Spotlight series with Nike: Rap pioneer and youth mentor Shay D

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We sat down with artist and youth mentor Shay D to talk about how she has achieved so much in such a short space of time. Last year, Shay organised the first all-female UK Hip Hop tour, all whilst working with young people on projects that empower them and inspire creativity.

Hear from Shay on breaking down barriers, making the most of each moment and how the need for change keeps her motivated.

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What is the one achievement you’re most proud of?

I’m very proud of having an idea of touring with women and making it come to life. Female rappers all over the country supporting each other. It was just an idea a few years ago, then drawing up plans and being like, how can I make this happen. I love that I made an album and got to tour 8 cities with 22 female artists for the Queens of Art tour as it had never been done before in the UK.

Who inspires you?

Life inspires me. My mum and grandma show me examples of strength every day. How to be fearless and find the energy to overcome battles. Struggle inspires me, hardships inspire me, they inspire me to never be in that bad space again. Never be homeless again, never struggle for money again, never wish you did something when you had the chance again.

What keeps you motivated to keep trying new things and pushing conventions?

The fact that tomorrow is not promised. Those of us who have lost people close to us know that time is very precious. The fact that being a changemaker will positively affect an entire community. The excitement that comes with fulfilling “I wonder what would happen if I...” Imagine we can do it, and see it for ourselves. I always like pushing boundaries and trying new styles and new genres.

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What would you say to someone that is wanting to try to make change in the world, but doesn’t know where to start?

I would say to connect and collaborate with people with similar values and morals who want the same goal. Power in numbers is no joke and the beauty of working and bouncing off others who are in the same space as you is like magic. If you want to stop youth violence, go to a youth club tomorrow and volunteer time, write a letter to your council, start a campaign.

What message are you aiming to put out into the world with your music?

My music is reality, with a feeling of hope. I make all kinds of music; club bangers to mellow vibes you can drive to. But they all leave you feeling like “I can do this, I got this, don't worry, no stress, it'll get better.”

If I’m going wild on a grime track, and saying I’m taking the mic off men and representing for the women, I’ll say it’s because we are good and deserve it. If I’m saying kids are being groomed to deal for elders, I’ll say what we can do to help. On a rap track if I’m talking about everyday struggles like housing, I’ll encourage people to know their rights and that it will get better.

I just want people to listen to my music and be moved, to get goosebumps, to get up and go.

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Why was it so important for you to push the boundaries when it came to women in Rap?

Because the imbalance is driving me wild. I got so tired of seeing the majority of women used as a prop or accessory in the mandems music videos, and the festivals that had 3% of women on their line ups. The constant online posts saying “where’s all the female artists” and you could reply with 30 of them and people will still actively not go and search for them. So instead of talking about it I just DID something about it instead. I thought if I can showcase lots of female MC’s, who can then exchange audiences and smash their sets people can SEE them. Also, the issue of there being only one or two women that could hold a space in mainstream music, both in the US and here in the UK, whereas men can dominate the charts with no competition pushed by collective dialogues. So now we are pushing the boundaries and touring together.

Be sure to check out Shay’s music and see what she is up to on her Instagram page.

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