Tiffany Calver: “The watering pool of talent for UK rap is insane right now”

Tiffany Calver: “The watering pool of talent for UK rap is insane right now”

Over the past year, Tiffany Calver has solidified her reputation as one of the UK’s biggest tastemakers when it comes to hip-hop through hosting The Rap Show on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra – not to mention her live DJ sets, such as the special guest-heavy ‘Tiffany Calver & Friends’.

Calver will be among the performers at the Annie Mac-curated Lost & Found Festival in Malta (September 10-13) — but don’t expect her to be on time for her flight home, though. “I had so much fun last year that I slept through about 30 alarms, missed my flight and ended up in Domino’s the day after — so I’m quite excited about doing it all over again!” Calver told NME about the prospect of playing at the picturesque Mediterranean event.

NME caught up with Calver to gauge her excitement about the bright future of the scene, get her memories of the late Pop Smoke and hear about the experience of being invited on a European arena tour with a little-known artist called Drake.

NME: Back in January you celebrated one year of hosting The Rap Show on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra…

Tiffany Calver: “I can’t believe it’s only been 12 months, because we’ve done so much. It’s such a big show to take over, and I have to do it in my own way. I don’t want to follow in anyone’s footsteps or do what other people have done — I’m always looking for what hasn’t been done, and doing what I’m passionate about.”

Has much changed?

“What’s really interesting is that the listenership has kind of shifted a bit: it’s more equal now. Someone messaged me recently saying how I make women feel comfortable to go into a mosh pit, or go to a rap show, or be a DJ, or listen to the music they listen to because they didn’t really feel comfortable before. I’ve kind of co-signed it in a way, which is a really interesting perspective to have. But I can understand it: there’s never been someone that looks like me in England that does the show I do, so I guess it is refreshing to be in that position where I can kind of make a change in how people perceive women in rap.”

  • Read more: Turn on, tune in, hang out – how radio is uniting the nation in the age of COVID-19

What else needs to be done to help break down barriers for women in music?

“It’s definitely progressing. There are still barriers that need to broken, unfortunately. There are so many areas, especially in music, where people lack an understanding of how to support and be allies in helping shift this weird, unequal balance between women and men. I think we’re so vocal and so aware of it now that as long as we keep making a big deal about it, it can’t really go away.”

What do you have planned for the future of The Rap Show?

“I’m so curious and such a nerd about music that I’m always trying to find ways to introduce new music to people. I just love rap: I love French rap, I love German rap, I love Dutch rap, I love Italian rap — the Italian rap scene is actually crazy! But at the same time my main focus is still championing what’s happening on our home turf: the watering pool of talent for UK rap is insane right now.”

You recently tweeted that there were so many “so many fire new rappers” ready to break through – who are you tipping?

“There’s so many incredible kids doing their thing. It’s absolutely well-known that I love Pa Salieu: his is one of my favourite freestyles that I’ve ever done and he’s a star. The music he’s been making is ridiculous and he’s so experimental, which is refreshing — his approach to music reminds me of Slowthai.”

Anyone else?

“I’m from the West Midlands so I love Birmingham rap, like M1llionz, Mowgli and Miss Lafamilia. In London there’s Lavida Loca, Back Road Gee and there’s an incredible female drill artist called TeeZandos who I think is going to have such a great year. There’s so much quality now: there’s never been an issue of quantity, but the quality of incredible artists coming through is crazy.”

The world recently mourned the loss of Pop Smoke. What are your memories of him?

“The first time I ever met him we were in New York, and I think ‘Welcome To The Party’ hadn’t really broken in the UK yet. I was obsessed with it, and I was telling my New York friends: ‘We need to get Pop Smoke on the show, I wanna be the first person to have him on the radio in the UK.’ And I got to be that person. With hip-hop there’s a lot of ego, and sometimes you don’t really know what you’re gonna get. But he was one of the most welcoming, humble kids I’ve ever met, and was completely grateful about the opportunities that came to him. He was very selfless. It’s really tough to even talk about.”

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An unbelievable loss. Absolutely speechless. Rest in Peace Pop Smoke. 20 years young. 💔

A post shared by Tiffany Calver (@tiffanycalver) on

What was it that set him apart?

“It’s such a loss because he’d really done so much. Not just for himself, [but] Brooklyn and the New York music scene in general, because if we’re being completely honest, the sound of rap music right now is drill, because of him. He’s helped open doors for drill producers and artists in the UK because America is starting to vibe with what we’re doing, which has never been seen before really on such a massive scale. Drake’s making a drill freestyle, Travis Scott is jumping on drill, and there are so many people jumping on this wave which started on our turf and that this guy from Brooklyn has managed to push. That’s not to say he’s the only drill artist from Brooklyn, but he was definitely at the forefront.”

  • Read more: From Pop Smoke to Fivio Foreign – the best New York drill songs

You supported Drake on his ‘Assassination Vacation’ tour in the UK and Europe last year. That must have been pretty cool?

“Last year was the biggest year of my life: I got my dream radio show that I’d always wanted, I got to go on tour with an artist I grew up listening to — the best thing is that [Drake] isn’t a dick, he’s a really nice person! I got so much sound advice from him, and he really pushed me to open my eyes more. I now see more potential in myself than maybe I did prior to the tour. I can see just how big things can go if you work really hard.”

Do you and Drake catch up regularly?

“We still talk, yeah. He knows more about GRM Daily than I do, he’s a massive fan. That’s why we get on: we’re two massive nerds. We really made a genuine friendship being on the road together: the way he is as a person, you forget he’s Drake. If I text him right now, guaranteed he’ll reply quicker than if I text my best friend, who’s in my living room. He’s so good at being a friend and a normal person that you forget who he is. The one [negative] thing about touring with him was that my DMs will never be the same: ‘Nothing Was The Same’, including my DMs…”

Tiffany Calver will play AMP Lost & Found, which takes place September 10-13. Tickets are available here.

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