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unlocked for me. You spent a few years living in homeless hostels or with friends in your early 20’s. Did you write much during that time? At that time life was to be lived more so than when I was at home where I could just take the time out to write. Tere were more pressing things to do during that period. I think I definitely wrote a lot less. You won the Mercury prize in 2009 which I was delighted about. You were the first woman in seven years to win - were you surprised to win? I know you had a vision about it. You know what’s interesting is that it was the first hip hop album to win the Mercury, and that doesn’t get spoken about. I understand why people want to talk about me being the first woman in seven years to win but it’s interesting that it’s the first hip hop album to win apart from Dizzee Rascal in 2003, which was a grime album and Miss Dynamite in 2003, although she mostly sang on her album. Whilst I was in Australia working on the record I had a very clear vision of myself winning the award, I


told my producer who said “oh that’s cute!”. We were making a £3,000, no doubt the cheapest-made album in the room on that awards night. Before I won there were things happening that made me think it could win, really small things that only you would understand that things are familiar or evidential in the lead up to the night. Tere were only a couple seconds before they said my name that I doubted it. UK hip hop seems to be getting more popular as a genre of late alongside grime – would you describe what you do as hip hop? It seems more dense than that. Yeah definitely. I worked with a guy called Mike Lindsey on two tracks from the first album and two on the new album as well. We basically just go into a room and play around with instruments and sounds – the way I work is to just throw everything in and record everything, and after a while start piecing it together. After a while, by working in this way, you start having a mixture of genres and different types of sounds.


“I’m a big fan of making jerk chicken. In the UK we don’t get much of a summer, but if I’m making that it means it’s summer and we’re getting the BBQ out and we’re going to have a great time!”


Are you a fan of your peers Kate Tempest and Loyle Carner? Yeah, I’ve known Kate since 2001/2, and she’s always been an exceptional writer – I mean she’s gone on to write novels. I really like Loyle too, and can see the similarities between me and him more than between Kate and I – the way he delivers in a sensitive way, and the things that he speaks about. You’re from South London – to what extent does your urban environment inform your songwriting? Would you be talking about the same things if you lived in, say, the Lake District? I just went to the Lake District for the first time actually! I wrote Strange Ways from the new album in Iceland and it has an innocence and childlike sense to it that I can hear the tracks written in London don’t really have in terms of the lilt and the feel of it. Why is your new album called tantil before I breathe? It means to be still and to breathe. Actually it was originally called breathe, and I did an EP in 2016 called breathe. I spoke to a really


good advisor called Daddy Dark who’s a DJ and a hip hop label owner, and he mentors a lot of artists. I told him about calling the album breathe, but he said you know if you type that into Google you’ll be there forever! Also he said you’re a poet so make sure you don’t shy away from that. So I came up with tantic before I breathe. You use a sample in the new track Fish Tea from Ring Te Alarm by Tenor Saw – you don’t usually use recorded samples, how come you chose to use this one? I’ve not been asked that question – I love it when that happens! Tat sample came about because I said the line and we decided to just add it in there, his voice, to give it more authority. It’s very positive and warm music, and yet some of your lyrics are pretty frustrated and angry – what’s your songwriting process..is it words first? How do you go about working out what sort of tone or pace to give the music according to the lyrics? Te words for the first album was 80% written before we put music to it, but when I’m writing the words I can also feel and hear the music. I’d know what tempo it should be so we’d set the speed, I’d record all the lyrics I had and then we’d start building the music around it. Te second album I didn’t have the lyrics in advance due to other stuff that was going on so we worked on the lyrics and the music at the same time. I tend to jump at a certain sounds, and build it up and then at a certain point start freestyling and then there’s the song. What would you like people to take away from hearing this new album or seeing you play live?


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