Yazzavelli is the rap newcomer subverting the genre, one verse at a time

The cover design for Yazzavelli’s debut 5-track EP Velli, released around the early coronavirus lockdowns of last year, was already a signpost to the rapper’s dark persona. Shot in black and white, she licks an antique gun held vertically and on the opening track Velli, bookended by the famous laugh of the Joker which she samples, she plays sinister tricks with lyrical bars.

”Call it fright night, Freddy Krueger with the hype,” she raps. It is the mention of an another iconic movie character, steeped in horror cinema, that makes Yazzavelli coldly precise. To enter the rapper’s world is to reckon with her kind of inversion where social codes around feminine behaviour is flipped on its head, producing a primal, cutthroat quality.

Born Yasmin Mbadiwe, Yazzavelli comes from a large family of boys, the popular Mbadiwe family known for many things but certainly not music. She does admit that growing up with boys did influence her style and aesthetic, she’s photographed in a 2019 New York Times piece about the emerging rock-goth subculture in Lagos, wearing dark lipstick and chains strapped to her black clothing.

With a LLB in law and an alumna from the MetFilm school, Ealing, London, Yazzavelli started music professionally in 2019 but her earliest recollection growing up was dragging her mother to a talent show she entered for from radio, to come cheer her up. She didn’t win, but she had believed she could sing. It would turn out later she couldn’t, and rap became a medium to express herself, dabbling into spoken word performances which strengthened her dexterity with words.

Yazzavelli: Photo credit: Yazzavelli

Kamiyah, Young Dolph, Key Glock are her favourite rappers, as well as 90’s rap juggernauts like Project Pat and Missy Elliot. Rap has been providing a liberating space for women to explore sex and affirm their bodily autonomy, and it’s no surprise that Yazzavelli injects these themes into Velli, especially on the sex-soaked Yazza and Lizzo, where she also employ sleek gangsta motifs.

There’s so much on the horizon for Yazzavelli, who is working on Velli Vol. II which could be out before Easter. And in anticipation of that, YNaija’s Next Rated spoke to the 24-year-old rapper about songwriting, Joker quotes and the state of female rap in Nigeria.

How long did it take you to make Velli?

My first project ”Velli” was made in a month and was a very significant experience for me. Iit was kinda like a “bitch how you miss this music thing?.” Not only was this my first proper attempt at music and getting in the studio but it also felt like I was purging myself of things that I knew had always been inside me. Music. coming from such an African academic family I couldn’t imagine myself ever saying I was a musician/ artist. VELLI was a massive fuck you to anyone or anything that was holding me back from truly doing the things I was passionate and good at.

So, the Joker, let’s talk about this character because tt’s the first thing we hear on Velli.

The Joker is one of my top three favorite films, I intentionally sampled his famous laugh at the start of ”Velli” because he is a complicated character, much like myself. He’s philosopher, he doesn’t pretend life is okay, he encourages you to embrace sad days that make insane but still encourages you to laugh about it. Its like he’s only seen as the villain because he doesn’t conform to what we consider “sanity.”

My all time favorite quote from him would have to be “You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, tthey’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

What is your songwriting process like?

I’m very much still learning my approach with my song writing, I don’t think I have a particular process. If I go through something in the moment and I feel it’s relatable I’ll sit down and piece a song together. Sometimes I’m in the studio with my niggas and I can just listen to a beat and do. It all depends man, I kinda move with spirit on that one.

Old generation of female rappers have been rapping about sex (Lil Kim, Foxy Brown etc) and the new crop of rappers (Megan Thee Stallion, Cardi B etc) are exploring sexuality through their lyrics. But after all these years, why are female rappers still told to tone down their sexuality seeing that their male counterparts aren’t told to do so?

It’s kinda funny how society (men) tell women to tone it down, just say you’re intimidated. The power of a woman owning her sexuality is unmatched. Period. Men somehow feel like our bodies are only for their consumption like it’s theirs to own, baby, it’s not. No double standards in my world if I see you as my equal. I think men have always noticed this power, in fact I think it’s the first thing they notice. How strong is she? How does she look at herself? Unfortunately women are only realizing now. We are sexual beings by nature and that’s why we need female artists that speak on their experiences to create more safe spaces for women to do the same.

Yazzavelli: Photo credit: Yazzavelli

In your opinion, what is the greatest hip hop album of all time?

The greatest hip hop album of all time for me would have to be Kendrick Lemar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city album. Songs like Backseat Freestyle, The Art of Peer Pressure? C’monnn iconic.

Nigerian female rap currently is still under the radar, fallen from the era of Kemistry, Bouqui, Kel, Sasha that were very much in the mainstream under record labels. Despite a bubbling new movement of female rappers making use of streaming and the internet today, the reception isn’t huge yet. What do you think is wrong? Is this an attitude of the industry that should change/shift?

I think because we have more access with the internet now, we know of more female rappers coming out of Nigeria, I was pretty shocked when I dropped ”Velli” at the amount of female rappers who are very talented with barley any recognition, I don’t think it’s an industry thing though, maybe it was before but I think the industry not only needs this type of music but Nigerian women want to hear this type of music, they feel empowered by it. Men love it too so what’s the problem? Personally I think there’s space for everyone and more platforms should be created where women can share good music and be encouraged to speak on their experiences.

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