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In A Different Space: An Interview With Alicia Raye

Ahead of the release of Love Letters, her collaborative EP with Becky McNeice, Belfast-via-Drogheda powerhouse Alicia Raye chats to Andrew Moore about representation and spearheading change for female empowerment through her own artistry and management

Photos by Kate Lawlor

The rise of the female powerhouse has been a breath of fresh air within what is, typically, a male-dominated music industry. Artists like Doja Cat, Cardi B, Tinashe and Summer Walker are picking up where the pre-gen started; reshaping the hip-hop, R&B and Afro landscape through a strong, independent female and gender minority gaze. While this is great news for those across the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea, the same cannot yet be said for Ireland itself. There was a moment in time three years ago when Denise Chaila released ‘C H A I L A,’ and Aby Coulibaly has been representing her blend of new school and old school aesthetics, but as Irish men’s rap, drill and other adjacent genres flourish and expand, Irish female rap is largely being left behind.

That’s something Belfast-via-Drogheda artist, manager and Irish female powerhouse Alicia Raye intends to change. 

Beginning to write poetry and short books in her pre-teen years, Alicia’s attention shortly turned to songwriting and performing. Inspired by the resentment in her heart for discrimination, lack of diversity, barriers to access and her experience as a black woman, she is spearheading the charge for female empowerment through her own artistry and the artists she manages through her creative consultancy Alayex.

“Right now I feel like I’m in a different space,” she says. “My new music is so intentional. I’m very inspired by my journey. My artists inspire me a lot. I manage four other female artists, they’re so cool. They’re all on different journeys too.”

“I’m very big on representation,” she continues. “For me, I’ve never had an official manager. Everything I’ve done has been on my ones. I got to a point where I was like, if I could give someone my two cents then I’d do it. I started mentoring and doing workshops in Dublin around 2020, and then it made sense to focus on artist development for people that I’m genuinely interested in. That’s how Alayex started, I just wanted to make myself available to other women and gender minorities who are interested in turning their passion into profit.”

It would be too easy, as a reader, to sit and ask “What if there just aren’t a lot of female rappers in Ireland?” In late 2020, Alicia released a twenty-six track mixtape featuring no less than thirty-six feature contributions. These ranged from male artists like Jordan Adetunji, DBO of A92 fame, to female artists Erica Cody, Celaviedmai, Kaé, Ali Maria and more.

“I think Alphabet was a subtle but impactful moment for the Irish Urban scene,” she says proudly. “I wanted to send out the message that Ireland has amazing artists and we’re so diverse and versatile.”

“I’ve also seen a lot of growth within the female rap scene. In my opinion, it’s the most underrepresented scene in Ireland. We have pop girls, rap girls, the rap men, the drill men, but when it comes to female rap the scene has a long way to go. I developed a cypher called Queenship in August to cultivate the female artists here and build their skillset. It’s growing, but I don’t think it’s as widely accepted in Ireland still. There’s Don Chi, there’s Trish Taggert, there’s LexusMonroe… lots of these artists are making music in Bangor, Belfast and Dungannon but might not know each other. That’s where I exist, in the middle of it all.”

The artist that Alicia has been working with the longest is a close friend and collaborator called Becky McNeice, a singer-songwriter from Belfast who has quietly been releasing a flurry of glitter-dipped songs on Spotify (gathering support from New Music Friday UK, New Pop UK and French Vogue in the process) through her own brand of tears-in-your-eyes bedroom pop, alternative R&B and emotive drum & bass reminiscent of Pink Pantheress and Piri. 

Alicia talks about the dynamics of their relationship as it evolved from artist to artist, to artist to manager.

“She changed me as a person, for the better, because there was a new layer to our relationship. I just wanted to be in her sessions and listen to what she was making because I believe so much in her potential. I went from being her running buddy to having to set an example. I work ten times harder as an artist because of that – I can’t expect them to be producing singles every week if I’m not also doing that.”

“The experience in itself – setting up the business, financing, legal, booking – made me a more mature person, but also showed me a different side to music that I could really excel in that isn’t on stage. I’m not the same person now, I don’t think I ever could have been. Becky’s definitely been a huge part of that.”

You’re forgiven for thinking that Alicia might be the busiest woman in Irish music. With so much emphasis within contemporary society now on wellness and developing strong mental health, just how does she avoid burnout when spinning so many plates?

“I meditate a lot,” she says. “It’s been super helpful; it’s allowed me to align with my internal self. It’s very easy for me to fill everyone else’s cup and leave my own empty. Having some sort of routine has helped me out.”

“It can go for thirty minutes or three hours; that’s typically when I’ll think of my next beat or my next song. Then I’ll record in my kitchen or I’ll go to my best friend Eulogy’s house and he’ll lay it down.”

Having just performed at Ireland Music Week, the future is looking very bright (and very busy) for Alicia Raye. Her imminent Love Letters tape, made in collaboration with Becky McNeice, has showcased a coming-of-ageness within her sound, and there is still a huge amount to look forward to. It’s Alicia’s world, we’re just living in it. Andrew Moore

Alicia Raye and Becky McNiece’s Love Letters EP are out on 13th December

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.