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Meet the MC: Br3nya

The second artist in our new Meet the MC DJ Mag Originals video series is West Londoner, Br3nya. In her episode, she takes DJ Mag to her North London studio, and on a tour of the area of the city she grew up in. Introducing her episode below, she talks to Rob Kazandjian about empowering and uplifting women, her forthcoming EP and channelling her Ghanaian heritage through making music

Of the raft of female MCs coming through in the UK right now, West London’s Br3nya is a legit standout, coupling her dexterous flow with a wonderfully playful energy. She first made waves in 2018 with infectious cut ‘Good Food’, which set the template for her heady fusion of rap from both sides of the Atlantic with elements of Afro-swing.

Br3nya credits her Ghanaian heritage as the source of her sound’s distinctive bounce. She tells DJ Mag, “The bounciness and good vibe in my music comes from my Ghanaian side. I’m not doing songs fully in my language or stuff like that yet, but you can definitely hear the influence and the vibe. It’s not direct, but you can see it’s the root of where everything came from.”

Artists celebrating the nuances of their respective African identities sit at the forefront of UK rap right now. But this hasn’t always been the case. Br3nya says J Hus paved the way, and the ‘Farda’ is a key influence for her. “He allows you to be your African self, in a cool way. The way he does it gives you permission to do it as well. That’s why artists today have the freedom and confidence to do that.”

Br3nya couples her West African steez with a playfulness reminiscent of US rap heavyweight Nikki Minaj. She explains, “I used to imitate her flow. I was so amazed by the discourse she put out. Her rap discourse uplifted women. I never thought you could talk like this on a track. So when I was 14, listening to Nikki, again it gave me permission to express myself in this way. That’s really where my passion for rap started. She’s responsible for ‘Good Food’, which came from a freestyle on her ‘Chun Li’ beat.”

“I don’t really have a song where I’m not uplifting women. That’s what I always try to get across in my music. Guys have so many things that gas them up and we need that extra boost, because it’s a man’s world still. Every little thing I can do to make women feel great about themselves, I’ll do it”

Empowering and uplifting women is at the core of Br3nya’s music. “It’s everything. I don’t really have a song where I’m not uplifting women. That’s what I always try to get across in my music. Guys have so many things that gas them up and we need that extra boost, because it’s a man’s world still. Every little thing I can do to make women feel great about themselves, I’ll do it.”

For DJ Mag’s Meet The MC freestyle, Br3nya flipped an early 2000s club classic. “I love early 2000 beats. I’ve got a bunch of songs on my notes that I want to sample and remake. When this came up, I was searching through them and Nelly’s ‘Flap Your Wings’ had the bounce that I wanted to flow to. I just had fun with it, being cheeky and playful.”

Regular collaborator Who Else produced the beat. “I met him very early on in my career. He knows what I like — Afro-infused rap beats — but sometimes we switch it up and do a little bit of drill. We do the American bad bitch vibe too, which you can hear on ‘Maldives’. He brings out all the different sides to me. We get along really well as friends in general. So when it comes to making music, it's just very easy.”

That comfortability between artist and producer brings the best out of Br3nya. “He doesn’t allow me to submit a mediocre verse. He’ll be like, ‘Nah, that’s not good enough’. And I’m very involved in the production. I give direction too. I’m very particular about how I want my beats to sound. It just works.”

There’s an upcoming EP in the pipeline, on which Who Else has played a significant role. “We’re on the same page with it. I’m gonna give people a more rounded view of me as a person, and an artist. So you’re going to get fun and playfulness. You're going to get my hard-hitting rap side. You’re going to get vulnerability, and you’re going to get my conscious side.”

Who Else

The producer behind the beat on Br3nya's freestyle is Who Else, a regular collaborator with the West London MC, who has worked with the likes of Hakkz and D Wizz. He talks working with Br3nya, and flipping a ‘00s classic for her Meet The MC beat

26-year-old London-based Who Else first made waves as a producer in early 2018, masterminding the bubbly, warm keys of Hakkz’ ‘Nobu’. He tells DJ Mag, “That was like Afro-influenced UK rap. That’s the vibe I came with. It was one of the first songs I did with Hakkz, and it’s got over a million streams on Spotify now.”

His approach to producing beats is refreshingly simple, eschewing the idea of cultivating a trademark sound. “I kind of just go off feeling. I don’t have a particular sound. I just make beats that are fresh and hard-hitting.”

He’s heavily influenced by both the behemoths of US rap production and a criminally underrated icon of grime. “My big points of reference are The Neptunes, Kanye West and Timbaland. They are the main three that really stuck with me as I grew up, and I still look at them for inspiration now. They're like the pinnacle, you know? UK-wise it’s Dot Rotten, Zeph Ellis. Growing up, he was doing grime beats in a way that nobody was doing at the time. He’s been able to adapt to the current sound as well.”

Who Else also likes the production process to be a conversation between artist and producer. “Some artists want to be a lot more involved in the production of a song, and then other artists will just leave you to it,” he explains. “If you're an artist that’s getting involved, then we’re bouncing ideas off of each other. I like to have conversations with artists before I get to work. I can see where their head’s at. It helps dictate the direction of wherever you’re gonna go with the song.”

It’s this idea of beat-making being a conversation that has allowed Who Else’s working relationship with Br3nya to flourish. He’s been on the buttons for a clutch of her key releases, from the Afro-infused ‘Double Dutch’ and sun-kissed ‘Maldives’ to icy IVD-assisted drill cut ‘Berserk’.

Comfortability underpins their success. He explains, “Outside of music, we just get on really well. It creates a comfortable environment to make music. We’ve got a lot of similar music tastes as well. So that’s a good starting point for us creating our own stuff. I think I get when she wants something as well. She brings the best out of me.”

For DJ Mag’s Meet The MC freestyle, Who Else tapped into some of his earliest inspirations. “We were just trying to do something fun, with energy. We wanted to add something recognisable to it too. The Neptunes were proper doing their thing in the early 2000s. We came across Nelly’s ‘Flap Your Wings’. I took that sample and just flipped it. Br3nya did her thing. It didn’t take long for her to write her lyrics. It was a very easy, natural session.”

Given their track-record of building bangers together, it makes sense that Who Else is executive producing Br3nya’s highly anticipated upcoming EP. “We're doing that right now. We’re just fine-tuning everything, getting everything perfect.”

Want more? Watch our first episode of Meet the MC with D Double E

Robert Kazandjian is a freelance journalist. Follow him in Twitter @RKazandjian