The straight-talking, uber-talented, inimitable Ms Banks on self-confidence, training hard in the gym, South London swag and shaking up her look.
Dazed Beauty has transformed South London’s foremost hitmaker and rap queen, Ms Banks, into an otherworldly spirit using the magic of CGI. The shoot was inspired by the Nike Pro Collection, traditionally worn as a performance layer for training which works by wicking away moisture (perfect for Ms Banks who’s currently polishing up on her deadlift technique). Inspired by the AeroAdapt innovation and it's elemental qualities, the fabric adapts to both wet and dry environments. A Dazed Beauty team of artists, choreographers, make-up, nail and hair stylists have magic-ed Ms Banks into a nomadic traveller encountering abstract water and fire demons on her travels through a parallel dimension. A few universes away from the Londoner’s day-to-day existence maybe, but no less fantastic than her own story. In 2016, Ms Banks’ first freestyle Fire in the Booth for Charlie Sloth on BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra confirmed her stake on the UK rap scene. Ms Banks has since collaborated with the likes of Stormzy and Tinie Tempah, toured with Cardi B and in March of this year, graced The O2 alongside Nicki Minaj. There’s no stopping her.
We sat down with the rap artist and discussed her training regime, joining the Nike family and self-love.
How did you feel on this shoot? It’s a bit of a step away from your usual aesthetic?
Ms Banks: It felt weird doing a shoot with my natural hair and with such different make-up, especially the amazing white eyeliner. It was really empowering to see myself stripped back but to see myself still look just as nice.
What is it that you love about the transformative power of beauty?
Ms Banks: I love the end result more than anything, to be honest. It's nice being pampered with a facial. I loved getting my face massaged today, exfoliators and all that.
You’re known as somebody who changes their look quite a lot. Your hair changes week-to-week, and you're constantly trying out new beauty and nail looks. What do you like about shape shifting?
Ms Banks: I really enjoy being versatile because I feel like your fashion and your beauty regime is your core form of self-expression. Sometimes I want to be dressed in all black, some days I want pink or green hair.
Were you always experimental with the way you looked when you were growing up?
Ms Banks: From about the age of 15, I was experimenting. The first hair colour I ever had was blue. I just had a blue fringe and I remember my auntie saying, “You look like a yardie!”
How has South London shaped your taste and style?
Ms Banks: I love South London with all my heart. It’s Morleys, it’s everyone just chilling out in the estate. We have this whole other swag. It’s definitely shaped my taste and style. It’s made me a bit more experimental. I mean a lot of people from South London are casual. They care, but not really. I remember going to college and thinking West London girls always looked super bouji. I’ve never been able to keep that up!
Do you feel like it was a good place to be growing up as a woman?
Ms Banks: It made me very strong, very quickly and it made me very streetwise. I’m really grateful for that.
We feel like the perception of you is super confident in the way that you present yourself. Have you always been like that?
Ms Banks: I’ve always been really confident. Now I’m in the public eye I get a lot more scrutiny, but I look at myself in the mirror every day and I know what I love about myself, and what I need to work on. I don't let other people tell me how to live. You get a little bit of a belly and now “you’re fat” or you get surgery and they slate your body because “it’s not real.” You can’t please society, you just have to please yourself.
When you were younger, who were you looking to as the epitome of beauty?
Ms Banks: Lauryn Hill, Ms Dynamite, Lil’ Kim. As a dark-skinned woman, Foxy Brown inspired me a lot.
How does it feel to work with Nike?
Ms Banks: I never thought I would have the opportunity to work with Nike and it’s amazing to do it as we share the same values. There’s so much more representation now, and I’m glad to be a part of that movement. It’s nice to see someone who looks like you in big, important spaces. It makes you feel like it’s more attainable. Even on my come up, when I was about 23, I expected my come up to take a long time due to my skin colour. I don’t let it make me feel disheartened or less motivated. If anything it gives me more drive.
Did you have a supportive group of people around you?
Ms Banks: I’ve got a really supportive group of family and friends. Especially being of African heritage, my parents could’ve easily forced me to become a lawyer or a doctor.
Growing up, I was a bit of a rebel. I misbehaved. I think people thought I would become a statistic, or have a child and wouldn’t have a proper job.
And was the UK rap scene supportive? Especially stepping into it as a woman?
Ms Banks: It’s been really supportive. You have to be good at what you do to earn respect. I used to care a lot about being likeable and now I just don't give a shit, to be honest.
How has this Nike partnership been for you?
Ms Banks: I’m so gassed. I feel like I really do represent real women. I like to think of myself not even as slim-thick, but just thick. Nike takes me as I am and that’s a powerful message.
When do you feel most powerful?
Ms Banks: I feel really powerful in the gym. I do a lot of strength training and conditioning. Deadlifts all day – I’m pulling like half my weight. Soon I’ll be able to deadlift my entire weight and I’m excited.
How do you style the Nike Fe/Nom Flyknit bra for both style and function?
Ms Banks: I have to be comfortable. I’m not super sporty on stage, so I’ll mix it with unexpected pieces for extra swag. Definitely keeps the boobs in place when I’m jumping about.
Who’s your favourite rapper?
Ms Banks: Myself!
What’s your career highlight to date?
Ms Banks: Being on stage with Nicki Minaj in London was a big moment for me.
It was my second time doing the 02 Arena so I came ready. We text and share ideas, but it’s surreal because I’ve been watching her for 10 years and she’s one of my idols.
If you had to describe your music in four words, what would they be?
Ms Banks: “OMG it’s a vibe.”
What three beauty products do you not leave the house without?
Ms Banks: Vaseline. I just wear it on my lips but if I were stuck on an island, and I could only bring one product, it would be Vaseline. My lips can’t be dry, like, that’s not a thing. Also, Chestnut lip liner from MAC Cosmetics and their mineralising powder is the best.
What does beauty mean to you?
Ms Banks: Beauty is how you feel inside, and, most importantly how you treat other people.
You can shop the Nike Pro Collection and Fe/Nom Flyknit bra at Nike.com/gb/women
Concept and Creative Direction - @ben_ditto at Concrete Rep.
Photographer - @gretailieva at D+V
CGI artists - Samuel Fuller @arcjustice and @ryan_vautier
Movement Director - @ryanchappell at Magnet Agency
Styling - @gary_david_moore at Concrete Rep
Hair - @kiyokoodo at Bryant Artists
Make-up - @annesophiecosta using Mac Cosmetics
Manicurist - @sylviemacmillan.nails