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Lola Brooke is betting on herself

18 December 2023, 09:00

Lola Brooke's success isn't a fluke or accident – it was the plan all along, the breakthrough rapper tells Kelsey Barnes.

This year marks 50 years of hip-hop greatness, making it the perfect year for rap newcomer Lola Brooke to reign.

The emcee has deftly brought forth her own era in the industry, bringing together the genre’s historic roots and her knack for creating raps that easily go viral on social media. Before even releasing her debut body of work, she was nominated for Best Breakthrough Hip-Hop Artist at this year’s BET Hip-Hop Awards. For Brooke, the nomination wasn’t exactly a sign that she was moving in the right direction because she’s known her talent all along.

Lola Brooke knew she wanted to be a rapper at eight years old. “It’s crazy because I don’t remember it at that age,” she says just a few weeks after the release of her debut album, Dennis Daughter. “My grandmother told me that I would tell family members and friends that I wanted to be a rapper, though. The first artist that made me fall in love with Hip Hop was 50 Cent. It just made me feel… I wanted to be a part of it because I always loved entertaining people. I felt like I wanted to express myself in multiple ways and music was it.”

Growing up, Brooke was a self-described “energetic, friendly, and emotional” kid. As an only child in a single-parent household, she felt like she didn’t have anyone to speak to. It pushed her to record her feelings down as a way to release them, writing every thought and frustration down as a way to make sense of what she was experiencing. “I went back and re-read them and it was pretty interesting. I was a very interesting kid and I think it’s dope to go back and see what I was feeling on a certain day many, many years ago. It just shows my growth.”

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Shyniece Thomas got her rap name from Lola Bunny and Brooke from the place where she was born and raised: Brooklyn, New York. For a passionate and burgeoning rapper, there is no other place to be — a borough where rappers like Busta Rhymes, Lil' Kim, and countless others lived. It’s a place that was both a home and her very own musical playground. Brooklyn is just as integral to her roots as her own family history is; she dreams of the day when she can be grouped in with Brooklyn hip-hop legends like Jay-Z and Foxy Brown.

Although Lola Brooke isn’t her birth name, it does serve as a way for her fans to understand her universe. “It made it easier for them [her fans] to get me by categorising who I am. They can follow up with who I am through the music while still knowing that everything and anything I’m doing is extremely me to the fullest. I'm just using certain ways to help express myself so that it doesn't get lost.”

Unlike many in music today, Brooke had no direct link or a helping hand in the industry, and “I AM LOLA,” the second track on Dennis Daughter, represents what the entire album stands for. The track sees Brooke explain exactly what she’s experienced — from poverty to miscommunication to family struggles — almost as a way to show that her success isn’t a fluke or a mistake.

To say she’s been hustling is an understatement. She pursued music at the same time she worked 40+ hour work weeks at a local men’s shelter, spending days working and nights perfecting her music. It took her number one cheerleader — her mother — to give her the push she needed to quit her day job and follow her dreams. “Everyone loves my mom, but I try to keep her off the radar because that’s one person I don’t play with. She is my biggest fan, but she was surprised about certain things that I went through because I think I didn’t give her any clues. She never had a gut feeling [that anything was wrong] because I would just cover it up so good. Now, my mom is extremely happy about everything — she's more excited than me.”

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For Brooke, everything is about staying true to who she is as an artist. After her single “Don’t Play With It” in 2021 was championed by TikTok and Twitter users, she had her first breakout moment. Two years later, she’d start 2023 by signing with Arista Records and ending it with the release of Dennis Daughter. Named after her very first nickname, Dennis Daughter is an exploration into Brooke’s psyche, uncovering everything from grief to her ascendancy. Despite growing up with shame and embarrassment around her coming-of-age story, she now sees it as a way to inject vulnerability and honesty into her raps.

“There wasn’t much pressure,” Brooke says, thinking back to the years she spent ensuring every line of every song was representative of who she is. “The only pressure was making sure I told my story correctly. Other than that, I didn't have any problem putting out music. I've never put out a body of work before so I tried not to think too much about it.”

One of the standout tracks on the album is “Shelter Baby (Be That Bitch).” On it, Brooke sings “It took some time for me to be that lit / Shelter baby / I didn’t know that I could be that rich.” It serves as a celebration of how far she’s come, who she is, and where she’s going. “I feel better because of the work I did to be here,” she says when asked about if she feels her success is even sweeter knowing it all comes from her determination. “It’s almost therapeutic — I put in the work and now I am seeing the outcome of it.”

Across the record's twelve tracks, Brooke dances between moments of confidence and confusion, juxtaposing her feelings of leaving poverty behind directly with this new life she’s creating for herself. Alternating between these two states of mind is the crux of Dennis Daughter, giving it an obvious personal touch that many rap acts can leave out in their work.

"The more I express myself and speak out loud, I feel better. I’m just big on not being embarrassed of my past anymore."


