VIPER’s founder Lily Mercer spoke to South London singer, R.A.E., on the set of the JD King of the Game Christmas campaign…
Not Ekin-Su listening to ‘Like This’! What was your reaction when you saw that video?
It was crazy because I’ve never watched an episode of Love Island in my life, I don’t even really watch TV. Someone sent it to me and they’re like, “your song’s in the background!” I was like, “what?! Oh my gosh!” I knew of her, so I was like, ‘this is crazy’ because I’m an independent artist. Someone as big as her listening to my song is real crazy. Most of my friends are big Love Island fans so they were proper excited for me.
You’ve had some huge names show recognition, including the legendary Jermaine Dupri, who was the person that shocked you the most?
It might have to be King Combs, P Diddy’s son. Him actually wanting to jump on the remix of my song, ‘Not Your Love’, I was like, “what?!” The world is so small when you think about it, we’re literally in two different countries and his dad’s a legend. I’m just a girl from Thamesmead in southeast London, him jumping on my song was a big thing.
You’re a 90’s baby, how has that era shaped your sound?
I feel like there’s no era like the 90s, you could really be yourself in that era. I was born in the 90s but I was only five years old. I wanted to bring that back for people who didn’t really experience that era, like myself. It’s really shaped me a lot, the movie Sister Act was a big influence for me. It’s a really cool musical that I wish I was a part of. I’m a massive fan of TLC, they really shaped me as well.
You’re inspired by some of the most lyrical female rappers of the nineties, when did you first try rapping?
The first time I ever rapped I was 10 years old, and I wrote a rap about this girl in the playground. She wasn’t very nice so I wrote a rap about her, it was about her hairy legs or something. It was a diss track but I didn’t even know it was a diss track. This was my first time actually saying, “I think I can do this.” I used to rap in the playground with another artist called Enny; we went to school together, and that’s now my best friend. We were rapping in the playground together but I was really shy. I thought, you know what, let me just have a go at this. Da Brat has a song called ‘Funkdafied’ and I wrote a song called ‘Oi Son’ to the instrumental. I didn’t really care about the song, but I wanted to make a video to it, and I put it on Twitter and it went around. I thought, ‘I can really do this’. 2018 was like the first time I was like, “Yeah, I can actually be an artist.”
That’s so cool that you’re friends, I’m guessing you didn’t see competition in you both making music?
You know, I’m so weird because even if there is competition, I always feel like competition is within yourself so we’re always egging each other on. When she’s doing something iconic I’m like, “Oh, that’s so sick!” Then she’s always like, “you got this.” We bring each other in as much as we can as well, it’s a real sisterhood. It’s nice that we’ve known each other since year seven and we’re still really cool to this day.
Your ‘LISTEN UP’ EP dropped in 2020, have you got plans to release another project in the next year or so?
I havesongs for a project, but I just didn’t feel like it represented me as a whole. I felt like I evolved whilst making it. So we’ve pushed it to next year, we’re going to add new songs, but I’m releasing a song hopefully this month about being from South London. I need to put some music out, it’s been a minute.
Your name stands for Rising Above Everything, what experiences have you risen above to get where you are today?
I was a selective mute growing up, I never spoke to anyone but my immediate family or my cousins tiI was about seven, and after that, I used to speak but it was very minimal. I still have family members that have no clue what I sound like. So the fact that I went from being such a silent person to being here doing music and actually performing in front of a crowd is crazy; I rose above like that. If I can be anything for other shy people, or people who have selective mutism, [it’s] that you actually have a voice that people can hear.
Your career is music, do you ever think about how things could have been?
If I didn’t go into music, I would either have been acting or audiology.I still get emails from recruiters asking me if I can start being an audiologist and I’m like, “I’m not even interested in that right now.” Music was always inevitable, but I couldn’t see myself doing music or acting. That was just a dream really.
If you had a playlist that was limited to six songs that inspired your sound most, what songs?
