Over the last couple of years, ENNY has progressed to ‘genuine star’ status. Fronting magazines and building buzz, she’s now heading into what she’s referring to as ‘Phase 2’. We’re here to find out more.
Words: Martyn Young.
Photos: Sarah Louise Bennett.
Make Up: Nance Synthia Katende.
Hair: Magalie Katende.
Styling: Adeola Johnson & El-Shaddai Nyagodzi.
At its best, music is all about personalities. People who can take you on a journey and tell a story that can be illuminating, heartbreaking, inspiring or hilariously entertaining. Sometimes all in the same song. ENNY is one of those cherished artists, and over the last three years, the 27-year-old British rapper has established herself as one of our most exciting and inspiring creative voices. ENNY is a special talent on the highest of levels, breaking boundaries and captivating audiences everywhere. One other thing she shares with that rarified group of exalted stars is a restless desire to improve and evolve. As she gets ready to return with new music, we’re about to enter the next stage of ENNY’s thrilling rise. “I’m calling this next chapter Phase 2,” she says confidently.
It’s fair to say Phase 1 for ENNY has gone quite well. From underground hype to overground breakthrough and global acclaim, ENNY is making good on years of promise and a gradual progression of honing her craft and following her own path. From early musical experiments writing and creating freestyle videos on YouTube in 2018 to her massive breakout moment with the incendiary defining anthem ‘Peng Black Girls’ in 2020, ENNY’s journey has been characterised by a desire to be the absolute best she can be. Nothing rushed. Nothing forced. Everything real. She’s cultivated a string of hot tracks, features and collabs that culminated in her 2021 debut EP ‘Under Twenty Five’. In late 2022 though, the vibes are slightly different as ENNY embarks on her new era, emboldened and invigorated by a year of relentless touring, performing and self-reflection. “It’s been really interesting. I’ve had a lot of self-growth,” she explains. “Experiencing a long run of tours for the first time as an artist has been really sick.” It’s a challenge many new artists face. How do you translate your music from the studio to live audiences? “Experiencing the intensity of it – I’ve always heard people describe it, but just being in it, it’s a whole different world,” she admits. “Going out and performing live is a lot, and you have to look after yourself.” It’s in those live experiences that it can hit you that the thing you’ve been dreaming of and working towards since you were a child is actually happening. “I did a festival in Germany, and it was a very crazy moment,” she exclaims. “It was a sick experience; as an artist, it’s something you always hope for. To catch people where English isn’t their first language signing your songs is proper cool.”
The drive to succeed and do it on her own terms has characterised ENNY’s rise. She’s always conscious of the importance of shaking things up and never staying still. Getting noticed is one thing, but challenging yourself and pushing forward, that’s the really exciting part. “It’s been really interesting going after something and getting it,” she reflects. “I always say that’s the weird thing where it’s something you’ve always hoped for, and you have tunnel vision for it, and it actually happens. When it happens, you’re kind of like ‘oh’. Then you’ve got to continue making it happen, and once it happens once, you don’t just stop – you’ve got to continue and evolve as an artist and find new inspiration and meaning behind what you’re doing it for. Initially, you’re doing it to be known, so people hear you and now, once people know your music, what’s next?”
We’ll get to what’s next, but it’s important to take a step and look at what’s gone before. For ENNY, her musical journey is one entwined with discovery and seeking out the transcendent feelings art can inspire. She’s a creative person on lots of levels. She has a lifelong love of film and visual arts, and you can see that in her brilliantly creative music videos. “I’ve always liked the visual and creative side of film and stories. That’s something that’s always stuck with me as a dream to get into that industry as well,” she says. In terms of music, though, her formative touchstones were rooted in soaking up the knowledge and passion of her family while growing up in London as the youngest of six kids. “I grew up with a lot of music in my house,” she begins. “My dad was the person that loved music growing up; that’s where I got my love of music. Learning how to start writing songs really young with a keyboard and listening to what my siblings and my mum were into. Music was a really prominent essence as a child. I’m the youngest and the last one, and I was just taking in everything.”
It wasn’t all just instant adoration for her dad’s passions, though. Like many kids, her initial instinct was to rebel. “I remember jazz, but I hated it,” she laughs. “I didn’t get it. My dad would always be like, this is the stuff, man. I’d be like, this is crap; I want to listen to some hip-hop or Spice Girls. Then I got older and understood that he had a point and that this was really the stuff. I listened to people like Nat King Cole and Stevie Wonder and a lot of grime from my siblings and a lot of gospel from my mum.”
