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Lisa Maffia: Grime doesn't embrace women the way garage did

LADY BOSS: Singer and businesswoman Lisa Maffia

AT the start of the last decade, So Solid Crew were the OGs of UK rap with leading, super-stylish, female member Lisa Maffia as their sassy secret weapon.

It was August 2001, when 21 Seconds - the time allowed for each MC to spit their lyrics - announced So Solid Crew to the world beyond their south London home. The track was a blockbuster hit, gaining the rap/garage group their one and only No.1 single in the UK, and bagging the group a BRIT award as well as recognition across the world.

The ever-expanding outfit - at one point claiming more than 30 members - became a notorious nationwide sensation, bringing grime and underground garage to the masses and paving the way for the current explosion in UK urban pop.

But the So Solid Crew name soon became tainted, with the group linked to violence – which resulted in them cancelling their debut tour.

Following the 2003 deaths of two black teenagers caught in the crossfire between rival gangs in Birmingham after a New Year party, the then Culture Minister Kim Howells laid part of the blame at the door of “hateful lyrics of those boasting, macho idiot rappers”. He singled out So Solid Crew, arguing that certain bands had helped to create a “culture where killing is almost a fashion accessory”.

But according to Maffia, politicians and the police alike just “didn’t get it”.

“I don’t think they got us,” explains Maffia. “We were so advanced, there were so many of us. We couldn’t perform at festivals or do big shows and stuff because they were worried. The police weren’t as advanced as they are now – they know how to handle a crowd now.”

She continued: “We were the guinea pigs of today’s industry. We were always the guinea pig, always the ones to be blame and be held responsible. I don’t think they labelled us ‘black kids’ or ‘rough’ or ‘urban’, we were just the testing ground. We were the blue print.”

While Maffia, 37, attempted to keep her distance, controversy, including shootings, stabbings, court cases, bankruptcy and even a murder charge continually dogged the band.

The group’s reputation was badly tarnished, records ceased to sell and the group folded.

Maffia, dubbed the First Lady of Garage, launched her own solo career in 2003, where her debut All Over reached No.2 in the charts.

Going on to run a successful booking agency, clothing line and client agency, Maffia certainly has her fingers in a lot of pies.

And she enjoys being her own boss. “I’ve got an impulsive personality. Once I start something, I have to follow it through, she tells Life & Style. “It feeds my cravings of keeping busy.”

LARGER THAN LIFE: So Solid Crew reached No.1 in the UK charts with their hit 21 Seconds

Even in So Solid Crew as a teenager, and the group’s foremost female member, Maffia knew how to hold her own among the high levels of testosterone and was able to gain and maintain the lads’ respect.

“It was all about being a lady boss. You own yourself, you know yourself, you’re confident within yourself and you respect everyone. Plus, I was one of the lads when I was growing up. I was so boyish. So I think that’s how I gained a true friendship with them. And then I became who I was as a woman. I became a girly girl, but still held my own.”

The singer’s only daughter Chelsea is following in her mother’s ‘lady boss’ footsteps. At just 19 years old, the youngster already has a university degree and owns her own business.

Maffia, who gave birth to Chelsea when she was 16, says: “She’s done really well. She’s got her own business and a degree and she’s still just a teenager.

“The girl amazes me. I’m so proud.”

Back in the early noughties, the garage scene in England was the last time many strong female performers have made it big who were not coming from the Brit school, or a reality TV show. Some would argue that it was the last time female performers who had come up from the streets were successful.

True, there have been a number of female rappers and grime MCs on the scene, but none that have had mainstream success like their male counterparts.

“The grime scene doesn’t embrace their females,” says Maffia, who will be headlining the ShardFest festival in Birmingham next month.

“So Solid, embraced me and other girls. We were a family unit. We included everyone so everyone could make money together. With grime, it’s very male-dominated and it’s everyone man for themselves in some sense.

“I think that’s the difference of how UK music has changed: there aren’t really many talented girls being embraced.”
The singer also thinks underground music in the UK has become a lot darker since garage lost its way – but insists that she doesn’t think a garage revival is necessary.

“I don’t know if I want to hear new garage, because the old garage is new still. The the kids are hearing the old tracks, and still loving it. The garage-feel can be recreated, but it’s only the old school artists that can do it. There’s not really been anyone since whose successfully revived garage.”

Maffia, who still performs alongside fellow So Solid Crew members Romeo, Megaman and MC Harvey, continues: “I know Disclosure and Rudimental touch on garage flavours but it’s nothing quite like what So Solid or Oxide and Neutrino or DJ Luck and MC Neat did.”

“When it comes to the music, garage is very happy, and bubbly and dancey. People were enjoying it.

With new school music like grime, it’s quite dark and serious. Garage was bright and vibrant. That’s how it’s changed. I think people want to go back to that fun time that garage created.”

Lisa Maffia performs at ShardFest, Birmingham on Saturday July 23. For more information, visit:

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