I've been intrigued by Bibi Bourelly for a long time. A year and a half, to be precise. From the moment she popped up on my radar, via a hip hop blog in early 2015, her story interested me. Maybe because she was raised in Berlin, but speaks accent-free, American-tinged English, like I do. Raised by a Haitian father and Moroccan mother (who passed away when she was just 6), she broke off her schooling in Berlin when she was a teen and moved to Maryland to finish her high school degree. While there, she struck up a friendship with producer Paperboy Fabe online, who suggested she move to LA asap, and so she did.
In the space of a year, she went from (publicly perceived) obscurity, to writing Rihanna's lead single off Anti, Bitch Better Have My Money, and posting selfies with Kanye. Currently on her North American tour, after finishing her European one, she comes across as a curious mix of warm yet distant, of optimistic, eyes-wide-open and screwface scepticism. It's easy to dismiss her confidence in her talent, plan and path as youthful exuberance. But there's a charm about Bibi that seduces you and makes you subscribe fully to who she is, and what she undoubtedly will do.
Bibi Bourelly on...
This is my first time going on tour – I've learned so much in the first 11 days that a lot of people don’t learn in three whole years. I’ve had disputes, I’ve hashed them out. [My band and I] started out as strangers but ended up as people who know each other intimately. I’ve played the worst show in my life and the best show in my life in the last two weeks. My best show was between Belgium and Berlin. Berlin symbolised a lot to me. The last date of the Anti tour, being able to open up for Rihanna, who’s been such a huge part of my career, and chilling with her, and being able to bring my friends, looking out in the crowd to see my homies that I grew up with. That show meant so much.
I was called in to help work on Usher’s album, so he and I established a relationship. He’s a really, really, really, really, really cool guy. It was really amazing meeting an artist like that because, at the time, I was shook by the world I was in, I was surrounded by people I used to see on television the whole time. I see myself as a very transparent, a heart on my sleeve kind of person, so it was a difficult world for me to be in.
I was so positively moved and impressed by how humble and how hard-working and genuine Usher was, even after such a long career. I have ADD, so the way I create my music is, if I’m not swayed by the idea in 30 minutes, I’m like, fuck it, scrap it. But Usher really pushed me to stick with this Chains and come up with lines that were very direct and controversial, and gave me the opportunity to perform on my first huge stage, the Tidal show. That was my first show, ever, and I was so nervous. I have a lot of respect for Usher. I hope to have a career that long.
There are so many incredible talents. To be completely honest and transparent... I mean, obviously there’s always room for improvement, but I trust my talent, and I trust it to grow on its own. In terms of who has impacted me, Skrillex was huge, he came into my life at a very vital time and showed me amazing things that I wouldn’t have got to see on my own, like the first time I went to the Grammys was with Skrillex. He’s just a good person. And before anyone knew who I was or what I did, I got to sit in on a session with a writer named Poo Bear, and I got to watch him write, and I remember leaving that session feeling like I was a completely different artist. There are so many people that I have worked with that have inspired me, but right now what inspires me most is the audience. Not so much the behind-the-scenes world, that’s not really so inspiring. We don’t exist if we don't have the audience. The audience look to the artists for answers, but the artists also look to the audience for answers. It’s a form of communication.
I really like London. I think London is really innovative. It’s definitely the New York of Europe. It’s very forward in pop culture. London continues to find really, really influential creatives, like artists and forms of art that end up being a big part of pop culture. My favourite rapper and one of my best friends is Little Simz, she really inspires me and is a perfect example of that.
Amy Winehouse makes me think of London. Her lyrics were so literal. I think I’m very literal. Ego is very literal. I wouldn’t compare myself to her, though. I think it’s always very difficult to compare two different artists, because no two people live the same life. Especially not two artists who write their own music. I really respect her as an artist, and I don’t normally say that, I never say I respect someone as an artist. If I would’ve had the opportunity to work with her back in the day, I believe that we would’ve really gotten along and had musical chemistry.
My father and I are fluent in our musical creation, in that form of communication. We’ve been doing this with each other since birth, so it comes very natural. I communicate better with my dad through creating music than I do through words. It just feels natural, it’s just what we do. Look, I want to express that I’m very grateful for all the successes that have happened, but the reason why I don’t like to create this hype around it, or say “it’s amazing that I could bring my dad in to work with x, y, z”, is I don’t want people to fucking think this is a gimmick, or to think that this is the reason why I’m doing it. I do what I do to inspire people to do what they want to do. And if one minute I’m saying, fuck everything, fuck society and standards, fuck what your parents say, go do what makes you happy, and in the same breath say, oh, but look at me, and this is what I’m doing. I don’t want to do that, I want to normalise it and unglorify it. Because at the end of the day, everyone is just people. And as grateful as I am, I want people to know that it’s just music, and if this is what you want to do, do it, and work your fucking ass off.
I’m a perfectionist, I’m very very hard on myself. To the public eye, they probably wouldn’t think my worst show was that bad, but to me it really was. I hold myself to a high standard, so I just want to live up to my potential self. What a lot of people don’t discuss in today’s culture is what it entails to be a real artist. It’s not just about going on stage and sounding good, it’s about provoking and evoking and creating a certain chemistry for people to experience music, and allowing the world and the audience to see that, allowing people to witness magic and real emotions. And you can only give that if you really know who you’re playing with.
People don’t believe in themselves, love themselves or know themselves. That leads to a bunch of problems in the world right now. When people tell me my lyrics do that for them, that’s exactly why I do it. I’m grateful to be able to do that.
I... I have to figure out a way to say this so it doesn’t sound rude. I have to be completely honest, and this is something that I’ve really wanted to express for a long time. I think that there are people who entertain, which is amazing and fascinating and phenomenal, and then there are people who are born artists, who are born creatives. And I think those people live their lives to express the things they feel or see, or they want to see. They show people their perspective in whichever creative way they can. Unfortunately, the majority of the music industry today, because it’s so watered down, and all-consuming and so easy to capitalise on, there a lot of “artists who aren’t really artists, they’re quote-unquote artists. They put on a mask, and they do it because they want to be famous, or because of insincere reasons. I don’t do this shit because I want to be famous. I do this because this is what I was born to do. I’ve been doing this since I was zero. And I live it. There’s nothing else in my life that I’m good at. I’m doing this because I believe it’s my purpose, and I want to create until I can’t breathe or move anymore. I think that we use the term artist very loosely, and I think that that is what an artist is supposed to be. They’re supposed to create art. I hope that didn’t sound rude.
I have so many goals I still want to achieve. I want to change the world, to put it in a nutshell. There are a lot of short term goals I want to accomplish in order to do that. In the next year, I’m excited about Free The Real part 2 dropping, I’m excited to work on my album this winter in LA.
To make it in this industry you need ultimate determination. Deciding you’re going to do something and doing it. People expect some sort of method or guide book to success. All it is is ultimate determination, and saying you’re going to do what you’re going to do, fucking acting on your deepest desires. It was very hard work for me, it still is very hard work. I’ve given up everything. But there is no Plan B for me. This is my soul and the reason why I’m alive. Granted, certain events might have happened to enable me, but I think you need to put that energy into the world in order to take advantage of and capitalise on those events. I just want people to know that it’s not that deep. All you have to know in order to accomplish something is to go do it. Have the discipline, have the persistence and have the self belief, the self confidence and the self love to follow through, and to be able to get back up when you fall.