Skiddle meets the Manchester MC and UK Rap Game star to talk hood fame, hard graft and flipping masculinity on its head
Last updated: 7th Jan 2020
It’s a cold Tuesday night in November but the room is packed in a basement club in Manchester’s Northern Quarter as Lady Ice emerges from the shadows to perform.
Wearing dark shades and bright yellow cycling shorts, her lips an orange-red, the Manchester rapper and alumni of BBC’s talent show The Rap Game UK, is an arresting sight as she steps into the middle of the room at Stage & Radio.
The contrast of her look with the crowd’s hoodies and coats is an apt visual metaphor for what the 26-year-old artist describes as a thirst for being different. “In music, in videos, I’ve always wanted to implement things that hadn’t been done before,” she explains over a coffee the next day, citing Lady Gaga and Missy Elliott as influences, but says “being where I’m from, people around me didn’t have a futuristic mindset – they didn’t know how to do things different.”
Born to Jamaican parents and growing up in the Manchester suburb of Old Trafford, Lady Ice began rapping at school aged nine, inspired by the Wiley records her older brother was bringing home. Soon recording tracks onto CD in a nearby home studio in Moss Side, Lady Ice was “hood famous” before dropping out of uni to pursue music full time.
2018 saw her showcase her singing ability in Jamaican Patois on ‘Do That For’, collaborate with artists such as Manchester stalwarts Swing Ting and New York FDM producer Epic B, and drop memorable freestyles – have you ever heard grime on a Michael Jackson song?
Industry heavyweights Sir Spyro, Kenny Allstar and Toddla T have taken note and invited her on their shows, with one such appearance resulting in Stormzy commenting on how cold her flow is.
But, as Lady Ice asserts, getting to “this pivotal moment in my career, where I needed to excel, and I did,” hasn’t been easy. Starting out at a time where there were few successful female rappers in the UK, never mind any with a regional accent, Lady Ice often felt she had to create her own blueprint.
In her quest to become self-sufficient, she learned everything from video editing to how to launch a single campaign, even starting her own record label – at the expense of having a personal life.
“I bought an industry standard studio and put it in my room, shut my blinds and was recording all the time. Sometimes I thought, ‘I’m young, I should be out,’ but I stayed focused, and because it’s always been that way, I’ve missed out on real life things. But if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here now,” she tells me.
Yet to release a full body of work, but with a handful of high performing, yet stylistically different singles under her belt, Lady Ice is a hard artist to pin to a specific sound. “I’ve always wanted to be the most versatile artist in the country,” she says as way of explanation for the variety of genres she’s taken on so far, from grime to Afrobeats, through electronic music.
“I always knew I could do the double time, but growing up, I wasn’t inspired by rappers really. I was inspired by Destiny’s Child and Mis-Teeq, and the records my mum was listening to – Shabba Ranks and Mr Vegas,” she says.
Picking a drill beat for ‘First’, the track that she showcased on The Rap Game UK, surprised her fellow contestants as well as judges DJ Target and Krept & Konan. For Lady Ice, it was a profound feminist statement: “I felt like – let me flip this [masculine genre] on it’s head and let me write something – because I felt in Rap Game, and as a female in general, I’ve gone through a journey. And it’s not just me, it’s females in general, we go through so much.”
Indeed, as viewers of the show witnessed, Lady Ice found herself under unprecedented attack during a clash with fellow contestant J Lucia, who brought up the recent death of her aunt, while off camera, another contestant chided her about the death of her father, who was shot dead when she was three.
“It’s like someone mocking your pain in a way,” she recalls. “I had to be professional, but it was such a hard thing to do. There are still so many people who message me and say, ‘how did you do it? I would have flipped out,’ and maybe I should have, but as a black woman within the industry, we get painted as aggressive, and I wasn’t about to be ‘that aggressive woman’ on national TV.”
What Lady Ice says appearing on the show has taught her is resilience. “It was a lot of immense pressure being the only female there. I feel like things were happening subconsciously, but the guys didn’t understand it, so it was like me against the world in this bubble, and it was hard. But I feel like my job now is to take that as a lesson, to be even stronger,” she says, her voice serious, before switching back to the energetic tone that characterises her online posts and just earned her another TV deal.
As she excitedly reveals, 2020 will not only bring more screen time, but also new music that she’s currently working on with producers Toddla T and Epic B.
Back at the Northern Quarter club basement, Lady Ice needs no introduction as she takes to the mic – the crowd whip out their phones to document her arrival, cheering her on before she even spits one bar. Still, she feels obliged to announce herself, before slickly delivering the first lines of ‘First’, which the DJ reloads as the audience rightly demands.
“Next year, I really want to get to that point where I don’t ever have to introduce myself. I want to get to that point where I’ve cemented who I am within the scene,” she says afterwards. With the successes she’s had this year alone, it seems that Lady Ice is already nearly there.