South London is at the epicentre of British music at the moment. With wave after wave of grime and UK rap artists emerging from Brixton, Peckham, Lewisham and beyond, life below the river has become the subject of intense scrutiny by the music press. Most of this new generation has found fame online, utilising social media to build grassroots armies of fans with their unique, often boundary-pushing, takes on their respective genres.
However, hidden between the Twitter-happy producers and rap superstars something else is happening. South London is ditching social media in a search for its soul. Embracing the sounds of Marvin Gaye, James Brown and the genre’s other luminaries, a new crop of artists are turning to the old school to find their voice. The newest disciple of South London’s soul revival is Elephant and Castle’s Joy Crookes. Half Bengali and half Irish, she says “music was a language growing up for all the different cultures in the house.” So integral were the classics to her development as a child, she can’t remember whether her first album was What’s Going On or London Calling – we’re not sure which is cooler.
Joy credits this upbringing for her current devotion to lyricism in her own music, hoping to give the listener multiple perspectives on each song she releases. “I try to be as honest as possible with my music” she explains. “Lyrics are super important for me. I like them to have layers, so on first listen you take away one story but by the fourth listen you have a really different interpretation to your first one.” It only takes one listen to ‘New Manhattan’ or ‘Bad Feeling’ to recognise her potential. Crookes takes after Gaye in other ways as well. As Marvin defended an impoverished Washington D.C on record, Joy wants to stand up for her much-maligned ends. “Growing up in Elephant and Castle, my area is predominately ethnic, so I became a sponge to my surroundings,” Crookes tells me. “The situations that stemmed from all these cultures inspired me too. South London is very institutionalised, we are told how to act and how to speak, and I wanted to overthrow that stereotype. I’ve written songs about Elephant & Castle as I was always interested in how everyone either apologised when I told them I was from here or looked down on me in some type of way.” It’s an approach clear in her music, with Crookes carving a niche for herself halfway between Lana Del Rey and Amy Winehouse, brimming with unmistakable confidence. “I write songs glorifying my area, ‘living it up’ regardless of the situation at home and embracing our surroundings.”
She might be only a handful tracks into her career, but there’s not a dud among them, and with an album in the works she is well on track to join the legends she is so inspired by.
This article first appeared in Notion 76.
Joy wears bralet SOS Steve Madden, choker Topshop, earrings artist’s own, necklace Monica Vinader, watch Swatch
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