When you think of South London rapper NoLay, you think of her as a grime veteran with years of experience within music, you also think of her as a clever lyricist with a mean flow who is a fierce female, and that’s what we see within her music. Once you sit down with NoLay, you realise she’s a down-to-earth individual who has an immense passion for music, and she’s not planning on stopping anytime soon.
NoLay was all smiles over Zoom with a bright red and orange wig on as we discussed her latest Ep Kalas, her experience over the years in the music industry as a female rapper, and for the very first time she discussed her biggest feud in 2020 and more!
I wanted to start by asking how you have been during the pandemic? Have you been able to keep creative?
“I feel like the pandemic has made me a little bit more creative, to be honest. I feel like I’ve had more time to gather myself and gather my thoughts and my feelings. I mean, obviously, with the first lockdown, that was pretty intense. I’m not sure about other people, but I’m less scared now. Obviously, when it first happened, and the news came out, everyone was literally disinfecting everything, I’m talking everything; even the packet that the loaf of bread came in. Now everything is a bit more laid back for me. I used that time during the first lockdown to get a lot of content done and to get my brain in the right-thinking space.”
How has growing up in South London influenced you as an artist?
“It has and it hasn’t. I think it’s calmed down a little bit in Thornton Heath, but from what I hear from a lot of the youngers who live there is that it’s got worse. I don’t even know if it’s got worse because when I was a younger in Thornton Heath it was pretty bad. My life and my background is kind of where a lot of my expression and my passion comes from.
“I’ve got tunes like “Netflix and Pills”, but I don’t feel like I’m in that depressed mode anymore. Within my music now it’s more of where my life is at right now, rather than what it was back then. I feel like I’m in a better position now.”
You kicked off this year with your new EP Kalas. In Arabic, that means ‘Run out’ or it means ‘Enough’ in slang?
“Yeah, it means enough or done. I mean obviously I’m around a lot of people that speak Arabic. My manager speaks Arabic and my sister can too, and there’s a lot of people that don’t even speak Arabic that use the word Kalas, you know? In street slang, it just means ‘Done.’ I heard a guy the other day say that his father had passed away and he was like ‘He’s Kalas.’ I don’t even think he meant it in a bad way but it’s just become quite a popular word!
“I named the album that because at the time I was looking at the game, the industry, and the scene. I wouldn’t say any particular rapper, but just a lot of rap in general at the moment I feel is really watered down and a lot of it is not really something that I can get into. Kalas was kind of like my comeback, that’s what I had in mind. I was like ‘Done, finish, stop it. Enough is enough!’”
What was the process of putting the EP together like? How was the journey?
“I wouldn’t say daunting but at first, I had just joined new management and I had taken a break from the game. I had quite a few bad experiences in terms of management and in terms of working with teams and stuff so I didn’t really know what to expect. I first started getting into it and building the EP and just recording the freestyles that we released before the EP had dropped towards the end of 2020. It was a little bit daunting for me because obviously, you’re getting into new territory with someone, but then it started to become a lot more relaxed and I enjoyed it. It was good. I kind of realised as well how much I love music and how much I’ve actually missed it.
The reason I’m so fond of Kalas, is because I actually enjoyed what I was doing at that point, I feel like a lot of music that I released beforehand I wasn’t really enjoying and it kind of became like a chore for me. It all became a thing where it was like ‘I’m doing this because it’s expected of me’ and I’m not a quitter as well if that makes sense. I can’t actually say that I was enjoying it whereas now, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and I enjoyed putting Kalas together.”
You also dropped the visuals for your lead single “Gang Shit”. What made you decide to go with that as a lead single and what was the inspiration behind the music video?
“I feel like that was a favourite for me, and it was more of like a sing along when we had played it to people, it seemed to be one of the faves within our family and within our team. The inspiration behind the video was my manager, he does a lot. If you look in the credits you’ll see him under creative director because he does a lot of the creative direction. Obviously, it’s not a thing where I don’t have some input, he’s not like that. I get to choose if I’m happy with something or if I’m not, but I do trust him with the creative process because he knows what he’s doing.
