“Here I am, presenting for the 100th time that Black girls can be anything and everything at any time,” Bree Runway defiantly states over a Zoom call. The London-based artist has just released her debut mixtape, 2000AND4EVA, a nine-track collection of dynamic and versatile anthems that unapologetically celebrates the Black female experience, while tackling the music industry’s archaic assumptions when it comes to Black artists and the ‘popstar’ stamp.
“I just find it really weird when people say things like, ‘R&B sensation.’ I’m like, ‘R&B?! How did you get R&B?’ I’m not just a rapper. Like, that’s completely impossible,” explains Bree. “I’m literally everything. I feel like everybody is so obsessed with labels, boxes, territory, this and that, but sometimes the genre is just ‘pop’. A popstar does everything. That’s what I am.”
On 2000AND4EVA, Bree showcases multiple sides to her self-described “pick n mix” artistry: APESHIT intertwines hip-hop and rock; the Young Baby-assisted DAMN DANIEL is a vibrant, 80s-inspired bop; minute-long interlude Nicole Thea & Baby Reign is a heartfelt tribute to her late friend; and ATM puts her wit and opulence on display with help from her idol, Missy Elliott.
Here I am, presenting for the 100th time that Black girls can be anything and everything at any time.
To mark the release of 2000AND4EVA, we caught up with the rising performer to discuss her musical origins, how she’s defining the new generation of Black women in the music industry and her “shame-free” connection with the LGBTQ+ community. Bree Runway is that girl, so get used to it.
What has 2020 been like for you, creatively speaking?
I think 2020 has been a very interesting year. Even in chaos, I try and find the positive in things. So 2020, creatively, has been… It threw me back to the start of my career because when I first started making music, I made everything from my bedroom on a £200 studio equipment I used to mix and monster everything myself, not to a high level, but it was good enough for SoundCloud and good enough for where I was at. But it’s thrown me back! It’s been limited, but one thing about me is, I know how to create great things with very little resources. I think that’s what kind of help push the Bree Runway agenda, as the fans say, in people’s faces. Because people are like, ‘Hold on, the world is locked down and this girl’s creating all this shit, like what? How?’ But that’s me. Whatever the resources. I just always make it work. It’s been hard though, I cried a lot when I found that we will go into lockdown because I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, I had all these really cinematic plans for the music videos’, but then I got my shit together.
2020 has been chaotic to say the least, but it feels like it’s been one of the best years for music?
100%! It’s been the best year for me musically as well. You get to see who’s really on what, you know what I mean? Like, let’s see what people can really do when you strip away budgets and stuff like that. It’s really interesting.
Let’s go back to the beginning: when did you start making music?
I seriously got into it around 2015. 2015 is when I started taking beats off YouTube and started writing to the music. That’s when I seriously said, ‘I’m actually going to do this,’ because I’ve done music my whole life. I’ve always ran away from my calling. I just knew what making music and succeeding meant, which is being more seen by the world and the world having an opinion on you. Because of my history with bullying and shit, I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to put myself in that position where people could talk about me.’ But 2015 was definitely a turning point where I said, ‘I’m gonna get my shit together and do this. We’re gonna do it.’
Who were you inspired by growing up, whether that’s TV, film or music?
In terms of TV, there was a programme on trouble called Eve. I just really loved her life. She was a fashion designer, and it was actually Eve playing the lead role.
I remember! The show was called Eve, but her character wasn’t called Eve. That was confusing.
Yeah! Oh my god, what she called again? I remember…. Shelly! Wait, why was it called Eve then?
Maybe because of her star power at the time?
Yes! I guess. Oh my god, that’s so true, she was called Shelly. So, I was really inspired by Shelly’s character because she reminded me of everything I wanted to be when I had my career and everything together. She was really fly and she was doing something she loved. She was also really unique in terms of her style. I was like, ‘When I grew up, I’m gonna be like that. She’s a boss, she’s killing it and she looks great.’ So definitely Shelly from Eve, she was one of my one of my inspirations. Also, Carrie Bradshaw! Loved her. I think it was all the Dior dresses for me. I was like, ‘When I get money, I’m going to wear Dior!’ Grace Jones I loved. My dad was really into music. My parents, actually. My mum was the one that introduced me to the big pop ballads like Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Queen, all of that. My dad was the one that introduced me to heavy instrument music, from Africa and stuff. That’s kind of what my songs are now, heavy instruments and big pop. My inspirations are from everywhere!
