She’s cool!” Flohio giggles, talking about herself. “She has nice things to say, and it sounds good when she says them.” What begins as a shy mumble in response to my questions develops into a relaxed and animated back and forth, punctuated with the odd excitable “ooh!”, “yeah!”, and “oh my days!” as Flohio’s whirlwind mind flits from one idea to the next.
We speak on Guy Fawkes Night, our conversation peppered with fireworks in the background. This year 25-year-old Funmi Ohiosumah, AKA Flohio, has set off some fireworks of her own. Her most recent offering, the four track EP Wild Yout, follows a handful of blistering singles including August’s swaggering ‘10 More Rounds’. “It’s Flo Flo season” she declares, defiantly staking her claim on the moment. Flo rounds off 2018 with a string of U.K. shows, “I can’t wait to perform to my friends, my family, to familiar faces”, she says excitedly, referring to the Corsica Studios date which will complete the tour. With the help of close friend and regular collaborator HLMNSRA, and his penchant for the 808, Flohio is carving her own explosive, genre-bending space in the U.K. rap scene, her rapid and articulate flow holding its own over rumbling basslines, menacing snares and industrial synths.
“I feel so welcome now…I’m excited for what’s to come…”
“Bring out your wild side” instructed her social media platforms on the day of Wild Yout’s release. “That’s me and my wild yout” Flohio says of her bold and fiery stage presence. It’s a far cry from her everyday – Flo has repeatedly described herself as shy in previous interviews, pointing to a line in Wild Yout’s title track that goes “I just blend when I come through” as symptomatic of her demeanour. “I’m kind of incognito” she explains, “when I go places, I go in, I chill, that’s it.” Ohiosumah might consider herself incognito in the day-to-day, but with all eyes and ears on her high-octane, dynamic sound and her sure-fire flare on stage, Flohio is anything but.
As she rides the wave of Wild Yout’s success and prepares for her tour, Flohio and I speak about the breakneck pace of the music industry, writing books and earning your stripes.
Hailing from Lagos via Bermondsey, Ohiosumah’s musical journey began at a youth club down the road from her south London home. Honing her craft alongside a group of five friends, they grew up together, taking advantage of the recording studio on site. “It was inspiring”, Flo explains “it was such a good time for me and I wish it still went on.” In the face of many youth club closures, Flohio’s burgeoning success is a marker of the positive impact and opportunity such a space can have on young people. “It made me want to do more” she says, “encouraged me to see myself in bigger places and aspire to have my hands full.” Years spent experimenting in the club’s studio with her peers led to an appetite for penning lyrics, and nowadays, Flo finds her inspiration outside and on the go.
“Your mind is clear” she says, “when you’re still your mind is occupied, but when you’re moving, your mind creates things on its own”. The four padded walls of the studio are seldom a productive place for her songwriting. For Flohio, the most beautiful moments present themselves when she’s busy, when she’s least expecting it, deep from her subconscious. “It’s the same with any artist – drawing, writing, painting; I catch a sentence, a paragraph, a word even, then I go home and build on that”.
For Flo, connecting the dots lyrically is important too. “I want to write a book one day. At the end of the day I’m trying to tell a story, but what’s the story going to be?” she wonders aloud, saying much of her inspiration is founded on wanting her music to make sense, and a desire for each record to fit together as one extended body of work. “Every piece of music I write”, she goes on to explain, “if my nephew reads it for example, when he gets older and he reads, or he listens, I want it to make sense.”
When it comes to Wild Yout, each track sheds light on a different side of Flohio. Brazen opener ‘Bop Thru’, with its infectious hook is her intro, and one of her favourite songs to perform live. “It’s confirmation that I trust my sound, I trust myself, and I’m feeling confident in my own steps” she says. Frenetic follow up ‘Breeze’ is Flohio’s energy on stage, her purest, rawest form. A first foray into a more stripped back and down-tempo palette, ‘Toxic’ aches of vulnerability, and touches on Ohiosumah’s tendency to over-think. “It’s feeling alone, feeling like you don’t belong” she admits, “one minute everything is all good, all fun, and then the next minute, mad thoughts.” Finally, ‘Wild Yout’ is getting what you want, owning your playground and believing in yourself. “Everyone has their inner wild yout” Flo explains earnestly, “they’ve got that force within. Embracing your wild yout is knowing what you want and going for it wholeheartedly.”
Before pursuing music in a full time capacity, Flohio worked at Ninja Tune as a graphic designer. Quickly learning that the industry doesn’t exactly allow for space to “chill”, her time at the label taught her to work quickly, to keep the plates spinning, and to be reactive. From design for the label to the artwork for her own material, Wild Yout’s cover is more sentimental than the boisterous content might infer. In Nigeria, newborn babies are presented with jewellery, “you know, three wise men and that” she laughs, “my jewellery is a part of me”. The necklace on the EP’s cover was designed by Duncan Loudon, director of the video for ‘Wild Yout’. “I like that energy” Flo says, talking about the stripy top she’s wearing in the cover image, “it’s my uniform, you know”. Often dressed in stripes for her live shows too, it’s a statement of self-belief. Flohio is earning her stripes.
“I’m having a moment!” Flo exclaims. I’ve asked if there any live performances that were instrumental in her choosing to pursue making music. She begins to talk about a memorable Rick Ross show, before stopping in her tracks. “I’ve remembered another one!” Years ago the youth club took its members to the O2 Arena, and to Flo’s disbelief, a young musician from her area was performing. “You’re used to seeing huge artists on a stage like that” she explains, “you’re a little kid looking up, and seeing someone I knew was like, damn!” Seeing him in the bright lights of a stadium-sized venue was all the motivation Flohio needed to keep pushing herself and to keep making music.
“I’m constantly questioning, analysing, trying to be better”
Fast forward to today, and knowing that her music is supported serves as consistent ratification. “Knowing people care, knowing they’ll party with me when I perform” she says, sounding grateful, “it makes me want to go crazy times ten.” On the flip side, there are times when Flohio struggles to enjoy her success, and she blames it on being a perfectionist. “I’m constantly questioning, analysing, trying to be better” she says, going onto say how it’s rare for her to take time to bask in her achievements. A self-confessed workaholic, there’s no time right now for Flohio to stop and take stock, instead she’s making progress and, for her, that’s what’s most important.
Speaking in an interview a little over two years ago, Flohio said that she didn’t yet feel she was part of London’s rap scene. Is it safe to say that’s no longer the case? “I feel so welcome now” she smiles, “It’s good man, good energies all around. I’m excited for what’s to come.”
In an endearing analogy Flo refers to the music industry as “a little school”, in which practice makes perfect by completing each semester. Right now, the semesters represent new live instrumentation, different sounds and different countries, “I’m having fun on this journey” she says, “I’m gaining experiences and growing up”. If 2018 – Flo Flo season – represents just a semester in Flohio’s electrifying trajectory, the world better watch out as she catapults towards the next assignment.
Photos by the incredible Jenn Five