“The South-London in me introduces itself before I can even say I’m from there. It’s definitely an essence and the culture is instilled in me.”
Ojerime is a London gal through and through. You can hear it in her vernacular and sonic imprint, concomitant of growing up in a metropolitan melting pot. Take the garage-inflected ‘I Know Now’ - one of the best songs you’ll hear this year - home to idioms that only a Londoner could get away with.
However far Ojerime ventures outwards, she’ll never dilute her roots. “South-London is all I know, I’m extremely proud to be a product of my environment. It’s shaped the person I am today,” she says with pride. Ojerime’s steady ascent as an underground entity is in part down to the art of self-cultivation. She’ll bypass the sheen of studio sessions, in favour of the crackle and lo-fi res of intimate bedroom recording.
“Back in 2013, I started to work with real DIY artists in their uni accommodations. At this point I began to dabble with recording in my own room as I’d grown tired of studios.” A year later she released her ‘fang2001’ project, cuts interlaced with chopped and screwed samples, luxuriating in a woozy, mixtape-esque soundscape.
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With this year’s ‘4U’ – a seven-track continuous mix of certified bangers - Ojerime took her affinity for DIY song-craft, elevating it through collaboration - primarily with fellow South Londoner Raj Forever - delivering a more refined collection of Futurist-R&B. One other collaborator was Miles From Kinshasa, together they bring the fire on the 80s smooth jazz, synth-laden ‘Civilian On Heat’.
“This song means a lot to me as Miles was one of the first artists I’d ever worked with in 2011,” she recalls. “He’d sent me beats and was unsure how I’d take to them. Within two weeks I had the skeleton ready and sent it to him. We freestyled more on a performance mic, got real creative with the beat changes. Probably one of the best studio recording sessions I’ve had to date.”
‘4U’ is a labour of love. Asked how she feels that the culmination of hard graft is finally out, she replies with one word, “Relieved.”
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My songs are balanced...
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“My listeners are honestly amazing and without them I wouldn’t feel as good as I do now. The response I’ve received has been out of this world, I’m truly grateful for that.”
Ojerime’s songs fill a void in the heart of true R&B lovers, who yearn for the drama, vocal acrobatics and sway of peak-MTV era music. Her husky harmonies draw from a pantheon of 90s female powerhouses, citing Coco from SWV, Brandy and Faith Evans as her vocal stimuli. “I am a strong singer and I don’t feel any project before ‘4U’ truly reflected that, so I made sure this time I paid extra attention to the vocals.”
The EP projects the heightened melodrama of a twenty-something in the city, navigating love and loss. “My songs are balanced; they definitely draw from the personal experiences of other people as well as myself. I’m very analytical and in tune with my emotions.”
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For now, Ojerime’s in a place of stasis. “Unexpectedly spending time on this project really gave me a lot to think about. Two years is enough time to go through some shit, doubt yourself, scrap ideas and see the shape form,” she muses.
On ‘4U’, Ojerime amplifies pent-up desire through furtive melancholia - after hours’ music for night time dwellers. Take the druggy drone on ‘Handle’, the snares hit hard, the silence is resounding, the harmonies veer into ethereal territory, playing out an anthem of carnal craving. ‘Greasy’, a sun- kissed, hip-hop swing number, plays out the all-too-familiar trope of hook-ups with the guy that just won’t commit.
Ojerime broaches her sexuality and femininity with a susceptibility that is both invigorating and communal. To her, it’s important the narrative epitomises the convolution of a modern-day, woke black woman.
“There is beauty in a black woman who expresses her vulnerability, sexuality and power at the same time. I do this for other black women first, we are not one-dimensional,” she avows proudly. This autonomy is something Ojerime asserts over her every aspect of her brand, her creative agency ‘Fang’ is responsible for overseeing the visual component of her music, from packaging, to videos - a show reel that emboldens the black girl magic hashtag.
“I believe black women have been seen as an afterthought for so many years. Nowadays it’s one black woman at a time, instead of celebrating all of us. The media can push this agenda/rivalry which isn’t at all necessary when a lot of us are diverse in what we produce.”
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I do this for other black women first, we are not one-dimensional...
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Eschewing over-exposure, and an incessant culture of over-sharing in favour of distance and controlled detachment, Ojerime’s bringing the mystery back to the listening experience. She keeps interviews to a minimum, preferring to let her songs breathe, ferment and exist on their own. It coincides nicely with her self-made, independent spirit, something she’d never relinquish.
“I’m very proud of being independent, I’ve achieved things that wouldn’t usually be set up for artists like myself.” She continues, “I’ll always encourage new artists to go down that route when making underground music as you gain a better sense of self.”
Ojerime concludes with an affirmation. “Believe in yourself, experiment and gain as much knowledge as you possibly can through mistakes,” she declares. “Most importantly, listen to yourself, only you know what’s best for you in the long run.”
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Words: Shahzaib Hussain
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