Cork-born rapper set for Jools Holland show tonight

As she prepares to make her debut on Jools Holland’s iconic TV show tonight, rising rap star Biig Piig tells JANE MC NAMARA about her Cork roots, how a visit to the jazz festival here made her fall in love with the place, and the Cork music producer she really admires
Cork-born rapper set for Jools Holland show tonight

RISING STAR: Biig Piig, aka Jessica Smyth, says she hopes she has inherited the Irish talent for telling a story through her songs

FOR rapper Biig Piig, 2020 was going to be the year that saw her star ascend to new heights.

But then Covid-19 came along and put her dreams on hold.

Born in Cork — although she left soon after — Biig Piig, aka Jessica Smyth, aged 22, is the artist that Billie Eilish says she relaxes to.

Smyth was booked to play the Indiependence festival in Mitchelstown this year, but that has been cancelled — but at least she will get to perform on the iconic Jools Holland — Later TV show on BBC tonight.

Widely tipped as ‘the next big thing’ Biig Piig said Covid-19 has left her burgeoning career in limbo. 

“I am so desperate to get back in front of an audience,” she says, “After this whole thing is over I am grabbing the opportunity.

“I am quite shy on stage at the start of shows and I hate it,” she admits, “I would love to just walk on stage with confidence and stop worrying about it. People are there because they want to be there. Now that I haven’t been able to go on stage in so long, I am really missing it and I am never taking it for granted again!”

It’s hard to understand why Smyth would harbour any insecurity on stage given her incredible success in recent years.

At 14, she and her family moved from Spain to West London where she became a regular on the open mic scene.

“It was a case of going up and doing two tunes. I loved the atmosphere.”

In college, she met the musician and MC Lava La Rue and producer Lloyd MacDonald. She says: “It all kind of snowballed.”

Biig Piig, aka Jessica Smyth.
Biig Piig, aka Jessica Smyth.

After meeting La Rue, Smyth joined the collective, Nine 8, a London based group of underground musicians, artists and designers, and moved from the open mic folk scene to the world of hip hop.

The rapper who switches between English and Spanish on her tracks signed to RCA last June. She says, “It’s always hard to describe your music but if I had to I would say it is romantic neo-soul.”

Although her Cork debut at Indiependence was cancelled she, says she intends to perform in Cork next year.

“Hopefully I can come in 2021. I would love to. I was born in Cork but I actually don’t even know where! We moved to Kerry very soon after and then on to Spain when I was four.

“But I have been back to Cork and last year I went to the jazz festival, that was incredible. There were so many amazing artists playing.”

Smyth says she follows the Irish music scene closely, “I am a big fan of the Cork producer and rapper Jar Jar. He is one of my favourite artists at the moment, his stuff is incredible.”

Despite moving between Ireland, Spain and the UK, Symth has retained a distinctively Irish accent and says she hopes her roots influence her art. “You know how Irish people tell a story like no-one else? I would like to think, I would hope, that I bring that storytelling and character to my own writing.

“In terms of what I write about, in previous releases it was my personal struggles. Now I am exploring different things like the political climate and that turbulence.

“But there isn’t a certain topic or issue I aim to talk about when I start writing. I feel like it works itself out and afterwards, I look back and it makes sense.”

How does it feel to be on the radar of one of the biggest artists in the world?

“When Billie Eilish said she liked my stuff, it was mad. I really don’t know how it has reached so far.” Smyth explains.

Biig Piig, aka Jessica Smyth.
Biig Piig, aka Jessica Smyth.

“I listen to her podcast, she is doing one with her dad, and her dad showed her a tune of mine a while ago, but then she rediscovered the latest EP and she said that was how she found it.

“It’s just mad. I love her stuff. Her music and her artistic vision are amazing.”

Smyth, who is eager to get back in front of a crowd, says she is looking forward to her next live show, though it will be different than before.

“It is looking like there will be social distancing and then taking temperatures on the way into the venue. I’ll probably set up the laptop and we will be live streaming from there.”

But the pandemic hasn’t been all bad. “I am really loving the live streams. I have never been too big on social media and I love how you can talk to people in the comments.

“Although I did have a couple of cases recently where I was having a few drinks and went on and I really regretted it so I thought, I need to lock my phone away!

“This time has also given me a chance to sit down with my instruments and rediscover that side of music, which has been great. Usually, I am given beats and I write melodies over them.”

The self-confessed perfectionist has this advice for fellow music makers in her birthplace: “You can plan and plan forever but if you don’t take the first step and just put stuff out, it won’t happen.

“I want to be able to play music for the rest of my life, that is the dream and I am figuring it out as I go.”

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