You might recognise her from YouTube, you may even know her as the socialite from East London, but rumour has it Ivorian Doll is reppin’ for the ladies via rap in full effect. The unfiltered 22-year-old means what she says and says what she means, and her mission is clear: to show that women can go just as hard as the boys when it comes to drill music.
Ivorian Doll’s transition from YouTuber to rap artist has been a bumpy, but equally successful ride. It all began in 2018 with “The Situation”—a track she released with fellow YouTuber-turned-rapper Abigail, about a dispute they both had with another YouTuber. This was then followed by their songs “Spare Me”, “Bouji” and “No Bae”, but this pairing wouldn’t last long. IVD went solo at the end of 2019—dropping freestyles and debut solo single, “Queen of Drill”—with her improved wordplay piquing the interest of music industry big-wigs. But the best was yet to come: in April 2020, things really blew up when she dropped “Rumours”, a hard-hitting address to her haters.
From getting vengeance on all the falsities surrounding her name, “Rumours” has since garnered over three million YouTube spins (even more across Spotify and Apple Music), unexpected collabs, a performance at Wireless, plus co-signs from the stars of Love & Hip-Hop: Atlanta. We hopped on a Zoom call with the UK drill star—for her debut magazine interview—to discuss her journey thus far and her hopes for the future. After the jump, get to know more of Ivorian Doll.
“When I look back on it now, it’s like everything happened for a reason: for me to build up my platform.”
COMPLEX: How would you compare IVD in 2016 to IVD today?
Ivorian Doll: IVD in 2016, I wasn’t even doing music. I was the same person, but just not as out-there as I am today. I feel like I’m a lot more confident now, and I’ve learnt how to become more of a peoples-person. I’m also friendlier and a lot more understanding than I used to be! I’ve had to learn to talk to people, communicate with people. Things have changed a lot.
Throughout your YouTube career, under your real name Vanessa, you gave subscribers advice, you had viral moments—some good, some bad—and you opened up about your personal life. What was the main goal for the channel when you launched it in 2016?
I was just going with the flow. Literally! Every time I turned the camera on, nothing was planned. I think that’s kind of why I gave up on it because it wasn’t something I properly wanted to pursue. It was just fun at the time.
Before you started making music in 2018, you always had a large following on Instagram and YouTube. What inspired you to build such an online presence?
I was always just doing things I really liked doing. I’ve always liked talking, so that’s why I started YouTube because I felt like people would like my personality, and they kinda did. I wasn’t on YouTube all the time, like how other YouTubers were. I wasn’t actively posting. So I don’t know what to say when people call me an “influencer” when I don’t even do it properly, do you know what I mean? I feel like influencers are posting all the time, tagging, working with brands, and I don’t really do that. Well, I wasn’t doing that before.
Do you feel your platform beforehand prepared you for your entrance into the music industry?
Yeah, one hundred and ten per cent! When I look back on it now, it’s like everything happened for a reason: for me to build up my platform. It’s kinda hard when you don’t have a platform and you wanna be a big musician. It’s like people need to get to know you and it’s a bit long starting up—it literally takes years! But I feel like it was quicker for me due to my following and due to me already being known. It definitely helped.
Many have compared your career to that of Cardi B’s, as in you both had big followings online prior to making music.
I hear it all the time. Cardi B! Cardi B! Even labels, they compare me too and I’m just like, “Oh.” I see it, though. I do.
I love that you call your fans ‘Dolls’.
You know what? I didn’t think I had stans until “Rumours” came out. I started seeing loads of people being very supportive when that one dropped. I think stans are different kinds of supporters; I realised that they were a bit more involved in what I’m doing—like everyday messaging me—so I was thinking, because my name is Ivorian Doll, it made sense to call them Dolls. The idea just came to my head, and the boys—I have a lot of gay supporters—they don’t really mind being called Dolls.
In one of your YouTube videos, you reminisce on the bars you wrote in secondary school. Would you say you always had a passion for rap and, if so, what made you want to take it more seriously?
Literally, in secondary school, we’d always rap as a joke. I never said I wanted to be a rapper because I probably would’ve done it a long time ago; I think this all happened accidentally. My thing was more like modelling, TV—it was never music—but I always loved music. I liked to recite other people’s songs word for word, so maybe that’s why. I don’t even know. Honestly, it all just happened.
“I speak things into existence a lot, so I believe that if you put it out there, it will happen.”
You dubbed yourself the “Queen of Drill” on a track you released in 2019. Do you think the drill scene needs a queen?
It doesn’t need a queen, necessarily. I say it all the time: I do it to try and be better than the boys! I don’t even focus on the girls because I feel like boys tend to get away with so much in drill, saying things about women, plus it wasn’t the norm to see a girl making drill. So when I say ‘Queen of Drill’, it’s more me saying I’m better than the boys in drill. I just feel like I’m trying to compete with the boys.
What pushes you to make music today?
What pushes me is the benefits, and the fact that I actually enjoy it. Like, I’ve realised that everything else I was doing, I didn’t enjoy as much as I did with this. Music isn’t something you can just be one foot in, one foot out—you have to be all in because it’s time, it’s money, it’s studio, it’s stress. Like, I get actual migraines. It’s a non-stop dedication thing. It’s not something you do half-heartedly, so I think what pushes me is just the fact that I can help my family now—in ways that I never did before—I live in a better place, just things like that.