I just love that my music, my art, my looks and everything, it's like a pick and mix. You never know what you're going to get with Bree Runway
How did you go from taking YouTube beats to releasing three critically-acclaimed EPs and a mixtape?
I first started dabbling in music and talent shows in primary school. I was in a little band then. In 2015, I ordered my first £200 music kit. It had a microphone that was so bad, by the way, and a sound card. The first song I wrote was about my ex-boyfriend, about him having pretty eyes and a Colgate smile! I put that out and also found someone off Gumtree to come and shoot the music video for me in my living room. It was £150. So, I’ve always been a very DIY type of artist, where I write the songs, do the hair, put the treatment together, and it’s still like that now. I think a big turning point for me, with people becoming familiar with my name, was when I started putting covers out on Instagram and Twitter. One of them took off differently. It went super viral with 50 million views or something. For me, that was crazy because I was screaming and shouting over 100 retweets before! I really came into my own and felt more comfortable in how I expressed myself and just accepted the fact that, ‘Babes, you are unique. This is it. Just live it.’ Then, I put up a song called Butterfly and me and my friends flew to Dubai to shoot the music video. I was working this job where I was getting paid so little. I saved every single one of my pennies to go on this trip because I said, ‘I really need this trip. I need to shoot a really nice music video for this and I’m going to send it to everyone.’ All these record label people, I stole their emails from LinkedIn and sent them all this video. I started having so many meetings and they were so shocked that I pulled it together myself. They said it was better than some established artists. I put out What Do I Tell My Friends? a year later because I was still struggling to find my sound. I wanted to make pop music but I was struggling to find producers. I had already been working with producers that were more urban, and didn’t really know how to make the music that I wanted to make. It took a year working with different people, and I started travelling to Berlin, and found a dreamy producer duo who knew how to make the best of both worlds, basically. We had such a great week and we gave birth to so many songs.
What Do I Tell My Friends? was the first song I picked from our batch to put out, and that went really well as well. Then, I partnered up with a record label because I felt like, Okay, this is the time now,’ because record labels were speaking to me when I sent them Butterfly. But, I felt like I didn’t know myself enough as an artist to partner up with a label because I thought maybe they would try and make me something I’m not, because I don’t really know myself. When I went on that discovery year, I really found my feet in my music. I partnered up with a label that has always been there for me anyway, and they just felt like the most genuine bond. I just didn’t want to fight and struggle for money. I just wanted to go with someone who would help amplify my vision as opposed to try and change it, or make me something that they feel like I should be. So, here we are…
Like you said earlier, your music feels genre-less. What are the joys of channelling so many different sounds?
I just love that my music, my art, my looks and everything, it’s like a pick n mix. You never know what you’re going to get with Bree Runway, and I just love that. I can surprise people by showing them any side of me at any time, and I can just pop up as anything and anytime, whatever I want to be. It gives me the freedom to not be boxed in, and people don’t become attached to one particular type of sound of mine. Now my thing has become the versatility thing, as opposed to it being like, ‘No, we only like this album or EP of hers because it sounds this way.’ No, every single time I’ve presented something, it’s always been different. That’s become the selling point now. That’s what I love. It just gives me the freedom to be able to go into the studio and just put whatever down, because that’s what I’m known for now.
On the flip side, has there been any challenges with that?
Yeah. I would say the challenges are people trying to put me into something. I just find it really weird when people say things like, ‘R&B sensation.’ I’m like, ‘R&B?! How did you get R&B?’ That’s what I used to make when I first came out, because I thought, ‘I’m making music. Let me do what’s expected of me. Let me find some slow R&B stuff from YouTube and put it out because I know that’s what people would expect a girl with a nice voice to do.’ But the boxing in thing… at least pick the right box! R&B? That doesn’t make sense! Also, I hate when people just call me a rapper. I’m not just a rapper. That’s impossible. Like, that’s completely impossible. I’m literally everything. I feel like everybody is so obsessed with labels, boxes, territory, this and that, but sometimes the genre just is ‘pop’. A popstar does everything. That’s what I am.
I'm not just a rapper. That's impossible. I feel like everybody is so obsessed with labels, boxes, territory, this and that, but sometimes the genre just is 'pop'. A popstar does everything. That's what I am.
Why do you think the industry finds it so hard to categorise Black women with pop?
Is it just the industry? I think it’s the world. People like to associate pop with white people, but that is completely not the case. We are very much the origin and the birth of pop. I don’t know why it’s become such a foreign thing to associate pop with Black people. I think it’s weird. I think it’s the race thing, ‘Black women are supposed to be doing this and white women are this,’ but it’s not that. It’s definitely race.