“There’s a part in the “Gang Shit” music video where I say ‘Bikes that stunt’ and I wanted motorbikes for that scene and so did the director, but my manager was like, ‘Erm let’s try the bicycles instead of that’ and on the day when I saw the bicycles I did love it and that is my favourite scene. Sometimes even when I don’t agree with some of the ideas that my manager has, I have to learn to stand in the background sometimes! I have to learn to give a bit of leeway because more times I do end up loving the ideas.”
You come across as someone who has a lot of self confidence which is great to see. Is that something that you’ve learned over the years? Have you always been a confident person?
“I just try to be myself. I think sometimes people force it a little bit, but I’m just trying to live within my own truth and just be myself. Whatever assumption that people come to, when they’re watching me is the assumption that they come to. I think when you’re online people can only really see one facet of you, they don’t really get to see all the sides of you. So I am confident, but not all the time and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s important for people to know that as well, more so ladies, because they are the ones that are looking up to me. Sometimes I’m not always confident and I think that’s alright. It’s okay to sometimes be a bit vulnerable, as a woman there’s a bit of power in that as well.”
Do you create a persona when creating music and performing?
“I wouldn’t say that I create a persona, but it’s just literally a side of me, like one of my facets that comes out when I’m doing music, that’s who comes to life, that’s NoLay. Don’t get me wrong, Natalie is definitely in some of my music, the vulnerable sides to me. I’ve always looked at my music and what I do as a release as well. I think everybody has a different kind of therapy and something that they find therapeutic, whether it be going to the gym or going bike riding or whatever, and for me, that’s music.
“It may come across a bit aggressive but it’s literally passion, it’s literally just releasing, but I would very much say that no, NoLay is not a created persona. It’s not fake. Yeah, it has been put on, but it’s actually just another side of my person, I’ve got quite a few personalities.”
Was there a specific time in your life when you realised that you had made it as an artist?
“I still don’t think I’ve made it, but I think that’s good. I think as soon as you feel like you’ve made it, that is when you stop being hungry and that is when the cracks start to show. You’ll start to fall off. I mean, I am always really critical of myself and I do give myself a hard time sometimes, but I think at the same time, it’s a gift and a curse for me to think like that. Obviously, I’ve had times where I’ve toured Europe and stuff like that and I’ve been performing in loads of different countries, and all of these people have come out to see me. I’ve had moments when I’ve been out on stage and thought ‘Wow, a lot of people that would kill for this moment’. I’ve never sat there and thought that I’ve made it though.
“For me, making it is where you go into a whole different spectrum. I would say that I’ve accomplished a lot, but for me making it is when you’re a superstar.”
Being in the game as a female MC must be tough with competition heating up over the years. How do you deal with the added pressure of the competition around you? I feel as if people always try to compare female MCs instead of letting them just do their own thing?
“This is where my confidence comes into play. I don’t really feel any added pressure in terms of that. These females and these rappers are doing what they do, there’s enough space for everybody. I look at myself as someone that’s in her own lane, I think that it’s better to look at it like that. I think if you concentrate on your own lane, you don’t really have time to look at other people and feel threatened or pressured. I mean, in general, it’s a lot of pressure for women within the music industry to look, act and feel a certain way but I don’t really feel pressure in terms of that. I would say that the more pressure comes from myself, from looking at what I did before and being like ‘I need to better this, I need to be better than what I last released, I want to do better than what I did before’.
“In terms of that, I’m kind of more so competing with myself and my own progression rather than these other rappers.”
You were described in the past as the ‘Female version of Ghetts’, I loved when you said ‘Ghetts could be the male version of NoLay?’
“You hardly ever see it with the males, to be honest, and, this is what I was saying, women are held to such a high standard to deliver and I think it’s because you don’t see a lot of females in the industry. It’s almost like they feel that there can only ever be one. If you think about when Cardi B came out and the way they played Cardi and Nicki off against each other, that’s like a prime example. One thing that I’ve always ran with is, of course, I’m a female, you can see that, but at the same time, I just think that I’m a good rapper. I don’t box myself into the pigeonhole of I’m a good ‘female rapper’. I know that I’m on par, if not better than a lot of males that rap. It’s not arrogance I just have to believe in myself, everybody should believe in themselves and I do believe in myself. So I don’t want to box myself off by concentrating too much on the fact that I am a female, I just want to concentrate on the fact that I’m a rapper.
