“Any problems I have, I just go studio,” South London-based British-Nigerian rapper FLOHIO says over a Zoom call. She’s speaking ahead of the release of next month’s debut album ‘Out of Heart’: a 12-track project which skips confidently across sonic palettes to reveal new shades. Her voice is crisp throughout the release, bouncing with drunken bravado over sparse, crackling, anthemic beats which underpin the 29-year-old’s lyrical themes of self-discovery, vulnerability and a certain reckoning with the past. “Music is my way out of things,” she says. “If I’m stuck somewhere, I just have to enter that tunnel vision because music is my light at the end of that tunnel.”
Across the album, ‘Out of Heart’ possesses a coiled energy which FLOHIO seems to unleash as if it’s years of conversation she’s exhaling into the project. It makes sense. Initially turning heads and grabbing headlines when she burst onto the scene in 2016 with pummelling breakout single ‘SE16’, hers is a debut that feels long overdue - the product of more than half a decade’s steady ascent.
In that time, however, collaborations with the likes of Modeselektor, The Streets and Clams Casino have ensured that her resume is as long as it is varied. Where most rappers might choose to work with traditional producers and beats, FLOHIO seems fuelled by a fierce DIY aesthetic and disinterest to pander to the hip hop normative: an attitude that also translates to her debut. Almost two years in the making, and accelerated by the pandemic and the additional indoor time that ensued, ‘Out of Heart’ sees her bringing in frequent collaborators, the industrially-minded God Colony, to executively produce the album. “Whenever I have a problem, I go speak to my producer,” Flohio says. “We just talk it out on the track. They know my vibe, they know my creative space.” The features on it are minimal, with New York-based R&B alt-pop artist HAWA the only name with a significant contribution and credit.
Central, instead, is FLOHIO herself - her lyrical punches, urgent double-time flows and complex rhyme schemes hidden amongst wobbling bass lines and crashing cymbals. “Been in a messy place / The only way is up / I got my daddy’s trait / Baby I’m smooth as fuck,” she raps on ‘Grace’. ‘Out of Heart’ seems to revolve around a sense of discovery, of an artist finding herself again after grief enveloped her following the death of multiple loved ones. “The more I move in this music realm, the more powers I seem to acquire,” she says. “Extraterrestrial ones which make me stronger, not just as an artist but as a person.” And FLOHIO has needed these powers over the past few years.
“The more I move in this music realm, the more powers I seem to acquire.”
Throughout ‘Out of Heart’, FLOHIO references her aunt, who recently passed away. She also constantly references Priscilla, one of her oldest and best friends. “Priscilla, I lost a while ago but I think about her daily,” she says slowly today. “You know how you have that one support system or that person that just knows wherever you are, they’re supporting you? It was like that because we were always together. That passing, of course, was premature. That’s why I always want to talk about her because she’d be my age right now, growing up right now.”
Naming those that have gone is powerful in and of itself, a way to honour, commemorate and imprint their memory forever onto the world. It’s an act just as important as honouring them in life, because grief is an ongoing conversation. “I try not to overdo it,” she notes. “I want them to rest peacefully.”
For the 29-year-old, coming out of grief towards a state of peace involved looking inwards and rediscovering what made her happy. Those moments of contemplation brought about memories of playing video games as a child after her family had moved to London from Nigeria. “Before youth clubs, my family’s living room was the youth club,” she says with a laugh. Soundtracks like those for Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot and Final Fantasy influenced the sonic palette throughout ‘Out of Heart’, and reminiscing over and paying homage to them via small Easter eggs became a way for FLOHIO to rediscover her sense of self.
“I play games with my nephew, with my friends,” she says. “It’s something I do to relax my mind. I love the music, and the world you go into. It can also be a super friendly community. It’s how I made friends when I was younger. It helped me solidify friendships.”
Interweaving themes of childhood, loss, self-discovery and contentment, FLOHIO has created a confident project in ‘Out of Heart’. A steadfast, unapologetic statement, it’s a floor-raising album which signifies that the South London rapper is just as capable of creating a full-length project as she is commanding festival stages across the world and experimenting with her EP and single releases. ‘Out of Heart’ may have been a few years in the making but its arrival elevates FLOHIO to new heights.
“The consumerism of music is cheaper, faster, everybody wants it,” she says. “The debut album was something everybody was kind of looking forward to because you see new artists and you expect them to do it straightaway. I took longer and I think it was perfect timing because I needed the space.”
Now, however, FLOHIO is itching for the world to hear the project - not only because she’s immensely proud of it, but because she’s already working on new material. Hinting towards future collaborators she’d like to work with, such as a second link up with Clams Casino, FLOHIO is already setting down a path towards the brightest of futures. “Music is my light,” she says. “I just keep going, keep going, keep going.”
‘Out of Heart’ is out 7th October via AWAL.
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