Hip-hop artist Bobbie Johnson went through stages of writing political lyrics and she also had an angry phase. But what is she focusing on at the moment? “To be honest,” she begins, “I’m at a jokey stage right now ‘cause I’m happy. [laughs]” And you can tell. Bobbie laughs and jokes throughout our interview, even asking if she can list the FA Cup Final as her highlight of 2015. But she has reason to be pleased. Her stock is rising. She has a festival slot this summer and is supporting hip-hop giants Pharcyde in Brighton this April whilst also working on some other projects.
Bobbie has been involved in the UK hip-hop scene since her first EP called Chapter & Verse landed in 2010. Since then she has showcased her effortless socially aware flow making atmospheric, brooding music that has seen her popularity and status grow. In 2013 she released another EP titled Lucidly Dreaming and that was followed up by the impeccable Circles EP, which she released in November 2014.
In the last 12 months Bobbie has played a number of support slots around the UK with Dr Syntax & Pete Cannon, as well as Too Many T’s, Dead Players and Minx. And Bobbie is clearly and understandably buzzing about the prospect of supporting Pharcyde this month. “Fucking crazy,” was her response when I asked her how she felt about the upcoming show. “[laughs] Yeah crazy man. Really grateful. More than anything I’m grateful. I feel blessed that I’ve got these opportunities. I wanna thank my parents [laughs], jokes. Nah, it motivates me more knowing I can get those gigs and continue on that level.”
And what does hip-hop mean to an artist like Bobbie Johnson? “It’s just kinda in my bones, in my soul and all my fibres [laughs]. It’s expression and it’s really natural to me. I’m from a massively musical family. That’s why I make it. It’s the only thing I know how to do [laughs]. I can play football really well too. Girl can do about 120 keepie ups. But doing life, I suck at. Music and football! [Laughs]. Nah, I do music because I love it.
“Hip-hop to me is expression. I think it first appealed to me because it was the most expressive lyrically. I think it’s the most real music. Raw and real and honest. And I think if you’re going through something you can easily fall to hip-hop as your form of expression. if you’re more lyrically inclined, I was that way when I was younger, like I loved lyrics, I loved listening to the way people flowed and how people structured their sentences. Hip-hop to me is struggle and overcoming. Got there in the end. [laughs] That’s the hardest question to answer.”
Bobbie’s main influence at the beginning was drawn from British hip-hop trio Phi Lyfe Cypher after one of her sister’s ex boyfriends brought round one of their albums – Millenium Meptaphors. That album blew her away, however, over the years her influences have developed and changed, moving away from traditional hip-hop, especially since she has upped her production game. “I’d say nowadays a lot of my influences aren’t hip-hop. There are a few major hip-hop people I will always listen to and always inspire me, Like Genesis Elijah, people like that. But yeah most of the stuff I’m listening to isn’t hip-hop. It can be experimental like FKA Twigs, I love her music, love her production, love that she produces half her stuff as well. James Blake as well. Again production wise he is one of my inspirations. I guess it’s all coming from a production side, but Kendrick Lamar… Standard [laughs].”
Speaking of production, Bobbie starting producing beats at the age of 14 ‘really badly’ to use her words. “They were so shit.” She’s now producing a lot of her own music and has also started to work with other artists. “Producers that inspired me, hip-hop wise – Kanye, Timberland, Dre. Loved Dre a little piece, I loved his style. Nowadays like I said, James Blake, Jamie XX, FKA Twigs and to be fair people that I know. Like when you go around your mate’s and their like ‘I made this beat’ and it’ll make you wanna make a beat like that. How did they do that with the automation, know what I mean? Genuinely people I know more than people I listen to.”
One of her recent projects has seen Bobbie team up with Phoebe Freya from the fantastic Normanton Street. Bobbie is producing her EP. I asked how the pair ended up working together. “Yeeeah. Don’t know. Through going to all their gigs until they would work with me [laughs]. Just ended up becoming friends and working together within their band doing a few features and then over the summer talking about doing a project. It’s been a beautiful process learning each other’s style and working around that because I’d never produced for anyone else. So I actually really enjoyed doing that and learning them and what’s going to sound sick for them. It’s got me on full geek-mode on the producing flex. I’m bare excited.”
