Office parties are rife with potential pitfalls: drunken snogs; going for too deep a sesh with people who are still relative strangers; trying to escape the dry chat from that unbearably lovely guy in accounts. Before you hit that three-hours-in mark when people finally start to relax, a work party hovers in an uncomfortable space between "professional you, hanging out" and "messy you, dropping your phone on the dancefloor for the sixth time while trying to exchange numbers with a new friend from marketing."
And so, I'd braced myself for the worst when I stepped into the massive company-wide Christmas party at a previous job. One of the few people I recognised from a meeting came towards me. "REDACTED," he said, shouting the name of another black woman who worked with us. "Wrong black girl," I said, smiling, before he apologised and corrected himself. We proceeded to have quite a nice time roaming around the party together.
All of which is to say that when I looked at a photo of Rae Sremmurd on a national newspaper's front page, and realised the two people pictured weren't actually Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee, I felt that familiar mixture of cringe and belly laugh. The duo in the photo were in fact two female rappers: Bre-Z, who's featured on Empire, and rapper-songwriter Gizzle, who's written tracks for the likes of Diddy, Ty Dolla $ign and Kanye (picking up a Grammy nomination for the latter's "Real Friends").
I got on the phone with Gizzle – who, with her dreads, was mistaken for Swae – since we may as well be talking about her while her face has been circulated on a few 100,000 copies of The Guardian. She's just released 7 Days in Atlanta, an EP that was quite literally made in a week, and hopes to next hit Colorado, her LA hometown and, if she can make it work, London.
"The goal is to get the locals involv–" she begins, before apologising, pulling the phone away from her ear and shouting at some guys making noise in the background. We speak the day before the Super Bowl, when she's ramping up for a party and has people milling around. Here's what she made of her front page moment.
Noisey: Hi Gizzle, how did you find out that you were on the Guardian front page?
Gizzle: Man, I woke up to a lot of people texting me and emailing me, adding me on Twitter and Instagram – and I just thought, 'Um, OK.' [laughs] I didn't know what it was about at first, and I didn't think it was real. I didn't think it was an actual newspaper, I just thought somebody made a meme or something, trying to be funny [chuckles]. Then I saw that everyone was tagging The Guardian and everything. That's how I found out it was real.
And did you hear from Bre-Z?
Later she called me, and we texted each other – just laughing.
What was your initial reaction?
I just laughed, thinking, 'Oh my god – they think we all look the same'. [chuckles] But I figured it was a misprint because we were actually at Slim Jxmmi's birthday party – that's where we took the picture. So I thought, 'maybe they just archived it wrong,' you know? Like, they put it on file in the wrong place. My god, it was so crazy. I mean, they're good-lookin' dudes but I don't think they look as good as us! I'd think it's pretty hard to confuse the two [laughs], but hey.
What was the party like?
It was really fun, you know? We only dropped by there for about 30, 45 minutes, and it was getting into the full swing. We were hanging out with Ty Dolla $ign, who's a good friend of mine, Keke Palmer.
You've obviously worked with Ty before. How did you link up, before you ended up writing for him when you were younger?
Well, Ty's like my brother: we've been friends for a very very long time. We're from the same city, from adjacent neighbourhoods and we just had mutual friends who were always trying to connect us. At that time he was in his group, doing his thing, and I'd always see him out. He'd be like, "Gizzle, we need to work! We need to work," [laughs] and I was still working and rapping by myself. But every time I would see him I'd just be like, 'oh my god, here comes Ty! He's gonna tell me we need to work together,' and then one day we finally did. He had me rap on one of his songs and we've been working together ever since. Seven years later, and I'm grateful to him for his persistence.
You would've been about 21 when you worked with him then, and I think a lot of our UK readers wouldn't realise that you've already had quite the career as a songwriter. How do you reflect on that time?
Looking back, I'd probably tell my younger self to stay persistent, stay dedicated, keep working hard and keep your eye out for the different opportunities. At 17 I just had all these ideas of what I thought a career looked like, but there were so many changes. Speaking to my younger self now, I'd say not to worry about all that – it'll be fine. But I kind of always keel feel like that: I'm a pretty positive person and I do what I love, so it's not really "work". You just wake up and do it.
What makes you happiest about doing collaborations? You seem to have a knack for getting into other people's heads to write from their perspective.
That's my favourite part! Talking, figuring out what they want to say – or what we're both trying to say together – and how we're going to make it something that everybody can relate to. I think my strong suit is taking people's stories and points of view, then coming up with a concept that we can make relatable to everyone. Some of the songs I did with Ty, or with Puff, or even "Real Friends" with Kanye, a lot of those are things I can maybe relate to but they're not my exact experience. But I can offer how I would feel [laughs], you know?
And your other strong suit's not getting easily offended, clearly.
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah.
Have people ever told you that you're really empathetic?
I definitely think I'm a good listener. I don't listen to judge or to respond, I actually listen. I always try to give advice if I can, but I tell people, 'you know what you need to do.' If I can give you some perspective, then fine. But I think one of my gifts and blessings is to tap in and help people with what they're going to do. And that it's not that bad.
You could've been a therapist, by the sounds of it.
[Laughs a lot] Maybe one day. I got this to do first, though.
So, before you go back to normal life, what do you want people in the UK to know about you?
I'd want them to know that I'm very passionate about what I do. I'm very conscious of the things I put out into the world. I think the message is important – and sometimes, in today's music, that gets lost. I want them to know I'm not here to misguide or mislead them, or to be some super-duper role model either. And I want them to know I care.
This interview was condensed for clarity and length.
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