October 17, 2018Feature

To celebrate the launch of Issue 005 we’re taking over The Sugar Club, welcoming a very special live guest. London-based, Irish vocalist and rapper Biig Piig will be performing a homecoming show after a packed out performance at All Together Now. In District Issue 004 we interviewed her, featuring a shoot by Omar O'Reilly.

This Friday October 19, Biig Piig makes her headline debut in Ireland in association with Metropolis Festival. Click here to find out how you can be there.


When Julie Adenuga, Annie Mac and Dazed & Confused champion your sound you’d be forgiven for having more than an air of arrogance. But Biig Piig, real name Jess Smyth, exudes cool without the usual peppering of hubris.

Maybe it was her time spent working in a series of jobs that “didn’t mean anything, so it felt like you were stuck in one place, even though you’re moving all the time” that made her grateful for the success that she’s now experiencing. Or perhaps it was the constant mobility of her family eventually leading her to feel at home in Hammersmith that gave Jess a newfound sense of serenity.

Born in Cork, her family moved to Marbella to set up a restaurant, the influence of which can be heard even today and notably on a recent release ‘Perdida’, most of which is rapped in Spanish.

Due to a governmental property law her family returned to Ireland; to Waterford and then Kerry. For Jess, when she eventually moved to London from Emerald Isle, she left behind a place that wasn’t accepting of expression. Now however, there’s a surge in forward-thinking rap music on the island. I ask Jess why this development is at least a decade behind what’s been happening in the UK since the early noughties.

“Personally, I think it’s that Irish thing of… Not exactly being ashamed… But people being like, ‘What are you doing?’ Over in the UK people don’t give a fuck and do what they want all the time, whereas I think in Ireland… Say Kerry, if you’re in any way different people were like, ‘what are you doing?’ I think also, different styles are coming into Ireland, making it more fluid and more acceptable. Also obviously the internet has played a huge part, things like SoundCloud made it more accessible than ever. You see young people doing the same thing you’re doing… You don’t feel like you’re doing it alone.

“I listen to a lot of Kojaque and Jar Jar Jr. It’s starting to kick off there for sure.”

While things are bubbling in her motherland, Jess still concedes that realistically she wouldn’t have been as exposed to music if she hadn’t moved to London. It was when she went to college in Twickenham that she met founder of art and music collective Nine8 Ava Laurel and artist Lloyd MacDonald.

In one interview Biig Piig explains how she was invited to the Nine8 Christmas party and ended up freestyling on the mic, the drunken genesis of her unique rap/vocalist style.

“What’s strange about it is, you make tunes, and I obviously love to write, but having to analyse it for other people and try and understand it from a third person perspective is a bit strange.”

A couple of years on and Jess is perhaps the most recognisable, or at least most rapidly-ascending, member of Nine8.

Her rendition of ‘Vice City’ on the Colors Berlin YouTube channel has racked up close to 3 million views, she’s had a track reviewed by alternative music behemoth Pitchfork who described ‘Perdida’ as having “a specific, smoky, after party vibe with artful subtlety”, she’s had premieres on The Fader and Dazed, plus some of the most respected names in UK radio are hyping her up.

“I mean, it’s so fucking weird,” she admits about the wide- spread media attention. “What’s strange about it is, you make tunes, and I obviously love to write, but having to analyse it for other people and try and understand it from a third person perspective is a bit strange.”

Perhaps that’s why Jess decided to write her debut EP ‘Big Fan of The Sesh Vol.1’ as a concept project about lonely teenager Fran who feels lost in London.

“It’s easier to talk about shit that you’ve been through if you put them through a character, and it’s easier for people to relate to it.”

Speaking on the upcoming release Jess continues, “It’s about this chick called Fran who’s dating this fella, but things go bad. It’s in a city that’s constantly moving so she can’t find any peace. It’s about being young. You grow up quite fast.

“When I was like 17 I moved to London. I finished in college and I met this guy and met some friends outside of college who were a lot older. I think some- times you can lose your way a bit, it’s very easy to here. I feel like there’s a constant thirst for a settled community in London, and if you haven’t got one when you get here it’s a lot tougher to feel settled when you don’t have places to go or people to talk to. So I left school to be with this guy, we lived together for eight or nine months I think, and it was just mad intense. His friends were proper rock ‘n’ rollers, so… It was just intense. You learn a lot.

“With the next EPs I want to focus on different parts of my life. I want three EPs for sure, three stories. I want those three stories to portray key parts of my life. The EPs will all fall into place.

“Every genre of music is somewhat confessional,
especially in hip hop. You’re allowed be completely and unapologetically honest, that’s what hip hop is built on. That’s why it resonates so much.”

Jess may have conjured up the moniker Biig Piig upon seeing the name on a pizza menu when on the search for post-session sustenance, but that’s certainly the most ad-hoc part of her artistry. Every other element of her creative output is deliberate and meaningful.

After an unsettled beginning, Jess has found her people. She’s in her place and she’s full of purpose.

Biig Piig’s debut Irish headline show takes place this Friday, October 19. Everyone in attendance will get a copy of District Issue 005. Click here for more.

Words: Eric Davidson / Photography: Omar O'Reilly 
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