MEET IYABO: THE SINGER WHO RAPS WHEN SHE FEELS LIKE IT
Need new music for your morning commute? Meet Iyabo, an up-and-coming singer whose sultry sound blends soul, rap, and alternative RnB. This former church choir singer lives and works in New York, and she recently dropped her first music video for “OLUMO ROCK.” Iyabo’s music explores her experience as a young black female artist with lyrics that describe both past and present moments. Learn more about the singer before she performs in the East Village at DROM tomorrow night.
Hi Iyabo, tell me a little about yourself (and your work) as a musician?
Hi! I’m a Brooklyn-based musician from Delaware. My music is inspired by places that I’ve touched like New York; Newark, DE; and Wilmington, DE. It’s also inspired by places that have touched me: Baltimore, high school, South Africa, and Nigeria. I grew up in an immigrant household with extremely hard-working parents. My mother grew up in an apartheid-torn South Africa wanting to be a dancer, and since she wasn’t able to do that, she made sure my siblings and I were all extremely involved in art.
What initially drew you to rapping? How old were you when you realized that you could fuse rap into your singing?
I was drawn to rapping because I am a writer. Since middle school, but especially high school, I began writing poetry, it was my diary and my way of coping. I went to an arts school in Wilmington, and as kids, we were always messing around and rapping. When I would rap it just flowed and felt natural.
I was probably in college when I realized I could fuze my rapping with my singing. I would rap at the cyphers at CUSH, and it would always amaze me at how surprised some of the boys would be to see a girl grab the mic. I’d think, “BRUH, it’s 2017! There’s so many legendary WOMEN rappers, what are you surprised for?” Then I’d grab the mic and slay, and I would forget myself and start singing. That’s when the thought began to grow, maybe I really can do this music thing, maybe I can rap and sing.
What are your lyrics based on? Are they based on actual or imagined events?
I mean it depends, they’re usually based on personal events, sometimes I want to tell a story. A lot of the time though, I make a song off of things I want to happen, something about songwriting and singing it feels spiritual to me almost like magic. I honestly feel if I make a song about something I want it’ll happen. For example, OLUMO ROCK was about my heritage, but also about this imagined world that I felt did not exist– a place where I was South African and Nigerian, American and African.
You recently dropped your first music video for “OLUMO ROCK.” Tell me about the experience of filming the video.
When I think about the video I feel so proud, exhausted, and crazy all at once.
So it was filmed in 3 parts. Originally I thought I could film it all at once, but it took me a year to finish the video. The first part was filmed in the winter, the second part the fall, the third part the summer and that wasn’t intentional. It was just such a long process. Everyone who is part of the video or filmed the video, it almost feels like I grew up with them. They lived around Columbia and after class we would spend so much time together, skating, rapping, hanging out. So filming the video was very much just filming our usual everyday routine.
What is “OLUMO ROCK” about?
It’s an honest recount of my experiences, my longing to feel as if I belong, and an honest account of who I am. OLUMO ROCK is not just about what I’m proud of (my heritage, my family), it’s also about things I’ve been extremely insecure about (not really having roots in South Africa or Nigeria, not speaking my mother tongue, etc.). When I made OLUMO ROCK, I was waitressing and that was it, so I just felt so stagnant in my life, but I wanted so much more and I wasn’t sure how to gain it. Since I was constantly working, it took longer than I would have liked. It’s funny how putting together each piece of the video almost was like putting together pieces of me. The video was a process of healing reclamation.
Who are some of your main musical influences?
My biggest musical influence throughout my life has been my mother! I grew up on old RnB and just classic Black music: Silk, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, Dennise Williams. Other influences are my twin brother, he’s a trained pianist and singer.
You’ve been singing your whole life, but around two years ago, you decided to focus on your music career. What made you decide to start pursuing music more seriously?
I decided to focus on my career more seriously because there simply was just nothing else I wanted to do. When I write a song or perform or cyph, I don’t feel like myself. I almost sometimes feel like my ancestors are speaking through me or using me– I just feel so close to these cultures which are such a large part of my identity and yet at the same time are distant. So I had to keep music close. It was one of the only things that made me feel apart of something, like I belonged to something bigger than myself.
There’s also this concept of longing in Black culture—-definitely in the Harlem Renaissance period and beyond—-whether you were in Africa or America to be autonomous. To live in our traditions, not the ones forced on us through colonization, enslavement, or oppression. So my music is a choice. I am blessed to be free and to choose this, because it’s what I love and so many of my ancestors weren’t afforded the same option, yet they fought for me to have a choice.
What have you been listening to this week on the train?
I love this question. I’ve been listening to Pop Smoke (not going to lie, I only listened to one song while he was alive, so I’m listening to more). Tink, Sonta, Roddy Rich, Summer Walker, Lil Peep, Akanbi (my twin), Tracy Chapman, Doja Cat, a lot of Marvin Gaye and Nina Simone– it just makes me feel better when I’m overwhelmed
Do you have any exciting events or projects coming up?
I have a show with MajorStage tomorrow, March 3rd! I also have a document-interview with Sour Besos coming out later this year, which I’m so excited about. It’s so fun meeting new friends in New York on a random night, enjoying their company and then finding out that they’re artists are just like you.