'It’s like women playing football: people don't get it'
Melanie Kaidan
10:00 4th January 2022

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Ivorian Doll’s music isn’t for the faint-hearted. Speaking her mind regardless of the audience became her forté back in the days when she decided to quit university to pursue a YouTube career, and it’s what the drill star has been doing ever since. 

Born in Germany, the rapper (real name Vanessa Mahi) moved to East London when she was only three, something that allowed her to take in the sound that inspired her own music. Her debut single, ‘Queen of Drill’, came in 2019 after a short stint collaborating with her friend Abigail Asante. Now, she’s redefining the genre.

“I started off as a YouTuber and I was going to uni at the same time,” she tells us. “I didn't really like uni because I felt that I wasn't getting the most out of it. So I went into YouTube and I created myself supporters from there. I used to do funny content, story-times, giving girls advice…and then I accidentally fell into music

I had a friend at the time who was in a duo. She wanted to start rapping and I said, ‘okay, let’s do it as a joke, it would be funny’. I always did like music but I never thought I’d actually get into it. I wanted to make art.”

Two years on from this little “joke” and Ivorian Doll is one of drill’s better-known artists, racking up millions of views on her GRM Daily drops. By all accounts, reaching this point was quite a blur. 

“I was on Instagram [before YouTube] but I wasn't like an influencer or anything. I feel like it just kind of gradually came along…people just started following me and I used to speak my mind a lot. I still do. When I started to be posted on blogs, that's when I think more people started tuning in.

“I feel like I’ve always been outspoken. I think I'm kind of more private now. Before I would literally say anything. But I think I still am open to showing people what I'm doing on a daily basis. Through my Snapchat, through my Instagram story… I feel like what you see is what you get with me. I try to put [my personality] in my music so it feels like you know the person.”

Her outspokenness—which manifests on YouTube as plain-talking confessional videos and in her music as bold braggadocio and slick disses—can sometimes divide public opinion on her. “I feel like some people love it,” she says, “it makes them like: ‘okay I can be like that, I want to be outspoken, I want to be confident’. While some people will be like, ‘oh, who does she think she is? Why does she think she can say anything?’ So it can go two ways really.” But Ivorian Doll has learnt to deal with the hate she sometimes receives across her social media platforms, which collectively boast more than 500,000 followers. “I just ignore it,” she shrugs.

“If people are sending hate I just don’t look at it. When people message me hate—I don't really get a lot of them but I used to—I just ignore it. People say the most horrible things, but what you need to know is that when it's in real life you’re not going to get that same energy. I've realised that it's just online…you can't really take it literally. I just really just don't care.”

The drill artist counts some of rap’s biggest names as her inspirations, and concedes that looking up to them made dreams of following in their footsteps once seem unattainable. “Missy Elliott is so good. Nicki Minaj: absolutely love her. And Beyoncé! I used to look at some of these people and think, ‘Oh my God, I would really want to be the same at that point’. Like, I’ve always had an interest in it, but I thought, ‘no, that’s probably what’s not going to happen.’”

With inspirations like these, Ivorian Doll was bound to drop an outrageously fun music video, and one soon came in the form of the visuals for her 2020 breakout single ‘Rumours’. In it, she channels her inner American High School student as she fiercely raps her landmark words to the camera. “With ‘Rumors' I kind of just thought, ‘I want to have a playful video, I don't want it to be too serious’,” she explains. “Because my personality is not serious. I'm a very playful person. So I thought, ‘you know what, let me do it like a drill song, but it’s fun, it’s dancy…’ So basically, I like to do what I would like to see.”

IVD says the reception to her music since the beginning has surprised her in a positive way. “I think it started from acknowledging me as an artist. After ‘Rumors', that's when I was very overwhelmed because before that I was like, ‘oh, they would never know me’. When people like your picture or dm you or say ‘I love you’, you’re just thinking ‘wow’. I still get excited about things like that because it just makes you think: ‘what can happen next?’”

IVD says that standing her ground is key to assessing her place in the scene. “In the beginning, I felt like because you're a girl they’ll treat you differently,” she discloses. “I feel like, as a woman, you just kind of need to make sure you're assertive and make sure that you show that you're not a pushover. It’s like women playing football: people don't get it. It doesn't make sense to them.”

But IVD has received plenty of support from other women inside and outside the music business. “I feel like girls are a bit different in the industry,” the rapper points out. If they like you, they will dm you and they will tell you. With guys, they don't say anything.”

Most women supported Ivorian Doll in her upward trajectory, but grime giant Lady Leshurr famously released a bombshell diss track, ’DIV', directed towards her. IVD explains that the acknowledgement came like a bolt from the blue for her. “That one was different because I've never spoken to her, ever. We never had a conversation,” she says, “and then, she mentioned me and I didn't know her, so that was weird for me because I didn't know where that came from. But it's not the same [as usual] because this one's like, ‘well, I didn’t know there was an issue’”.

2020 track ‘Rumours’ has been, by far, her most-loved track. It also gave her the initial push that saw her play gigantic stages this year at festivals like Parklife and Wireless. But the rapper admits she did not expect the immense support she experienced during her live shows, especially after the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a standstill after the song’s release. “It was very, very, very overwhelming. I loved it,” Ivorian Doll confesses. “It made me so happy because one reason that I was upset during the pandemic is because I thought, ‘ah, I've missed out on the shows, ‘Rumors' could’ve been bigger’. But [the support] just made me feel like, ‘okay, I have to keep going because people [still wanted] to see my solo work.

“I was really happy. I've never gone to festivals as well. I don't really go to festivals. I mean, my first time at festivals was performing, so that made me happy.”

After an intense year, IVD has been taking some time off to wind down…and work on new music to make a huge comeback with. “I feel like right now I'm having a holiday. I’ve had a long year, I’m tired,” she muses. “I was going to do a tour, but I said ‘let me hold on for a bit’ because I actually need something out like a mixtape. When I come back I’ll be performing my new songs. That's really what I'm working on at the moment.”

After her well-deserved break, Ivorian Doll has aspirations to collaborate with international female artists in what would represent her big break across the pond. Her dream collaborators? “I think it would probably be like Megan [Thee Stallion] or Nicki [Minaj]…I actually love Doja Cat too. 

“In the future, I want to be way bigger and way better,” she asserts, “I think I'm always trying to do something I've never done before. Every song and every music video needs to be better than the last one. Every performance needs to be better than the last one. I'm always trying to make sure that I'm always having a one-up on myself. The mindset is just to be in competition with yourself and have tunnel vision. And that's what I'm trying to do and continue to work on.”

This interview first appeared in Gigwise 2: The Back To The Future Issue. Buy a copy here.

Issue Two of the Gigwise Print magazine is on sale now! Buy it here.

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