Bobbie has spoken in the past about writing tunes, starting with the flow and building the beat around that. But when it comes to lyrics specifically, it tends to just come to her. “I think obviously any beat you hear or any music you hear, you have an emotional reaction to it, whether that’s happy, sad, angry. Know what I mean? So if I’m making a solemn beat and if I’m making a beat erm, in minor, it’s going to make me write something more deep. If I’m making something upbeat, I’m going to write something a bit more happy a bit more jokey. It’s just how music effects you.”
Last year also saw Bobbie feature in the brilliant Artemis documentary about females in the UK hip-hop scene. This is a fantastic film for any fans of hip-hop. It was very well made and made some great points whilst also highlighting some excellent UK based artists. Bobbie was joined in the documentary by fellow artists including Holly Flo Lightly, Oracy and Shay D among others. “Yeah I loved it. I loved that there was not really a definitive answer to the whole thing. It was really positive for the exposure of females. People that have been doing it for a while but never really get that platform to get our names heard and Artemis gave us that platform. I was really grateful to be apart of it to be honest.”
Bobbie is equally optimistic when talking about the current hip-hop scene in Brighton. “Brighton’s hip-hop scene is always strong and will forever be strong, it’s such a community. People are so supportive here. The people to look out for other than myself [laughs], jokes. Ocean Wisdom obviously, Gizmo, Ceezlin. Brighton always has new people coming through, its beautiful.”
And the UK as a whole? “UK as a whole, fuck me, fucking hell that’s a big question. Right, I think it’s rising massively again. There are super talented people coming through. Not even just the UK hip-hop scene, UK urban music in general is rising and is actually being noticed. We make fucking sick music, that’s why the Americans are coming over. That’s why people like Drake are picking up on Skepta and that, there’s just something about it.
“Like Genesis Elijah, he has been around for time and has always been on that cusp of fucking breaking. To me Gen is the dopest, he is so fucking real. Like he can chat about picking up his kids and you’re there listening intently. Scrabble, he’s sick, erm CW Jones, he’s killing it. There are so many people. All the High Focus lot smashing it for time now but yeah Gen for me. His album Private Moments in Public Places, like, I can put that on, sit there press play from the beginning and listen to the whole thing while smoking up a doob. From start to finish, there’s not many albums that are that well done. He makes art.”
Speaking of great records, the Circles EP, Bobbie’s last official release to date was a quality piece of work. It was most certainly on the more deep and brooding side of her personality, a mixture of twisted beats and dark introspective lyrics. “It’s weird with EPs and you’re not really sure who is listening. When I put that out I just put it out, like at the moment were makin’ moves so people are hearing about me a little bit more, which is lovely but when I put that out it was the same kind of loyal fan base I’ve had.”
And surely there has to be an album coming soon? “There’s definitely going to be an album though, coming soon but I would say for 2017. There’s a few things I want to try out before the album. This year I’m going to be putting out some proper hip-hop EPs and then I’ll be putting out some experimental stuff which kind of showcases more of my production rather than my spitting. So yeah 2017 expect a full length album!” This is great news for Bobbie Johnson fans and fans of UK hip-hop as a whole. Two more EPs in 2016 to look forward to and then a full length LP next year.
But what about this year? Where can you see Bobbie performing? She is supporting Pharcyde in early April in Brighton and is also on the bill at fledgling festival Truefest in August where she will be joined in the line-up by fantastic acts including The Allergies, Solo Banton & the Uppercut Band, Jenna & The G’s and one of And Antarctica’s favourite acts the Future Dub Project. So what else does 2016 have in store for Bobbie Johnson? “Erm… lots of music, lots of gigs, visuals. You can just expect me to be in your city!”
Words by Adam Rowden
Picture courtesy of Emma Speight