There’s nothing particularly specific she took from those early years as an influence; it was more a kind of elemental feeling of the power of music. “I just really liked the way that music could make you feel. It was an emotional experience,” she explains. “You hear a sad song, and then you’re like, oh my god, why am I staring out the window pretending like I’m crying? Or you hear a happy song, and then you want to dance and feel good, and it makes you feel a bit better. I was understanding the emotional levels that music has.”
“It’s been really interesting going after something and getting it”ENNY
Those emotional depths are present in the amorphous and constantly evolving hip-hop of her music. Her tracks can be incredibly direct and fevered, while equally, they can be soft, gentle and heartstopping in their emotional resonance. The one thing that centres everything is ENNY’s presence and scene-stealing ability as a rapper on a level that very few artists can match. The confidence to do that, though, wasn’t always there. It was a work in progress that she’s cultivated over the years. “My confidence has had to grow as naturally as possible,” she says, reflecting on her development as an artist. “I was really shy and introverted, and I still am, but I feel like I’m a bit better. It happened naturally, from going from someone who was behind cameras and taking pictures of people to being in the front of pictures and being comfortable talking to people that you don’t know. I’m used to being in safe environments with people I know in a very sheltered existence. It happened naturally, and I’m happy that it happened because I always thought that I wouldn’t be able to be that person, and now I can when I need to, so that’s really cool.”
“One thing I’ve learned about myself is I don’t know it all,” she adds. “I don’t have all the answers, so it’s always good to hear what other people have to say and take advice.”
ENNY takes immense pride in her art and pride in showing up every time. Integrity, passion, and drive power her to always progress and reach higher. She’s an artist who knows exactly what she wants to do. “The vision is a combination of wanting to be the best rapper and the best artist in the world and also just being truthful and communicating the truth of the art as well as my truth,” she says.
Her latest track, ‘Champagne Problems’ is an enticing scene setter for Phase 2. A whip-smart, assured, and concise piece of storytelling that encompasses social commentary, political outrage, and brilliantly clever and witty wordplay, it’s a striking return that acts as a palate cleanser for a new era while paying homage to the freedom of her earliest days. ‘Champagne Problems’ is me reminding myself I love rapping,” she says excitedly. “I like the art of rapping. I’m from that era of proper hip-hop, and it’s me getting back to that. I started off initially just doing freestyles anyway, so this is me trying to bring that competitive swag back.”
In terms of the lyrics, it’s a playful whirlwind rush through the new experiences ENNY has had in her first rush of fame. “‘Champagne Problems’ is where sometimes you’re complaining about things, and you’re in a different space in life. You’ve got issues, but these are issues you’d probably have wanted a couple of years ago,” she explains. “I sometimes find myself getting caught up and overthinking things that weren’t really that deep, and I’d have conversations with people, and at the end, we’ll be like, what were we even talking about?! Yeah, it’s a problem, but fam, this is a great problem to have. It was a play on that.”
One of the many lyrical references in the new single is for her trademark hit ‘Peng Black Girls’. It’s indicative of the enduring legacy of the song and how it’s become something bigger than just a song and something more akin to a state of mind for an immersive progressive universe of empowerment and solidarity. “I don’t want to just be like, oh you made that song ‘Peng Black Girls’, and we celebrated that one time,” she says. “The feeling and the meaning behind it needs to carry on. If I keep it alive without blatantly saying it or even just giving a nod to it, then that’s important. I realised how important that song is to a lot of people. When I’m doing shows and doing shows in different countries and hearing people, no matter the race, shout back, ‘There’s peng black girls in my area code’ has been a really eye-opening thing. That’s the kind of context that I think I needed.”
ENNY cites the inspiring ending of Stormzy’s new video for ‘Mel Made Me Do It’ as an example of what that feeling of solidarity she instils in ‘Peng Black Girls’ looks like and endures. “If there was something to represent unity and the progression of the UK music scene and us as a people, then that imagery is something that has stuck with people.”
“The vision is a combination of wanting to be the best artist in the world and also just being truthful”ENNY
The desire to make music that matters on a deep and emotional level and truly inspires and connects is at the heart of what ENNY does and is part of her growth as an artist. The early rush of success was exciting, but the possibilities are infinite for what comes next. “I just relistened to ‘Under Twenty Five’ after a long time, and it does feel like a different section of life,” she reflects. “It feels like the younger version of myself. It’s nice to see the difference in the music I have now and the music I had then. It’s the more present and mature ENNY. The essence that I’m in right now is that I don’t know what that sounds like. I don’t know what it is or what the intention is. I have all the songs, but it’s not like one room of songs. That’s where I’m at with what’s coming next. It’s an evolution, and I’m figuring it out. I like documenting that journey through music as well.”
