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Ivorian Doll: From YouTube drama to Queen of Drill

By Kirsty Grant
Newsbeat reporter

Published
image copyrightFireshone
image caption"Why would I be friendly on the mic? I like to shock people. They see me and think 'how can she look like that but sound so aggressive?'"

"I've always been outspoken. I say things that will make people talk, other people are afraid to do that."

Two years ago, Ivorian Doll was telling outrageous stories and talking about scandalous topics on her YouTube channel.

Now, with the same cheeky energy and quick wit, she's bulldozed her way into the drill music scene.

The 22-year-old artist, real name Vanessa Mahi, tells Radio 1 Newsbeat about the "mad transition".

The Ivorian Doll YouTube channel contained unfiltered stories about being cheated on or having fights.

It was "the kind of stuff people talk about with their friends" and brought her hundreds of thousands of viewers.

'I'm the same person'

But it wasn't without drama. Vanessa was always involved in some sort of high-profile argument.

"I would always cause controversy on YouTube because anything I'd say would be all over Twitter."

But it just so happens that heated feuds can lead to the best drill tracks.

Vanessa's first song, The Situation, was a tongue-in-cheek send released as part of a duo with fellow rapper, Abigail Asante.

After she proceeded in her own lane, things started to accelerate.

It's important to Vanessa that her personality shines through in her music.

"I needed people to know I'm the same person [from the YouTube videos]," she says.

image copyrightFireshone
image captionVanessa chose the name Ivorian Doll in secondary school for her Facebook profile, nodding to her family's west African heritage

Her single Rumours came out in April.

"Everyone was saying to me that song was going to be big, but I didn't believe it," she explains.

The teaser posted online before the song release went viral, but Vanessa was still dubious.

She told herself "social media hype isn't real", and that the views on the full song wouldn't match up.

Almost 5 million YouTube views and 4 million Spotify streams later, she realised she could "really do this".

"I thought 'I can't take this as a joke anymore'."

'I want to be the girl to do it'

Although she kept her raffish charm and outrageous cheek, the song was an effort to shake off the drama that seemed to follow her.

"Even though it might sound hard to believe, I always try to run away from drama," she says.

"I decided I'd leave it after Rumours. That's why at the end of it I say 'I said what I said'."

The song addressed rumours people had thrown at her.

On it, she raps with a unique flow and clever lyricism - confronting accusations about her personal and sex life head on.

"Boys always get to say how they feel, I want to be the girl to do it as well.

"If a boy said 'I had sex with four girls' everyone would just be like 'wow, you get girls'.

"If I say it, it's 'oh my God! How could she?'."

Vanessa's quick to declare she's a feminist.

"I'm for the females. We're going to be equal by force. I think some men feel intimidated by that."

This headstrong attitude is needed in a genre sparsely populated by women.

She's only the second female artist to have appeared on Link Up TV's Daily Duppy freestyle in the past seven years. The video amassed one million views in just one week.

But Vanessa's used to holding her ground.

"In school, we were always going back and forth rapping with the boys," she says.

"I was always the one writing everyone's lyrics for them."

She was not only rapping in the playground at school, but an A* English student too.

"I love Shakespeare. I've always loved writing and rhymes."

You can see how she ended up landing a feature on Headie One's chart topping album Edna.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionVanessa was at Headie One's first headline show

"I was just minding my business and he DMed me and said 'let's do a song'. I couldn't believe it, I've always supported Headie.

"I don't even know if he knows this but I was at his first headline show."

She's grateful for the "huge co-sign", being featured among names including Drake and Skepta, on the album, which came out in October.

"I tell him all the time. I think he's a bit annoyed with me always thanking him now, but I don't care."

'Go harder than boys'

Although Vanessa admits her quick rise to success "doesn't make sense" to her, she has no plans to slow down.

Despite live music being very limited at the moment, she lights up as she speaks about performances being her next focus.

She sees it as an opportunity to prove herself, "where people judge if you're an actual artist".

"And that's another thing where girls have to go harder than boys," she says, referring to choreography and stage presence.

"I see the way female artists perform - they would never just stand there. So I know I need to do that.

"I want to be an international artist."

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Related Topics

  • YouTube
  • Feminism
  • Music
  • Social media
  • Drill music
  • Hip-hop

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