The music of Ivoirian Doll is not for the faint of heart. Speaking what she thinks to any audience became her forte around the time she decided to drop out of college to pursue a career on YouTube, and the drill star has been doing ever since.
Born in Germany, the rapper (real name Vanessa Mahi) moved to east London when she was just three years old, allowing her to absorb the sound that inspired her own music. Her first single, ‘Queen of Drill’, was released in 2019 after a short collaboration with her friend Abigail Asante. Now she is redefining the genre.
“I started out as a YouTuber and was going to college at the same time,” she tells us. “I didn’t really like college because I felt I wasn’t getting the most out of it. So I went to YouTube and made some supporters from there. I used to do funny content, stories, give advice to girls… and then I accidentally fell into the music.
I had a friend at the time who was in a duet. She wanted to start rapping and I said to her, ‘okay let’s do this as a joke, that would be funny’. I’ve always loved music but never thought I would really go for it. I wanted to do art.
Two years after this little “joke” and Ivoirian Doll is one of Drill’s most famous artists, accumulating millions of views on her GRM Daily drops. By all accounts, reaching this point was pretty fuzzy.
“I was on Instagram [before YouTube] but I wasn’t like an influencer or anything. I feel like it happened bit by bit… people just started following me and I used to say what I think a lot. I still do. When I first started blogging, that’s when I think more people started connecting.
“I feel like I’ve always been frank. I think I’m a little more private now. Before, I would say literally anything. But I think I’m still open to showing people what I do on a daily basis. Through my Snapchat, through my Instagram story… I feel like what you see is what you get with me. I try to put [my personality] in my music, so you feel like you know the person.
His outspokenness, which manifests itself on YouTube as straightforward confessional videos and in his music as bold swagger and slippery dissension, can sometimes divide public opinion about him. “I feel like some people love it,” she says, “it makes them say, ‘okay I can be like that, I want to be frank, I want to be confident. While some people will say, “Oh, who does she think she is? Why does she think she can say anything? So it can really go both ways. But Ivoirian Doll has learned to deal with the hate she sometimes receives on her social media platforms, which collectively have over 500,000 followers. “I just ignore it,” she said, shrugging her shoulders.
“If people send hate, I just don’t watch it. When people send me hate messages – I don’t really get a lot of them but I used to – I just ignore it. People say the most horrible things, but what you need to know is that in real life you won’t get the same energy. I realized it’s just online… you can’t really take it at face value. I really don’t care.
The drill artist counts some of rap’s biggest names as his inspirations, and concedes that admiring them made dreams of following in their footsteps once seem unattainable. “Missy Elliott is so good. Nicki Minaj: I love it. And Beyoncé! I used to look at some of these people and think, “Oh my God, I really wish I was the same then.” Like, I’ve always had an interest in it, but I was like, ‘no, that’s probably what won’t happen.’ “
With inspirations like these, Ivoirian Doll was set to release an outrageously fun music video, and one quickly came in the form of visuals for her 2020 single “Rumors.” In it, she channels her inner American high school student as she fiercely raps her vivid words on camera. “With ‘Rumors’ I kind of said to myself, ‘I want to have a funny video, I don’t want it to be too serious,'” she explains. “Because my personality isn’t serious. I’m a very playful person. So I was like ‘you know what, let me do it like a drill song, but it’s fun, it’s dancing. … ‘So basically I like to do what I would like to see.
IVD says the reception of her music from the start has positively surprised her. “I think it started when I recognized myself as an artist. After ‘Rumors’, that’s when I was very overwhelmed because before I was like ‘oh, they would never know me’. When people like your photo or send you a message or say “I love you”, you just think “Wow”. I’m always excited about things like this because it just makes you think, “What can happen next?” “”
IVD says holding on is key to assessing your place in the scene. “At first, I felt like because you’re a girl, they would treat you differently,” she reveals. “I feel like as a woman you just need to make sure that you’re asserting yourself and showing that you’re not a piece of cake. It’s like women playing football: people don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense to them.
But IVD has received a lot of support from other women inside and outside the music industry. “I have the impression that the girls are a little different in the industry”, underlines the rapper. If they like you, they’ll dm you and they’ll tell you. With the guys, they don’t say anything.
Most of the women supported Ivoirian Doll on her upward trajectory, but grime giant Lady Leshurr pulled out a piece of diss bomb, “DIV”, directed at her. IVD explains that the recognition came like a thunderclap for her. “This one was different because I never spoke to her, ever. We never had a conversation, ”she said,“ and then she mentioned me and I didn’t know her, so it was weird for me because I didn’t know where it was coming from. But it’s not the same [as usual] because this one says to me: “Well, I didn’t know there was a problem”.
By far, the 2020 track “Rumors” was his most beloved track. It also gave her the initial boost that saw her perform on gigantic stages this year at festivals like Parklife and Wireless. But the rapper admits she didn’t expect the overwhelming support she received at her concerts, especially after the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a halt after the song was released. “It was very, very, very overwhelming. I loved it, “confesses Ivoirian Doll.” It made me so happy because one of the reasons I was upset during the pandemic was that I thought, ‘ah, I missed the shows,’ the rumors “could have been more important”. Corn [the support] just made me say to myself “okay I have to keep going because people [still wanted] to see my work solo.
“I was really happy. I’ve never been to festivals too. I don’t really go to festivals. I mean, my first time at festivals, it was on stage, so that made me happy.
After an intense year, IVD has taken some time to relax… and work on new music to make a comeback. “I feel like I’m on vacation right now. I had a long year, I’m tired, ”she recalls. “I was going to do a tour, but I said ‘let me hold on for a bit’ because I actually need something like a mixtape. When I come back, I’ll play my new songs. what I’m working on right now.
After her well-deserved break, Ivoirian Doll aspires to collaborate with international female artists in what would represent her big break across the Atlantic. His dream collaborators? “I think it would probably be like Megan [Thee Stallion] or Nicki [Minaj]… I also love Doja Cat.
“In the future, I want to be a lot bigger and a lot better,” she says, “I think I’m still trying to do something that I’ve never done before. Every song and every clip has to be better than the last. Each performance must be better than the last. I always try to make sure that I always have a one-up on myself. The mindset is just to compete with yourself and have tunnel vision. And that’s what I’m trying to do and keep working.
This interview first appeared in Gigwise 2: The Back To The Future Issue. Buy a copy here.