U.K. Garage Girls

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For years, So Solid’s Lisa Maffia and Ms. Dynamite were the lone female faces on the MC-driven side of UK garage, with Maffia dropping sparse cockney wordplay and Dynamite raining fire with breakneck patois. In their wake comes an army of girls who can spit syntax faster than a Tokyo bullet train, and whose alternative flow and lyrical content is shaking up the testosterone-fuelled scene. Making their name on the hostile rave and pirate radio circuit, these girls are executing seamless transitions from MC to artist–something many of the male spitters (barring exceptions like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Taz) have been struggling to do for years. Meet Stush, Shystie, Gemma Fox, Fury, and Lady Sovereign–female mic controllers who are ripping up the script.

How did you get into MCing? I’m a cross between a Jamaican DJ and a cockney MC. I write songs though, not just 16 bars. I started as a singjay on the reggae circuit in 2001 but I got more love on the garage scene. I did 150 PAs.
Breakthrough tune: “Dollar Sign” in 2002, produced by Sticky
What makes a good MC? Clever lyrics using metaphors. Talking about a subject or making a joke but putting it in a different way.
Do you clash? No, but I have a book of warring lyrics ready. Everyone does. Only 10% of MCs really freestyle, everyone else just draws from clashing lyrics they’ve put aside.
Have you ever been pressured to sing? My label signed me as a DJ so they never pressured me to sing.
What’s the difference between an MC and an artist? MCs have lyrics but artists have lyrics, charisma, and stage characters. You’ve got to have character to progress from MC to artist. I have this high-pitched squeak I use to entertain the crowd. People are surprised when I come on with the same fire as the boys. They’re thinking, “What’s she gonna do, lift up her skirt?” Then I give it to them. As an artist on stage, it’s every man for themselves.

How did you get into MCing? I hung out with boys who were into MCing. They encouraged me to try it and once I did I was bitten by the bug.
Breakthrough tune: A reply to Dizzee Rascal’s “I Luv U.” Back then there were no girls on the scene, so people were feeling the alternative take. As a girl you can’t come with alright lyrics; you have to smash it to get respect.
What makes a good MC? Confidence and originality.
Do you clash? Not really, but I can. I just done a series of 02 parties where people text words to my phone and I had to spit lyrics using them. People sent crazy things. That was harder than a clash.
Were you ever pressured to sing? Some labels I went to before I signed my deal wanted to push me that way. I come from the grime scene so to sing would make no sense. No one will pressure me to be something I ain’t. That’s why I took a year to choose a label.
What’s the difference between an MC and an artist? An MC can spit live over beats and hype up crowds at raves. I’m still an MC but I’m also an artist. I have an image, a sound, a style. I’m a whole package–that’s what you need to be an artist, tight flow isn’t enough.

Gemma Fox
How did you get into MCing? I was writing songs from age 14 but I found it easier to get on the mic in clubs and spit as an MC.
Breakthrough tune: “So Messy,” remixed by Paleface in 2002.
What makes a good MC? Hype, energy, fresh style, and party vibes. Your delivery is different when you MC rather than rap–you spit with more aggression and you’ve got to be able to freestyle for hours.
Do you clash? Only if it’s a girls versus boys event. You make light-hearted comments about the opposite sex but it’s about having a laugh rather than an all-out battle. When there’s a lot of MCs on stage it can be hard getting the mic–people can try and sabotage your opportunity.
Have you ever been pressured to sing? I am a singer. I started out MCing as that was easier to get into. Singing is my stronger point and it’s what I’m concentrating on now.
What’s the difference between an MC and an artist? Artists do PAs of their songs and MCs have to hype a rave for hours on end. Artists have personality and give you lyrics that are different rather than the standard A, B, C. Being an MC is the ultimate artist training.

How did you get into MCing? My brother was a DJ so I started spitting on his set up at home. I did competitions at raves like Young Man Standing and eventually they billed me on the flyer. East Connection brought me into their crew so I rolled with them for a while doing sessions on De Ja Vu, [a London pirate station that pioneered the grime sound], but now I’m solo.
Breakthrough tune: “Merk Dem,” an underground release.
What makes a good MC? Talent, personality, and persistence. As a girl it’s hard to get accepted. Girls don’t MC, they cook–you get me? So you have to bring something strong to the table that’s as good as, or better than, the best male spitters. When I was starting out and no one knew me I had to grab the mic out the boys’ hands. Soon as you have a rep, everyone’s on you.
Do you clash? I did last year with Cutie, Godfather’s sister. I don’t like it. It ain’t positive and it don’t make you any money. Two people that have never met flinging insults at each other…it’s stupid.
Have you ever been pressured to sing? No, but I’ve not dealt with the major labels yet so maybe that’s to come. I’m staying away from them right now as in the early stages of your career they can be damaging.
What’s the difference between an MC and an artist? Artists can’t just hype up a rave, you have to be able to do stage shows and some MCs shake when it comes to that.

Lady Sovereign
How did you get into MCing? I started writing when I was 15. I’d do live call-ins on pirates and spit down the phone. I started doing PAs and people were surprised to see a tiny white girl spitting how I spit. It took me a long time to find this voice but once I had it I knew it would blow.
Breakthrough tune: “The Battle” in 2003. It was a clash between boys and girls.
What makes a good MC? Personality. I’m cheeky and no one really comes like that. You got to have original lyrics and be able to freestyle over any kind of beat, especially if you’re clashing. The DJ could drop anything so you’ve got to be prepared, but you can’t use pre-written lyrics against someone you’ve never met.
Do you clash? No, but I know there’s people out there that want to clash me and I’m ready for them.
Have you ever been pressured to sing? That’s not my talent. I’ve told everyone I can’t sing.
What’s the difference between an MC and an artist? Nothing really, except one is more developed. I’m an MC but I’m also an artist.