The day before her flight to Australia, I sit down with Nadia Rose. No, she hasn’t packed yet and despite my surrogate panic and pleading for her to learn from my last-minute travel mistakes, Rose is nothing but chill. "It’s fine," she says, "that’s tomorrow."
Rose is about to spend the day shooting alternative beauty looks to inspire your style this party season and, after a long drive through early morning traffic, she arrives at the north London studio in the purple hooded faux fur coat of dreams, immediately at ease and eager to get going.
Over coffee (mine) and peppermint tea (hers), we talk a little about the upcoming tour – this will be her second visit to Australia, where she says the love and response from the audience is pretty special – and I ask what she wants from all of this. Her organic rise to become one of the UK’s hottest rap talents seemed to soar thanks to a loyal social media fanbase. So now, at 25 years old and with a MOBO award to her name, having recently joined the Black Eyed Peas on their tour and her own long-awaited album on the way, where does she want this trajectory to lead?
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"Well, the plan really is, like, world domination," she laughs. Obviously. I’ve heard Rose respond similarly in other interviews so I’m not at all surprised; however, despite her easy smile and seemingly laid-back approach, I’m pretty sure she’s not joking. At least not entirely. "I want to be one of those people that other people look to and think 'Oh, they did it and maybe I can too'. That’s what I enjoy about my favourite artists, the legends. It’s like, wow, they’re really breaking the mould and standing out in a [growing] crowd. I just want to be that person."
She's one of the coolest young women in the game, so what she tells me next does surprise me a little bit. "I’m a bit of a… not a weirdo, but a bit of a misfit, I’d say," Rose says. When I ask why, she shrugs with a grin on her face. "The word people usually use is 'quirky' but I think I'm just not your conventional, not your average." Okay, I concede. Not your average is fair. Rose is fun, silly and has an outward air of calm and confidence in herself and her purpose that most 25-year-olds (and I) would kill for. A disposition, no doubt, that has really helped her success.
She explains that she didn’t really know how to do anything else, so her ascent in the music industry came naturally. "You could say I was very naïve coming into it – I had no clue. I went to uni to study industry management and music technology to get a bit of an understanding, so I wasn’t [going in] blind, but I knew I was very practical with it."
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While studying, Rose was also juggling a job at a betting shop and making music in her spare time. "I had a bit of a routine," she explains. "I’d go to uni, work, then I’d come home and I would turn on the Mac and I’d make a beat. Or I’d write some lyrics to a beat I already had. But there was this one night I came back from work and I remember saying I was just too tired. I didn’t turn on the Mac and I woke up furious the next day. I was like, wait, I gave Coral my time and I didn’t give it to this?" That was the crucial shift. From that day she knew she had to focus all of her energy on music, the thing she really loved, if she was going to really make it work.
It paid off. The first song she wrote after leaving the bookies was "Skwod", the video for which won Rose a MOBO award in 2016 and to this day is the one that really resonates when she performs live and sees people singing the lyrics back to her. "[It] always brings the feels. People literally have their arms around each other in the crowds. Once I made the decision to make [music] my thing, that was my first song, so to see people react, it’s special."
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Navigating those early days didn’t always come easy, though. Coming into the world of music "naively", as Rose puts it, meant that there were a few surprises along the way, and they came more from the people in the biz than the tricky process of physically making a career of it. "The level of fakery was really something that took a while for me to digest because I’ve just always been very real and I’ve always had very real people around me. Coming into this and seeing that it’s not really like that all the time it’s like okay, cool," she says thoughtfully.
Rose adds: "I don’t like to do the whole 'young black woman' thing but there was a lot I had to learn because of that, and seeing the opportunities that were being handed out to X, Y and Z. I didn’t want to look at it from that perspective because it might not be that way, but a lot of things indicated it was. Just grasping that and knowing how to move and operate within the industry – that was a thing."
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My frustration aside, it’s not surprising. From the outside peeking in at the mysterious workings of the entertainment industry, the lack of support or promotion of young, dark-skinned women in particular is clear. Their absence from the charts, from campaigns and across collaborations speaks volumes. How does one such woman work around that? For one, Rose says she’s learned that representation really does matter. "I feel like I’ve really connected with the other young black women who have been experiencing the same thing. We continue to champion one another, and I think that’s been really helpful because when you see someone who’s like you or looks like you, and you’re all giving the same positive energy towards the same thing, it has made a difference."
Of the artists who have influenced Rose’s own music, she cites people like Missy Elliott, Lil' Kim, Amy Winehouse, Jill Scott and TLC’s Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. "It’s common knowledge that I’m a super Spice Girls fan," she adds. "A lot of my inspiration is just seeing women, all kinds of women, bossing it." I wonder whether she feels that’s the consensus across the industry? In rap and hip-hop in particular, it’s common to see the men working as a collective. You’ll spot guys with verses and features on each other's tracks, you’ll see groups of men whose respective music is climbing up various charts, hanging out on Instagram. And if appearances count for anything, it’s not quite the same image we get of their female counterparts.
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Am I reading a little too deeply into the optics? "I think that definitely is a thing," says Rose. "The guys do it and it’s just seamless. And then when you think about it, it’s like do these people even get along? It obviously has an impact, whether it's true or not, because people are seeing togetherness and unity. It doesn’t happen as much with the women. But it does happen. I’ve connected with loads of young black women – Ray BLK and I speak so much and I really champion what she does and likewise, Bree Runway, Tiana Major9 – I’m really here for that but it’s not done enough across the board, not just black girls."
Before we're ushered back into the studio for Rose to get glammed, she tells me that if there's anything she wants people to know about her, it's that she's free-spirited. Fluid, in fact. "I don’t take life too seriously but I know when to," she explains. "I just want people to know that I’m human and I face challenges just like everyone else – sometimes you’re just a face or when they see you touring or that you're making a bit of change or have a nice car, people think 'Ah, you’re sorted' but nah. Life still happens. I just want that to come across."
We stroll back to set and Rose mentions that it's the first time she's done a beauty-only photoshoot, but you wouldn't know. We rejoin the rest of the team and it’s not long before Rose's music is blaring through the speakers and the space becomes her territory. A glittery blue dress is thrown on top of her tracksuit bottoms and she bounds around to the next song, stunting for her Instagram stories with a laugh as free as it is infectious. I stand by my first thought. Watching her in action, Nadia Rose doesn't come across as a misfit. There's nothing uncomfortable or distant about her. "Not your average" though? That I can see.
Makeup by Andrew Gallimore using NARS
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