At school, everyone had seen the video. She wore a light blue t-shirt and two big silver hoops in each ear. The year was 2011, and we were hooked from the very first bar: "Get fucked from the back screaming la, la, la / I fucked six man on a camera."
This was how the world was introduced to OG Niki. Her now-infamous freestyle—three and a half minutes of pure, unfiltered sex talk (how good she is at it, how many people she's slept with, where she's done it, even what it sounds like)—became something of a UK phenomenon and it went viral quickly. Watchers were mostly shocked at the audacity of her sexual lyrics, or judgemental of them, but her flow was good enough to keep the video's life cycle going. But while the freestyle went viral, OG Niki herself faded somewhat into obscurity.
In the April of 2011, OG Niki's freestyle was uploaded to Grime Blog's YouTube channel as part of their #SPITYOURGAME series. Many other rappers had contributed freestyles to the channel before her—Lioness, Bugzy Malone, Jaykae, for example—but none of them stirred the UK quite like OG Niki. Today, it has over a million views, more than any other upload on Grime Blog's channel. "I posted the video, I went to sleep, I woke up, and I was famous," she tells me. "I had people from Jamaica, New York, all these places, tweeting me like: 'When are you coming here?' I was thinking, 'Huh? I haven't even got enough money to get out of Birmingham yet.'"
When I track her down six years later, she's still as gassed over the freestyle as she was when she wrote it. "The lyrics are sick. Yes, they may be sexual, but the way it's constructed is sick. And there's not a lot of people who could construct a song like that to this day; no one from the UK." She's answering my questions in voice notes, and I can hear her become excited, girlish, when she talks about her freestyle. It's clear that she's serious about it. Rapping is an art form to her, and despite how her freestyle was received, to OG Niki, it was never a joke. "The flow was mad! And the bars were so smooth, when I listened back to what I was saying, I thought: 'This sounds sick!' I wasn't listening for the content."
I DIDN'T THINK ANYONE WOULD HAVE A NEGATIVE VIEW.
At the time it was first uploaded, OG Niki was only seventeen years old. She started rapping because that's what her friends, mostly boys, were also doing at the time. "I thought I was part of the mandem," she says. "They rapped, and that was their lifestyle." And it was mandem that put her on to it initially; her friends suggested that she start rapping like Lil' Kim, one of the world's greatest female rappers who rose up ranks with an unapologetic attitude and no shame for her sexual lyrics. But as Lil' Kim once rapped: "If a guy have three girls, then he's the man... He can even give her some head, then sex her raw / If a girl do the same, then she's a whore." This double standard was something OG Niki found out the hard way.
"When I wrote the freestyle, I was so oblivious. I had no idea that there would be the uproar that there was." Being born in the mid-nineties, the women rappers of OG Niki's childhood didn't hold their tongues. In the early 2000s, rappers like Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, and Missy Elliott were at their height, and all of them stood with the men, not shying away from overtly sexual and explicit lyrics. In 2002, when OG Niki would still have been in primary school, Khia's track "My Neck, My Back" was all over the radio, reaching No. 4 in the UK singles chart. "That was disgusting!" she says of the song, unable to bring herself to rap the full chorus, "and I wasn't listening to [the lyrics] when they made them kind of songs—I was just singing them, you get me?"
By 2011, the landscape of female rappers had gotten smaller. Nicki Minaj had just released her debut album, Pink Friday, and was almost single-handedly vying for the crown of greatest female rapper with her often kid-friendly brand of bubblegum rap. Listeners had become prudes. When OG Niki came out with her freestyle, it was as if a whole history of female rappers talking dirty had never existed. "I didn't think anyone would have a negative view," she says, still sounding surprised by it all these years later. "I really thought it would be positive."
Eventually, the hype got too much, and she decided to take a step back from the music and social media ("I needed guidance and I wasn't getting the right guidance"). So whilst Jaykae and Bugzy Malone now get radio play following their #SPITYOURGAME appearances six years ago, OG Niki's career never took off in the same way. "If I would have carried on with it then I probably would've ruined it or I'd be the person, the artist, that I didn't really want to be. I wouldn't have been the image that I see in my head."
Now, OG Niki seems much more sure of herself than she did back then. "You see, if I was to make music now, I know what I'm doing. I know what kind of music I'd make, I know where to start—everything." At the end of 2016, she quietly came back with a freestyle over U-Dub's "Ooouuu" production for Young M.A., for KetchdisTV's YouTube channel. "I just missed rapping so much," she says. "I thought it had been long enough; I knew people were wondering if I was just a one-hit wonder or if I had actual talent.”
Listening back to her #SPITYOURGAME freestyle today, it still sounds fresh, and completely unlike anything that was coming out of the UK then or since. When I search for OG Niki's name on Twitter, people still tweet about her regularly, wondering where she is, reminiscing about her freestyle. "OG Niki should make a comeback while we're on this sexual freedom wave," says one. "OG Niki's #SpitYourGame is legendary! This freestyle had the whole city talking about her," says another. But there's one tweet I can't stop thinking about, because, perhaps more than all the others, it says the truth: "We all owe OG Niki an apology."