From blogging to the 1xtra Rap Show, Notion 88 guest editor, Tiffany Calver, talks normalising the narrative of women at the forefront of the music industry, her friendship with Drake and her impact in radio.
When it comes to the current UK rap scene and the driving forces behind it, nobody has built a more promising and revolutionary outlook than Miss Tiffany Calver. Cementing her position as the poster girl for emerging talent in UK rap, Tiffany has acted as a critical tastemaker in the industry, working with the likes of Fredo, Unknown T and Headie One. From blogging for the likes of MTV and Hypebeast to being the face of 1xtra Rap Show on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra, her success has put her in places she’d never thought she’d be.
Born and bred in Telford, West Midlands, Tiffany knew she was destined for greatness from the start. After moving to London and taking up DJing as a hobby, she caught the attention of several industry heads, later landing herself a seat at several radio stations including Radar Radio and KISS where she hosted KISS Hip-Hop on KissFresh. Now, as the first woman to host 1xtra Rap Show, a slot previously held by Charlie Sloth and Tim Westwood, Tiffany is continuing her mission of kicking down doors to normalise women spearheading UK music, especially, Black music.
Championing the likes of fellow female DJs in the UK like A.G and Manara for breaking the rules and becoming unstoppable, Tiffany cites the cosmic female power from herself and others currently banding together to dominate the industry that unfairly caters to me. Continuing to build a platform that puts talent first and nothing else, Tiffany is proud of the woman she’s become today. From her sold-out show, Tiffany Calver & Friends to opening for Drake at his Assassination Vacation Tour, her legacy in radio and passion for the genre that raised her has seen her get co-signed by the likes of Beyoncé and Jay Z.
Guest editing this month’s issue, Tiffany has hand-selected ten musicians from the UK and around the world that she fully believes in. Joining her in this issue is Shaybo, M1illionz, Central Cee, Knucks, Alewya, Berwyn, Greentea Peng plus more to focus on the current climate and state of music. Chatting over Zoom, we discussed how she’s grown in the music industry, the future of radio and her creative process during the global pandemic.
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Congratulations on being the guest editor for this month’s issue. You handpicked ten amazing artists to be featured in your music picks from Ivorian Doll to Dutchavelli. What’s this experience been like for you guest editing, and what was it about those ten musicians that made you select them?
Weirdly, it’s like going back to my roots. My first ever dream was to be an editor of a magazine, and that is how I started in music—writing for magazines and blogs. The overall experience has felt like I was ticking boxes off my bucket list. All the artists that I chose are incredible. I always have to be careful when it comes to selecting artists now because I realise that my name and co-sign holds more weight than it did before. There’s a real challenge and thought process that goes behind selecting musicians. My brand is vital to me and as a DJ with the 1xtra Rap Show on Radio 1 and 1Xtra, I’m a part of that world that is hip-hop. You have to appreciate and understand the worlds around it because it’s an ever-evolving genre that encompasses so many different genres, and that’s what makes it unique. All of the artists I’ve chosen, I see so much potential in. These days, it’s so hard to gauge an artist trajectory, but for all these artists I’m excited about. The surest way to be a tastemaker or to co-sign people is to know what you like and not think so much into it.
You’ve become a true tastemaker and poster girl for the UK music scene. Given this current climate, why is it essential for you to break down barriers in this field and showcase that women deserve to be here?
For me, it’s more of a protective mechanism for myself because of the hindrances that come with being who I am. Me being tall, mixed-race, or a woman shouldn’t play a role in how good of a DJ I am. All of these things are obvious about me, and that’s not to say it hasn’t made things difficult, but I choose to focus on my mission instead of letting these things get me down and then getting insecure about something or feeling like I’m not good enough. There hasn’t been anyone like me in these positions before, and that is a scary thing to acknowledge. I hope that now, I’ve helped people understand how unnecessary it is to look at parts of a person and judge them when their talent speaks for itself.
I hope in the future; there will be radio stations that will have more than one host doing it for women. I hope that when they interview an artist, the comments aren’t all sexual innuendos or remarks about how she looks or she must have done this to get this interview. Those kinds of comments all stem from pure ignorance and come from people who don’t like seeing a woman in that position especially in rap if she’s not glamorised or sexualised in a way that caters to them. Women in rap are never spotlighted or highlighted in the same essence as men. It’s sad because there are incredible female directors, publicists, label managers, marketing directors, heads of A&R. Still, it’s not seen because people don’t want to see it.
