#EXCLUSIVE Rukhsana Merrise Chats With Link Up TV For In Depth Interview

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In my six years of concert going, I know all too well that you can uncover rare treats given the oft spontaneous nature of live sets. I wasn’t expecting to see much in the way of sung cameos at Ghetts’ headline show in October. But from the darkness of the stage set up emerged a shining light that would come on to sing her contribution to “Next of Kin” off of Ghetts’ Ghetto Gospel: The New Testament. The singer in question? Rukhsana Merrise. The West London born singer fuses elements of contemporary R&B with a blend of pop, folk and electronica that accurately reflect her influences growing up. She has collaborated with acts such as Avelino, Wretch 32 and the aforementioned Ghetts – and has been building up to the release of her debut album Child O’ Today. I got the chance to speak with Rukhsana via telephone interview as we chopped it up about her upbringing, her musical influences, her debut album and much more!

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S: For the readers that aren’t too familiar with you, let them know a bit about yourself.

R: Hey! I’m Rukhsana Merrise, most people call me Rox. I’m a singer that was born and raised in West London, which is the best part of London in my opinion!

S: You went to Holland Park School didn’t you?

R: Yeah! You’ve done your homework. *laughs*

S: *laughs* I have to! Given that many creative names such as AJ Tracey, Cyril Nyi and Gwyneth Strong attended your school, what was it like there? Did it help shape you musically?

R: I had fun at Holland Park. To see people such as Jamiroquai, Cleo Sol, AJ Tracey as you said, Shakka. Even Ice Kid went to my school. Holland Park is like a hub that churns out talent in every field so I think it was key in helping me realise what I wanted to do.

S: What got you into singing?

R: I come from a big family so music was always playing in the house. Literally anything from Dennis Brown, to Joni Mitchell, to Wretch [32]…  I grew up in an eclectic household and I see it as a blessing.

S: So you’re family oriented and eclectic. The latter shows in your music because as we established [before the interview], your style is a fusion of a few genres you’re into. Do you think it translates through your music?

R: Good question. I feel that it does but it’s hard for me to be fully understood. I think that people hear the hints of folk and pop in my music and they don’t know how to categorise it. For me, it’s tricky being a black singer when your music is an amalgamation of different genre.

S: It could get lost in translation to people that don’t listen beyond the surface…

R: Exactly!

S: Considering the pop, folk and electronic influences on your music, what’s your process behind picking beats/producers?

R: With production, I tend to work with a small team. Usually the producers I work with are Tiana Major 9, Angel, PRGRSHN, Pantha. They help map the sound of my music, so I can’t even take credit for their work. It’s like when you’re a chef and everyone praises the chef, but they don’t know how important the sous chef or the porter were to their meal.

S: I like that you pay homage to your producers because you hear fans say “Drake killed that sample” or “I like the sample this artist chose” and you’re like “but it was the producer!”. It’s Important.

R: It definitely is. So we have to pay homage.

S: Every time! Bringing it back to you being from West London, you are immersed in a metropolitan society where different cultures rub off on each other. How influential is that to your music?

R: I’m so glad you asked me this because I wanted to bust some myths about West London. Everyone thinks it’s just big houses and rich boroughs and that nothing bad happens here, but it’s so much more. I think West is amazing, you’ll have friends from when you’re young and years down the line you’ll have a birthday dinner, right? And everyone attending will look around the table like “how do you know X, Y, Z?” it’s such a community, almost like a family.

You think of Portobello Road, Oxford Circus, Shepherd’s Bush Market and then you’ve got the estates hidden among them. The Grenfell fire was a horrible tragedy but you saw how the community came together in bad times. We’re rich in spirit and we learn to adapt, that comes across in my music. A lot of my experiences have come from being from West London.

S: I enjoyed your cameo at Ghetts’ headline show last month when he performed “Next of Kin”. How did that collaboration come about?

R: Thank you so much. If you saw the guy on the keys that night, that’s Kadeem [Ghetts’ brother]. Kadeem is a good friend of mine and so talented, the whole thing was really organic. A few years ago Kadeem called me and asked me to come down [to the] studio to work on something with Ghetts and from that, we’ve both appeared on stuff for each other. He’s like a big bro to me and it was really dope to come out and perform Next of Kin with him.

S: Child O’Today – your debut album – is split in two parts; Child and O’Today. What made you want to release your album in this way?

R: I feel that my album represents different sides to me and I don’t want people to hear them at once. The Child part of the album represents the younger me, the free and fun side and O’Today embodies my growth as a person and shows where I’m at today.

S: How was the creative process of making the album? Did you find it challenging?

R: So three years ago, I thought I had my album done. Finished! Let me tell you that it was not done. I was trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of where I thought I would be with music. It took a lot of writing and going back to the drawing board before I could actually say I was done with my album. It took me a few years to get it right, but I’m so happy with it and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.

(Fun fact: Rox actually changed the track list five times before she was happy with it.)

S: ”Sober” off of Child uses alcohol as a metaphor for losing control in love and of self; this is very much reflected in the structure and lyricism of the song . “Could’ve Been” taken from O’Today reflects on chance and opportunity as you look back at what could’ve been. What inspired these singles?

R: I was struggling with depression… I was drinking and smoking a lot. I was just in a space where I couldn’t be myself. But in my darkness, I didn’t know I was actually writing my album through my experiences. So I would say experiences from good and bad situations really shaped those singles.

S: I feel like your songs are tiny horcruxes that offer a small look into Rox the person. Would you agree?

R: Definitely! I don’t lie in my songs, you can lie on social media but people can hear when you’re lying in your music. My producers help me to paint my pictures easier and one person I would say is a good friend and influence on me is Ragz Originale. He wrote Light Years which will appear on my album [The “Child” side].

S: It’s dope that you’ve got Ragz on the album in some capacity. How did he end up writing for you?

R: Me and Ragz met around 5-6 years ago at a Shoreditch motive that used to run every Sunday [Something for Sunday]. Back then Ragz had hair! He actually said to me that we were gonna work together at some point, fast forward a few years later and we met again, only this time I couldn’t recognise him [without his hair].

Sometime after that happened, I had to go to New York because of my label and I got a call from Ragz saying “Hey Rox, I wrote this song and I’d really like you to listen to it”.  I played the song during the flight and I burst out into tears, I thought it was so beautiful. As soon as I got off the plane I called him and said “Ragz, it’s beautiful. I need this for my album”. And that’s how Light Years came about.

S: That’s a dope story; it really paints how small London is at times. Who will be producing on your album and what tracks should we look out for?

R: Production will mostly be handled by the geniuses Pantha and PRGRSHN. As far as tracks go, I would say (her favourite) Stay a Little Longer, Light Years and Today.

S:  “Stay a Little Longer” and “Light Years” are really nice songs. Congratulations on the album and hopefully we will hear more from you soon!

R: Thank you Sam! I’ll be performing at a few shows, including mine which is TBA but look out for the announcement soon!

Check out Rukhsana’s latest single “Could’ve Been” above. Child is scheduled for a December release which will be followed by O’Today which will be released in Spring 2019.