First of all TLC, ‘What About Your Friends?’ I love that song. The second will be New Edition, ‘Count Me Out’. Hi-Five, ‘I Like the Way (The Kissing Game)’ and MC Lyte, ‘Ruffneck’. Brandy, ‘Sittin’ Up in My Room’ and then it will be Cleopatra ‘Life Ain’t Easy’.
If you could work with any artist dead or alive, who would you work with?
Left Eye 100%, I sometimes feel like I really embody her because she’s so animated and I’m quite animated in my videos. She’s just a cool person, I like her a lot; I hope she’s proud of me.
You were the first Black woman and first rapper to win the Glastonbury Emerging Talent Festival, what did that mean to you?
I felt like I changed the script a bit. It means there’s a door that has opened for other black women to be a part of the competition and actually have a chance of winning. It was so crazy because I didn’t even know I was a part of the competition until I reached the semifinals; I believe my manager applied for me and I had no clue, so when I saw, I got an email saying you’ve been long listed. I was like, “wait what? This is legit?” So when I found out that I actually won through Twitter, I was making a banana cake, it was lockdown; I think everybody had banana cakes in a chokehold. I’m really bad at taking things in until later, but whilst I was at Glastonbury, I was like, ‘I’m actually here’. I remember watching Stormzy on TV the year before the competition. I was like, ‘I want to be on that stage’. I had a dream once, I was 16, and I could see myself on the stage. It was me but I couldn’t see my face and I was performing in front of a big crowd, so when I won, I was like, maybe that’s the dream.
Is there anything else that you’d like to have?
It’s probably happening right now but I’ve always wanted to be in a massive advert and I write in my book a lot that I want to be in an advert. Even if I don’t have lines, just to be on the screen, and I really want to be in a movie or a musical.
You manifest well.
Yeah, I’m really good at manifesting short term things. Like if I want KFC, I can manifest that and my mum will be like, “do you want KFC?” That’s lit, I think I’m great at manifesting long term things, but I just don’t realise I’ve done it. I found out I’m doing this and I was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy” because it came out of the blue. Literally the day before, I said to myself, “I just want to be in an advert or something. Then they’re like, “come and do this”. I didn’t even know it was a Christmas ad but I did know it was a really big thing.
What is your earliest memory of JD?
My earliest memory of JD would have to be the JD bags the shoe comes in, everyone at school carried one as a PE bag. It was just iconic to have a JD bag, I remember walking into JD with my mum and I was like, “I want these trainers.” I don’t remember what trainers but I just really wanted the pair. JD has a particular smell to it and it’s the smell that you can’t forget. The first time I remember going into JD I was six, and it was in Surrey Quays. I lost my Tamagotchi in there, but I left with a pair of trainers.
If you could pick one thing from JD that you would like under the tree this year, what would it be?
I’d love an Under Armour side bag, a pouch in black because I just love black. But any colour would do, I experiment with a lot of colours in my outfits.
Can you let someone else win a game, or do you take it personally?
I can actually let someone else win a game, I’m not a sore loser, but I do love a competition. I will definitely try my hardest to win, but if I don’t win, it’s all good.
So what is the worst L you ever took?
Sports day, I think it was year 10 and I was doing hurdles. I fell over every single hurdle, every single one. It was so embarrassing but I didn’t give up, I carried on doing it. Even when I got to the end, I was last but I just had fun jumping over the hurdles. Hurdles are really hard, so falling over each one was a big L but it’s okay, I’m here standing.
Are there any games that you can’t play anymore cause the loss was way too painful?
Football in primary school. I was begging the boys so I could play with them and they’re like, “no.” I was like, “please!” They’re like, “OK,” and then I was so happy that I got the ball and I was kicking it into the wrong goal, they were literally shouting my name. I thought they were cheering me on but they were shouting my name because I’m going the wrong way! I literally scored an own goal and I was like “flip.” That’s quite sad, they didn’t let me play after that, they literally took the ball away from me.
What’s your style essential?
