Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ms Scandalous – Putting Ladies First

Text By Ashanti OMkar (www.OMkari.net)
Pictures by Akin Falope (www.Aworan.net)

Ms Scandalous - a name that is synonymous with the massive hit track by Punjabi Hit Squad, ‘Hai Hai’, this young female MC has been hot property from the time she dropped her vocals on the track and she now comes to us with a delightful double whammy - her latest single, 'Aaja Soniya' and also her much awaited album, aptly named 'Ladies first'. Wanting to be one of the 1st leading ladies of Asian Hip Hop, Ms Scandalous is one of those rare talents, whose voice captivates at first listen. She infuses her street-smart rapping skills, with catchy bass lines, beats and killer hooks. She candidly tells us about her life so far, at the tender age of 20 and her hopes and dreams – there is no doubt that she has the determination and talent to go the distance.

Tell us about your cultural heritage and background - where were you born, brought up and what sort of household values your family holds? How have these values made a difference in your life?

My cultural background is Indian Panjabi. I was brought up in Southall in West London, raised right in the heart of the Asian community. I wouldn't say my family are especially liberal or conservative. My parents are a mixture really of traditional values, which keep me grounded, and progressive thinking, which has given me the freedom from a young age to pursue my career in music.

West London - it features heavily on your life, with Asian dominated areas like Southall, places you are no doubt fond of - tell us about your experiences there and how those have shaped a lot of your lyrical content. What languages are you comfortable with, in terms of speaking and writing lyrics?

Southall is a place that does leave a big impression on anyone who grows up there. It's a place that means so much to British-Asian's and has so much history for us, and I don't think we celebrate that enough! And no British-Asian has yet told the story of what it's like to grow up in these streets. It's an untold story that I'm telling.

Education wise, what was the reaction of your family, when you decided to follow the path of music, instead of a 'solid career' like Medicine or Engineering? Have they supported you?

Initially yeah, thinking back they would have preferred me to go into Law or Medicine. But the great thing about my parents was they recognised that music and drama is exactly what I wanted to do. I knew where I was heading and where I wanted to take it, and as soon as they started seeing me on MTV they saw what I was doing. But I'm happy to say that my parents supported me from day one.

Where are you currently based?

I'm back in West London now, having been in Leicester for 3 years studying Arts and Drama. I'm glad I spent some time away from home and experienced what it was like living in the Midlands. It's good to be home but at the same time Leicester is like a second home to me now, so I’ll be back there a lot.

Tell us about how ‘Hai hai’ came about and what sort of impact that had on your career.

‘Hai Hai’ was the main track on Panjabi Hit Squad Street album and they wanted to have a fresh female MC on it, as it had never really been done before. It ended up working really well and became an international hit. We done a new version for Panjabi Hit Squads debut album on Def Jam called ‘Desi Beats Vol ‘1 which had a massive impact and that’s what most people know me from. The video for that version of Hai Hai was blasted on all the music channels so it wasn’t just Asian kids liking it, it was black, white, everyone supporting which was great. I couldn’t have hoped for a better start in the industry and it definitely opened up doors for me.

Who are you signed to and how did the whole record deal come to fruition?

I'm signed to Panjabi Hit Squad's new record-label 'Desi Jam' and am the first Artist to come through it.

What was it like to see yourself on major music channels like MTV Base, MTV Dance and Channel U? How did your friends and family react?

It is an amazing feeling, especially when it's for something you have worked towards for so long…my family and friends were really great, we are a really close-knit family so the phone was ringing all the time and it was a complete high. Everyone was proud and happy to see the fruits of my labour.

At this very young age of 20, it seems that you are the next best thing on the list of Asian females - how does this bode with you? Is fame making you a diva?

I'm happy to take on the responsibility. Age is definitely on my side but even though I'm young I feel like I have been in the scene for time! No way I could ever be a diva nahhh… I still end up going to the shop for my mum, getting some dhaniya (coriander) or adharak (ginger) … you can imagine the scene at home, me making roti while my video comes on MTV.

You are one of the few Asian female MC's - how do you feel you compare with M.I.A and Hardkaur?

I have love for all the Asian females out there doing their thing and now there are a lot more coming through and I’m definitely looking forward to that.

Ladies first - your long awaited album. What's it all about? Lyrically, what issues are you tackling with it? Who produced it and what sort of influence did you have on the production side?

The title 'Ladies First' refers to how it's now time for British-Asian females to shine. Basically, the Asian scene has always been dominated by guys, and the girl artists have been peripheral figures, but now I'm going for equality! But don't think from the title of my album that it's just for the girls, I have plenty in there for the guys as well…Lyrically I'm talking from a viewpoint of a young British-Asian. So I'm dealing with everything from relationships to harder social situations that we find ourselves in… street issues. Some of those
pressures are felt by young people in general of all colours, but some of those are particular to young Asian people.

You love Southall, a place that is becoming very popular with Asians and Westerners alike - do you spend much time there these days? Do you get rushed? What's it like going back to your roots?

Yes I'm in Southall a lot. I do get some attention so if I do go to Southall Broadway then it's only for a minute! But the good thing is that the attention isn't just from Asian's, now my videos have been on Channel U and MTV I get people from all backgrounds coming up and saying hello.