Before you went solo, you were in a duo with the rapper Abigail and you released tracks like “The Situation”, “Spare Me”, “No Bae” and “Bouji”. What are the pros and cons of being in a duo, and if you could do things differently, would you have started your music career on a solo tip?
I think being in a duo… Okay, I think for my type of personality, I’m the type of person that likes to work with people, but I think if we don’t have the same effort, that’s when I start to think that it’s not working out. I don’t like to feel like I’m working harder and others are not. So that was the situation, for me. I don’t regret being in a duo because I feel like, at the time, it was fun. Making music with someone was fun; I wasn’t alone. I was a shy person so I wasn’t alone in doing, like, shows and stuff—I always had a friend there. But I don’t like being with people too much because I feel like it can just get a bit… I like my own space—I can be a bit of a loner sometimes—so I feel like that was also a big contributing factor in me wanting to go off and do my own thing. We both decided to go off and do our own thing, really. But I don’t regret it.
What’s an Ivorian Doll writing session like?
So, with me, something will happen to me, or maybe I’ll see something online— like what someone said—and then I’ll be like, “Okay, cool. So these people are hating on me? Let me make a song about haters.” I always reflect on what I’m going through in a particular moment. With “Rumours”, that was obviously rumours about me so I just thought I’d write about it and address the elephant in the room. I also like to write about things I want in the future—I speak about it as if it’s already happened! For example, “Oh, I’m in a big car!” That hasn’t happened yet but I speak like it has, do you know what I mean? And because I like music, I know what people want to hear. Nicki [Minaj] is a big influence, too. I listen to her a lot and I always ask myself why I love her so much [laughs], but I just do. I’m really inspired by her music and her journey.
“Rumours” definitely put you on the map, as someone the UK rap scene should be paying attention to. Did you expect it to get the millions of views and streams that it’s had?
No. I promise you, I didn’t. I thought, maximum, 100,000. I saw people hyping up the trailer on Twitter when it dropped, and sometimes you think Twitter’s really small compared to the world. But when the official video dropped, it really took off. I actually cried. I couldn’t believe it! I was so shocked. I was like, “What’s going on here?” I didn’t understand where these views were coming from, who these people were. It dropped and blew up naturally; no promo, no nothing. I couldn’t and still can’t believe it.
It had a massive Triller/Tik Tok moment in the UK, too. Would you say that your social media presence played a role in its success?
One hundred and ten per cent! Because of what it was about as well, I think—because I never spoke on it—it was like, “What’s she going to say!?” People probably thought it was gonna be messy, but it wasn’t that messy [laughs].
Who would you say are your top three favourite artists in the drill scene right now?
I really like C1, Kwengface, and I always say I like Dutchavelli. But I wouldn’t say he’s a drill artist—that’s the thing now—but whatever he’s doing, I really like him. That’s my top three.
The past few months have been huge for you: you recently got co-signed by Asian Doll, posted a FaceTime pic with Stevie J, and collaborated with G4 Boyz, Suacy Santana and Sosa Geek. How did this all come about?
I speak things into existence a lot, so I believe that if you put it out there, it will happen. So when it does happen, it’s a bit like, “Oh my god!” And I thank God all the time. For certain people to recognise me and tell me “well done, I see you”, it’s just amazing. What shocks me is that it’s not even people from London. It’s so far! Saucy Santana, Asian Doll—I would love to see them one day in the flesh. Asian Doll’s become like a long-lost sister! We get along so well. We talk mostly every single day, on FaceTime. Stevie J as well! He’s like, “Oh, I thought you were American until you spoke.” [Laughs] Karlie Redd reached out to me, too. It’s been really nice.
What would be your dream collab?
Nicki Minaj, of course! The video for “Body Bag” has a Nicki tribute in it—a serious tribute—so I’m just waiting for her to see it.
You’ve said that you want to be the female bridge between UK and US rap. How would you go about doing that?
The same way Pop Smoke opened that door for UK producers and UK drill to be more recognised, I wanted to do that with female drill because female drill is not the norm. The song I have with Dream Doll is kinda drill. Americans think British music is a bit rubbish so I’ve tried to be that British girl with an accent who has strong bars. Hopefully, I can be that bridge one day.
Your recent performance for Wireless had a lot of people talking about your vibrant stage presence. It was clear you know how to work a stage. How was that experience for you?
I wanted to have a live band instead of the beat. The same way Compozers have it, I wanted to do that with my songs. I feel like a live band with drill has never been seen before and I really want to do that. That’s my goal. When I have my own shows and stuff, there’s definitely gonna be a live band with dancing. When you leave a Beyoncé concert, it feels like every penny you spent was worth it, and I want people to have the same feeling. I feel like your fans deserve to see something that’s worth paying for. So, for my shows, I’m going all out.
So, by the end of this year, what can we expect from you?
Versatility. Singing. Collabs. International collabs, too. Better videos, and my album’s coming soon.
What advice would you give to aspiring female artists, rappers, who would like to get to where you are right now?
I would say focus on yourself, don’t try to compete and stay in your own lane. Work on making yourself better and try to stay away from drama. Sometimes, the fans like to create passa between females and I really don’t like that because, with the boys, it’s not really like that. I’m all about women empowerment.