GloRilla’s living the great life
The 23-year-old Memphis rapper stands out as a singular force - but her rapid ascent still hasn't quite sunk in yet.
11 Nov 2022
GloRilla is surrounded by her glam squad in a central London hotel; a team of hair stylists and make-up artists buzz around the 23-year-old rapper to prep her ahead of promo for her EP Anyways, Life’s Great. She’s coy about the content of her hotly-anticipated debut, but she reveals that her approach to creating the EP was as organic as the project’s title. “I just rap however the beat makes me feel, if I hear a drill beat, then I might rap drill,” she suggests. “If it’s a hard beat, a good enough beat, then it may take me up to 10 minutes, but I’m gonna come up with something in my head. Then bam, there goes the song.” This casual creative approach is aligned to how she naturally is; she remains cool and upbeat answering questions despite the assault from hot curling tongs and invasive powder brushes. It’s a chaotic yet glam set up, suitably reflective of her journey so far.
Despite only having a few singles to her name – her breakout single ‘F.N.F. (Let’s Go)’, was only released in May – GloRilla is one of rap music’s most hotly-tipped stars. Her Cardi B featuring hit ‘Tomorrow 2’ rocketed to No.9 in the US’ Billboard Top 100; its heavy, swaggering beats bringing Cardi back from pop heights to street rap, complementing the momentous flow that GloRilla commands. Her spitfire verses and deep, husky voice informed by her signature, southern drawl has made her an immediate force on the rap scene: she’s already won Best Breakthrough Artist at the 2022 BET Hip-Hop Awards, and is nominated for Favourite Female Hip-Hop Artist at the American Music Awards alongside seasoned heavyweights Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion.
“I haven’t had a chance to take it in yet,” she says, emotionally. “I just go day by day. When the time comes that I do actually get a break and get a second, I think it’s gonna be powerful and I think I’m gonna cry.” Dazed by her recent success, she says the reception from her British fans has been overwhelming; hammering home the expansive reach of her stardom. “When I was out here the first time [playing Wireless Festival in July] and people was knowing who I was, I was so shocked,” she says. “I was like, “What the fuck? Y’all know me?!”
GloRilla’s Memphis-style rap has emerged from the state’s prolific hip hop traditions. While the free-flowing rhyme of the East Coast and the G-funk of the West Coast took most of the limelight in the early 1990s, Memphis stuck out in the middle. Forging an idiosyncratic lane of its own, the city was the pulse of the Southern hip hop scene, less polished than than bi-coastal counterparts but garnering cult status for its crude, bare-bones production, marked by heavy rap that narrated the stark realities in one of the US’ most racially segregated cities, where Black neighbourhoods have considerably less access to education and employment opportunities than white counterparts. “It’s not easy to make it out from there,” GloRilla reflects. “Our crime rate is high, we’re like number two on the crime list in the US. A lot of hate out there, you know what I’m saying?”.
Being from Memphis is central to both her identity and artistry, and GloRilla is fiercely loyal to the city responsible for her rise. Earlier this year she donated $25,000 to the fine arts programme at her alma mater, MLK Prep Academy. She works closely with Memphis producers such as Macaroni Toni, whose smart, sizeable beats match the power of her voice. In her lyrics, her hometown pride is evident, ‘Westside Baby (Gutta)’ has overt references to her 38127 zip code. The Deep South has also marked her personal beliefs; raised in a churchgoing household, GloRilla, whose full name is Gloria Hallelujah Woods, is upfront about her faith and its role in her life. Single ‘Blessed’ includes the refrain ‘right now I’m feelin’ blessеd’ with a video set in the church featuring women dressed in their Sunday best.
“I really feel like I keep God in everything I do,” she reveals. The church was her gateway to music – she began singing in choir and moved to rap in high school. She says the transition from singer to rapper didn’t come easily: “I always had a deeper voice, so when I started rapping, I was trying to sound like a girl,” she says. “I always had bars, but I don’t think people was feeling my sound. So I was like, “Okay, let me put some different swag to it” and then that’s how it happened.” With studious practice over drill beats, she perfected her flow and embraced the natural sound of her voice. She credits her diligence to her mother, who enforced daily Bible study and regular church attendance as a child, “my mama was strict on us,” she reveals. “A lot of my work ethic came from my mama.”
The role of the women in GloRilla’s career ascent can’t be underestimated, frequently collaborating with some of the music industry’s finest, including JT from City Girls, Ms Banks and Cardi B, the latter who has “always showed love”. “I was reaching out to her on my own about doing a feature for another song, and when I texted her, she texted me and she was like, “I already did my verse for ‘Tomorrow’,” she says of the collaboration, which was a re-release of Glo’s earlier single with the added Cardi verse. “I was like, “What?!” So I guess they were trying to surprise me with the feature, but I ended up finding out on my own.”
“I always had bars, but I don’t think people was feeling my sound. So I was like, “Okay, let me put some different swag to it”
With several collaborations already under her belt, including Ciara and Summer Walker, she still has her sights set on a dream duet: Beyoncé. “I’m part of the Beyhive for real. I love her so bad!” The kinship that GloRilla has with other female contemporaries is notable, particularly in light of recent public online drama between her rap peers. “I hate that,” she says bluntly. “We need more figuring things out through text or, you know, privately. Not bringing that stuff to the internet.” She believes female rappers need to stick together to move forward because “the dudes always dominate”.
Anyway, Life’s Great is a powerful debut from the Southern star, proving that her rise is only going to get higher. She’s confident, and abrasive, on ‘Nut Quick’, she raps over an ominous beat about her dissatisfaction with hookup culture; ‘Go Get That Money’ captivates with empowering swagger, encouraging women to get what they want as men “won’t hesitate to ask you for booty”. The beats are consistent in their edge and simplicity, her fierce flow racing ahead with biting commentary on what it means to be a sexually autonomous woman unafraid to vocalise and prioritise her desires. She’s just getting started, and bringing with her a much needed dose of glam and equal measures of dazzling Glo.
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