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The neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant is lined with indelible legacy – locals like Biggie Smalls, Jay Z and Lil Kim throw staggering shadows over the dreams of up and coming artists below. It’s a lot to live up to in this bubbling cul-de-sac in New York’s Brooklyn, where 90s Rap and R&B made history through raw and honest lyricism that narrated the stories of the once-touted “ghetto”.
You’d think for an artist like Lola Brooke, who is walking in their footsteps in the same neighbourhood and whose vocals trapeze modernity but also the rousing nostalgia of the 90’s– that connection would be innate to her success. But living up to those standards didn’t come until much later.
As a kid in the suburbs, music came as a way to cope with loneliness. She had a childhood that sounded painful, but as a by-product, character-building. She grew up with a single mother who worked in shelters and a deadbeat dad who came in and out of her life. But music was always there. When she was 6, 50 Cent’s “Wanksta” video sparked her love for hip-hop. At 8, she told her grandma she’d be a rapper, and throughout school, Nicki Minaj and Foxy Brown influenced her taste. It’s a story that’s laid out on her debut album Dennis Daughter.
“[It’s about] a runaway girl raised by a single parent, dealing with a dad abusing drugs,” she says softly over a call, “And she’s a star. And she’s trying to flourish through all of that and not wear her pain on her sleeve.”
It’s a far cry from the music that introduced Brooke to the scene in the 2010’s. Her hard-hitting, ferocious raps like ‘2017 Flow’ – a track that ultimately garnered her early attention – posited her as an aggressive femme fatale with no fucks to give. From a few tracks uploaded to Myspace in 2009, throughout the 2010’s the 4 foot 10” titan established herself in this vein. Myspace quickly became Soundcloud, and she established a sound and lyricism that rapped most male artists under the table. In 2016, having caught the attention of Eugene ‘80’ Sims, the founder of Team Eighty Productions, she was signed. Since then, she’s gone on to release songs with Coi Leroy, Latto and Bryson Tiller, with 2021’s “Don’t Play With It” shooting her into the limelight.
This year’s project Dennis Daughter is her debut. An encapsulation of her life in a new and vulnerable way.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a reintroduction of myself because I’ve never told this story to the world,” she says, “it just happened. I didn’t mean to tell the world my entire story. When you’re in the studio as an artist, you feel vulnerable; you feel comfortable. So the studio is my diary. And I think I told my story by accident.”
The most telling track plays like a letter to her Dad, who passed away in 2015. “Dear Dennis,” she spits, “It’s your daughter/ Grandma just passed and I’m not home, I’m out in Florida/ I’m breakin’ down and I’m too far from Allen’s daughter/ Can’t even fuckin’ grieve, I’m travelin’ across the border/ Just breathe/ I’m in pain right now.” Other titles that lay the way to her story include “Shelter Baby” and “I am Lola.”
While her sonics have always been diverse, her album culminates her influences to date – taking references from not only her hometown of Brooklyn but also the Midwest and West Coast. Some of that inspiration she can thank her dad for but it’s also because of music she describes as from ‘Gangsta roughneck girls’ (she laughs as she says this).
“My dad was a big fan of Tupac and Snoop Dogg. So that alone just made me want to be interested in them because I was wondering why he was so interested,” she says, “So I love the West Coast for sure. And then Biggie did a collaboration with Bone thug – the flow that he did on that beat was just so flawless. So when I tap into it, I understand why he did it as well. I love tapping into the Midwest because on ‘Don’t Play With It’, the bass is a Detroit type of beat.”
But like most artists these days, who readily have music from all areas at their fingertips through the internet, Brooke’s isn’t as interested in the genre as she is about “having something to say”. In fact, she’s open to interpretation.
“Everybody has their opinions. If somebody feels like I’m a hip hop artist, or somebody feels like I’m a hip hop artist and R&B artists, that’s on them,” she says “I don’t feel like I’m here to judge anybody that’s judging me. I’m putting my life on the platform. And I gotta expect people to have opinions. So whatever they feel is how they feel? I’m just here to just make music.”
In a long-ago interview Brooke had said that she didn’t want to be seen as just a rapper. For her it’s more about being a multifaceted entertainer. The last few years have seen her take the stage with artists like A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Future. It’s her favorite part of the fame game. No matter the size of the stage it’s where expressing herself comes to a tee.
“It don’t matter where it is. It could be a real small room. It could be a little platform in somebody’s living room. Me just performing is the best thing for me. It’s not so much the platform. It’s just me being an artist,” she says.
And as her profile has grown the terms of the industry have made themselves apparent. Aside from her ultimate goal being to win a Grammy (“How far away do you think that is?” I ask. “Pray Soon,” she says) the money isn’t something in her periphery. It’s about expressing her story, to take care of her family and having some type of legacy with her team.
It’s where the legend of her hometown finds its way back.
“Now that I’m in the game, I think it is important to live up to those standards,” she says of her 90s hip hop alumni, “ I’m learning the business, and I’m learning the algorithm of being an artist, and industry, I do feel it is important to live up to them standards, but I don’t want to pressure myself. There’s no pressure.”
But Lola is well on her way. She’s had a huge year and nods from the best, including from Cardi B and Meek Mill. She was also nominated for Best New Artist and Best Breakthrough Hip Hop Artist at this year’s BET awards. Yet she doesn’t seem too interested in that acclaim, even though she’s obviously appreciative. Instead, she seems more interested in being:
“..consistent, doing it for a reason and not doing it just for money. Always standing up for something. Something that you believe in.”
“I finally got a good platform to express myself. I’m gonna express myself whatever way I want, whether they like it or not; they have no choice,” she says, “I’m a Brooklyn girl. I can’t be nothing but a Brooklyn girl.”