Contrary to popular beliefs, the female rapper has been very present throughout the fabric of British music since the turn of the century. From Ms. Dynamite and Speech Debelle—who both claimed the Mercury Music Prize at the top- and tail end of the 2000s—to the lyrical wizardry of Little Simz and Natalie Stewart (one half of the Grammy-nominated neo-soul duo, Floetry), black women have held prominent roles within the UK rap scene. But, as the years pass on from their glory days, do we hold them in the same regard and exalt them for their achievements as we would their similarly trailblazing male counterparts?
Born, raised and still residing in the city of Leicester, Trillary Banks—who appeared in our emcees to watch list this year, oozing unapologetic, feminine confidence with a brash lyrical edge—is the latest to make noise from the league of British female wordsmiths and, after hearing what she has to offer the game, it's unlikely you'll forget her name in a hurry and you can't help but to respect her grind. Following a string of patois-tinged underground hits, we felt that it was the right time to catch up with Trillary Banks and gain an insight into her unpredictable rise of the last twelve months. Get to know.
COMPLEX: Let's start off with your rap alias; I'm guessing it originated from Hillary Banks, the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air character?
Trillary Banks: The Hillary Banks thing—basically, it was at a stage where I was in the middle of branding my clothing business. I think I was considering using the word "Trill", which was poppin' in New York at the time, with the whole A$AP [Mob] thing; I mean, obviously, it originated in the South, with people like Bun P and Pimp C, and I guess it's a shortened way of saying, like, "keep it true and real." So these times, I'm just putting things on shirts, like 'Trill', 'Trillionaire' and 'Trilluminati'. I was getting bored of my name at the time, which was Pinky Go Getta, so Trillary came about and it just made sense.
"Come Over Mi Yard" really set things up for you last year.
Yeah, it did. At the time, I think people knew me for my bars and would see me and maybe know me, but I think this sort of solidified it for me. It plays in the club, and it gets plays on radio. It's the first song I've had to really do that.
Initially, I'd say you had more of a trap-based sound, whereas now you're much more on the dancehall wave. Is this a style you're going to stick with?
I'm experimenting; it's something I'm going to fuck with for the near future, but I'm aware that music is always changing. I'm half Jamaican myself, so I've got rhymes for those types of riddims. As a lyricist, I don't see myself stuck to any one genre, if I'm honest.
In the same style, you put out "Pepper & Spice" with Inch from Section Boyz. How did that connection come about?
I had the tune for a while and I'd tried a few things on it and I liked it; I just wasn't sure exactly how to approach it. It was a wave but I'm particular, so I wasn't fully happy. So we sent it to Inch and he actually laid it down, and then I worked off that—if that makes sense? I just like to switch things so my bars come across like a response. Like, for example, if I was on a track with Giggs, I'd say something cheeky to his punchline or catchphrase to counteract it.
What's your take on the current music scene around the Midlands?
When you're coming up in the Midlands, it's almost like the Mids vs. everyone else. When you're young, you'll get a train to Nottingham, you'll get a train to Birmingham—but London is just pretty much out of it [laughs]. It just seems too far away. So, really, you're more trying to establish that respect and recognition in your own city. That's the start. Then, it spreads through the Midlands, and then it grows from there. Then it might make sense to go London, have a couple shows, let people see what we're dealing with. I definitely feel you have to establish yourself in your hometown first—the of the world comes after that. When people come to your city and ask who's popping, that's how they'll know your name.
So, similarly, how do you advise someone looking to learn from your journey? What's the number one thing to do to really make a breakthrough?
To tell you the truth, I was just going down to London regularly and started kicking down doors people weren't trying to open. I wasn't getting no airplay or love from a lot of these channels—I was just any other customer. I think when people start to see you putting in work, and it's moving, that's when they start taking you seriously. Around here, there's no Mist or Skepta to give people hope of following on from, so I think I'm going to the be the first person to do that.
Do you see the female rap category expanding over the next few years?
When you're a female, there's no room for error, but when there's hundreds and thousands of men—you lot can make errors. When you talk about that sexy female rap sauce, you've got me, Stefflon Don and Ms Banks setting consistent levels. Not singers either—straight bars!
So would you say there's more pressure?
I wouldn't even say it's pressure but, definitely, when you're a girl, every move counts. Right now, I have to move wisely; I've been doing music for a minute, but I need to be wise because my next step needs to be better than the first two.
People have compared you to Stefflon Don a lot in the past—what are your honest thoughts on that?
I think as we both have Jamaican roots, influences, and are both female, naturally we will be compared. I don't think our music sounds similar, and if you're a genuine listener you'll know that. I rate her movement, though, definitely—she's doing big things.
Little Simz, for example, doesn't care for the female tag and wants to be known as a good rapper—full stop. Do you subscribe to that as well?
I don't care if you call me a female rapper, or just a rapper. I'm here to make music that connects with people and, as long as I do that, that's all I need to worry about. Bottom line is I am a female—and one that can rap!
Which female rappers from the UK are you rating right now?
Right now, off the top of my head, I can say I'm feeling IAMDDB, No Lay, Lady Leshurr, Chante Paris, Ms Banks, Steff London, and Tyler.
Do you think the British music industry knows how to develop black female artists now?
I think on a whole, the female side of things is expanding and so is the music industry in general, so they're not necessarily trying to make you commercial right now. As you can see today, being black and British and rapping—it's commercial. They don't want you to sound American or to make music for the other people; as unpolished as it is, that's how we like it right now. So from what I can see, the industry's not really trying to change you. You know before, labels might have wanted like a 'UK Nicki Minaj' but now Cardi B's come in and she's phasing her out—just by keeping it real.
Back to you, when can we expect a full body of work from Trillary Banks?
Right now, I'm just having fun with it and dropping singles. But I'm pretty sure by the end of the year, I'll be itching to drop a project. Title-wise, I think I'm gonna go with Vote for Trillary.