This is a regular column where I'll mostly be writing about new music – not all the time – and feelings and how they both scrape an extra layer of enjoyment onto this whole existing thing. See you for the next one.
When rapper Flohio was about eight years old, she moved to southeast London from Lagos, Nigeria. You’ll have to excuse the cliche, but in the time since, she’s shown just how much her mind works like a sponge. Well, more like a very discerning sponge that only soaks in quality. Now in her mid-twenties, she’s become so adept at lifting influences from various pockets of the capital – a smattering of a trap hi-hat, the frenetic vocal energy of grime, woozy, and dark electronics rumbling under her bars – that she’s folded London into herself completely.
Flohio – born Funmi Ohiosumah – has been rapping since she was a teenager, releasing music online for the past few years and debuting EP Nowhere Near in June 2016. Right off the back of that, she broke through with a feature on production duo God Colony’s single “SE16” (with a GAIKA-directed video), named after the Bermondsey postcode that she’s called home for more than a decade. But last Thursday, with the release of her latest loosie “Wild Yout” she staked out even more of her own place in the UK rap landscape. The song buzzes like the static of blown-out bass speakers before her “don’t look behind you / keep on runnin’ from the wild yout” refrain even kicks in, over an HLMNSRA beat. It’s electric. But then again, that’s the standard Flohio has set so far.
In a tweet, she simply teased the track with a few lines: “new single out today beauties. This one is called WILD YOUT ... dropping links all day today. Nobody @ me x.” Beneath her fierce delivery on the mic, and matter-of-fact honesty online, she nurtures a shyness, though. It feeds into her work, lending so many of her verses their introspective intelligence. And, on top of that, it sets her out as a particular inspiration for people who, in social situations, might class themselves as introverts but can still tap into a hidden energy. Artists like Flohio remind us that there’s still plenty of value to performer personas, and that not every artist has to be “on” for their audience all the time.
“Music has forced me to be confident, even from being in front of an audience,” she told Crack magazine, earlier this year. “You don’t really prepare for it and if you’re not confident the crowd will sense it. It’s like being thrown into shark-infested waters when you have a cut – they can smell that blood from miles away.” She’s not wrong. Anyone who’s performed knows the feeling that ripples through your body before you step out on stage. It’s like a rush that can cripple or propel you, a wave that simultaneously crashes somewhere along your spine and between your ears. But when you walk out there – for your speech, or song, or standup set, whatever – you know you have to deliver. And to do so, sometimes you have to access a part of yourself that isn’t immediately visible on the surface, when you’re going about your regular business.
Flohio exemplifies this double act. When asked by the Fader what she considers the biggest obstacles to her success, she said: “The biggest barrier is that I’m black and I’m shy. I’m confident with my music but outside of it I’m a mess. So I feel like people are going to take advantage. Especially these big men, you know? I feel like I’ve got to go back and read up on things, too. Otherwise I’m a barrier to myself.” That’s a lot. Re-read those words for a second: “that I’m black and I’m shy”. In the space of a few syllables, she collapses the strain of a double-whammy marginalised position – being both a woman, and a black woman – into a wider worry about how to match the bravado of her performance guise. Flohio, the rapper, is a force, who can barrel into a 16 over any instrumental and leave you gasping for breath. Funmi, the woman, might be more likely to want to drop eye contact as she delivers those lines.
And still, she delivers. This year alone, she’s come out with tracks “Bands,” “Watchout” and “10 More Rounds” all of which absolutely bash you over the head and none of which seem to square with being made by a woman who sees herself as timid. The beauty is that she can be both people at once. Flohio can rap about how “bitch, you know it’s Flo Flo season,” with the swagger of someone who’s had their first shag in months and oozes a newfound confidence. Then, in a recent fashion-focused Mixmag Q&A, she can say she wouldn’t wear an outfit incorporating red-and-white candy stripes because “it’s too flashy. I don’t really like to be looked at, so I’d be in darker colours and I’m always in tracksuits and hoodies.” But, then she specifies that “on stage, I like being in bright colours”.
It would be easy for people to overlook a young woman like Flohio. Members of the black diaspora in this country carry on their shoulders the weight of half-sketched stereotypes about who they ‘ought’ to be. As a southern African person in London, I’ve lost count of the times Brits of all backgrounds have taken a look at me and spoken to me in shoddy Caribbean patois, or assumed I know about variations of jollof (not a thing where I’m from) or assumed my parents fit some sort of “strict and traditional black immigrant family” template. By virtue of being the sort of artist she is, Flohio inherently pushes back against any stereotypes of what a Nigerian-born woman ‘should’ be or do. She makes herself heard.
Go back and watch a video i-D recently shot with her, as part of their ‘i-D Meets’ series. In it, she looks you in the eyes, but not so much when she’s speaking. As she talks about her art and her perspective, she often angles her eyes towards the floor. Her gaze flickers over the lens, without locking in for more than a few words in each sentence. And there is a strength in that, too. She’s come a long way from the primary school child who flew across the world to a new life. But in terms of what her art will accomplish, she’s just getting started.
Flohio's 'Wild Yout' EP is due out on 2 November, and she plays a selection of UK dates in late November and early December – peep those here.
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