Necessity is the mother of invention. Lady London, a 25-year-old rap siren and self-taught studio engineer discovered it when she decided to pursue music full-time. The cost of doing business in Los Angeles, his adopted hometown, came as a shock, but London grew stronger and moved forward.
“The studio sessions got very, very expensive,” London says in his thick brogue from outside the borough. (She’s from the Bronx, via East Orange, New Jersey.) “A lot of times I didn’t have enough to pay for both the session and the engineer, so I’d book the room for a few hours and basically learn to track engineer myself. It was a struggle that spawned another talent, to be honest.
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London, who earned her BS at Howard University before joining USC’s Keck School of Medicine, has always been quick on her feet. She’s probably best known for her nine-minute Swing in the morning freestyle, where, in a quiet little voice, she wisely shredded sharp beards (“Your mother worked for 45 years to have nothing”). London’s feline grace delighted Sway – a good friend of her illustrious uncle XL chinos – as well as Sway’s millions of unique listeners.
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Even before that, it was clear that London was very adaptable and worked well under pressure. Her graduate studies took her to visit ramshackle medical facilities in the Global South – the kind of places that are held together with ball wire, chewing gum and gut strength. It has become clear to London that the US-led financial order is a sieve, expropriating untold sums from vulnerable client states, who could use the money for healthcare spending. But London remains attracted to the highest forms of magnanimity. She hopes to pursue a career in public service.
For now, at least, the MSF London backpack remains in the closet. She has a recording career to nurture. In January, she comes out Lady Like: The Boss Tapewhat London calls a “pretty big problem…it’s [her] first project on the market. It is also the first project to reconcile the two versions of Lady London. There are two Londons: the quick-witted battle rapper and the passionate romantic.
In this extensive interview with BET.comLondon is about toxic love songs, chronic underfunding of historically black universities, the unvaccinated crisis and maybe a tour with Jazmine Sullivan.
BET.com In what ways Lady Like: The Boss Tape represent progress for you?
Miss London: I’m really excited about its versatility; I think that’s what stands out the most. It encompasses several facets of hip-hop.
BET.com Talk about the versatility of your music. How is The Boss’s Band versatile outside of your previous job?
Miss London: It touches all possible emotions. Some of these records are super bold and confident, while others are more emotional. They depict grief and grief. And then you have the party records you want to listen to. So there are really several elements – elements of, you know, musical composition.
BET.com You have been a poet for many years. How did your poetry training prepare you for a rap career?
Miss London: Definitely lyrically. It really perpetuated a lot of complex verbiage, in a way. That’s how poetry helped me, but I think it also suffocated me in a way because I couldn’t catch the pockets on the beats and stuff like that.
BET.com: It’s true, poetry is, almost by definition, arrhythmic.
Miss London: Yeah [laughs]. It was a transition, going from poetry to rapping, but for the most part it was pretty smooth, given my background.
BET.com: We’ve talked a lot about your ability to freestyle. This doesn’t apply to you, but I’ve noticed that a lot of rappers who excel in freestyle don’t make very good records. Why are so many talented freestylers wading through a more structured format?
Miss London: I think it’s because the trajectory is totally different. When you’re freestyling, your goal is to hit as many punchlines and metaphors and, you know, mind-blowing things – things for consumers to hear – as possible. Whereas songwriting is more of a flow, a vibe. It is an underlying feeling. It’s not necessarily about hitting each line and make sure each line account.
Learning to space out is also important and learning to stay on topic. So I think that’s what gets lost in translation. We forget that [freestyling and songwriting] are two totally different art forms.
BET.com: You have a bachelor’s degree from Howard University, where you double majored in sports medicine and chemistry. How did you decide on this as your field of study?
Miss London: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to get into orthopedics, so I kind of stuck to that like a mantra. I was originally going to go straight to medical school, but decided to get a master’s because I have a passion for global health. I have visited over 22 countries and had the opportunity to study medicine in two different countries while I was abroad for my graduate program. And even now, public health and health care in general are important initiatives for me, important pillars.
BET.com: Have your travels taken you to the developing world?
Miss London: Absoutely! I have been in several [underdeveloped countries]. Technically, Belize is considered a third world country; I have also been to rural South Africa. I certainly had my share of time in these communities, working directly with people in need.
[I believe that] access to top quality health care should be a right, not a privilege, regardless of socio-economic factors, and that’s pretty much what I stand for [when it comes to vaccines]. It really boils down to capitalist thinking. This is exactly what rich countries do: keep the poor poor and sick and the rich rich and healthy. And it’s sad; it’s really, really sad.
BET.com: Let’s go back to your time at Howard University. Are you troubled by the state of HBCUs staying open and being threatened? I’m not sure about Howard specifically, but many of these schools are fighting for their very existence.
Miss London: It’s a teardown, but, I mean, it’s nobody’s fault here. Many of these places are privately funded, whereas PWIs have more access to federal funding, and it’s a shame because we find that most of our help comes from alumni endowments or just private donors. And that’s why I’m so important to Howard’s staffing. This is why I encourage everyone to give back to their university so that it continues. Historically, black colleges are necessary — to teach us not to feel guilty for speaking out, organizing, or challenging the conditions of African Americans.
I’ve become the woman I am at Howard, and I’d hate to see any of my HBCU counterparts disbanded. I just wish I could do more.
BET.com Your uncle is Chino XL, the beloved underground rapper. Chino is a fierce critic of the status quo. In your early days, did he tell you about the pitfalls of the industry?
Miss London: Not at all. We never talked much about music, to be honest. My uncle is a very family oriented guy, very funny. It’s so funny how serious he is in his rhythmic compositions because he’s one of the craziest people I know. We’re not talking about the obscurity of the industry, but he’s been tormented by it, and I think he’s trying not to impose his views on me. He wants me to experience it for myself.
BET.com: Much of contemporary New York rap is regionally ambiguous; it could be done anywhere. Your music is different. Are you the most “New York” of today’s tri-state rappers?
Miss London: In fact, I don’t think I am. I mean I’m a bit more versatile than the average New Yorker, especially when it comes to female rapping. But for me, my female counterparts in New York – because I’m from there, but I was raised in Jersey – all it sounds a lot more New Yorker than me. Like everyone. But they don’t have as much shine, I guess you could say, so you don’t hear it as much.
New York these days also has this boring sound that rocks the city, and I don’t do any of that.
BET.com: So what’s in store for the rest of 2022?
Miss London: My new single is coming out next month, and I’m super excited about it. And, of course, I hope to have a complete job by the end of the year. That’s really my goal: to get my sound out in the industry and go from being a freestyle rapper to someone you can look like,
“OK. It’s who I get to see her on tour with. It’s who I associate her with. I’m thrilled to see my fans grow with my music.
BET.com: Who in particular would you like to tour with?
I would love to tour with Drake and Jazmine Sullivan. I love neo-soul, R&B – toxic love songs are, like, my vibe, so I’d love to be on a touring stage with Jazmine at some point in my career.
BET.com: How would you describe the idea of ”toxic love songs” being created in music these days?
Miss London: The everyday relationships that no one wants to talk about are the things that sum up almost every song on The Boss’s Band.
MT Richards is a Chicago-based freelance writer. His work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, Spin, Consequence of Sound, Brooklyn Magazine, City Pages and other publications.