MusicTWO ELEVEN GIRLS

Females on Deck: Lily Mercer

MusicTWO ELEVEN GIRLS
Females on Deck: Lily Mercer
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LILY MERCER

DJ, CREATOR OF VIPER MAGAZINE, HOST AT BEATS 1 AND RINSE FM 

MAKING HERstory

"I have always loved music, but it wasn’t until my early 20’s that I realised how much I LIVED for it. That was when my passion began to develop into a career. It was all quite organic"

Thinking back, very similar to meeting a person- I just clicked with Hip Hop right away. A lot of my childhood memories revolve around Hip Hop and the beginnings of my close relationship with the genre. Aged 8, the first CD I ever bought was Bone Thugs n Harmony’s album ‘E.1999 Eternal’ (1995). I listened to that album every day non-stop until I scratched it. I also vividly remember Biggie Smalls passing, as I bought the Bad Boy Records tribute single, ‘I’ll Be Missing You’ by Puff Daddy and Faith Evans. I also clearly remember when Puffy and Ma$e dropped ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ in 1997, and it was being played everywhere like crazy. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing that song. So many good memories… I guess that's where it all started.

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I didn’t really think about 'music journalism' as a career option, or know that such a career even existed to be honest with you. One day, I came across an article in The Source [hip hop magazine] about 50 Cent’s album ‘Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ (2005). I really liked the way it was written and I had just started getting into writing myself. Reading that article; I thought to myself ‘Wow. I could be good at something like this’. The only thing I thought stood in my way was the fact that I was White, English and a female.  I know how silly that sounds, but at the time I just didn't see how someone like me could become an A&R at Def Jam Records or write about Hip Hop for a magazine like The Source…even if I was born and bred in an amazing cultural melting pot like Hackney (East London).  

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Around that time, I was at school doing my GCSE's. I didn't study any music related subjects during any of my schooling, but I dabbled in trying to use Cubase [music production software]. That’s when I discovered that I was musically illiterate (laughs). I just didn't understand how to build or create actual music, but I think that made me respect musicians so much more. Seeing all the hard work and creativity that goes into making just one song left me in awe of artists. That definitely boded well for my writing. My admiration for the actual art form made me research and study artists that little bit more, listen that little bit more, write that little bit more...

After I finished school, I didn't really have a clear plan. I think that is something a lot of young people go through and it can be quite disheartening. A lot of my friends went off to start new adventures, and there I was. Knowing how much I loved to write; a close family friend put me in touch with someone who owned a fashion magazine. I ended up interning there for 9 months. Whilst I was there I met a guy who was doing a course at LCF (London College of Fashion) and he encouraged me to enrol in a Fashion Journalism course there. I really got into fashion, but I found so many ways in which to link this course back to Hip Hop and my love for music. For our final year project, we were asked to create a magazine with an accompanying website. I drew influences from some of my favourite Hip Hop publications in order to create a magazine called ‘Viper’. That version of Viper was very different from the one you see today, but the most important thing was that I learnt how to make a magazine completely from scratch. For this magazine project, I interviewed US rapper, Danny Brown, who at the time was an underground artist and had about 1000 followers. Even back then, I was big fan of his and began to clock that I had a good ear for spotting up and coming talent. I began using the website that I created for the project to blog regularly about rising stars, such as Piff Gang and Wiz Khaliah. This was before he even dropped his first international hit ‘Black and Yellow’ (2010).

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In the summer of 2012, I moved to New York for 3 months with my boyfriend at the time. I was on a tourist visa so I couldn’t work, but I was occasionally blogging on my own site and doing non-paid write ups for Noisey about the US Hip Hop scene that I was being exposed to whilst out there. I stumbling on so many great  artists, such as Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. I was head hunted by Jamal Edwards (Creator of SBTV), who saw something in me. Over the 3 years that I was at SBTV, I had so many surreal opportunities, such as interviewing Mary J Blige, Wu-Tang Clan and Cypress Hill. Out of the blue, I got a message from an A&R at Rinse, who thought my personal blog would work really well as a radio show. In December 2012, I started a fortnightly show, and by February 2013 I had a weekly Hip Hop show on Rinse. Behind the scenes I was still quietly working on my own magazine, and when Viper finally dropped the response was incredible. It was my baby, and not only did it expose and round up my relationship with the scene; others felt a real connection with the publication too. I think that’s why it is still a success up until today.

Now its 3 years later and I’m still on Rinse, which I am beyond proud to be a part of. I view Rinse as a British institution, much like the BBC. It is a staple in our youth culture and has brought so many genres and artists to the forefront. Genres like Dubstep came up through Rinse FM with the likes of Plastician and Skream.  When I interviewed Chuck D from the legendary Hip Hop group, Public Enemy, it was seen by somebody at Apple Music. After some talks, I was asked to be a host on Beats 1- which I still cannot believe! Not quite sure when it will all sink in, as it is so global, but i am so grateful for the opportunity. The funny thing about all of this is that I never set out to be radio host and now I’m on two major platforms talking and sharing in the genre that I love. 

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I would say that the key to building my career has been that I focused on a lot of different things which all complemented each other. Slowly over time, everything began to pay off.  Also, I focused a lot of my attention on keeping my eyes and ears open for underground talent- not just jumping on what was hot. It all happened naturally because it was genuine from the start. 

 211 Girls: Any Last Words?

 [Goldie, her dog, barks]

 Lily: What she said (laughs)

Credits:

Text: Sandra Omari

Photography: Amber Grace Dixon

Stylist: Safiya Yekwai

Clothing: Silver Spoon Attire