LAVIDA LOCA: Breaking the mould for female UK Rappers
Nobel Prize-winning literary icon T.S. Eliot once famously said 'The journey, not the destination matters' and for up & coming UK Rap star Lavida Loca her inspirational journey so far is a story that has defied the odds and seen her well on the way to reaching her destination - becoming one of the biggest stars in the game.
After several years in prison Lavida Loca burst onto the UK Rap scene at the back end of 2019, shortly after her release, with the powerful freestyle 'The King's Back', a tale of life in jail and the realities of what led to her incarceration. Other hard-hitting rap tracks 'No I.D' and 'I Been' shortly followed whilst her 'Voice Of The Streets' freestyle with Kenny Allstar saw Lavi begin to embrace the UK Drill sound.
After going on to earn a reputation as one of the best female rappers spitting on UK Drill at the turn of the decade, it was actually a song with a completely different vibe called 'No Drama' that really had me questioning what this newcomer was all about.
"I just felt the beat and I loved the melody of the beat so that kind of influenced my choice in adding melody to the chorus," Lavi tells me as we discuss her decision to take on a multitude of sounds on her debut EP 2 Sides. "I definitely felt I wanted to put that on my project because it allowed people to see a different side to me. I think I've figured out as I've gone along the different sounds with Drill etc that I prefer that energy [of 'No Drama']. It's happier vibes for me and I don't always want to be on the Drill harshness and the grittiness of that. I like being able to have something that's a bit more refreshing and a bit more light."
The lighter sound and addition of Lavi's sweet vocals on 'No Drama' was certainly a switch up from what we'd seen from her previously and it redefined what people thought they knew about this new female rapper. "I definitely feel like everybody else tried to initially box me into the Drill sound and I was labelled a lot as a Drill rapper," she states, clearly determined to shake off the restraints of being typecast. "I feel like as I've released more music that's not just around the Drill sound people have got it and I'm now being taken for what I am because I'm not just a rapper, I'm a musician. I don't like the Drill label that's attached to me because I'm more than that. It's not been a pressure but it's pushed me to want to put my stamp on things even more and made me want to put more music out because I didn't want my music list to be so Drilly. That's not how I started writing music and that's not how I wanted people to view me as an artist because I like to sing and to write, so it wasn't a pressure but it was definitely a chip on my shoulder."
Lavida Loca's determination to embrace various different sounds becomes evident when discussing her list of musical inspirations. From Cardi B and Mulatto to the likes of Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim, the list of women who have embraced a multitude of sounds and proven just how successful female artists can be in Hip Hop provide a constant incentive for Lavi to reach her dreams. "Music is my life," she passionately states, "so I definitely want to reach those heights for sure. I wanna build a legacy and I want people to remember me for my art. I do hope to reach the same heights as the Nicki's and be in the same conversations as the Cardi's and Lil Kim's and Megan's. That's the dream; that's the goal."
One thing that instantly leaps out from Lavida Loca's music is her unquestionable ability as a storyteller and she attributes that skill to her unique life experiences. Being born in Malawi before moving to Nottingham as a two-year-old and then onto London aged 10 has helped to create the silhouette of Lavi as an artist and she uses her compelling life story to fill in the finer details. "I've written music for a long period of my life from when I was young, so just naturally I've used music as a way to express what I'm thinking, how I'm feeling, what I'm gong through and I feel like every time I come to a beat it's natural and that's been my writing process. My only source of inspiration is my mind and my life and what I'm going through and dealing with. I don't really know how to write any other way."
"My journey from place to place has shaped me. My personality and who I am as a person is quite hard for people to understand at first glance. How I look and my life story don't really match up and people don't really get it, so I feel like moving around has added to different parts of me. There's the girly side from time living in Essex, then living in London and going to jail and being a bit harder; each area has given me a piece of something and so when it comes to my music that's just naturally there."
Lavida Loca's time in prison is something that she's spoken very openly about in various interviews as well as on a number of her songs and it's clear that that time of her life has had a big impact on the person she's become today. Going from being behind bars to having a thriving rap career in a matter of months is no mean feat, but Lavi's time in prison included some big moments of her life, including her 18th birthday and I was curious as to how being in prison whilst going through such big milestones in life had impacted her.
"Well my 18th birthday was as lit as you could make it," she beams, thinking back to what was clearly a special moment in her life. "All the girls decorated the wing for me with pink balloons and for me at that point I didn't know any different. Coming out and realising that I haven't experienced adulthood in the community though was when it sunk in for me."
