23 year-old Shaybo is a true yin and yang character. You’re getting ruthless lyricism with a highly personable delivery - direct and to the point bars, yet laugh out loud moments. The 23 year-old is the lyrically dexterous, hook-heavy Queen of the South. She should be ruling the country.
Her debut EP is named after a cartel-centric crime drama TV series named ‘Queen of the South’, which focuses on the story of Teresa Mendoza, a poor woman from Sinaloa, Mexico, who becomes one of the first female drug traffickers to reach the level of "Boss" within the Mexican cartels, a place usually reserved for men.
Shaybo referenced the vigorous, story-telling show in breakout 2019 songs ‘HB Freestyle’ and ‘Ya Dun Know’ – two uncompromising tracks that positioned her as one of the hardest UK rappers going. As she tells the crowd on ‘HB Freestyle’, she’s a “sexy bitch” member of the “gang gang”.
“I just related so much to the main character as a person and her journey,” says Shaybo, of Teresa Mendoza’s impact on her music. “She started off naive, then had trust issues, then became a boss. I relate to that.”
There are clear parallels between Mendoza’s rise to the top and Shaybo’s ascension toward the peak of the UK rap genre. Both women excel in a male dominated genre, on their level. Take Shaybo’s latest single “Dobale” – a fierce yet poised track which firmly introduces her status as UK rap royalty via braggadocious taunts (“Queen of the South / call me the mayor”) and competitive reflection (“I was born in the ghetto / I was fighting with these bitches in stilettos”).
Pour through Shaybo’s lyrics and you’ll get a snapshot of the personal history that’s lead her up to becoming who the queen she is today. There’s jail time, flashes of anger, fights, but there’s also the calm, level-headed balance that comes from growing through those moments and emerging on the other side.
“I used to get myself in a lot of trouble. I used to be around a lot of violence. I was around people who did illegal things,” she says. “I’ve experienced a lot through my childhood and my teenage years.”
Raised in Catford, Shaybo had always made music as a way to process life experiences, at least since her early teenage years. But it took several years of trial and error to get to where she is. Now she’s a well-studied student of her own work. “I’m one of those young people who is just old,” she says, with a laugh.
“I’ve got ten years of experience behind me. I know how to rap. as far as I know how not to rap. I’ve done trial and error.”
The current defining moment in Shaybo’s journey came when she was working with a charity helping Grenfell survivors. “I remember going to the interview and the woman was like ‘Why are you here?’ She said ‘You’re destined for way more.’ I got the job; I enjoyed the job, but I understood where she was coming from.”
Shaybo’s background in social work informs her tunes too. On one level, her songs help with processing emotion – “Anger” is Shaybo talking about her own experiences – but they’re also intended as empowerment for others. “A lot of females are in my position – they’re expected to be lady-like, but there are a lot of girls who can’t control their anger,” she says. Same for a song like ‘Broke Boyz’, which is intended to inspire women “to say what you want, be free, whether sexually or whatever – to be yourself.”
Yet this isn’t Empowerment Music as you might have previously known it. In fact, don’t even call it that. It’s simply real, highly melodic rap music that weaves its way through drill, road, hype-fueled hooks, highly energised disses (‘Come For Shay’) and moments of sheer vulnerability (‘My Sister’). Each element of this music is a singular expression of Shaybo, in all her multitudes. The UK has never seen an artist like her before, with this much raw and defiant versatility.
As she tells it... “A lot of people have said my music makes them want to fight. But at the same time, I put a lot of knowledge, compassion and empathy in there. Ultimately, I want to encourage girls to stop being in a shell and pretending to be something they’re not.” With ‘Queen of the South’ on the way, get ready to bow down...