Speaking of Southall, what are your favourite clothes shops and eateries?

My favourite clothes shop in Southall is Santoshi. As for food, well as anyone who lives in Southall knows, if you live in Southall then you don't eat there, you eat at home 'cause nothing beats your mums cooking! If I'm just grabbing snacks in Southall then it’s either ‘Punjabi Restaurant’, ‘Shahenshah’ or ‘A-Sweet’. If I’m living it up, Amaya in Knightsbridge is real good, also there is one is Chelsea called Rasoi Vaneet Bhatia which is good.

Having worked at Metro music in Southall and meeting the PS boys there, tell us the story of how this was pivotal in your life...

Every music genre has its focal record stores, and for the Asian Scene Metro Music was right at the centre… literally… right in the middle of Southall Broadway. So I started working there at weekends and through the shop met all of the DJ's in the area, including Panjabi Hit Squad. It's actually a true story that they got me to do a performance in the shop and signed me a few days after! It's funny that because of all the DJ's and Labels coming through the shop a lot of industry people knew I could MC a bit. But meeting Hit Squad was a pivotal moment; they gave me the encouragement and knew how they could take me.

You have amazing looks - I'm sure you have a million proposals form guys. Do you have a special guy in your life?

Aww thanks! Right now I guess I am SAF – Single Asian Female! And I guess the main reason for that is the amount of time I spend on my music. It's taken over my social life.

How do you de-stress from the crazy busy life you lead?

I like to take a long hot bath, with lots of essential oils and candles and smelly stuff! Like most girls I like to just chill and watch 'Desperate Housewives' and even just mess around with my PS2.

Tours - you have been on the road a lot - tell us more about those and which places you love to perform at the most.

I haven't actually toured much yet, we've been keeping my live dates quite select. But internationally I'm heading out to Toronto with Panjabi Hit Squad soon for a big concert, and we have something pencilled in for Bombay.

Who would you say your main fanbase is and where in the world are they located?

Well after the UK its close between North America and Asia. My fan base is really growing out there and I'm really looking forward to going out there. What I'm doing isn't just relevant from a UK perspective – I'm doing this for Desi females worldwide.

PHS - they are obviously a major part of your life and music - break it down for us as to what they are like and what things you all get up to as a collective. Do tempers ever fray between you?

Panjabi Hit Squad – for those who don't know – are probably the leading DJ/Production collective in the 'Desi Beats' scene. Actually they invented the phrase 'Desi Beats' which gives you an indication of how instrumental they have been in the scene! I am continually learning from their past and present experiences and they are fundamental in my development as an artist. I know it’s a cliché, but I really do love working with them!

You make a good point about no Asian female artistes being on TOTP and people with immense talent, like Deeyah, not doing as well as the boys in the charts - how do you see this changing and what factors do you think have hindered female artistes from reaching out this far?

It's funny because if you look back at the media representation of Asians in the mainstream media then it's actually always been Asian girls who found it easier to get acceptance than the Guys. So in a way with the music its been reversed as the guys – Jay Sean, Panjabi MC, Raghav, Panjabi Hit Squad, Rishi Rich – came through before the girls! There are some barriers to get through as it's the first time anyone has actually seen an Asian girl pick up the mic seriously.

Who inspires you personally and musically?

There are a good few people but one is the artist Eve, although she specialises in music, she is also an actress. I love both music and acting so those that have the ability to utilise both talents inspire me. Missy Elliot also, it’s about having more depth than just solely making the music, there is the business aspect and the ability to innovate – I like that.

Which genres of music do you listen to the most and what's in your MP3/CD player currently?

I have pretty eclectic taste. Anything from Bhangra to Roll Deep to Kano to Bobby Valentino to old skool Jodeci!

Ladies in Hip Hop, like Lil Kim, Missy and newly M.I.A - what are your feelings on them and who do you rate the most?

I have always rated Missy especially, for the way she has handled her business. With her the delivery as an MC was only one of her strengths, she understood how to convey her innovation through imagery and just took Hip-hop forward. I actually prefer Lil Kim's flow, but Missy gets it for being an innovator!

Aaja Soniya - what's the meaning behind it and what sort of responses have you been getting for it so far? Tell us more about Jaspinder Narula who is on it.

Well 'Aaja Soniya' is, quite literally, a girl telling a good-looking guy to move a little closer! It's a universal situation, but in my world it's about me and a guy who are exchanging looks in a club and I talk about the situation that happens.

What makes you unique in your musical offerings?

Musically it's on a different flex, Panjabi Hit Squad have put down some unique beats for me to roll over. What makes me different from other Asian MC's before? Most 'MC Albums' in the Asian scene have just been Bhangra albums with an MC just jumping on the track. With my album it's the other way round. And, to be honest, the beats on this album are probably the grimiest, most gully, street, underground Desi beats that anyone would have heard yet. See… most non-Asian's think that when we (Asian's) try to be all 'Urban' then all we do can do is commercial R'n'B or diluted Hip-Hop. I want to show that our sound can be just as grimy as everyone else.

Any messages for your UK fanbase?

I just want to say thank you and please keep supporting and don’t forget to always put the ‘Ladies First’.