Never Gonna Be
It’s a blustery Thursday afternoon as 23-year-old Galway-based MC Sweetlemondae’s appears via Zoom, as she takes a break from her studies in Galway to chat with Goldenplec.
She’s just dropped her latest single ‘Higher State’ in collaboration with Diffusion Lab mentor Jafaris, a sparkling pop hit as she raps about dreaming of pushing herself to greater heights and developing a sense of peace and satisfaction that comes with working hard.
It’s her second release under the DFL banner, and sonically it’s the most progressive of the eight she’s released since she decided to give creation a go in 2020.
“The last few months have been very busy,” she replies when asked about a period which has seen her earmarked as an artist to watch by the Irish media and the BBC, as well as playing The Workman’s Club as part of Ireland Music Week.
“It’s been a lot of shows, a lot of behind the scenes, business stuff that I was doing on my own but now since DFL have gotten on board they’re helping me out with that and it’s on a much bigger scale.”
Born in South Africa, Sweetlemondae moved to Ireland with her family when she was seven. Growing up in Galway, she was surrounded by a dearth of musical influences including Luther Vandross (“My mom loved him, all the old school stuff”) and deep South African house and afrobeats.
Sweetlemondae would always find herself singing along to the melodies, but it wasn’t until her brother started his own band and began recording his own music that she began to consider music as a potential avenue for creativity.
While her brother was listening to rock and afrobeats, however, Sweetlemondae found herself more attracted to hip-hop and rap, in particular the work of Nicki Minaj.
“I fell into rap when I realised I couldn’t sing” she laughs looking back, “I was listening to Tupac and Biggie but once I saw Nicki Minaj on TV with ‘Superbass’ I started to believe something was possible.
“It was the first time I saw a women in such a male-dominated environment, she was the most popular female rapper at the time and seeing her perform showed me that it is possible for girls to have a career in rap”.
From that moment, she began putting the building blocks in place for her own career, and began recording verses over Jhené Aiko beats, including her song The Worst which was the first verse Sweetlemondae ever released on SoundCloud.
“No one listened to it obviously because I just released it for myself but I found it comforting” she explains, “I just wanted to get better as a rapper and a lyricist”.
From there she released two projects including Raw Fruits which saw her grab beats from YouTube and spit over them. “I didn’t even mix or master it, it was all just voicenotes on beats” she laughs, “but I could hear I was getting better”.
By the time 2020 rolled around, Sweetlemondae was in the final months of her law degree in NUIG. “I think it’s important to have an interest in that side of things so that you can speak up and you know what you want” she says of its usefulness in the industry.
"It was the first time I saw a women in such a male-dominated environment, she was the most popular female rapper at the time and seeing her perform showed me that it is possible for girls to have a career in rap”
She used her new found time to write, record and for the first time mix and master ‘Save The Kids’, the first song she released on Spotify. “I think in both ways it was helpful” she says of lockdown’s influences.
“I would have done it anyway but I really wanted to finish college and then give music a go. I was going to finish college in 2020 anyway but with the extra lockdown time after moving home I gave it my all and fully invested myself into improving as an artist”.
Following ‘Save The Kids’ she released five more singles, with ‘Gritty’ and ‘ain’t the same us’ showing two very different edges of her artistic vision.
“I think I’ve learned the depths of how far I can travel with my words,” she replies when asked of her growth as an artist. “I’m really proud of ‘Save The Kids’ and the lyricism on that song, but I feel like you kinda have to progress and push yourself as an artist…. So if i want to make a serious song I can and if I want to make a dancey song I can as well”.
“I really want to strive for that balance across my work” she adds, “and have both sides represent me as a whole”.
One thing that does frustrate her, however, is the labels other force on her music. In her own rite, Sweetlemondae is a rapper through and through; her verse growing in depth and dexterity with ever passing release.
For some, however, a female artist of colour automatically gets categorised as R&B, even if there’s not a touch of the genres touchstones in sight.
“I want to reach the stage where I’m known as a rapper” she explains, “I feel like when people stumble across a female artist they presume they are a singer, but I want to be known as a rapper and I hope that people can feel soulful, hip-hop, old-school vibes from my songs but also be able to turn it on in the car with your family”.
“I want to reach a point,” she notes, “where even when I dabble in R&B or even pop, I’ll still be a rapper and it’s never confused”.
For now, however, thoughts have turned to her next release and the announcement of her debut project. “I don’t want to ride out on singles too long so hopefully I’ll put out an EP or a mixtape” she replies of her plans for 2023.
“I want to get more comfortable as a performer too, do more shows, everything,” she smiles gleefully, “it’s going to be a big year”.