We chat with the Edinburgh-based rapper, DJ and producer who won the prestigious award for her debut release, Re-Up
It says a lot about just how much this year's Scottish Album of the Year Award winner Nova Scotia the Truth captures the spirit of 2020, that being unable to attend or perform at the online award ceremony because she was self-isolating at home in Edinburgh after a positive Covid-19 test is the least zeitgeist-capturing thing we can say about her.
'When I first got the news about making the Longlist, that was the first time I'd been to London to see my dad and my family since the pandemic,' Nova ('Nova is the rapper, DJ Scotia is the DJ and Nova Scotia is the producer', but her real name is Shaheeda Sinckler) tells us by phone; she's better now, although she has to stay in during her family's longer isolation period. 'Then it came to the Shortlist and that's when I was a bit of a wreck, a bit emotional.
'But then, when it came to the winner's announcement, I felt physically terrible! That was one of the main reasons I knew I really needed to get tested – in a few days I was set to be filming for the SAY Award, and I couldn't responsibly just ignore what was going on and try to go. But then they called me and told me that I won, I was dancing in my room for two hours straight, just so happy.'
Having Covid made her feel unwell, yet it doesn't seem to have taken the edge off her tangible excitement at winning. At 24 years old, Sinckler is the youngest winner of the SAY Award, and as a rapper she's part of a genre which is often under-represented in the mainstream of Scottish music. Her winning release, Re-Up, is her debut album proper, after the 2019 mixtape Risin' Up with her friend Theta; it's short and sharp, at less than 20 minutes (although it meets the SAY's six-track-minimum criteria), but there's a rich and stylish quality to her dark, playful rhymes.
''Bread & Butter' is about making money from music and shunning more unhealthy ways of making money,' she explains, guiding us through the album's focused themes. ''30 Mins' is about the afters (afterparty) scene in Glasgow, and just the realness of it all – they're great, they served a purpose for me, but there are also negative sides as well, to drug-taking and stuff like that. 'Trees' is about weed, mostly, but then it talks about knife crime in the final verse. 'Back in the Day' is about me being a teenager and getting exploited, and 'Trophy' is about gender roles in hip-hop. 'Let Me Know, that's about unrequited romance.'
Sinckler was born in South London to parents who she says were heavily involved in the UK hip-hop scene of the 1990s, her mum as an MC and her dad as a graffiti writer. She moved to Wester Hailes, the housing scheme in west Edinburgh, when she was eight, as it's where her DJ stepdad was from. 'It was a massive culture shock at first, moving from one of the most diverse cities in the world to a scheme in Edinburgh in the noughties,' she says. 'I'm from a Muslim family and my mum used to wear the hijab and stuff, so it was a bit tricky.'
A couple of guys at her school were into hip-hop, but whenever she went to any parties or events in town, women always seemed to be just 'observers and girlfriends'. Yet she and her friends would spend the traditional Edinburgh Friday afternoon off school immersing themselves in hip-hop and grime, and Scottish MC Soom T was one of her influences at the time.
'Me and my friends used to listen to her and look upon her as an idol,' says Sinckler. 'Ever since I was young I've always been so enthused about seeing a woman in hip-hop, contributing with rap, and women producers; I feel there should be more. Yeah, I would like to inspire other young women to take the mic, that would be really great.' She started out as an electronic producer herself, yet it wasn't until she moved to Glasgow in 2015 to study social sciences (leaving before she graduated) that she started rapping at afterparties and gigs, the latter especially at the Art School.
'Growing up in Edinburgh, I barely knew any black people, pretty much,' she says now. 'But when I moved to Glasgow, there was just more diversity, and that's not just in terms of race – in terms of sexual orientation, and even fashion and music. I guess when I was 17, 18, I was starting to explore my own identity through social media, following a lot of racially diverse people that I admired, and moving to Glasgow the kind of people I was following were in reach.
'But Edinburgh has changed so much, even since then – even since last year, I can see more diverse people when I'm walking around town, and there are students as well. I think it's becoming more of a melting pot, definitely, especially attending the Black Lives Matter protests. It really shows you how many people are out there.'
This win gives her lots of opportunities to do things she had hoped to get on with before lockdown; creating a video for her next track 'Got to Go'; recording a full album with producer $1000 Wallet, to try out a more in-depth collaborative approach; and getting some merch made. Yet her greatest ambition is inspired by her lockdown addiction to the reality show Love and Hip-Hop.
'I want to get vocal lessons so I can sing more confidently, and do more melodic kind of vocals,' she says. 'I would like to dance, in a music video at least; I know a few really cool choreographers in Glasgow that I'd like to work with. There were a lot of artists doing singing and dancing and rapping performances (on the show), and I see Megan Thee Stallion and other female rappers doing a bit of dancing, so I think I might give it a go to add a little bit of salt and pepper to the mix. Yeah, there's a lot of possibilities.'
Re-Up and Nova Scotia the Truth's other recordings are available on Bandcamp. The full SAY Award ceremony will be broadcast as a YouTube Premiere at 6pm on Sun 1 Nov.
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Hip hop (Music)
Nova Scotia The Truth