Lola Brooke, a rising hip-hop artist born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, isn’t interested in just being a rapper.
Sure, she’s gained momentum over the last couple of months with a hit single, “Don’t Play With It.” But she said her focus has already turned to creating the next hit and making sure she stays consistent.
“Right now I’m just focused on giving good quality music, the same way I made that song and I didn’t think nothing of it,” Brooke said in an interview with Gothamist. “I just wanted to feed my fans. My focus is more of just feeding my fans whether it’s a hit or not.”
But while Brooke devotes her attention to what comes next, “Don’t Play With It,” which features fellow Brooklyn rapper Billy B, has raised the stakes considerably. The track has racked up millions of streams on Spotify, while on TikTok its catchy, hard-hitting hook has reached celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Cardi B.
Released in 2021, the song took some time to reach the masses, but officially cracked the most recent Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart. This week, that momentum has resulted in Brooke signing a major-label deal with Arista Records, in collaboration with the creative collective Team 80 Productions.
Brooke’s success has played out against a scene that’s had its fair share of ups and downs. Just when Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke was poised to carry New York drill into the mainstream, he was killed in early 2020. Local performers have faced increasing pressure from the police and Mayor Eric Adams, who’ve scrutinized the music’s relationship to local gun violence. Some artists reportedly lost festival bookings as a result.
Yet the genre has thrived, not least with the arrival of Brooke and other prominent women rappers, like Ice Spice and Maiya the Don.
“I think you could say that the women have come closer to bringing drill mainstream than anyone has since Pop’s death,” music marketing and media professional Olivia Shalhoup said. “Look at Ice Spice: ‘Munch’ was such a classic, global bop. The same thing that’s happening with Lola’s ‘Don’t Play With It’ – you can hear it around the world at this point.”
After Brooke’s deal was announced, Gothamist caught up with the rising star to discuss her hit song, how women are starting to dominate New York drill and what comes next.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
What artists had a major impact on you when you were growing up?
Lil Wayne, 50 Cent, DMX, Meek Mill, Eve, Missy… I love Busta [Rhymes]. Everyone knows Jay-Z is one of my top picks, so I normally don’t say it, because I assume that they know.
What was it about them musically that made an impression?
It’s the energy. Most of the artists that I named are East Coast-based. It’s the energy, it’s the confidence, it’s the message that they’re trying to get through. And if you listen to any verse that they have, you can envision exactly what they are saying and talking about.
When did you know you were going to take rapping seriously?
I would always just randomly freestyle or go to the studio, make songs with my cousin, and put it out on social media platforms. Everybody in the neighborhood would love my music, and they’d be like, “Yo, you really should take this serious.” It was a hobby. I just enjoyed it.
And then in 2017, I met up with Team 80, because my teammate had called me over to do a feature for him. He introduced me to people – I guess he wanted me to be a part of whatever they had going on. I kept being around them because the music kept gravitating toward me.
I didn’t really have a real reason to do music; I just know how to do it. They gave me my reason to do it. They made me gain the confidence in knowing that I can actually do it.
What do you envision your impact in music will be?
I hope my impact would be confidence. I want everybody to know that they can find confidence somewhere — it’s somewhere in them. When you wake up in the morning and you don’t have a mirror to look into and you get dressed, and you know you still look good without knowing how you look — that’s what I want my music to give off. Supreme confidence.
When you wake up in the morning and you don’t have a mirror to look into and you get dressed, and you know you still look good without knowing how you look — that’s what I want my music to give off. Supreme confidence.
How did “Don’t Play With It” come together?
I was listening to beats with [producer] Dizzy on the phone, and he would just play random beats, even if the beat was not for me. I heard the beat, and I instantly was like, “Yo, ship that to me proper now.”
I went to the studio, and I just went into the booth, I just went crazy. The first thing that came out my mouth was “Don’t play with it.” I left the verse open for anyone, I didn’t know exactly who yet, but I felt like I wanted to share a moment. I chose Billy [B] to get on it because she’s an artist from Brooklyn, and I felt like two Brooklyn artists on the record would be dope.
How does having this new record deal feel?
I feel great, because I know that hard work actually pays off, and then I’m not just doing this for no reason. It’s actually sticking. It took time to stick, but as long as it’s sticking, that’s all that really matters.
You recently performed at the Barclays Center. What was that like? The energy in the building had to be crazy.
That was the craziest feeling ever, because it felt like home. It felt like these people saw what I went through. Everybody in this arena saw my journey, and they understand where I come from, because we come from the same place. It shows them that if I could do it, you could do it, too, because it’s right here in 3-D.
GloRilla has talked about how when she met Yo Gotti, she knew she wanted to sign to CMG. Latto has said the presence of Black women in the office convinced her to sign to RCA. What made you sign with Arista?
When I walked in there, I didn’t feel like I had to be somebody else. Normally when I have meetings with people, I feel like being myself too much might run them away. And I had to understand that I’m here for me to work with these people; I’m not here to change anything about myself. These people want me here because they want to enhance what I got. And they made it very clear that they felt that I was perfect, and they didn’t want to change anything about me.
What do you make of women in drill music not receiving enough credit for carrying the sound?
They’ve been doing this for years. I feel like it has nothing to do with the genre, it’s music in general. They always tend to not give women the credit that they deserve. They say that rap is a male-dominated industry – I just feel like it takes them by surprise when they see that a female could do just as much, or maybe sometimes more.
Will you continue with the drill sound?
I felt like I was never a drill artist from the start. I’m an artist. I love music. Whatever I feel I can tap into, I’m going to tap into it. And especially if it’s something that is embraced in my city, I have no choice but to tap in and fall in line as well.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
I can’t wait to get on the big screen. I love music, but I really want to do movies and I want to do voice-overs. That’s what I’m looking forward to in 2023. So hopefully you’ll see me on the big screen one of these days.