“When I said about Ghetts being the male version of me, they went and used that as the headline afterward. It wasn’t meant in an arrogant way. Every time there’s a female artist, or a female athlete or anything, it’s always like she is the female version of this guy or that. Can’t I just be the version of myself? Why do I need to be the female version of that guy? It all goes back to the whole thing of people believing really, because it’s been embedded in us for years that males are more superior to females. I don’t think people mean to do it it’s just something that has been passed down through hundreds of years and into society. It’s a compliment at the same time, but it does irk me.
“You know, when people call me the female version of this guy or that guy, they didn’t sit down with me and teach me how to write, I taught myself how to write, these men didn’t give me the skills that I possessed. They didn’t sit down and put in the practice with me or anything. I am the version of myself and that’s it.”
I read in one of your previous interviews from 2017 that you said Female MCs feel they have to fight that much harder to get themselves heard, do you believe that statement is still true four years later?
“I think it’s changed a little bit because you are starting to see more females, but I still feel that we do have to work harder in some aspects. There always comes a point where you might be expected to sexualize yourself a little bit, it’s never as straightforward as it is for the males. You could be on social media, and I’m not even talking about myself, and come across another female artist and then you look in the comments and you have men saying ‘Get back in the kitchen’ or ‘Oh my god, oh my god, this is so cringe’. They have old fashioned and insecure thoughts and feelings that women should be doing what’s expected of them either in the kitchen cooking or cleaning. I cook and I clean! I happen to rap, I can multitask boys!”
Obviously we all saw the feud between you and Trillary Banks…
“I watched it all unraveling online and the way people were responding to it. A lot of people thought that “Choke On My Name” was a diss track for her, it wasn’t. The thing is, I had linked up with my manager a good few months before this. We had put in so much work, we had filmed videos, we had songs recorded and ready to go. On the Sunday, “Choke On My Name” was already scheduled to drop before all this stuff even kicked off between me and her. I was like, ‘I’m not going to not put it out now because this is going on, it’s still going out at 9 pm tonight’ so I still continued to promote it at 9 pm. You know what social media is like, everyone just ran with what they thought was going on and everyone created their own stories and their own narrative for it.
“They obviously felt like “Choke On My Name” was for her. I mean, even she thought it was for her which I found really hilarious! It really wasn’t that deep to me at that point. So obviously, she felt like that it was for her, and then she did her little thing. I have to be honest with you though, I have never sat through any of her disses, I promise. Everything I know is from my team coming and telling me. That’s not even me acting big-headed, I just did not sit through any of her disses to the end. I heard a few of the lines at the start and then I was just like ‘Alright that’s cool’ and that sounds a bit arrogant but I’m just being honest, I didn’t listen to it.
“Then I got a bit of information from the team of what she was saying and then I did my reaction, which was “Corn”, and then I left it. The reason why I left it is the fact I’ve got so many great things going on that nobody even knows about that are coming. I have to be focused on these big great things you know? As time goes by and everything is revealed this year, you’ll understand why. You’ll look back to this moment of our discussion and you’ll be like ‘Wow, that’s what NoLay meant’. I had to concentrate on those big things that are going on. I can’t be distracted and sidetracked by this and going back and forth.
“At the same time, I just felt like those didn’t really warrant a response from what I was told about what had been said in the disses. I just thought it’s a bit nursery-like for me, as a grown woman that it’s a little bit playground for me. There are things that have been said that wasn’t true. I like to spit facts when I’m coming at someone, which I did. The stuff that I said was actual facts. From what I heard response wise was that a lot of it wasn’t factual so I just thought ‘This will go on forever, back and forth’ I kind of nipped it in the bud. I didn’t really feel like there was any reason to be online talking about it. If you keep going online and talking about something or engaging in something you are clearly pressed, and I wasn’t, so I left it. I just decided to keep it moving. I felt like “Corn” was enough, it did what it needed to do and demolished all three.
“I just didn’t feel like I needed to to raise a finger. In regards to what you initially asked me? Is it still going on? I mean, it’s not something that I’m going to keep engaging in.”
What can we expect from NoLay in 2021?
“I wish I could tell you everything you can expect, but I’ve signed agreements which don’t allow me to tell you! You can expect some really, really, really big things to be coming, outside of music as well. I can’t really say much without giving it away! We’ve got some more hot singles coming and some collaborations. I would literally just say keep your eyes peeled because 2021 is going to be a big year for me.”