in 2016, Nadia hasn’t skipped a step.
Growing up as the eldest daughter of a Jamaican DJ-turned-engineer and a Ghanaian nurse, Nadia split her time between the boroughs of Thornton Heath and Norwood, honing her flow and lyrical quips at the Westwood Language College For Girls.
At only 13, she was inspired by “a lot of the old school stuff” and began emulating their styles, taking her MCing into rap battles on the playground.
“I’m huge a fan of Aaliyah, Timbaland, Missy Elliott and that era – back then and now I’m still very, very connected to that. I still go back and listen, and even watch their live shows,” she admits, “I’m constantly inspired by these legends.”
"People think you have to follow order to be accepted, but I’m always trying to go against the grain by just being me.”
Spurred on by her love for performance, Nadia chose to study music and music management at The BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology (known for incubating alumni like
Now 20 and a student of BRIT School, it was the automation of routine that found her questioning what it was all for.
Working 12-hour shifts at local betting stores like Ladbrokes and Coral, Nadia used every quiet moment to write lyrics on empty slips behind the plastic partition, only to clock out and lay down her bars on simple beats threaded together on Logic.
“I had to do it all myself. I was in my nine-to-five as well as uni, juggling, trying to start a music career,” she explains.
Of course, her frustration was understandable. While she was out performing a balancing act between student life and music, she’d slowly watched the rise of the male rappers around her – Croydon artists like Section Boyz, Bonkaz, and her cousin Michael Omari aka
“I had the determination there, but I wasn’t actually going out and doing it,” she recalls, “I wasn’t putting all my energy into it, so I had to take action.”
IN some ways, Nadia’s world suddenly became an exercise in paring down safeguards.
She knew that her energy needed to be spent elsewhere. So she granted herself permission to follow music full-time.
Not just permission but a resolution to quit her job and dedicate her being into becoming a fully-formed version of herself. With two dangerous pigtail buns and an unstoppable craving for defiance, Nadia reconnected to the fun of it all.
By 2015, her early yet perceptive freeform releases
“A lot of it was – and is – what I love doing and what’s natural to me,” she explains.
“The more I’ve done it, the more I realise it’s become about how my music makes other people feel.”
After this revelation, Nadia’s work just became “bang on the money”. And at only 23, she found herself at the centre of a label bidding war before signing a deal to Sony/Relentless Records the following spring.
As if by grand design, all the stars had aligned in her favour – until a meteor crashed into her universe.
“My granny died and my career was popping/Do I cry or get the champers popping,” she reflected on SBTV’s freestyle Warm Up Sessions. A commentor describes the episode as “mad personal”.
Wiser in the lesson of regret, it was her loss and gratitude that stoked the fire of her debut, Highly Flammable.
With both wit and resolve, Nadia translated her feelings into nine tracks of intoxicating bravado far from flameout, pulling from the corners of dancehall, grime, hip-hop and pop.
Self-described perfectly on track
“I wanted people to feel liberated,” she says about Highly Flammable. “If someone is listening to me speak or rap with so much confidence – it doesn’t even matter what I’m saying but the way I’m saying it – perhaps they’ll tell themselves, ‘Maybe I can do this as well?’ I just like to see that, because I like to feel that way as well from other people.”
Coincidentally, it was in the conviction of inspiring others that allowed her to refine her own voice, putting forward her best work yet through sheer action.
Almost a year on since Highly Flammable, a quick scroll through her Instagram shows just how hard she grinds on the daily. Between story updates of video shoots, live performances and recording sessions, Nadia has seen the details of the life she wanted to create for herself and has emerged victorious.However, don’t be fooled – her come-up is far from a fairytale and she’s proud of that.
“I’m really thankful for the people I have around me because they keep me grounded and there’s so much that happens behind the scenes,” she says of her latest single and clip,
Enlisted as part of a bank campaign, ‘Make It Happen’ is the ballsy callout to a generation of side hustlers who want to amass more than a daydream.
As quickly as the music video begins, the absurdity of folklore maidens – the good girls that wait for good things in their good fortune, told repetitively that “dreams are magical things made of wishing and waiting” – is hit with a record scratch.
Nadia disrupts the animation, proclaiming clearly: “Enough of wishing and waiting, my story ain’t playing out that way. This is how my story is gonna go.”
"People don’t see that they can really break a person or make their life take a fall and give them self-doubt.”
‘Make It Happen’ is more about the symbolic power that she holds within herself than it is about her accolades (to which she has plenty, taking out number five in BBC’s Sound Of 2017, Best Video at the 2016 MOBO Awards, and performances at MIA’s Meltdown Festival, Afropunk and more).
“Yeah, it’s just always been about knowing who I am,” she says, “I’ve had to learn about how I am—I’m always learning. I always feel like I’m becoming the next better version of myself.”
Although many rappers try to predict their own trajectory in the circuit of their early careers, in the current moment, Nadia couldn’t care less. In fact, she’s just happy to keep searching within herself.
“I don’t care for expectations, unless it’s from me,” she pauses, “I definitely give myself some high expectations to achieve but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.”