One of the common themes of her new music is the desire to experiment and not be bound to one sound or style. There’s nothing that can be considered too out of the box. “I do want to try an indie rock record,” she says intriguingly. “Something Arctic Monkeys-ish from that sort of era. When I was growing up, there were a lot of indie bands that I’d hear around, and I feel like I don’t get to hear that enough anymore.”
The ability to be musically dynamic is something that ENNY values. “Versatility is the main thing,” she says. “I think everyone gets caught up in one sound and just wants to do that one sound and exhausts every bit of creativity before moving on to the next. You need to be able to expand your palate and try a bunch of different stuff, so when the wave is over, your wave’s not over.”
“This is me trying to bring that competitive swag back”ENNY
As someone with a deep love of hip-hop’s golden past, ENNY’s music is in the lineage of socially conscious and progressive rap legends like Lauryn Hill and Nas. She’s unafraid to tackle any theme and dextrously manages to blend the political and the personal in all its heaviness and silliness. “I love that stuff,” she says of the funny and endearing playful lines she drops into her tracks. “It’s a balance I always try to find. We can get caught up being so political, and it can be quite heavy for people, so it can be nice to have an easier listen so you don’t feel like you’re being shouted at, but just having a conversation with people.” There are times, though, when some more serious themes are unavoidable.
“I just have to be honest,” she states. “I don’t want to force it that I’m trying to push a political agenda or something like that, but I think the reality of where we are in life, sometimes you have to do that. I always go back to Nina Simone saying, ‘we have to reflect the times that you’re in’. If the government are acting up, then I’m going to make reference to it. I just write about it, and I like to put nuances in my music videos. The video for ‘Champagne Problems’ has a little nod to how I feel about the government right now.” ENNY’s music videos are always appointment viewing. “I like to drop little Easter eggs in music videos. They are super important, and music and the music videos are the things that I’m hyper-critical over. It has to portray what I’m trying to say and the emotions I want people to feel. Even when I’m working with directors, and it’s their visions, I’m like hey, throw this it so it can match this lyric.”
The spiritual home of ENNY’s music is based in her local community in Thamesmead in London. “I live in southeast London, but I live on the edge of southeast London, so part of it is Kent and part of it is London,” she explains. “It’s weird how it’s like yeah, there’s flats, but there’s also a bunch of horses. I like the essence that there’s a whole bunch going on, but there’s a lot of greenery. I feel like I’ve been here so long that it’s become a part of who I am and what raised me.” Despite the familiarity, ENNY is eager not to romanticise contemporary London. “London isn’t the same great vibes that it used to be,” she continues. “The prices of apartments are horrible. It’s just really expensive and is clearly becoming more expensive to live here. At this moment in time, I’m not like, ahhh, It’s more like I’m caught in a memory of how London felt like when I was growing up than how London feels like right now. To be completely honest, I don’t feel happy in London right now.”
“I do want to try an indie rock record; something Arctic Monkeys-ish”ENNY
Does she ever see herself moving away from London completely? “Yes, 100%,” she replies instantly. “I just kind of want to float around. I don’t really want to lay down roots anymore. I’ve been spending a lot of time going to places outside London, places that are so green. Cornwall was so beautiful. That was the most beautiful place I’ve experienced this year. I was only there for 24 hours for a festival, but there was a beach, and it was like I’d entered a really cool Instagram picture. The sky was pink, and the energy was really different. It was something I’d never experienced and something I couldn’t believe I was experiencing in the UK. When you get out of London, that’s when you realise that the world is very big, and sometimes you shouldn’t get so caught up in being from London and the hustle and bustle, and you need to take a second out of it.”
That desire to escape is reflected in the global ambitions of ENNY’s music. “It’s world domination,” she declared on the iconic earlier single ‘I Want’. No matter where she is, though, or how big her music gets, the principles remain the same. “I’m just my music, so wherever I go and perform, it’s just going to be that little Nigerian girl from London performing and telling her story no matter what space I’m in,” she says. The reality always is no matter where anyone else is from, they’re going to relate in one shape or another. We’re all living the same experience but with different vibes.”
As Phase 2 of ENNY’s evolution develops, there’s bound to be lots of surprises and maybe a few intriguing collabs from an artist everyone wants a piece of. She’s eager to continue on the path of releasing EPs and a string of connected singles before getting to the point of an album. “I feel like an album is a very big deal, and I still feel like I have a lot of music to make,” she says. One thing is for sure, though even if there are so many ideas floating around that ENNY isn’t quite sure yet what it all might sound like, she certainly knows what it’s going to feel like. “The next vibe is, I don’t even know. It’s a more outspoken me. I’m coming for people,” she laughs. “No one’s safe; everyone is open game.”■
Taken from the November 2022 edition of Dork. ENNY’s single ‘Champagne Problems’ is out now.