Lily mercer the veteran writer, DJ, and radio host has been the leading go-to lady for all things hip hop in London. From DJ sets throughout the UK, to traveling with artists, covering their work, and hosting shows on both Beats1 Radio and RinseFM, she’s an inspiration that proves passion, dedication, and strong work can get you anywhere.
She’s also the founder of Viper Magazine, a necessary stop for those in the hip hop game that have crossed across the Atlantic. At any given time, you’ll find exclusives from the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Flatbush Zombies, or Denzel Curry on the front page. In short: if hip hop is your game, Lily Mercer is a litmus test for music in the UK.
As a writer that’s only been in the game for a few years, getting the chance to talk to a veteran in the game like Lily Mercer and learning from her is an absolute dream.
Kristi Shinfuku: What does a typical day look like for you?
Lily Mercer: I don’t really have a typical day, I tend to do a couple of days at Beats1 per week, another day I’ll plan out my Rinse FM show. Around that I juggle interviews, photo shoots, meetings and other sporadic jobs. I DJ in clubs and events at night as well as attending events on behalf of my magazine, Viper. The rest of my time is spent writing articles, planning Viper’s print and online content, blogging, listening to submissions and replying to the 100+ emails I get per day. Luckily I love my job because I spend 90% of my time working!
KS: How did you begin getting into radio? Did you have to make a big leap in changing your process when you started to interact with platforms such as RinseFM and BEATS?
LM: I fell into radio, it wasn’t something I set out to do. The A&R at Rinse’s record label found my blog and sent me a message on Twitter saying she thought it would translate well as a show. Three years later I got an email from Apple saying they wanted to meet. The prep for both shows is totally different as I have 0% input for the music on Beats1 but 100% input for my Rinse show. For Beats1, I show up and make notes about the music I’m playing that day and for Rinse FM I bring my music and play whatever I’m feeling that week sometimes I include an interview or mix from an artist I like too. Initially Beats1 was really intimidating as there are a million people listening at any given time, but the team is so supportive that I always feel comfortable when I’m live. I don’t feel much pressure these days, I just enjoy it!
KS: How did you start writing and talking about Hip-hop music? What advice would you have for music heads that are trying to find an outlet to express herself in either publicity or radio?
LM: I got into it after I graduated from Fashion Journalism at London College of Fashion in 2010. My final year project was to create a magazine and I discovered Danny Brown around that time so reached out to him for an interview. He later blew the fuck up and my interview was the most indepth one with him back then so a lot of people came across it. My friend Georgia LA was presenting SB.TV so she suggested I run their blog and that turned into me becoming their Online Editor and in-house Hip Hop expert. I also wrote for Dazed, Wonderland, i-D and Clash Magazine so I was building up my print journalism credits and planning out Viper’s launch. My main advice to anyone getting into journalism and radio is to aim for the underground talent and not the superstars initially. You never know who the local up and comer will become and by believing in them early, you’ll not only prove you’re skilled at spotting talent (not hype) but you may also be able to build a bond with them early so they’ll always give you an interview, even when they’re eventually on TV and the cover of every magazine.
How do you maintain a balance in your busy life and how do you let off steam?
Honestly I’m not great at balancing free time with working as I rarely have any days off. A lot of the things I do don’t feel like work though, so I spend a lot of my free time going to artist’s shows or DJing, which is pretty fun. My problem is burning the candle at both ends, I rarely get to sleep more than 6 hours because I work at least 12 hours a day and have lots of late nights and early mornings. Any spare time I have is spent with family and friends but sometimes I look at my collection of books like, “I miss you.” I walk my dog to let off steam, it helps me clear my head and I never take headphones with me.
What are your upcoming goals and objectives?
This year I’m looking to take more time out to enjoy life, I need to get an assistant first though! In terms of future plans, I have a collaboration with an LA based jewellery brand called VidaKush coming out later this year. I designed everything under the Viper name and it’s our first step outside of magazines, which is exciting! I’m spending more time on fun projects and starting to design clothes and accessories. That’s one of my future goals, to expand on the fashion side of my creativity as I’ve been so music orientated and it doesn’t show the other side of my personality.
Do you have any advice for women who look up to you as a female in the Hip hop industry? And if you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
My main advice to either gender is never think that you’ve made it. I’m very happy with what I’ve done in my career, but this is just the start, I want to do so much more. I never want to get complacent and coast when I should be working to reach the next level. I think for women in particular, the main rule I ran with when I was starting out is to not be with rappers for no reason. It’s cool to be friends with artists and date them if you want but when you interview people a lot, it’s good to leave after the interview’s done instead of trying to hang out. Male (and female) groupies get jealous and like to assume that a female is with a rapper because she’s fucking them and it’s best to not even give people a chance to assume that’s the reason. But saying that, don’t be too focused on what other people think about you, it’s distracting from work.
I also think it’s important not to rely on your attractiveness. That will always draw people to you, especially if you’re sexy, but don’t let that define you. Women like Beyonce, Serena, J-Lo and all the other hot, hard-working women didn’t just get there because they’re beautiful, they worked for it. It’s easy to use your feminine charm to get ahead but don’t let that be the main reason.