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FLOHIO wants to keep it real

Funmi Ohiosumah first made her mark in 2015. Now, with her electric debut album ‘Out of Heart’, the south London rapper is ready to change the game

By Zoya Raza-Sheikh

FLOHIO (Picture: TSE)

It’s late afternoon, and FLOHIO is in recovery mode. The night before, the rapper celebrated the launch of her debut album Out of Heart at the Carhartt store in London’s King’s Cross. After years in the making, she’s glad to see the record finally out in the world. “My biggest joy,” she says, climbing out of a car, “is the real excitement I get from people’s reactions.” She’s eager to feed off the unfiltered responses to her sound, but she’s also eager to feed in a more literal sense — after last night’s party, she’s craving spaghetti and chicken.

Out of Heart is the culmination of seven years that FLOHIO spent steadily crafting a name in the UK music scene. Her breakthrough appearance came when she rapped God Colony’s 2016 track ‘SE16’, so-named for the postcode of Bermondsey, south London, where she grew up. The track established her signature sound, where fiercely delivered bars meet unrestrained honesty. Further collaborations with the production duo followed (‘Fights’, ‘Steady’, ‘The Real’), as well as work with the likes of Modeselektor and The Streets, leading up to the release of 2020’s No Panic, No Pain, a 10-track debut mixtape that was charged with cutting-edge beats and introspective lyrics spun around topics of nostalgia, family, and loss.

While the rapper built her creative relationships in south London, she began to unravel her sound across the river in Homerton. It was here, in 2015, that the then-22-year-old FLOHIO set up a “small studio”, where she would go to record demos and lay down tracks. “At the time, I released a track [‘Steady’] that ended up on The FADER,” she explains, “and the rest of that was history.” It wasn’t long before the MC was being tipped for big things: listed in the BBC ‘Sound Of’ poll, and named a “rising female star” by supermodel Naomi Campbell. FLOHIO’s life was suddenly going in a whole new direction (or, “a bunch of different things started happening,” as she puts it understatedly) as she found her grind coming to life. “It doesn’t feel like a job or a chore,” she says. “It doesn’t even feel like a career. I can’t lie to you, so far, I’m still in my dream phase.”

Today, the 29-year-old says she’s stopped listening to the incessant industry noise. “Girl, I don’t be paying attention to all of that,” she laughs. “If you pay too much attention to the industry, you’ll kill yourself and give us an early death. I’m not trying to do that to myself.”

“It doesn’t even feel like a career. I can’t lie to you, so far, I’m still in my dream phase”


Born Funmi Ohiosumah in Lagos, Nigeria, FLOHIO grew up in south London’s Bermondsey, crediting its local culture for her eclectic, immersive style. As a teenager, the collaborative, carefree roots to her sound began to take hold as she and four close friends began experimenting with makeshift recording equipment. “We were literally DIY kids taking stuff apart, putting stuff back together,” she says. “There wasn’t that much to do if it wasn’t at the youth club.” She recalls being one of the “little nerd kids” huddled up with friends in their living rooms, plugging together their talents in graphic design, beat making, and deconstructing tech. “I’m super DIY, down to a tee. This album, Out of Heart, is a DIY album. Everybody can tell you that,” she says proudly. “That’s one of the moments I wanted to capture in the album. How things were when we was back in those living rooms, creating whatever, and getting excited over something that just came out.”

In her household, she was brought up listening to everything from Afrobeat to Celine Dion, but admits she didn’t have much interest in music at the time. Instead, she was pulled into video games. On Out of Heart, she puts decades-old gaming nostalgia at the centre of her sonics, with beats produced by Speech and, once again, her past collaborators God Colony. It’s these “cherished” moments that build the backbone of FLOHIO’s record. Growing up around religion added to the sound too, seeing unlikely parallels in church and video game music. “I love this ethereal sound — that kind of gospel sonic, like when you’re in church and hear the choir — and heavy synths,” she says. “It’s like when you’re playing levels, the harder the level gets, the darker the soundtrack seems to be. I wanted it to be like that on the album.”

FLOHIO (Picture: TSE)

But if Out of Heart’s music evokes this childhood nostalgia, then its lyrics journey through “real-life moments” of love and grief. FLOHIO says she strives to be something of an “agony aunt” to her listeners. “It’s about writing about things that have substance. Things that people can relate to, like losing people, losing friends, losing family, whether it’s death, a break-up,” she says. “This is my real life. This is what I’m really going through.” She adds: “For me, music is a door. The people that walk through get to know my world. I’m stepping into their lives and they’ve allowed me to come into [that] space.”

From singing about her aunt’s death from cancer in ‘Grace’, to the grit and drive of a rising rap star, she won’t shy away from any subject — and that includes moments of intimacy. FLOHIO’s songs are often tied to female love interests, something she audibly shrugs off as no big deal. “I don’t really make it a highlight of anything,” she says, “simply because when that happens, everyone just forgets you’re a musician. You’re seen as a token, or some sort of poster child. That’s not the lane I want to go to.” More often than not, FLOHIO skips the subject in interviews. “It’s always ‘This LGBTQ+ artist,’ and there’s more to you [than just that], so that’s what scares me away from having to say that,” she says. FLOHIO cites Frank Ocean, Lil Nas X, and Tyler, the Creator as talented artists who discussed their sexuality only after they’d broken through in the music industry. “They’ve gained their success,” she says. “It’s like, ‘OK, yes, this is who I am. It’s too late for you to deny me. You either love me or you leave me at this point.’”

“Music is a door. The people that walk through get to know my world”


FLOHIO says she’s becoming more of a “nonconformist” industry realist. “I’m not your average female rapper. It’s been hard as hell, I won’t lie to you, girl, it’s been difficult. But it’s fun, because I don’t feel like there’s anybody else doing it how I’m doing it,” she says, before adding: “True artists are dying in this day and age.” She says she’s “immersed into music 24/7”, as it’s important to maintain your creative side in order to keep a level head in the industry. “I’ll go back to what we were saying about having something that keeps you grounded,” she says. “It’s basically about knowing why you’re in it in the first place, because it’s so easy to get lost. I wouldn’t know how to navigate in this world if I didn’t have my creative side.”

When I ask what’s got planned next, FLOHIO’s seriousness has ebbed away as her mind revisits her literal hunger once again. Food options aside, the rapper is grateful to have her album out to the masses, and she doesn’t take it lightly. “With this album, it’s gonna be a breath of fresh air once I start performing it on stage,” she says. “I want to be able to show that in person, and live on stage, that I can bring those emotions into real life.”

FLOHIO’s debut album Out of Heart is out now.