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Despite the music industry being male-dominated, you alongside a host of other women DJ’s have created spaces for us to be in and normalise the narrative of women forefronting music. Outside of you all, what else do you think needs to be done to make more space?
I’m a true believer in strength and numbers in a community, so I think it’s nice that there is now a frontline of women creating spaces. From A.G to Manara, we are now in powerful positions that can make a change and open up doors for more people. My peers inspire me, and we’ve built such strong bonds with each other. For instance, Manara, who is now on the BBC Asian Network, one time when we were both playing in the Ace Hotel together years ago, and she did this mix of We Belong Together by Mariah Carey (cause she loves Mariah) into some mad flip and I lost my mind and instantly became a fan of hers. I’m good mates with A.G—she is honestly one of the most talented female DJs in the country, and her knowledge of grime and skills on the decks is mad.
With us, there is no territorial vibe. I’ve never got that from any of them because we all lift each other. That’s an excellent sense of community. We have been overlooked for so long that I honestly think that’s what made us want to band together and help each other. The beauty of it is that none of this was there for us coming up, definitely not for me. We’ve already got a pandemic to worry about; we shouldn’t be caring about people’s sexualities or genders or any of the bullshit that doesn’t matter. It’s a lovely community to be in for sure.
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What’s your creative process been like this year throughout the pandemic and has it changed your approach to creating?
I’m quite an annoying spiritual Virgo, so this year has been such a personal one for me. I’ve never spoken about this before, but every single year on my birthday, I count that as a new year for me. Last year I had so many groundbreaking career moments that I didn’t feel like me and so coming into 2020, I wanted to put my career in cruise and work harder on myself. This year was supposed to be about me finding myself and who I am. I tell you what, lockdown has given me enough time to look at life positively because I genuinely am so grateful for everything.
My creative process has allowed me to birth new ideas and figure out what’s next for Tiffany Calver as a brand. It’s weird because I don’t feel like I’ve hit the ceiling – accolade wise, because where do you go after being the first Black female to have the rap show on Radio One… Do I win a GRAMMY next? [laughs]. I can’t wait until this pandemic is over so I can go back to reality and apply some of those amazing concepts that I’ve come up with during lockdown.
You celebrated the first anniversary of the 1xtra Rap Show at the beginning of the year. How did it feel to achieve such a milestone in your career on the radio?
You know what, in all honesty, I think I’m proudest of the fact that I went twelve months without saying one swear word on-air [laughs]. Looking back and reflecting on what I’ve done in a year has indeed been a blessing. It’s weird because I still feel like the baby of the BBC, you know, everyone that has been there before me has either been there for a while or had affluent previous shows. I had no experience when I first started at KISS. I was pre-recording on my controller at home and sending it in and then recording links.
When I got the show, I was thrown in at the deep end and just went for it. Since then I’ve done so many cool things—I got to start a freestyle series, which I always wanted to do, I got to have guests like Drake come on and get him drunk and chatting shit for two hours. These are all massive highlights for me and even the stupid things like seeing all the people in jail texting in; I love it. I’m just happy that I stayed afloat and kept on swimming.
It’s very tough getting your dream show when in a way you don’t feel like you’re necessarily there yet. I’m always someone who likes to earn things, and I believe in ‘the right timing’, and I feel like God came through and said now is the right time for you Tiff. I’m finally finding my feet and the show truly feels like mine now. Saturday nights are mine; I’m not filling in somebody’s shoes or just trying to do a good job. It’s my show, and I own it.
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You came from being a young girl in the West Midlands with a passion for music journalism to having your radio show on the BBC. Growing up in Telford, what influenced your desire to work in music and helped mould who you are today?
The one thing about living in a place like Telford where there is absolutely nothing is the fact that it could either inspire you to want to be something and to want to explore the world and not have sheep for neighbours for the rest of your life. I always used to say to my mum “I’m a city girl” and [laughs] look at me now. I remember watching INSIDE SBTV on Channel 4 and thinking they’re just so cool and I want to do that because that stuff so inspired me. When I was in college, I was blogging and using that as a way to get to university so I could study in London. When my dad moved to London, I was severely depressed, and he let me move in with him, and it all kicked off from there. I went to the City of Westminster College, which breeds superstars because Headie One went there, so did Fredo and so did someone from Clean Bandit.
