“I was one of the first kids that had a console in my area, so 10 to15 kids would be in my living room,” recalls Funmi Ohiosumah – better known by her stage name FLOHIO – of her upbringing in Bermondsey, South London. Having moved to the UK from Lagos, Nigeria at the age of nine, she was forced to adapt fast. Video games became her safe space. Her parents worked long hours, so she was often – quite literally – left to her own devices.
Now, as an artist unpicking the past through her music, her childhood games’ distinctive sonic soundscapes shaped her own brand of hip-hop, combining stomping electronic beats with her signature fast-paced, high-energy delivery. It’s a sound that’s never been demonstrated better than on her debut album – and one of 2022’s standout releases – Out of Heart.
It took FLOHIO a decade of crafting and finessing that sound to complete the album on her terms. After shaking up the rap world with the EP Nowhere Near in 2016, she’s been confidently navigating the music industry at her own pace, refusing to give in to pressures to release her debut. “If I’d done it earlier I probably wouldn’t have been happy,” she says. “With music, it’s always been on my own timing, on my own accord.”
Out of Heart feels like a more accomplished record as a result of her conscious, mindful approach; richly-layered and lyrically complex, there’s a different experience on each listen. Juxtaposing nostalgic, upbeat sounds that evoke 90s childhood play with deeply personal themes like grief, addiction and loss is what marks this achievement. Even lead single ‘SPF’ masquerades as a breezy summer song, but closer listening reveals that it’s steeped in sadness: “I lost some friends / I saved my sense / I’m back up from upside down,” she raps.
There’s a sense of FLOHIO reverting back to her childhood self as a means of processing difficult moments and returning to the safety of playing video games with her friends. It’s no coincidence that the sounds that permeated her youth are referenced on some of the album’s saddest songs. ‘L.M.P.M’ opens with beats that sound like they were plucked directly from the ‘98 edition of Spyro, while the lyrics explore how to deal with great trauma: “When I fell off track it did damage / Got me learning how to try and manage”.
On ‘Grace’, she addresses losing her aunt to cancer and self-medicating with alcohol as a coping mechanism. Her vocals almost bounce over the beat on the track’s chorus as she raps, “drink and get misplaced / surf the wave.” On ‘2 HOURS’ she details the breakdown of a relationship in what is perhaps the album’s poppiest moment, while on ‘Leash’ she takes us through her struggles with mental health.
“You can easily lose yourself, which I kind of did while creating this album, but by the end a bit of clarity did come to me,” she reflects, grateful to the people who surrounded her during the process. “The best thing I could have done for myself was find a studio and get my friends together.”
Amongst the album’s sadness, though, there’s a beat of resistance and a desire to continue her journey forward. Talking to her in person, she’s modest and bashful, different to the brazen, spitfire energy she carries onstage. She reveals that she “always thought she’d be more in the background, championing friends and family,” predicting she’d work “in A&R” or “ghostwriting”. “I never saw myself where I am today,” she affirms.
“There’s no such thing as perfection but…it’s something I’m truly trying to aim for, no matter how many years it takes me”
Having spent the last decade developing the confidence she exudes both on record and onstage, it feels like FLOHIO is closing one chapter to soar onto the next. She credits the long game for getting this far, stressing that her current ease in the spotlight is the result of years of hard work. “I’m going to rehearse until it’s the death of me,” she says, with a determination that underlines her ingrained, methodical way of working. “There’s no such thing as perfection but when I get to the stage, it’s something I’m truly trying to aim for, no matter how many years it takes me.”
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