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Bree Runway has lost count of the number of times she’s been asked if she makes R&B or soul music. In fact, she’s asked it so often that she likes to list all the varying styles her music draws on to make the point that it evades any simple categorisation. “It’s pop, trap, dance, R&B, rock, PC music. Hell, it’s even country music too,” Bree explains. Even in her earliest musical outings, Bree quickly got used to people assuming she only sung a certain genre. “Black women in music are always expected to sing R&B or soul: we are always boxed in. I’m always asked if I’m a soul singer and I tell people, ‘No, actually, I make very in-your-face, destructive pop that is all genres and everything at once.”
It’s perhaps no wonder Bree draws on such a wide range of influences. At her childhood home in Hackney, Bree was surrounded by an eclectic range of music thanks to her music-loving parents. “My dad was the one who put me on the path of loving music,” Bree says. “I’m from Ghana so it was through him playing genres like High Life that my interest really sparked. My dad was also a drummer and he would always have music on around the house – he’d always be drumming to something!” Bree’s mother, meanwhile, introduced her to pop music – from Queen to Lady Gaga – whilst MTV led Bree to her musical heroes – Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani and The Neptunes.
Bree started to make music whilst she was still at school. “When I started to learn the basics of production in music technology lessons, I began to make beats and freestyles with friends. My go to flow would always be Missy Elliott, 50 Cent or Busta Rhymes,” Bree recalls. “I always wanted to do something wacky on the beat that emulated their incredible, fearless styles.”
After leaving school, Bree studied music at university in London. Getting a part-time job to help fund her studies, Bree used her very first pay cheque to buy a small home studio and soon after, her first EP, RNWY 01, emerged. “That’s how I made my very first record: at home, in my bedroom, via a £200 DIY studio. That whole process taught me so much – it built my character and made me a self-sufficient, DIY artist who knew exactly what she wanted in terms of sound, look, aesthetic and style.” Bree started to post videos - her ‘Mirror covers’ on social media with many going viral: one of her first ever posts received over 50 million views in a matter of days and received likes from Rihanna, Missy Elliot and 6lack.
Bree’s first EP received early acclaim and ultimately gave her the confidence to tackle more personal issues on her follow-up, Be Runway. Bullied at school for years because of the colour of her skin, the EP explored Bree’s use of skin bleaching creams as a teenager – something which eventually led to her needing extensive corrective treatment in later years. “I tried to erase my darkness when I was growing up,” Bree explains of the colourism she faced in the school corridors. “I was bullied a lot for being the darkest girl in class and once I discovered skin lightening creams, I decided I was going to get rid of my dark skin.”
Bree’s memories from that time proved harrowing and resulted in her needing therapy. Writing about the experience through her songs proved to be an extension of that therapy and a cathartic process: it also resulted in her being contacted by thousands of young fans who were going through similar experiences themselves. She soon had a cult following. “The highest I felt in life was when I started making music and talking about myself and my feelings and experiences for the first time, turning my pain into something positive. I overcame things I never thought I would. I never thought I’d ever feel comfortable as a dark-skinned woman and then suddenly I did. I received messages from fans all over the world telling me how much hearing my story helped them. It was so warming to hear their stories and that my music had helped in some way.”
The themes of the EP chimed with many and earned Bree a legion of likes from famous fans including Kehlani, Aminé, Diplo and Jorja Smith.
“Every time I see one of these huge musicians liking anything of mine, I am giddy with excitement,” Bree laughs. “It’s super encouraging for me and it gives me the strength to keep going. It pushes me even harder.” Her work has already drawn heady comparisons to Missy Elliott, Kelis and Grace Jones – to name a few. The latter even inspired the artwork for Bree’s last EP.
Based on a cover shoot Jones did with famed photographer David LaChapelle, Bree appeared heavily airbrushed and digitally altered in order to bring the issues of colourism into stark view. “The Grace Jones cover shoot was such an inspiration because of its boldness in tackling those themes in a powerful, visually striking way,” Bree explains. “It became important for me to mirror that not only in the cover but in my work as a whole. It was about being happy in your own skin, your own lane and your entire self.”
Bree still retains the DIY approach of her earliest days and still employs this ethic to all her songs. Bree also designs all the visuals for her videos, artwork and style, creating meticulous collages of ideas to capture her very assured vision. “The sound and my image is more focussed and confident than ever before,” Bree says. “It’s more in your face production wise too, more of a confident statement.”
This vision goes all the way back to watching her MTV heroes as a teenager. “They were all performing their arses off, all of them, Bree says. “When they perform, they give a major middle finger and don’t give a fuck. They’re not thinking about camera angles or how good they look – they’re just totally free, content in their own presence. They weren’t afraid to get ugly for their art and that kind of non-conformity drives what I do.”
This same philosophy is driving Bree’s next project, the first single of which is ‘Apeshit’ – a song Missy Elliott enjoyed so much that she tweeted Bree about it in the middle of the night. “I still cannot believe that happened,” Bree howls, revealling that she screamed when she saw Missy had tweeted her. “I had to sort of silently scream because it was the middle of the night, but I did scream,” Bree laughs. Once again busy at work in the studio, Bree is currently working on her next EP whilst she looks ahead to a tour and an album in the future. “When people listen to what I have coming next, they’ll think twice about asking me if I’m a soul or R&B artist,” Bree smiles. “It’s genre fluid and destructive: it will see me heading through all kinds of new doors and being more assertive and comfortable in my skin than evert before.”
- Clash Magazine
- Consequence of Sound
- The Needle Drop
- News Lagoon
- NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour
- Paper (Club Quarantine Round-Up)
- Refinery 29
- The Guardian
- V Mag
- Hot New Hip Hop
- The Line Best Fit
- The Most Radicalist
- Hot New Hip Hop
- Needle Drop