In Telford, it truly felt like whenever I talked about things I wanted to do, it was always looked at quite negatively. If you didn’t want to be the norm or like everyone else, you were looked down upon. I knew there would be more for me outside of Telford, and I was right. Growing up, my mum was my biggest inspiration—my icon. She was heavily into garage, and my earliest memory is me as a kid going to Cider House and watching everyone in the car park get drunk and party to garage music. I’ve always been surrounded by music.
My mum played a lot of SWV, Lil’ Kim, Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes [laughs], legend has it my first ever words were Woo-Had from Busta Rhymes’ song Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check. My dad was the same—he was a DJ back in the day. There are even videos of him hoovering me as a three week old newborn over his turntables and stereo system with me trying to grab it. I’ve always been drawn to anything music. My parents were my inspiration as well as, and I think it’s sad to admit it now, especially in 2020, but I grew up listening to Tim Westwood. That’s all I had every Friday or Saturday night listening to the radio in Telford. He was my only real source of hip-hop back then when I was a kid. What I can say now is that I’m excited that it is now me and that there’s probably someone in Telford listening to me aspiring to work in radio.
Talk to me about your friendship with Drake. How did that come about?
[laughs] Listen, I always say to people, whenever you DJ make sure you are killing it because you never know who is in the room and that’s actually how our friendship started. I did a DJ set at Skepta’s afterparty which I wasn’t even meant to do, but the original DJ got so drunk that she couldn’t play and I always keep my USB’s on me. So I started DJing and one thing with me, I never look up when I play, I always look down because I’m so nervous. Little did I know everyone was there—from Wizkid to Ty Dolla $ign and I had no idea.
So after the party, I went straight to the airport because I had a show with this rapper called Father who’s from Atlanta and he’s part of this collective called Awful Records. I was incredibly hungover the next day, woke up, looked at my phone and saw I had a DM from Oliver El-Khatib, who was Drake’s manager and co-founded OVO. Didn’t believe it so I went back to sleep and when I woke up the message was still there laughs]. When I read it, he said he was at the party, heard me DJing and thought I was sick and asked if I’d do a mix for OVO Sound Radio on Apple. At the time I was like ‘YESSS I’VE FUCKING MADE IT’ because he asked me to do a mix and the other cool thing about that was that there had never been a woman do a mix on OVO Sound Radio on Beats1, so I remember feeling like the shit.
A couple mixes later, me and Oliver became mad cool, we did some stuff for the Top Boy series soundtrack, and I ended up going to Toronto for this gig and stayed with my friend Nicky who used to work for OVO. It was her birthday in a couple of days, and she asked me to DJ at her party, and obviously, I said yes.
So I’m DJing, and suddenly everyone is running up to decks trying to DJ, and I’m like what the hell?! I look up, and Drake’s there, and he’s just chilling, drinking and vibing to what I was playing, and then we got introduced. He congratulated me on getting the rap show, and I was like how do you even know that [laughs] it was weird and yeah that was it. A couple of weeks later, he followed me on Instagram, and then he texted me and asked me if I wanted to open up on his The Assassination Tour, and I was like WHAT?! And after that, we spent two months curating together and have stayed in touch ever since.
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How do you see your impact on future talents? Future of radio.
Right now is a cool time to be a part of music, especially Black music. We’re living in an era where everything is expanding, and the interest in it is higher than ever before. Songs and albums by Black artists are going number one, that’s all because of the power behind the internet in collaboration with the new generation of broadcasters. There’s Snoochie Shy, Kenny Allstar, No Signal—which is an incredible Black digital platform that has brought forth some incredible creative young people.
There’s nothing like radio, and I’ll scream and shout that as much as I can because I am a product of the internet. I can see the power from all these streaming services like YouTube to Apple to TikTok. Yes, they have played a part in breaking the rules of what a good song is because the power is now in the people’s hands and streams and numbers don’t lie. But when it comes to radio, you can talk to a listener about a song, and how you feel about it, Spotify can’t do that. Streaming services can’t make that connection with you that radio can. That relationship between human to human is still such a beautiful thing that is a great art form still needed in music. The human approach of radio is something that a computer can never kill.
What’s next for you? What do you have coming up for the rest of 2020 entering 2021?
I’m working on a mixtape, so that’s going to be my next release; hopefully, I get to release it in 2021 providing we don’t go back to being confined in our houses. There’s something that excites me about creating a body of work and experimenting more with people and explore that side of me, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve also always wanted a BRIT Award, and I don’t know why so it’ll be cool to have one of those, so fingers crossed!
Catch Tiffany on The Rap Show every Saturday from 9-11 pm on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra.