It's difficult to argue that Brooklyn is synonymous with hip hop. The New York borough is responsible for legendary figures like B.I.G, Jay-Z, Mos Def and Lil' Kim to name a few — and now, a new rap superstar has emerged from its mile long avenues, Lola Brooke.
With part of her moniker even coming from her home, this Brooklynite first burst onto the scene in 2021 with 'Don't Play with It', since then the rapper - often nicknamed Big Gator in response to her track 'Gator Season' - has collaborated with the likes of Ciara, Coi Leray and NLE Choppa, she's performed at the Barclays Center and has been inducted into the XXL Freshman Class of 2023.
Read this next: 25 early and rare tracks from hip hop's best producers
Firstly, congrats on being inducted into the XXL Freshman Class of 2023! How does that feel?
It feels good because I didn't think that I could ever accomplish getting on the XXL Freshman Class, I don’t know why. But it was definitely on my bucket list and I’m just happy that I fulfilled it and I had fun. Freshman Class is like boot camp, if you go through the boot camp process then you’re like one of the ones!
It reflects your huge rise to fame from last year, how have you adapted to this?
Honestly, I just keep working and I always want to be better than yesterday. I have the success, but sometimes I can’t feel the fame. I’m here to make myself proud first and foremost before anything, and of course my fans, but I've just been taking it day-by-day and just sharpening my pen.
Does it come naturally to not feel the fame?
Yes, it is natural because rap is a hobby that I created to be a job. I didn’t do it for fame, I did it for self-confidence.
Growing up in Brooklyn was it inspiring to see the rich legacy of hip hop in the borough?
I was too young to understand it but as I got older and I started taking rap seriously and pursued a career I started to do my homework and look back and I was amazed with a lot of things. So growing up, music was just music to me, I didn’t look at it as homework… now it’s homework!
Yeah, with rappers from Brooklyn like yourself or Joey Bada$$, you can clearly see the old-school influences in your music.
Right, well I can say that there was always some good music playing in our household, for sure!
That wasn't my generation, so I didn't know too much about it. I had heard it, of course, but I was introduced to it when I did the record with the producer Reefa. I was scared, but I just took a risk.
You recently performed at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, you grew up close to the arena so that must have felt surreal?
Yeah, that’s Brooklyn so it’s basically my sandbox. I enjoyed it for sure and every time I come out to the Barclays, the whole city go crazy!
What was it like to perform there?
It was like a dream. It was a dream come true. I've been in the building multiple times in my life but never would I have thought that I'd be on stage. I've always been in the audience, but now I’m on stage.
What was the transition like from performing to more intimate crowds, to then performing in front of thousands of people?
It felt natural, because I've always performed in a way that even if it was 40-50 people, I would imagine it was 100,000 people! Sometimes I block it out as well, so I don’t really see too much.
This was during a Future show, how did this come about? Did he get in touch with you personally?
I thought it was fake. I was like “What? He asked me to come out, why?” But it was great and I just learnt something from it because it shows the greats always pass the torch to the new soul!
As you continue your rise to fame, would you like to give back to your community in Brooklyn?
Yes, I would love to give back. I used to work in a shelter before I started my music career and I miss it every day. It taught me a lot, when I do get the chance to give back I'm going to make sure I do, for sure.
You collabed with Coi Leray for ‘No Angels’ on her new album, what was that process like?
Coi sent me the record when I was out in Miami, it was an off-day and I was just doing my own thing and then - when I got the record - I just wanted to make sure I get this girl her verse back as fast as possible, because I knew she was trying to drop her album. I sent my verse within 24-hours and I was just praying that she loved it, she did.
You’ve collaborated with some huge names like Ciara, NLE Choppa and Latto, who have all got unique sounds… Do these collaborations help you grow as an artist?
Of course, because the different vibes just show my creativity and show that I'm as versatile as I can be.
We are seeing female rappers dominating the charts, is this one of the most exciting moments for the genre?
Yeah, it is because there are multiple female artists that are all just going crazy all at once and that’s not really normal!
You recently got a co-sign from Meek Mill, this must have felt surreal as he is one of your biggest influences?
That's like my favourite rapper so getting a co-sign from Meek Mill meant a lot to me because I felt that this was my destiny, I was supposed to be an artist.
You are currently working on your debut project, what has this process been like?
The project is not yet done… but it’s a good 92% done! The process is just me going through my emotions and not overthinking but also my introduction, a lot of people know me and a lot of people don’t know me so I just want them to understand who Lola Brooke is.
Do you want to show the world who you are in this project?
Right, I just want to show who I am as Lola Brooke, as well as Shyniece.
You’ll be performing at Wireless Festival this week, are you looking forward to that?
I’m looking forward to the crowd because I’ve always been told “When you go to the UK they treat you like a queen!”
Have you performed in London before?
Yeah, I went on tour with A Boogie [Wit da Hoodie] and it was wild. I brought out Russ Millions!
Wow, what was that like?
The crowd was crazy and then when Russ came out the lights went wild… there was so much it was like a light show!
I’ve heard a few American rappers say that British crowds have more energy… What’s it like compared to a crowd in the US?
Well, I’m American so I’m not gonna do my people like that but the energy is definitely felt in a room when you go to London, for sure! Not even when you get on stage, you can feel it before you get on stage, you can hear them before you reach the stage. They embrace you because they don't really get to see you as much, so the love is a little different. Back home it’s like “Yeah, we knew you would do it!” And then when you go to London, it’s like “Oh my God, who is this person?”
Adam Davidson is freelance writer, follow him on Instagram