Dolapo on working in male-dominated environments and the makings of “It’s Alright”

First entering the industry as a backing vocalist for Tion Wayne and Young T & Bugsey, London singer Dolapo is rapidly cementing her position as one of R&B’s rising stars. The “I Swear” singer made her presence known through an array of collaborations during 2019 in addition to the solid debut project offering “A Short Love Story”. Following a sold-out headline show and culmination of over 2 million streams to date, Dolopo shifts her focus to her new single “It’s Alright”.

The track is the first of what has been indicated to be quite a number of new releases. Having just unveiled the song’s accompanying visuals, the singer sat down with ASBO to reflect on her journey so far and her plans for the future.

How have you been adjusting to lockdown?

Ooo lockdown (laughs). Do you know what? At first, I didn’t mind it [because] I am actually a homebody anyway. But I think when I had one night where I just really needed to get out. You know sometimes you could just randomly go to the cinema or restaurant or Sainsbury’s at 9 pm. That’s when it hit me, I needed to leave but I had nowhere to run to.  I am happy it’s starting to ease up now.

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Has it thrown a spanner in the works regarding upcoming music releases?

It definitely has. No-one has ever been through a situation like this before, so we had to wing it a lot. “It’s Alright” wasn’t actually the original single I was meant to start the year with. The original song wasn’t really marketable without a music video because it was quite a heartfelt one.

I woke up one day and said to the team “we have to switch songs”. I had to write the second verse of the song, record it at home, [and] shoot a home video. This portion of the year has been … I don’t know -

-three question marks?

Yeah (laughs) nothing surprises me anymore. Another day in 2020.

Throwing it back slightly to the beginning of your journey. You began your career as a backing vocalist for the likes of Tion Wayne and Young T and Bugsey before releasing her own material. How did that come about?

Just being in the studio I kind of met everyone that I’ve worked with. I started going between ages 14 and 16. You know rappers, sometimes they just need a little ‘ooo’ or ‘ahh’ on a track. So, I started through that and built my relationships from there.  

So, how did you find yourself in the studio first place?

This is hard (laughs) I was in secondary school... I feel like I started with YouTube covers and myspace when you had those music pages. Some local talent hit me up and we just started working together and opportunities kept on coming from there.

As a backing vocalist and even in your solo career you have worked with a lot of rappers and male artists. What’s it like being a woman in these male-dominated environments?

(sighs) it’s not easy man. Even now I keep saying to myself I need to find some more female artists to work with. I think it’s interesting. When you are talented there are people who want to work with you [purely] for music, but sometimes it’s a bit shaky especially when you’re meeting someone in the studio for the first time. You don’t know what they are going to be like.  

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I remember one producer saying to me “someone sent me your music, and I thought… she’s very pretty” and me being like “what do you think about the music though?”.  What ended up happening was that we wrote a banger in the very first session and he ended up being surprised and impressed. But sometimes I am just like let’s just start with the music.  

Do you ever become weary of that and how do you safeguard yourself in those situations?

It is just letting the talent and the music speak for itself. If ever gets too crazy I’m out (laughs). Luckily, it's never gotten to a point where I’ve had to leave.

You’ve previously alluded to some upcoming collaborations with other female artists. Anyone that you can let us know about?

Hmmmmm...uh...I really want to (laughs). I’m going to keep this one close to my chest for now. Just because I feel like this year has already been crazy and I don’t want to jinx it. Within the next one or two records, it should be out there in the world.

For a lot of people remixes and collaborations more widely are becoming a bit of a marketing tool. As someone who got their start in the game via collaborating with a number of artists, how do you view them?

When I write a song usually inspired by something. So, for me, it’s like who can I hear that is on the track that has a similar sound to the vibe I was inspired by.  Also, just natural relationships as well. So who is already in my close network who creates great music, but I haven’t had a chance to work with yet. I don’t think I’ve had a song where I had to do a remix just for marketing purposes.

What did the process of making the “A Short Love Story” EP teach you?

Um...try and stick to deadlines first of all (laughs). That was not an easy process, but it was my first one to be fair. I literally had no idea what I was doing outside of writing the music. At the same time leaning not to put too much pressure on myself. Sometimes that can hurt the creative process. It’s important to remember that regardless of what you put out people will always find a way to connect with you.

You’re clearly an R&B artist, but being someone who grew up in an African household is there any place where these cultural influences seep into your sound?

Oh yeah definitely! Even sometimes in things like scales of melodies or beat selection on tracks like “Down” and “I Swear” which has a little swing to it. I grew up listening to Fela Kuti and even the type of church I went to called Redeemed, which had a very Nigerian feel to it, was an influence.

As an artist still on the rise with over 2 million streams are things like streams and awards important to you?

It’s nice to feel acknowledged and that your music is being heard but for me what’s more important is the DM I'll get randomly in the middle of the night saying ‘your song has really touched me’. For me, that touches me more. When you get wrapped up in the numbers it can hurt the creative process.  

You’ve mentioned wanting to have your own label. What kind of artists would you be looking to sign?

Oooo...I think regardless of the type of music they make I would have to see that they’re a hustler. It is very easy to feel like once you’ve got a machine behind you the work gets easier and they’re just going to do it all. The work literally multiplies by 10,000. I would probably look at the type of person they are first and assume that if they have my attention the music is already great.  

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Let’s get into “It’s Alright”. Looking at the video everything from the styling to the flip phone is very 90s driven. Who or what were you channelling for this release?

I think the 90s/2000s is definitely my vibe. Sometimes I feel like I was born in the wrong era. If anything, I am channelling myself and what I would have been like if I was living through that era.  

What is the song about?

Well, firstly I want to put out a disclaimer...I haven’t stolen anyone's man. It’s a fun persona to get into. I am very reserved, so I think people get to see a different side of me. It’s something I did on “Skin” as well. I don’t usually give off the vibe that I want to talk about sex or things like that. So, for me, it was about stepping into different personas.

Finally, what can we look forward to seeing from you over the coming months?

More music, hopefully, female collabs. I would love to go back home and work on some music and shoot some music videos out there. We’ll see what happens.

Watch “It’s alright'“ here:

Words by: Ray Sang

ASBO MAGAZINEJUNE 16, 2020