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Meet The MC : Cassie Rytz

 

The face of Gen Z’s new grime wave talks to Amy Fielding about her musical upbringing, personal lyricism and empowering women in a scene long dominated by men

“I put my all into it,” Cassie Rytz tells DJ Mag over the phone. “I put on a good show for them lot, I always put in 100% no matter what.” The London MC is talking about her very first performances. She isn’t talking about a live set in a venue, though, or a stint on a radio show. She’s talking about concerts she did in her bedroom over a decade ago, with her toys lined up in front of her, singing songs by Beyoncé and Rihanna.

Cassie is only 19-years-old, but even during the first few moments of our conversation, it’s clear that the upcoming grime artist is collected and confident — and has known where she’s going all along. In 2019, Cassie featured on a BBC Three TV show, titled Galdem Sugar, alongside four up- and-coming female grime artists. It was Cassie’s break, and shortly after, she featured with a freestyle on SBTV.

There aren’t many artists with such a clear sense of identity at just 19 years old; her signature headscarf, which she adopted after losing a lot of her hair in school from chemical treatments, has become her trademark, and a nod to other Black women who suffer with the same problems. It’s all part of the image of the self-assured Cassie Rytz.

When Cassie was young she would visit Jamaica, and find herself immersed in dancehall, before discovering new music closer to home. Prior to performing headline concerts in her bedroom stadium, Cassie was listening to “absolutely everything”. “My Auntie, in her glory days, she used to play church music when she was cleaning,” she says. “I watched 4Music constantly, and VIVA, and when those channels were finished, I’d switch to Choice FM. I was just constantly keeping up with music, and as long as it sounded good, it had my attention.”

" I feel like I’m part of a movement, we’re fighting for more women to be heard"

Back then, Cassie’s brother was showing her grime too, but she wasn’t paying much attention. “I don’t remember any of the songs, or the names, I just liked what sounded good,” she says, “the energy, bass, and tempos”. Now, her style of MCing is infused with elements of the early grime scene: fast and furious, with aggressive flows and instrumentals inspired by those innovators. Her debut album, ‘Starts Here’, released in 2019, is brimming with OG-sounding beats, and features a collaboration with another young upstart: 15-year-old T. Roadz from Birmingham.

When Galdem Sugar aired on BBC Three in May last year, Cassie was just 18. The first episode, aptly titled Galdem In A Mandem World, saw Cassie discuss how it felt to be the only female MC in a room full of men, when she’d be spending her time at Radar Radio, trying to perform as many sets as she could. She also spoke candidly about her relationships on the show, and highlighted music as her saviour while working through a complex and difficult home life.

It’s these lived experiences, and Cassie’s use of music as a form of therapy, which inspire her songwriting most. “With my music, I’m telling my story, you know? It may not be specific, but if you wanted to ask me about it, I could tell you what each part of my music relates to,” she explains.

“A lot of people might think what I’m saying isn’t true, or I’m just saying it because other people are. It’s all really personal, and if I was just doing what other rappers were doing, I’d be talking about trapping,” she laughs, “and I’ve never trapped a day in my life.

“There is more intense stuff coming. It’ll have a deeper, emotional connection. It’s not always about the bop, you know? You need that deep, slower stuff. Stuff that makes you think. Being smart lyrically is so, so important to me.”

It makes sense, then, that Cassie Rytz cites her inspirations as rappers who use wordplay and punchlines in their flows. Artists like AJ Tracey, Lady Leshurr, and Stormzy motivate Cassie to incorporate short, snappy lyricism. “They’re all wicked,” she says, “but I have to mention Chip. What he does... I don’t even know,” she trails off deep in thought, speaking about Tottenham rapper Chip, fka Chipmunk. “You see when rappers have a diss match, or send for each other? Chip will send for you, or reply to you, but he doesn’t even have to chase the beat. He doesn’t talk, he jabs. Sometimes it’s not even technical, but he says what he needs to say, and it’s still a sting. That’s how it should be.”

Cassie also looks up to Stefflon Don — “her makeup, how she dresses, the confidence, I admire her so much” — and closer to home, her Galdem Sugar co-star Pre Wavey. “She’s a lesbian, and being gay whether you’re male or female in this scene, it’s still going to be hard. She is so open about who she is, and she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. It makes me so happy to see she isn’t afraid. It’s empowering.”

Empowering other women in the grime scene is important to Cassie, but she doesn’t necessarily agree with the way that the music industry has challenged gender imbalances. She doesn’t like all-female line-ups — “why can’t you just sort it out and put us with men? We deserve to be billed next to the men” — and she also refuses to change up her lyrics. “Our issues will never sound as deep as a man’s,” she says. “It’s a man’s world. That’s how it is. I’ve been accepted more into this scene than I would have been back in the day, but I kinda like it this way. I feel like I’m part of a movement, we’re fighting for more women to be heard.

“A lot of girls are talking more masculine, how they’re on road, doing this and selling that,” she continues. “Maybe they didn’t go through that stuff, but talking about trapping, it’ll naturally give you more attention. I will always be real. We’re all powerful. There doesn’t have to be one queen, or one princess, when has there ever been? We need to make each other feel secure.”

Despite her confidence, and her seemingly tough exterior, Cassie can be reserved — sometimes to her detriment. Last year, after receiving an email from her management telling her that fellow MCs Wiley and Jammer would be at Rinse FM, Cassie decided to head down to the studios. “When I got there, I just sat down,and I felt so shy,” she says. “He was there with the mandem, you know? I wasn’t in the mood for issues that day. I just kept myself to myself.”

After she stepped up to spit on the beat, she noticed Wiley bobbing in the corner, but even after that she didn’t approach him. “I didn’t want to disturb him, he was with his entourage, but in the end we spoke. He put a video of me in the studio on his Instagram story. People like Drake and Stefflon Don follow him. Even knowing they might have seen me, that warms my heart. Little things mean a lot to me, and that little move from the godfather of grime, when I was intimidated and trying to go unnoticed... I’m grateful.”

With opportunities at every corner for Cassie, she’s determined to keep pushing. With her new, more personal material on the horizon the young MC is ready to share even more of her story — and cement her place in the grime scene. “Grime is a rude genre. It’s why people dab in and out of it — some people are made for it, and some people just aren’t. You need to be on your toes. Anyone can come for you, anytime, and I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’m ready.”

Amy Fielding is DJ Mag's digital staff writer. You can follow her on Twitter @amebbbb

Want more? Read our Meet the MC interviews with V9 and Shaybo