Roxxxan 1

Hailing from Birmingham, at the age of 20 Roxxxan took up an internship for a record label in London after an uninspiring stint working in makeup. After jumping onstage for an impromptu performance during a DJ set by Skream, the laid-back, yet animated and passionate – oh, and openly bisexual – rapper was rubbing shoulders with Professor Green, Tinie Tempah and a whole host of other household names. After Roxxxan’s label bosses decided to attempt to fit her into a generic “feisty female” pigeonhole, she parted ways with the record company and took her career to a whole new level. Here, Roxxxan talks to Jack Rayner about gay visibility, expectations as a woman and following your heart…  

Hi Roxxxan, great to talk. When certain labels were trying to mould you into something you didn’t want, what style of music were you wanting to write? Who are your true influences?  

I grew up on Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott, then Ms Dynamite. The label wanted to have me as one of these ‘cool afro girls’… and yeah, I am that, but I’m also from Birmingham, I’m also from the hood, I’ve also got stuff to say, and I don’t just want to be a rapping Mel B, you know? I don’t think big labels believed that urban music would be where it is today, where artists can just be themselves.  

Roxxxan 3Do you think that happens a lot with young women in the industry?  

Yeah I do, to be fair. Particularly, if you don’t have sex appeal then labels don’t really want to put in the effort to let you be creative. They don’t know how to portray women without making them ‘sexy’ in the same way as all the others. With me, they thought “oh ok, we’ll do the cute tomboy girl thing”, but I’m not the cute tomboy girl. I’ve got a lot to say.  

On the musical side of things, you flit effortlessly between hip-hop, grime, dubstep and more… Were you deliberately trying to be a versatile artist or was that just how it happened?  

At the time, I didn’t really have much to do with the writing of the tracks and was just trying to make the best out of what was being offered to me. I’d wake up and get to the studio without realising that the label had already sent the producer and engineer a reference track of what they want. I was being portrayed as “Kelis meets Missy Elliott meets blah blah blah.” These are all very individual women – you can’t just recreate these unique female artists. All I was doing at the time was picking the best of what was offered to me and doing my best with what I had.  

So what made you change path?  

Well, if you don’t love it and your gut’s telling you not to do it, don’t do it. I just left the label. No hard feelings, but my heart just wasn’t in it.  

You’re also a trailblazer in terms of being gay in the world of UK hip-hop, or even just in acknowledging that the spectrum of sexuality exists in that world.  

Exactly. I was definitely one of the first people [in UK hip-hop] to openly talk about my sexuality. Me and my girlfriend at the time just owned who we were and what we were doing. I definitely think that there are many gay or curious people within UK hip-hop and grime but they don’t express it because they feel that they can’t.  

Well, in grime and hip-hop, gay people aren’t always made to feel welcome.  

For sure. One thing I would say, though, is that because I’m a woman a lot of people have just said to me “oh, it’s just a phase”, or “yeah guys like that stuff” or whatever. I don’t think us as gay women have it as hard as gay guys in this scene. If you’re a gay male rapper or MC in this scene, I think it’s much, much harder. I don’t know a single gay male rapper or MC from the UK.  

I couldn’t name you one.  

And you know as well as I do that these people are out there, but it’s just not spoken about.  

What do you think we can do to help make the scene more inclusive?  

Now that’s the million dollar question. We can raise awareness and we can try to reach out to people, but if they don’t want to come forward then it’s difficult. Or, the other way I’ve seen it happen in the past is that the people in the industry that do come forward are extremely camp, effeminate and flamboyant – obviously not that that’s at all a bad thing, in the slightest – but that often doesn’t help the perception of others who are scared of how they might be perceived. Does that make sense? It’s very sad.  

Roxxxan 2We haven’t yet spoken about how the anti-gay culture is often intrinsically tied to the ‘hard man’ image in a lot of musical genres. Take dancehall, for example: a good proportion of the lyrical content is literally based on boasting of violence towards gay people. They celebrate it.  

Oh god, definitely. It’s a scary thing. But the culture is shifting; there’s a poet and rapper called Kojey Radical who recently released a video which involves a scene with him and a woman, then a scene with him and two women, and then a scene with him and two men, kissing and being affectionate – and Kojey Radical is a straight man. I think that’s incredibly helpful: representations of homosexuality across the board, whether the writers of the music are themselves gay, straight, or wherever in between. Just imagine if someone like Skepta or Giggs involved something like that in one of their videos? How amazing would that be?  

Oh god, yeah. I think established rappers like them are grown-up enough to at least consider a slightly wider interpretation of the lifestyles lived by young black men nowadays.  

It’s sad that no one wants to break from the mould of “I’ve got so many women” and boasting about their ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ hetero lifestyle or whatever.  

Nobody wants to be the first one to do it.  

That’s what we need to get into people’s heads. Why would it hinder your professional image, at the level of fame that some of these MCs are at these days? It wouldn’t.  

So, what’s on the cards next for Roxxxan? What have we got to look forward to?  

I’ve been in the studio with Mikey J, who has produced for Delilah, Kano, and many more. We’ve been writing together for 18 months, and I’ve written so much music that’s so raw and honest, and actually very gay as well. I have one song in particular that is purely about being intimate with a woman, without being crude or explicit. The video that I’m going to shoot for it involves me and another woman performing a very sexual, sensual contemporary dance, but without ever touching. I’m not backing down. I’m living my life. People might be like “oh my god” but you know what? Fuck them.  

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Thanks Roxxxan.  

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