In “Intro (2023 Flow),” Brooke leans into what fans love about her, which is her ability to deftly freestyle seamlessly. Opening her debut album with a track that honours that wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just an inevitable choice that she made. “See, with me, I’m a rebel — I’m going to do what I want. I don't care if someone doesn't like it, I'm going to take a chance. I'm always gonna bet on myself and take a risk. That's the only reason why I'm here now, it’s from genuinely being myself.”

“Dear Dennis” explores Brooke grappling with the passing of both her grandmother and father as she was pursuing her career. Having two feet in two different worlds provided more colour to the album with music giving her the space to grieve (“I was just writing down all of my anxieties in my diary and using the mic to cope”).

Her relationship with her father is the throughline that ties the record together, but it was the one thing that, at one time, made Brooke doublethink about what she was writing about. “When I was on bad terms with my dad when he was alive, I remember telling myself that I didn't want to be that Black girl that’s making music and having daddy issues. I made sure to reconnect with my dad in a positive way so now, even though he’s deceased, I am still trying to reconnect with him. The more I express myself and speak out loud, I feel better. I’m just big on not being embarrassed of my past anymore.”

The ripple effect of Brooke leaning into her whole story, including the uglier chapters, has been felt by her fans. Many comments across social media responding to Dennis Daughter speak of Brooke inspiring them to reconnect with a family member they hadn’t talked to in a decade just because they realised how short life is through “Dear Dennis.” And although Brooke is the first to remind you that she makes music for herself, knowing people feel moved to let their guard down and forgive is extra special. “Knowing that someone wants to reconnect with somebody who is still here is dope because when they're gone, you just can never get back. That moment of trying to reconnect with someone you love is a big move.”

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Dennis Daughter owes much of its success to Brooke purposely making herself uncomfortable by opening up. It’s something that fans have taken note of, stating that she’s an artist that is bringing vulnerability back to music. “When I really look back at it, I know that vulnerability is missing from the industry,” she explains. “But I have such tunnel vision while working on my own music that sometimes I do forget. I'm not surprised about [her music’s impact] because I'm making music to impact people — my goal was for people to be impacted by my music. I'm just happy that I'm successful. My fans remind me of that and now, when I’m talking to you, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Like, I’m really doing something that I always said I would do.”

Earlier this year Lola Brooke had the opportunity of a lifetime: opening for A Boogie wit da Hoodie's Me v. Myself Tour. A few months later, she’d be sharing the stage with Brooklyn legend Busta Rhymes to rap "Don't Play With It."

"It's so crazy because there are a lot of things that I don't really chase," she says. Although new to the touring circuit, Brooke already is planning to make her shows completely unique rather than try to emulate the hip-hop greats. Working alongside industry veteran Teyana Taylor, her creative director, Brooke’s goal is to ensure her raps and lyrics translate to a powerful stage performance.

"This is naturally something that is just me, so I don’t want to mimic anyone’s presence," she tells me. "You can't watch someone on stage and want to mimic their presence because it's just body language. You can't be taught it or fake it. It's just something that you just know is in your soul. [50 Cent] helped me feel confident because he was so New York and the culture is just so strong that he embodied it so perfectly by just being himself. It’s why I want to just be myself and not be predictable [on stage]."

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New Year’s Day will mark seven years to the date when she released her first music video to a freestyle called “2017 Flow.” And on 14 February 2024, it will be seven years since she left her job at the men’s shelter to pursue music as a career. “Lots hasn’t changed,” explains Brooke, touching on the growth she’s had since she first made that decision. “I'm the same person, I'm the same artist. The work might be more but I've always had the same mindset — never overthink anything. I just polished up my craft but nothing much has changed.”

Right now, Brooke is aiming to be present and exist in the now. For someone who, finally at 29, is seeing her hard work pay off, it’s hard to switch off the desire to be constantly trying to reach her next goal. “It’s been very hard, but I've been trying to learn to live in my moments. It's been very challenging to live in my moments because I've been wanting these moments for so long. Now that they are here, I have bigger goals. After this big year I feel like I’m going to take a vacation and really sit and daydream about the dreams that I’m living.”

After Dennis Daughter had been with Brooke for so long, reworked and tweaked to perfection, she’s already looking far beyond this release — despite it only being just over a month since it dropped. “I'm thinking about the next one, I've been working on the next thing already,” she admits. “I've been working on the next thing before I even dropped Dennis Daughter. I’ve just been so tapped into what I’m working on so I was already ahead of it.” “I'm thinking about the next one,” she laughs. “But you know, that's just me as an artist — you keep going and just keep feeding your fans. I will say that I've been feeling really good because I finally got a weight off my back. I told my story [with Dear Dennis], I have no regrets about it. I wasn't embarrassed to tell it. I'm just happy that part is out because now the world knows who I was and who I am.”

Dennis Daughter is out now via Arista

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