Your lyrics delve into racism, sexism and bullying – has it always been important for you to address these topics?
100%. Life is real. Life is very, very real. I’ve always stood for something and I wanted that to translate in everything I do. I’m not just a plastic pop star person that has no message, no heart, no soul. I put heart and soul into everything I do. I also know that my story is the story of so many other Black girls around the world. I just want them to know that just because I’m up here, standing here confidently, it hasn’t been an easy journey. I’m still patching up and stitching up issues from the past, still until now. So, you can do it too. I’m up here doing it. Your story doesn’t have to end at what it’s been, you know what I mean?
Has making music helped you rebuild the confidence you lost through bullying?
100%. When I listen to myself and watch myself, I’m like, ‘Yeah, you really are that girl!’ My work really does show me that, ‘Honey, yes! Yes, yes, yes. You are.’
That brings us to 2000AND4EVA. Can you dive into the theme that you wanted to explore in this project?
With this project, the motif changed throughout the year because the year changed so much. I had to create the vibes within my four walls. I didn’t get to go out and live the life that I live. I had to take myself there mentally, so that I could give the people the vibes when they press play. I just wanted people to know that with this project, you can always expect anything from me. No matter how many times you try and box me in, or try and label me as this sensation, that sensation, tags that don’t even make sense to the music that I make, here I am, presenting for the 100th time that Black girls can be anything and everything at any time. Within nine songs, you get to see nine different versions of me, and that’s not even all of me. That’s something I really wanted to stamp, highlight in red. ‘Hey, here I am again; as a rock star, as a popstar, as an 80s ballad pop girl. Ooh, I gave you a bit of R&B as well.’ Here I am as everything.
You have so many incredible guest stars on this project, including Missy Elliott, which is major. How did this collaboration come to fruition?
Honestly speaking, that shit is the wildest shit ever. It’s even wilder, because I remember when Gucci dropped. The internet was going crazy for it and I was like, ‘Okay, I gotta get off my phone. This is too much. Wow, this is great.’ So I’m about to close my eyes and sleep, and it’s like 12am at this point. I get a call and I’m like, ‘Hmm, it’s my ANR at this time.’ I mean, we talk around the clock anyway, but I was like, ‘What’s happening?’ He was like, ‘You need to wake up right now. Missy’s team reached out and she wants to do a record with you.’ I was like, ‘Pardon?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Pardon? What are we gonna send her?’ We sent ATM, and he came back and said, ‘Yeah, she wants to do it.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ It’s wild, because that’s someone that I’ve grown up admiring. That’s someone who has paved the way for an alternative girl like myself, and you want to work with me?
How did you react when you listened to her verse?
Oh my god. I almost smashed my laptop. I had to control myself. I just got up and I started crying instantly. I almost dropped my laptop on the floor. I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, I gotta calm down, calm down.’ I didn’t even get through the first four words. I just started crying, instantly.
I'm shame-free. If I fuck with you, yes, I'm gonna show you! I'm gonna support you loudly and proudly.
The gays are going to go crazy, that’s for sure. It felt like there was an immediate connection between you and your LGBTQ+ fans – how early on did you notice their support?
I would say 2017 when I dropped What Do I Tell My Friends? I was like, ‘Oh, y’all love me? I love y’all too.’ Like, literally. I love their support so much because it’s very much like how I support people, in the sense where it’s shame-free. It’s loud. It’s proud. You really do feel it. It’s OTT. It’s everything that I am, you know what I mean? I feel like sometimes people shy away from supporting certain people, that are stars and maybe have the numbers or whatever, because ‘Oh, I don’t want to come across as a beg. I don’t want to come across as a fan.’ But there’s none of that, that pride in that community. It’s just no, ‘We love you, and we’re showing you that we love you.’ I can relate to that kind of love, that kind of celebrating a person because that’s how I am as a person. I’m shame-free. If I fuck with you, yes, I’m gonna show you! I’m gonna support you loudly and proudly. I love that.
Cliche question: how do you plan to conquer the industry in 2021?
Oh, I’m gonna fuck shit up. If I tell you, I have to kill you. Let’s just say my foot is very much on the gas. Everybody better clear the way, honey, because a breeze is coming through.
Bree Runway’s debut mixtape, 2000AND4EVA, is now available on streaming services – listen here on Apple Music or below.