Oh, I think it might be my bucket hats; I wear a lot of bucket hats. I have my own brand of bucket hats, I even have a tattoo of one. They’re all equal and they’re all different colours. My brand’s called Risers and that’s what I call my fans because we’re rising. I think my favourite from my brand might be my cream one because it goes with everything. But my favourite bucket hat that I own is a big furry one because I feel like Jamiroquai.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I would go back to the year 1992. I wasn’t born but if I was a teen, I’d be into 1992 music and culture. I feel like that was a great year for music. I’ve always wanted to perform at the Apollo. That’s a really iconic place where a lot of artists have performed, I remember there was a video of Lauryn Hill performing there. She actually got booed and I was like, “they don’t even know who they’re booing!” She’s a legend! The Aresenio Hall Show is somewhere i’d like to perform – I want my own talk show like Arsenio Hall, but with a twist.
Any personal fashion disasters that you can’t forget?
Yeah, college we were doing a fashion show and my friend was like, “just be a part of it.” I was like, “No, I’m shy.” She said just be a part of it, I’m like, “okay,” so I had to wear like these big trousers and there was no belt. I just remember walking and these trousers are literally around my ankles by the time I got down the runway. I didn’t even realise, I was literally just walking in my knickers and it’s college as well so people aren’t nice. People laughed at me a lot, I ran off, I couldn’t even laugh at myself. I just ran off and I was like “flip, now I’m gonna be the talk of the school.” I was the talk of school for about a day.
Have you always liked streetwear?
I have; I always matched really weird clothing together and my siblings would be like, “What are you wearing?” I was always the kid in school that had the newest pair of trainers and I used to show off a bit because I wanted to be cool.
Do you have a favourite Christmas memory?
Yeah I was a kid and Blockbuster was still around, my birthday is just after the Christmas period and my mum was like, “we can go to Blockbuster and pick out one movie.” I picked out Grease because I just really love Grease. I remember putting it on on Christmas Eve and I was getting my hair braided by my cousin. I think it snowed that year and that was the first time I remember it. It’s snowing on Christmas! I ran outside and started having a snowball fight with my hair half done. I wanted to do a snow angel but I couldn’t because I was getting my hair done so I was watching everyone else do it, but it was still fun to throw snow at each other. I had a cup of hot chocolate as well, I remember it was dark that night and I feel like I heard sparkles in the sky. I know Santa was coming down in his sleigh.
What’s the worst gift you ever received?
I don’t like flowers, and I went on a date and she gave me flowers. I said to her, “I don’t like flowers,” and then she was sad. I didn’t really understand why she was sad and I was like, ‘oh, damn, it’s because I said I don’t like flowers’. So I told her I’d take the flowers home and they died, but I felt so bad that I said I didn’t like the flowers.
So have you ever had someone ruin your Christmas?
Yeah, my mum and my brother; this is a Blockbuster story again. So my birthday is January 3rd and my brother’s is December 30th, so my mum was like, “Okay, you can go to Blockbuster and pick out two movies to watch.” This was just before Christmas, and I was like, “I want Grease again because I love Grease,” and my older sister wants Bend It Like Beckham, and my brother wants Lord of the Rings, but we can only choose two. My mum was like, “we watch Grease all the time, let them choose.” I was like, “why, it’s my birthday?” and she was like, “no.” So I had to watch Bend It Like Beckham and Lord of the Rings whilst I was sitting there crying, even though I actually enjoyed Bend It Like Beckham. But I didn’t want to show that I was enjoying it.
Was there ever any competitiveness when you were growing up?
I always wanted to be a really great dancer and my younger sister was so good, she could break dance and everything. Then my siblings would have a dance battle and I wouldn’t win because they’d always choose my sister as the winner. Then i’ll say, “Oh, but I can do this” and just do a spin or made up move and it’ll be rubbish. Then I was like, “I’m gonna just teach myself
how to dance on YouTube and watch, I’m gonna be able to do that neck move where your neck rotates around.” Now I can do it and they can’t.
If you can pick the game to take on your whole family + know you’ll win, what’s the game?
You know, I’m not even good. I just manifest I’m going to win and I always win. Or what’s one game? I’m really good at Tekken. Yeah. Tekken; I usually win that.On PlayStation. But if Sims was a game [you could win at], no one can play Sims like me.
Interview by Lily Mercer