Following the release of her 2018 EP ‘4U’, South London vocalist Ojerime should have had the world at her feet. She’d been winning plaudits aplenty for her eerie, seductive and quietly experimental take on r’n’b, and had been touted as a possible UK counterpoint to the likes of Kelela and Jessy Lanza. But at the exact point she should have been brimming with excitement for the future, she was falling apart.
“It led to me being hospitalised,” she admits. “I wanted to quit music, but when you’re a true musician you don’t really mean that.”
Dealing with the pressures of the music industry led to a mental breakdown and a six-week stay in hospital. But during her stay, as part of a weekly six-hour leave she would travel to Kent to work on a new project, giving her much-needed moments of respite. “When I left for good, I went straight back to working on the tape,” she explains. “Each week I’d go to Chatham to mix the record and it was a lot of effort when my health wasn’t in the best place. I became obsessive about it, because the music was the only thing I had.”
The result is her brand-new mixtape ‘b4 i breakdown’ which chronicles a period in her life where it was difficult to see a way out of the darkness, but which ultimately led to some personal salvation. And who knows where it’ll take her next: with lightly-worn early noughties influences that suggest a youth spent listening to the likes of Alliyah and D’Angelo, and vocals softer than silk, Ojerime has every chance of reaching the same heights as some of her heroes in 2020.
Like so UK many soul singers before her, Ojerime found her early vocal education in gospel churches, with her dual Nigerian-Jamaican heritage also influencing much of her early artistry. “I never wanted to force an American accent because I was never taught to sing in one,” she explains. “I went to gospel choir for years, I listened to r’n’b growing up but I just have to feel comfortable with how I sing.”
While she is considered a rising name in electronic r’n’b, Ojerime has been recording music for the best part of a decade, releasing her first original project, ‘The Silhouette’, on SoundCloud back in 2015. Before many SoundCloud artists migrated to Spotify and Apple around 2016, Ojerime was part of an underground r’n’b scene in London that was DIY by nature.
“Ever since I started, I haven’t spent more than two hundred pounds on each project because I’ve always tried to keep things raw,” she tells us. “I’m realising I don’t have to rely on others.” In addition, Ojerime has produced most of her own music over the years, only ever really turning to engineers for external support.
In an ideal world, ‘b4 i breakdown’ wouldn’t have been created out of such sadness and pain, but it remains a part of who Ojerime is, and her story. More importantly, it’s Ojerime’s desire to give listeners her whole self which she feels is her purpose as a musician and artist – but for now: “I’m here, and I’m still standing.”
‘b4 I breakdown’ is out now on Believe
Jesse Bernard is Contributing Editor at Trench and a freelance writer, follow him on Twitter
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