With a new EP in the works, west London rapper-singer Br3nya talks co-signs, female empowerment and making a summer anthem.
Growing up in a Ghanaian household, for Br3nya, music was inescapable. Embedded in the dance halls of West Africa, highlife would blare from soundsystems at family parties: a sound that not only connected the rapper-singer to her roots but taught her the joys of musical escapism. Then So Solid Crew came along. Too young to attend their raves, she would listen intently to their sets over radio, honing her craft on legendary 16s from Miss Dynamite.
Br3nya’s always had a propensity to perform. But before songwriting completely took over her life, the multidisciplinary artist was more known for her dancing capabilities. She was always the kid entertaining relatives at a party, boasting a repertoire of moves that showcased her natural stardom. Facilitating her versatility, Br3nya started taking music more seriously when the breakthrough freestyle “Plenty (Too Trendy)” racked up hundreds of thousands of views. Embracing aspects of dancehall and Afrobeats, the track solidified her braggadocious flow – smoothly transitioning between bars and intricate wordplay.
It’s been three years since the Dave-cosigned talent uploaded that music video to YouTube. And since then, she’s scored a viral feature on Darkoo’s remix of “Gangsta”. Rhyming alongside UK rap veteran MS Banks, Br3nya brings the vibe: bouncy and brimming with positivity, she bodies the shuffling rhythm and holds her own against two of the game’s biggest titans.
Capturing the essence of summer, Br3nya’s showing no signs of slowing down in 2023, returning with a sun-tinged new track called “Outside”. The music video’s Nollywood references and Y2K aesthetics are steeped in nostalgia, as the rising artist harks back to those danceable routines that defined much of her childhood. Switching between Missy Elliot-esque flows and a softly sung chorus, the tune’s a bona fide party starter that encapsulates all we’ve come to love about Br3nya.
Don’t be mistaken though, Br3nya has plenty more to give in 2023. A new project’s imminent, but while everyone waits for what’s next, we spoke with the artist about her illustrious list of co-signs, living your best life and why London’s music scene is so special.
Taking it back to the beginning… What role did music play in your life when you were growing up?
Growing up in a Ghanaian household music was something you just couldn’t escape, especially as enjoyment is in our DNA. Hall parties were our thing every other weekend, where we’d be blasting out highlife/hiplife music. I was also growing up in the era of garage and So Solid Crew which was a crazy time for music. I remember having So Solid raves in our bedroom every Friday as my friends and cousins were too young for the club. That’s when I became a natural performer, spitting Ms Dynamite’s 16s every Friday.
Does any of that music influence what you’re making now?
100%. You can hear it in the music I’m making right now, but my music has always had a vibe and groove that makes people feel good and want to move; that’s that highlife/hiplife influence. A couple of my biggest tracks have sampled old-school Ghanaian bangers too: it just works. And when it comes to garage, there’s a certain bounce, especially in the delivery and flows, which I think you can hear in my music.
Has being in London been formative to developing your taste and style as an artist? How?
London is definitely a melting pot when it comes to culture and that seeps into our music. We all put our African/Caribbean flavour into our music but we’re still so London, which makes it unique to any music scene in the world. It’s a special thing to be part of.
As both a singer and rapper, were you drawn to either one of the two first? Have you always gravitated towards both as a songwriter and performer?
To be fair, my first love was neither. Growing up I was known for my dancing and being the kid in the middle of the party entertaining everyone; that’s where I developed my signature splits move! At around eight years, singing came into the mix and I discovered I had a voice. I was singing in church and to anyone that would hear me.
I developed a love for Amy Winehouse as I grew older. I would perform her songs, battling my sisters in singing contests and I’d win even though I was the youngest. Rap came into the mix when I was 15 and Nicki Minaj first came out. I was instantly amazed and wanted to express myself in the same way, especially when she’d rap about boys in a derogatory way. I had a few things to get off my chest and she inspired me to do so. So, I gravitate to both singing and rapping depending on my mood and what I’m going through. If I’m in my lover girl mood, the melodies will flow more easily but when I’m pissed off, especially with a man, I’ll come out with the hardest verse of my life.
How do you tend to write your music – in reflective moments alone or in more high-energy sessions?
I think most of my big songs have come from documenting my life experiences as they happen. Someone will say something profound to me and I’ll write it down and a verse will come out of it. I do love my high-energy sessions too; there’s nothing like hearing a beat and connecting with it straight away. The music just flows out of your soul, I can’t describe the feeling.
Tell us about your journey doing live performances – what was your first show and what have you learnt since then?
People always comment on my natural ability to perform because I’ve been performing all my life. I used to get a group of my girls together and choreograph routines for our gym and dance recitals or our Black History Month shows. We took those very seriously. We’d rehearse every day after school for a whole month, just as I’d prepare now for Glastonbury.
My first official show was a community festival in Brixton, I watched the video the other day thinking about how much I’ve grown as a performer. I’ve always had confidence but now I know how to work a stage.
You’ve had some major co-signs, from Dave to Maya Jama, Headie One and Stormzy. Whose sign of approval has meant the most to you in your career so far?
All of these co-signs have been great. I think Headie’s approval was really good as he took me on my first UK tour, which opened my eyes up to where I want to be and how far I can take music. I think it’s the conversations I have in private that are special. I’ll send my stuff to J Hus sometimes and he’ll give me the encouragement to keep going.
Who would be your dream collab?
Wizkid, the actual king of music, this is when I’ll know I’ve made it.
Looking back on this year’s releases so far, how would you describe your sound with the music you’re making at the moment?
I would call it Afro-fusion. No matter what I make you’ll always hear the African elements in my stuff, whether it’s my delivery, the beat or the vibe.
The reaction to “Outside” has been major – how’s your summer outside been so far, especially since the track dropped?
My summer has been non-stop outsideness; I have not rested. I’ve been going to events, performing and just got back from Afro Nation in Portugal. You’ve probably seen videos of me and Ms Banks whining and living our best lives. Bring on carnival!
Can you talk us through the creative process for the video?
We wanted something nostalgic from the early 2000’s era, something the African diaspora would relate to which is where the Nollywood reference came into play. I’m a born actress, so we wanted to bring that out and this was the perfect opportunity. My team and the director Melody Berkery went back and forth fine-tuning the idea until it was perfect, she’s an amazing director. We demonstrated girl power and I love it.
This week, you dropped “Us” with Tay Iwar. How were you feeling when you wrote this song and where did the initial inspiration come from?
We were in the studio, we had a little drink and were on a vibe. Then Tay played me the beat and the melodies started flowing and we just bounced off each other.
Where do you envisage fans listening to it?
In their cars on their daily commutes, at home getting ready to go out, chilling with their booze and definitely on holiday, maybe a baecation.
Do you hope people relate to it when in their feelings?
Definitely. I like it when I make people think about their own situations. It’s nice to be someone’s go-to for whatever feelings they’re going through.
What genres did you draw from and work into “Us”?
I think Afrobeats and pop. It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever released as it has pop elements, but I love that it’s different.
With more music imminent, what should we look out from you next?
My project! It’s sounding amazing and I think when it drops everyone will see the full picture of who I am as an artist and they’ll definitely understand why I call myself ‘BIG B’.
Looking further to next year, what’s something you hope to tick off your bucket list in the second half of 2023?
In the second half of 2023, I want my project to be doing well and resonating with people. That would make my year!