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Lady London Talks New Project ‘S.O.U.L.’ & Her Confidence as an MC: ‘I Come in With the Intent to Kill’

As New York continues to stockpile its homegrown female talents, one budding star emerges as an early leader in the pack: Lady London, whose scintillating wordplay and lioness command of the mic are catching the eyes and ears of the Tri-State area. 

Whether she’s flipping a Slick Rick classic for her breakout record “Lisa’s Story” or devouring Jay-Z classics for recreational purposes, London’s lyrical sword is proving to be sharper than most. On her debut Def Jam project, the Zodiac-themed S.O.U.L., she spars with Dreezy on the hypnotic “Yea Yea” while cutting her losses on the R&B-leaning “Way Too Much,” featuring Tink. London’s versatility and ability to skate on popular samples make S.O.U.L. a smooth ride. 

“I always wanna keep [hold of] the listener,” says London. “I feel once you open up, if your first two lines ain’t strong enough, they just gonna scroll past. I know I do. If I’m listening to somebody and the first three lines ain’t it, I’m like, ‘Oh, God.’ I spend the most time on my first three lines. If you ever see me in the studio, I be like, ‘How am I gonna start this?’”

Billboard chats with Lady London about her days as a Howard University student, signing to Def Jam, her love for horoscopes and more. 

How did going to an HBCU shape your career and change your trajectory?

I think Howard [University] made me the woman that I am. I would say so much. I learned how to not feel guilty about speaking up or taking issue with anything in life — especially the conditions of Black people, outward expression and whatever way that feels natural to you. It painted a picture for me and invoked my storytelling capabilities in music. I credit Howard with a lot of my successes. 

You graduated with a double major and your masters degree. How did you navigate that decision making a full-time jump into rap knowing you already accrued so much success outside of it?

It just seemed like such a long-term game where I was trying to get in medicine. I was in orthopedic surgery, so by the time I finished my masters, I had four years of medical school left. That’s a three-year residence plus a one-year fellowship. And that’s not even a guarantee with $300,000 a year. When I was rapping on some side stuff or whatever, I was getting like money for doing the smallest things.

Of course, it wasn’t necessarily like a money thing the whole time, but looking at it, it was destiny for me. I couldn’t run from what I’m supposed to be doing. I would try to quit rap all the time. I’d wake up like, “I’m not doing this no more. I’m going to school. I got stuff to fall back on.” Then, I’d find myself right back rapping. 

What’s your proudest accomplishment: getting your bachelor’s, getting your master’s or signing to Def Jam?

I was really happy to get my bachelor’s. I was the first in my family to go to college. It was really a big deal. My father didn’t even finish high school. I handed my mom my degree both times when I got my degree. I think that’s why she supports so much — because “you said what you were gonna do.”

On “Sermon on the Mount,” you said: “The only limelight I want is God’s light.” In an industry where there’s so many twists and turns, how is your faith remaining strong?

I don’t want nothing that doesn’t have God’s hand on it. I feel like I not only believe in God but I depend on him. I include him – I don’t think there’s any long rap out I haven’t mentioned something about God. I’m continually guided by faith. Without it, I just don’t think anything will prosper.

Same song you said you touched $100,000 at 25. How did you develop such money-management and savvy at such a young age?

I was taught from pretty young to manage my money. I used to do this thing where I would save 70% of everything I made, and lived off of 30 percent. I was 19 or 20 at least. I knew what I wanted. I used to work bartending jobs and restaurant jobs, where you get paid off of tips, so it was really easy to save cash for me.

I still do it well now. I put it all aside and live off 30 percent, even if it isn’t much. Sometimes, I wouldn’t make much — maybe like $12 for the night — and I’d still put 70 to the side. It’s just a discipline thing. 

I was a fan of “Lisa’s Story.” The storytelling is A1. Growing up a student of hip-hop, what storytelling records resonated with you?

“Mona Lisa,” Slick Rick, was the first one. Slick Rick was an incredible storyteller as a whole. A person who does it so well now is Rick Ross. His imagery almost feels like you were there. He makes me feel luxurious. I feel like I got 100 keys in the trunk and I’m just moving through traffic in a white Chinchilla.

He makes soundtracks to me.

He does. What’s funny he had the song “Santorini Greece” and he painted the picture so well and said he never been there. 

I thought they shot the video there.

They did, but when he wrote the record, he [was] saying he never been there. His sister had been there and told him about the experience, and he was able to make [a record]. That’s why I draw inspiration from my friends and their stories and put it into my records too. I’ve never been heartbroken, but you would never know that. I draw from everybody else’s experiences to paint the picture.

