The explosive rise of the UK dancehall queen…

Alicaì Harley has been making waves with a unique sound that tells her compelling story.

Despite being brought up in South London, Alicaì was in fact born in Jamaica which plays a massive role in not only her sense of self, but her music. From a very young age, the ‘Hot Shot’ knew where her destiny lied and found herself experimenting with a range of genres from grime to dancehall, which has earned her recognition as one of the most versatile artists to hit the scene.

The rapper and singer’s break-through track ‘Gold,’ which arose from her ‘Hotshot Tuesday’s’ campaign, instantly set the bar high with its sparkling lyrics and production. Fast-forward to 2021, Alicaì continues to shine with her brand new EP ‘The Red Room Intro (Yard Gyal Inna Britain)’.

The project is a burst of joy featuring a range of artists, from Stefflon Don to the legendary Tony Matterhorn. Celebrating a passion for rhythm, Alicaì effortlessly switches between luscious vocals to banging bars, from English to Patois.

Clash sat down with Alicaì Harley to discuss her journey, both personal and musical, alongside the influences behind her sound which has made her, through the eyes of many, the UK’s very own dancehall queen.

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What was it like growing up in London after spending your early childhood in Jamaica?

It was brilliant to be honest! I came here when I was five, I was quite young so it was very easy for me to kind of blend in the London culture and grow with the times. However, I always stayed bringing Jamaica with everything I did. I guess I became both a Yardie and a Londoner at the same time.

Have you been back to Jamaica and if so, have you got a favourite memory from the time you’ve spent there?

I didn’t actually get to go back until 2018. I would say my favourite memory is when I didn’t tell one of my sisters that I was coming back. I was in the car, and I messaged her on WhatsApp saying “where are you, I’ve got someone bringing something to you.” I came to the market where she worked and I was in the van, obviously she’s coming to pick up whatever I’ve sent for her, but it was me. I think that was an amazing moment, a real special moment.

I don’t think she ever thought, or knew when that time would come. That was always like her dream. I couldn’t believe for myself that it had happened.

Where does you journey with music begin?

My musical journey started from Jamaica. The earliest thing I can remember is that I loved music. Nothing made me more excited, nothing pumped me, there was nothing else that I did but that – write music, sing music and tell everybody what I was going to be and what I was going to do with my life. As I grew up, I came here and it was still that. I used to do girl groups with my cousins! I would then ask my brother when is he going to take me to the studio, and he was like “when you’re 12.” The thing is, from them times I was downloading all the programmes that seemed like studio programmes. I wasn’t even so much into making beats I just wanted to record the music that I was writing.

The first time I got to go studio was actually in 2008. My Dad had passed and I was quite a troubled teenager. I went to Centre, which is a unit for kids that get kicked out of school, and at that unit there was a studio. There was a guy, I think his name was Anthony, he had a studio in the same place and that was the first time I recorded. He allowed me to record a song for my dad in the studio and I put that on YouTube.

That’s an amazing story. Who are your musical influences?

My musical influences are Lady Saw and Buju Banton. I was a massive Cashtastic fan, Team Tastic, at the shows, everything. It was so phenomenal because everything came round 360. When I went to Jamaica, I was shooting the first video for ‘Naah Done,’ and when I came outside, them lots said something like, “there’s a surprise” but I wasn’t sure what was going on. Then I see somebody walking across the road. It was Cashh. He was on the set for ‘Naah Done,’ he’s even in the video at the end, but as in, he was working on the set.

It’s just crazy because you support someone so much and for him to then be supporting my ting, it was phenomenal. I even found out he’s my brother’s cousin!

Beyoncé is also someone that I admire, specifically because of her work rate. She’s never too rude, she’s never too this or she’s never too that. I’ve always admired her balance.

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From performing at open mic nights to studio sessions, what would you say helped you truly progress as an artist? How did you find your sound?

I’d say definitely these open mics because I got so comfortable with taking myself out of my comfort zone and worked on my performance skills. Some of these open mics had so many people, but sometimes I only got to perform at the end and there’s only two people in the audience. I’d still perform. These open mics have helped me so much, especially with lockdown where you’ve got to perform and communicate without seeing your audience. It’s like, I know how to entertain regardless. It set me up for longevity.

The late nights in the studios as well, trying to get it right, re-doing stuff, bussin my brain, it’s really just prepared me for everything.

How would you describe your music to someone who is new to Alicai Harley?

I’d say you’re in for a treat because you’ve never met anybody like this. I would say my sound is dancehall-infused pop, reggae, rap, grime, hip-hop, R&B…everything. I can’t box it in.

How did your recent EP, ‘The Red Room Intro (Yard Gyal Inna Britain)’ come?

Initially the name came from a room in Miloco Studios called The Red Room. I remember that night specifically because I had been in the studio with my team and it was a creative madness. I hit a zone and we had the room red at the time, so we was like “ah, The Red Room Intro.”

I loved it because of the fact that the colour red is the colour for love, it’s the colour for hate, it’s the colour for pain, all of these emotions are the same colour, but it was my truth. It’s like The Red Room is my truth. I called it Intro because there’s so much more to come.

What does is mean for you to be a Yard Gyal Inna Britain?

For me, it means being unapologetically who I am. We have a saying in Jamaica, my mum said this the whole time I was growing up, “you have to take bad things and make joke.” It’s not necessarily saying that everything is a joke, but it’s saying that you can’t let anything steal your joy. For me, that’s what it means to be a Yard Gyal Inna Britain.

What was it like collaborating with such a range of artists on the EP?

I can honestly say I feel truly blessed to collaborate not just with these amazing artists, but legendary artists aswell. I feel everything happened really organically aswell. You can hear it in the music. I feel like it’s going to sustain for years to come.

I remember the day I messaged Tony Matterhorn on WhatsApp when I did ‘Do That.’ I sent him the voice note and he was literally there within half an hour. It was amazing, it was pure vibes, pure energy and we bounced off of each other.

Lastly, kicking off 2021 with such a strong debut project, where do you see the upcoming year taking you?

Wherever God wants to take me. I decided now that I don’t want to actually be in control of my future at all. I know my heart’s desires and I let Him know my heart’s desires. I obviously want everything to keep expanding and blowing up more but I also want God’s will to be done. I don’t know where my musical journey is about to go, I don’t know what my sound is about to do but I’m excited for what he is already doing.

I want to be able to give back in any way I can. In the last few years, I feel like there’s so much stuff that I’ve learnt, I have gems to offer and not just to musicians but to human beings in general. I think I’ve always been for the people so I’d like to give back.

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Words: Ana Lamond

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