Having released her debut album in 2004, Shystie has been a jack of all trades with successful acting roles in pioneering British show Dubplate Drama and the award winning UK film Adulthood, as well as an appearance in Vogue after modelling at London Fashion Week. With her new single ‘Stop’ set to be released in October, Matt Tarr caught up with talented East London artist to discuss the single, how she feels about having been in the scene for a decade and why she owes a lot to Basement Jaxx…
MT: So you’re new track ‘Stop’ which features Jalissa on the hook is set to be a huge single for you, but how did the track come about?
Shystie: Deanyboy, who is the producer, came down to the studio with his sister Jalissa and he was saying “we’ve got this massive song, it’s crazy” and so he played it and I was like “yeah this is cool”, so they went off into the other room, cos I always write in the dark with all the lights off in the studio and started writing. I didn’t want it to be a love song, maybe other songs I’ll do that but for this one I wanted it to be about things that I’ve gone through or that my friends and family have gone through around me. It could be taken in different ways; it could be about love or about not giving up on yourself or you helping your friend so I wanted to make it relate to other people. I just wrote what came to me at the time and people have told me they find it to be really motivational, but I didn’t go in there to write it in a certain way.
MT: For people who aren’t so familiar with your music, how would you describe yourself as an artist?
Shystie: I would say both my music and myself are edgy, energetic when I’m on stage and in the booth, a bit cocky and a little bit fiery. I feel like when I rap, I don’t care, so it’s not like “you shouldn’t say this or that”. I’ve got a song called ‘Womans World’ and people were like “no-one’s made a song about the women it’s always about men” so I do make things like that, not in a feminist way like I’m pro women and I hate men cos I love men, let’s get that clear, but I feel like there’s not a spokesperson for the female movement so when I do stuff it’s female empowerment, but at the same time I do love the guys!
MT: In the UK, unless you’re a singer, urban artists are always categorised as being either an MC or rapper, but many urban artists see themselves more as songwriters. How would you categorise yourself?
Shystie: I would just say that I’m an artist cos I write all my own songs, I perform my songs, I don’t just do music, I don’t just make one specific genre of music – I do dance, hip-hop, grime etc. So I don’t like to say that I’m just a grime MC; I’m an artist who can adapt to anything that I feel is good.
MT: You’ve been in the scene for ten years now; do you feel like it’s been that long?
Shystie: No it’s mad. In July it was the ten year anniversary of when my first album came out so I tweeted it and people were like “there’s no way it’s been ten years already”, so it has gone mad quick. It’s good that ten years have gone and I can still be doing music and still have supporters and my music is still doing its thing.
MT: What do you think it is about you that’s given you the longevity to stay in the scene for a whole decade?
Shystie: I like doing loads of stuff, not just music but acting, a bit of modelling, helping my manager with other artists so I just try and do loads of things and stay current with them really. I don’t know what it is specifically that’s allowed me to still be doing it over the ten years though. There was a point where I was doing music and then the music was quiet but then I got into acting and then the followers came back up again and then I did more music and the followers came up again. I think it’s all about consistency cos if you’re not consistent you just get washed away. I’m really ambitious too so maybe my mindset is different.
MT: Do you feel as though you’ve still got the same core fans from when you released your first album?
Shystie: Some of them are. I had a forum when I first came out and there was loads of members and some of those members still follow me on Twitter and Facebook and they message me like “oh my god, do you remember when we first joined Shystie’s forum” and they talk amongst themselves. Some of them are grown up now as well as it’s ten years later so maybe they’re into different music now, but a lot of them hit me up on Instagram and Twitter. I’ve also got a new following of younger ones that don’t even know about stuff I did ten years ago, they just think ‘Stop’ is my first song.
MT: Alongside your music, you mentioned that you’ve done a lot of work outside the music scene including acting and modelling, but what gives you the most satisfaction?
Shystie: It has to be performing live on stage. I can’t even explain the euphoric feeling it gives you. When I’m on stage and everyone’s just excited, amped up, jumping up and down and really getting involved – I love all of that! If you come to one of my shows you will never see me just standing there, I’ll be running up and down the stage and really getting the crowd involved. I haven’t yet found a feeling that can replace what it feels like to be on stage, so I would definitely say music, but acting is a close second as I do like it, but I’m still new to it; maybe in the next five or ten years I might be a great big actor saying “acting is the best thing; I remember speaking to you about the live shows but now this acting thing is crazy”, who knows!
MT: What can we expect from you following the single; have you got any more releases lined up?
Shystie: I’ve got an EP coming out in November, there’s not a specific date but it’s called Exhalation. ‘Stop’ will be on there and there will be another five or six songs on there too, but I’m still working everyday as I keep writing songs in case better ones come up that I can replace others with but I’ve got until November. A lot of the songs are like ‘Stop’, they’re kinda dancey, some are hip-hop, some are edgy-ish but it’s not as dark as my last EP Pink Mist. There’s no other female rappers spitting on dance/hip-hop stuff right now so I’m just gonna keep doing it and see what happens. I’ll be doing live shows up and down the UK during freshers week and when the EP comes out I will be doing a lot of shows.
MT: You had a well documented beef with Azealia Banks in 2012; since then you’ve come back with a new single and things seem to be going well for you. Did that whole episode give you more of a drive for success?
Shystie: Yeah and no. With me, I’m always just gonna keep it moving. If she doesn’t wanna support it and be rude like she is then f*ck you Azealia, I don’t really give a sh*t. I’m always thinking positively and keep positive people around me, so I think it has given me some drive to get to where I am and it’s even better when you’ve got a good song out and you’re everywhere and it’s like “well, your loss man!”. I felt like we were building a big UK-US thing as it hadn’t been done for a while, but as usual she just threw her toys out of the pram and loads of time goes in to these things and they were just wasting my time.
MT: Having toured with several high profile artists, including Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent and Basement Jaxx, how do you feel your experiences of being on these tours has influenced you as an artist?
Shystie: When I support any artist, especially the high profile ones, I look at their stage performance, see how they interact with the crowd and see what type of songs they play. I think Basement Jaxx were actually the artists that got me from just doing grime and hip-hop and into doing dance cos when I supported them, there was this one show where I was at the balcony watching them and they had thousands of their fans there and when they performed ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ it was sick; the sea of people were chilled but when the chorus came on they were jumping, drinks going everywhere and I just looked at my manager and was like “I want that, I need this reaction”. I didn’t feel the music I was doing at the time was gonna get that reaction so I started getting into a bit of dance, mixed with hip-hop still, so the reason I started doing dance was because of touring with Basement Jaxx. I owe a lot to Basement Jaxx for opening my eyes up to seeing bigger things.
MT: If you had to pick a track that you’ve released over the last ten years that best showcases you as an artist, what would you chose?
Shystie: ‘Nu Style’. It came out in around 2008 and we sampled Benny Benassi ‘Satisfaction’ but it was mixed with hip-hop. I was just spitting on it and I feel like the stuff I was talking about in it represents me and the music represents me cos that’s what I’m into and it’s energetic. The video was crazy as well because it was all big Missy Elliott influenced suits and that kind of stuff and is one of my favourite videos too. ‘One Wish’ is my favourite song but ‘New Style’ is in between ‘One Wish’ and what I’m doing now so I’d say that represents me the best.