When you collaborate with men, what is that energy like — knowing how you rap?

I like to kill everything, no matter what. I come with the intent to kill.

That’s New York energy.

Period. I do believe in vibing with the person — like being on the same vibration as somebody else. I wouldn’t come in the same way on a J. Cole record the same way I would on a Kodak [Black] record. They’re two different vibes for me. I would come myself.

What’s your favorite bar that you’ve penned this year?

I really enjoyed my BET Hip-Hop cypher.

Are you familiar with Wynne? Her bars are crazy but she said the hardest thing for her to do is to write a hook. Did you experience that at any point?

So bad. Then again, I put myself through artist development for some years. I started in 2018, and everybody’s like, ‘Why you doing a project five years later?’ Because I was not ready back then to be dropping anything like that. I knew I could hear it too. I’m like, ‘I need to learn how to separate,’ because I wanted to bar n—as to death. When I first started, ‘I’m going to rap everyone out.’ Where’s the sonically pleasing stuff? I was trying to find a middle ground for so long.

I felt like I was trying to chase a hit for a period of time. I went from freestyling to not knowing how to songwrite. Now I’m songwriting, but trying to blend in what’s going on and trying to make a hit. Now I’m at a place where I want to do the type of music I want to do. And wherever it lands, it lands.

From a hook standpoint, is there anybody you look to creatively? 

Not necessarily. I like to study old patterns. You know who I think is a great arranger in general? Ma$e. I just think he has this pocket and this cadence about him that’s smooth and swaggy. I don’t know what it is. He’s somebody I draw a lot of inspiration from, as far as my approach to records.

You have a couple of sampled-based songs on the album. You flip Mya’s “Best of Me” for “Do Something” and Chingy’s “One Call Away” for “Kall Me.” Is it challenging to try to tap into those samples and still try to create your own sound?

I think I’ve built my entire career, literally, from taking old-school beats and making them my own. I think I reinvented that so many times. Foxy [Brown’s] one of my favorite artists of all-time and when we flipped “Lisa’s Story” — I’m telling you right now, when people hear “Get Me Home” [the Foxy song “Story” borrows from], I hear a lot of people [rap my opening line], ‘Let me tell you about this guy that I met.’ That’s something that’s just beautiful to me… When you can take something that’s such a classic record, and put your own spin on it so that people don’t relate it back to the classic record, that’s monumental to me.

I think there’s a stigma around people sampling. “It’s oversaturated.” Hip-hop started with sampling. How did we start this entire genre? What do you think DJing comes from? What do you think is on the vinyls? Other people’s records. It’s a lot of critics with no credentials. I think they should open their palette to different things. I think it’s dope to approach the sample different than it was made. I think a lot of people approach it the same, which makes it feel repetitive. I think if you can do it that way, that’s fire. 

Why did you feel it was important to incorporate your love for astrology with your music?

I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily big on it, but I know a conversation-starter when I see it. I was impressed by the fact that it stirs conversation no matter what. You walk in a room, “What’s your sign?” Whether it’s a good or a bad thing, it’s a conversation starter.

I think that’s a big reason why I choose storytelling as a big element of mine. I wanted to shoot [a video for] “Lisa’s Story,” because people gonna be like, “What happened next?” It’s the same thing with this, “What’s she gonna say about this?” Even if you hate the album, I know I got a listen from you, because you gonna figure out what I said about your sign, or somebody you deal with. For me, I wanted to attract the eyes and ears to things. I’m not somebody that believes all publicity is good publicity. But I do think publicity is a starter point. 

Thematically, when you do a concept album, you have to stay faithful to the theme. Were there any hurdles trying to stay true to that?

The biggest hurdles were guaranteeing the features being members of that sign. Jeremih is on the cancer track because he’s a cancer.

If you can pick one word to title this chapter in your life, what word would that be?

I think the word of right now for me is boundaries. I think they’re just so important to set when you elevate. Learning that the door of destiny is a narrow one and not everyone can come with you. Not everything can come with you. If you wanna fly, you gotta rid the s–t that weighs you down. Setting those boundaries is something I had tough doing. I wanted to bring the crew. We gotta all go. When you go up and look around and these aren’t the people I was supposed to win with, you want to throw up about it. And that’s just on the small milestones I’ve accomplished this far. God sometimes be like, ‘You can’t have it with them.’ Setting those boundaries and being intentional with what you about to do next.

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