Written by: Lauren Demir
Photos: David Franco
Collages: Annie Mcgill
Lily Mercer has been a big fan of hip hop from a young age. The first album she bought for herself was Bone-Thugs- n-Harmony and ever since she’s been engrossed in the culture. She explains how she got into hip hop, ‘As garage got big, my brother gave me his old CDs. So I adopted the sound he was into.’ Now 29, she's got 2 radio shows on Rinse and Beats1, she’s the founder of Viper magazine, has her own blog, she DJs, and holds events for artists.
Lily’s mum encouraged her love of hip hop and gave them something to bond over. Her mum would school her about the Motown samples used, and bought Malcom X’s autobiography for Lily when she started to ask questions about the Black Panthers. It’s a funny image, picturing a 10 year old white girl listening to Wu Tang whilst being engrossed in a book on Malcolm X, but it’s a relevant topic when it comes to present artists and people knowing the history and roots of something. ‘[My mum] supported the social aspect, as well as it being music. She wanted me to know what i was listening to.’
She joined SBTV to help manage their blog. ‘For a while SBTV was unpaid, everyone was showing up for shoots regardless. It’s nice when everyone you’re working with is really passionate.’ Jamal Edwards noticed Lily’s passion for hip hop, and she became his go-to for the big interviews thanks to her knowledge. ‘I’ve interviewed a lot of my favourite musicians. It’s amazing when you can ask geeky questions.’ She interviewed the likes of Mary J Blige, Nas, and Cypress Hill for SBTV.
Down to her excitement and ear for the genre she’s continued to flourish. She was one of the first people to play Sza, Chance The Rapper, and Bad and Boujee on the radio in the UK. Viper has continued to grow and is now on its eighth issue and has featured School Boy Q, Novelist and Kali Uchis to name a few. She runs her own night with her event company Pyrex Stirs alongside Viper. With her numerous roles and involvement in the industry we thought she'd be the person to talk about her journey, and hear her advice for others coming up in the industry.
Viper launched in 2013. I knew I wanted to do a print magazine, I’ve got a passion for magazines and physical copies. I felt like the intelligence, critique of rap culture has gone. There were not as many hip hop magazines or magazines catering to me anymore and that’s why I started it.
Looking at hip hop culture as a whole. One issue was about gender. I wrote an article about why we should perv over men more because when we talk about gender and equality or women being over sexualised - what if the male is under sexualised? In a rap magazine it’s okay to talk about that and assume people want to read it alongside School Boy Q. Rap isn’t stupid. Lyrically there is so much being said, why is it simplified? There’s so much more to it.
At 24 I interviewed Mary J Blige for SBTV and it’s still mad to me that that happened. It’s really hard to ask Mary J Blige a question she’s never been asked before but when I realised I did - and she reacted to it - it was the sickest feeling ever.
I interviewed Nas when I was 25, the interview was 6 minutes. I woke up at 5am after the interview and just started crying uncontrollably. When everything is building to this one moment in your career and when it happens and you're like ‘Shit, what now?’ I interviewed him less then a year later for the cover of Clash magazine and that was a full half an hour interview and it was sick, he’s one of the best rappers that’s ever lived.
I did an interview with Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples. It was a 3 way phone call and Earl was getting head. He tweeted about it after and someone took a screenshot and sent it to me who knew who I was doing the interview. When I was listening back, Vince was like ‘I’m playing 2K right now’ and Earl said, ‘I was doing some nasty shit in this interview earlier.’ He actually kind of gave us a heads up.
Never in my mind did I think I’d do radio. It’s been 4 years and I love it. Playing music and getting to talk which is such an exciting job to do. Especially at Rinse which is an institution. It’s also helped everything else I was doing so it was a natural fit. I trust my ear a lot. If you trust what you’re hearing, back those artists and you’re consistent with it when you do end up getting those people that break through you’re like shit I was one of the first people to play them in the world.
I remember them telling me that Elton John’s got a show and I literally got goosebumps. They told me Julie (Adenuga) got a channel and I thought this is the sickest thing ever. Not because I was involved, it just sounded sick to me. It’s an amazing experience. Meeting Zane Lowe and having the full team there, Jimmy Iovine did a talk. Literally from the start of his career he was sick. He’s done Bruce Springsteen and John Lennon stuff. Legends you can’t even imagine working with so it’s just a really inspiring place to work.
LILY'S 4 TIPS
LILY'S 4 TIPS
1. Don’t go for somebody that everybody knows about. Find the local guy who you can get in touch with that you know is going to be a star. If you’re right you could interview the next huge star.
2. The Drake and Semtex interview comes off their relationship. Drake felt like talking and thought Semtex is the guy. You’re better off being that person that does the odd interview that stands out than the one that interviews everyone because it’s the press run.
3. If you’re not nervous going into the interview then you’re probably not passionate anymore. There are always new challenges but that’s growth. If you don’t have the stress of it then you don’t appreciate the success in the same way.
4. Get out there. For a lot of people whats holding them back is the lack of belief and how easy certain things are. Many people are out there looking for help and wanting someone to give them a hand with their work who have amazing experiences to pass down.
Catch Lily on Rinse FM on Sundays 1am-3am and Beats 1. Follow her on Twitter: @@LilyMercer IG: lilymercer