"Now I have to open a bank account, I have to learn about financial literacy and tax, go to register at the GP and make sure I go to the dentist and all these things. So it was the little things that made me realise that when you turn 18 in jail you don't have the guidance you need going into adulthood. If you're at uni you have student loans and you're expected to budget that and you get taught things in life about how to live and be. When you're in jail nothing changes and you're just growing older year by year and you're not forced to learn anything. I definitely felt like I was behind when I came out and that I didn't know a lot and even now I still need to experience a lot of things that people my age already have, but I'm enjoying being an adult."
As with anyone who has gone through a situation similar to Lavi, her experiences have made her truly appreciate the small things in life that others, who may not have gone through the same struggles, might just take for granted. "I'm an overthinker and I appreciate the little things," she reveals, "I appreciate McDonalds when I'm hungry because I remember prison food and being told I have to eat at 4.30pm when I'm hungry at 2pm so I have to wait two and a half hours. I appreciate being able to smoke a cigarette cos you weren't allowed to smoke in jail. I look at life differently, so even now when I'm progressing in music and achieving the things I have it hits me so much deeper and people don't get it."
"Jumping into music has allowed me to meet different people and engage in normal conversations," Lavi adds, clearly grateful for all the opportunities which have been presented to her since leaving prison. "If I didn't go into music I would still be in the hood where I'm from doing the same old things. I feel like it's also allowed me to see life differently and I now aspire to much more; I want more for myself because I've seen what is possible."
The UK scene has welcomed Lavi with open arms and there are several collaborations on the cards between the rapper and some of the scene's other star names, but one of the places which has embraced Lavi's music far more than she could ever have imagined was her home country of Malawi. "It feels crazy. I never started making music thinking that Malawi would take me in. With African culture there are plenty of do's and don'ts and prison is definitely a don't - as a female, definitely a don't - so because of the way other people in my family made me feel about my life and how I am, I never thought that my country would take me in. I just thought 'I'm a black sheep to everybody, they don't understand me, they never will understand me and that's fine'. I thought I was maybe a bit too westernised for Malawi, so when love started coming it really, really touched me and completely changed my targets. Now I wanna reach Malawi, I want to do something for my country and that's because of how warming they've been towards me."
Lavi speaks Chichewa, Malawi's most popular language and she tells me of plans to gradually incorporate the language into her music at some point, but as it's not spoken worldwide she's chosen to adopt another language which has been heard on a few of her songs to date: Spanish. The story of how Lavi perfected her Spanish, however, takes us back to her time in prison.
"I learnt Spanish briefly at home, but then I went to jail and was on a foreign national wing, so there weren't many options for where to chill if you spoke English. So it was either mingle with the South Americans or the African or Asian women and I just naturally fitted with the South American women. There were a lot of Columbians and Mexicans and their vibe was so nice on the wing. So I learnt a lot of Spanish, a lot about their culture and that was where I perfected my Espanyol."
Interestingly, Lavida Loca admits she was more of a singer than a rapper as a child, although she jokes that she wouldn't class herself as a "singer singer" in comparison to some of the music industry's big vocalists. Whilst fans mainly know her for her rap flows, Lavi claims that before the age of 12 or 13 she hadn't aspired to become a rapper at all, but hearing the all-female remix of Tinchy Stryder's iconic track 'Game Over' in 2010 was one of the stepping stones towards the formation of the artist we see today. The female takeover of 'Game Over' featured the likes of Lady Leshurr, Mz Bratt and Amplify Dot and whilst hearing women from the UK rapping on the song played a huge part in inspiring Lavi's future musical pursuits, it was during her time in prison that she decided it was rap that she would invest herself into.
"I was sure I wanted to be a rapper in jail during my sentence. I got into my pen game, writing to different instrumentals and even writing over rap songs that were playing on the radio. So it was in prison where I really confirmed with myself that rap was what I wanted to do - before that I always knew I wanted to do music but I wasn't quite sure what."
Recent releases like 'Big Boy Stunting' and 'One Mic' have seen Lavi seal has place as oe of UK rap's elite, but having seen a generation of female rappers make their mark on the scene ten years prior, does she feel extra pressure on her shoulders as she now forms part of the new wave inspiring the young girls of future generations? "I definitely feel like it's a bit of pressure, only because I'm not where I want to be yet. In that sense I need to make it because these girls have watched me push hard and put my focus into it, but don't tell me I'm an inspiration when I haven't even got to my goal yet."
"We need more female rappers in this industry, we really do. But I'm hoping this wave of female rap energy that's happening right now in the UK is the change. I hope now we all push through, we all make it and then we've set something new for the UK where there's multiple female rappers like there is in America."