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Mercy's Cartel

18th July 2023

Interview: Elijah Kang

Mercy’s Cartel, a London-based alternative R&B singer has returned with a trailblazing new single called “Do It”, featuring melodious vocals and an unforgettable hook. The music video exudes 90s nostalgia and was co-directed and self-styled by Mercy herself. On top of this, the producer, songwriter and vocalist draws upon musical influences ranging from Amy Winehouse to MIA, and transforms them effortlessly into her own take on these genres. Their use of perceptive and sharp lyrics to reflect their encounters with love, racism and mental health deem this artist irreplaceable and one to look out for upon their next release. 

Thank you for talking with ReVamp! How are you feeling after releasing your new single?

I'm feeling hopeful about the next things I have coming up. Its been so long and I'm excited to be back releasing music because so much has happened in my personal life and I've developed so much as a songwriter, producer, and engineer. ‘DO It’  is just the first taste of the energy that I'm bringing into my music going forward.

I'm a one man show over a one woman show at the moment. So it's been difficult getting things out without the support of a team, but I'm really proud of myself and I'm excited for where everything goes.

Your music videos are honestly so captivating and entertaining to watch. You co-directed the music video for “Do It” and your personality really shines through. Do you already have the visual aesthetic of the music video in mind when you’re creating the song?

Oska was the big brains behind the direction, all that he wanted for me was an agreement of what sort of energy would go into each scene and basically I just told him that I wanted my music videos to be based on performance and bring life to the song. It was cool styling myself and doing my own makeup but I’m working on collaborating with others for my next visuals so I can focus on performing. 

I didn't have a visual aesthetic in my mind when creating the song. But I've been really intentional on thinking on how I want to show the audience and new listeners my personality because I'm not the best at social media promotion. Producing, engineering and rehearsing the music takes up so much time that I don't tend to be on social media a lot, but I am a bright light to be around. I do value that in my personality and I just wanted to get my music videos to capture the essence of my being. I’m looking forward to going even further with the visual aesthetics. 

Who has been your biggest supporter throughout your music career so far?

My biggest supporter would have to be my friend and collaborator, J SRTNGS.  He's the reason that I even got into making music for myself. We met when we were 16 in sixth form and together we did a cover of Pink Matter by Frank Ocean for Black History Month. And that was the first time I'd sung my own arrangement of a song in public. 

When we went to university, he did Economics in Nottiinghm and I did Psychology in Bristol. I bought a mic and an audio interface from FocusRite Scarlett and he was making beats and he sent me his music that he's working on. I started writing over it and posting it on SoundCloud and that's how I started vocal producing and writing. BBC Introducing played my song, ‘U Know’ and I started getting a good response. Before then, it was just a pipe dream but I realised that I literally write songs so easily -  it's the easiest thing for me. I love writing music. 

Last year, I unfortunately stopped working with my old collaborator the producer, Dom Porter. That got me into a headspace where I felt really alone. I was really scared and I felt like without him producing, I wouldn't be able to create or release any music. I didn't have enough confidence in myself as a producer and J STRNGS was there to catch me. There's been times where I've just cried to him and I've just wanted to quit and walk away. I didn't believe in the skills that I have as a woman, as a black woman in this industry. Yet, he just motivated me and he still champions me all the time. He’s so talented and he’s doing amazing things like working with Ojerime, Kojey Radical, NSG, Pania and Kwoli Black. I'm just grateful to have him by my side andI love supporting him in his career as well.

Could you tell us a bit about the meaning behind your stage name and how you came up with it?

Well, Mercy is my government name. I'm named after my dad's mother because I look like her and he'd passed before I was born. ‘Cartel’ comes from the feeling that I got when I was growing up listening to new music. I was admiring collectives like Odd Future and I really wanted a collective but I couldn't get it. So when I was thinking about myself, I always wanted to have a community in whatever endeavours I have in the future. Its nothing do with Narcos or Pablo Escobar. It's more to do with the dictionary meaning which is: an association of similar companies or businesses are grouped together in order to prevent competition and to the top and to and to control prices. So how I think of it is ,everything that I do in music is about empowering and educating people. It's also about building community. So Mercy's Cartel to me, encompasses the feeling of people coming together to change the status quo and seeing each other win, Cartel is a way of life, and it's my value music is my church and it's my politic.

You stated once before that Chance The Rapper inspired you to drop out of university to pursue music. Was this career path always a dream of yours, or was it more of a realisation as you got older?

Growing up I've always loved music. I started playing double bass at eight years old and I was a part of an orchestra. That was a really great experience being part of an ensemble and how I started playing music. Going to church was also a big way I got to perform music. 

I always wanted to be a performer but there was just no infrastructure or like no path for me to become an artist - all I knew was X Factor. So other than that, I didn't know that I could even have a chance of being a songwriter. I wanted to learn jazz; there weren't any jazz teachers in my area at the time. So, I didn't understand what the music industry could be. All I saw was like America, I had no inkling of what was even going on in London or anything. Then when I went to university,I wanted to become a banker or commercial lawyer.and I did really well in that. I did internships in Canary Wharf and all that jazz. But my mindset was, “oh, yeah, I want to do this so I can save up money so I can buy equipment so I can finally learn to do music”. It's always been calling to me and I needed to embrace it.

What advice would you give to your audience who may be too afraid to pursue their dreams?

To people who may be afraid I get that because I feel like I live with fear and anxiety 24/7 because I don't even know if people are going to respond to the art that I'm putting out. The industry is scary and the world can be too. I can't lie about that -  there are so many things that I want to change about it.

But in my gut, I feel like this is what I meant to do and this is what I'm here for. So if anybody else feels like this is their dream, take a calculated risk. You can pursue things without nuking your life. There's avenues where you can sharpen the tools in your arsenal, such as courses, going to gigs, YouTube. Even though it's so scary, you need to try and be critical of yourself as well and remain humble. Always be eager to learn and improve whilst being smart about it. Obviously it's easier if you were born into or if there was nepotism involved but that's not the card that is dealt to many people. For me, I'm neurodivergent (I'll go into that when I feel more comfortable) but this has been the biggest obstacle for me in socialising the same way that other people do in the music scene. But I exist, I'm here and my music matters. You don't want to live life thinking, “what if you didn't do it”. If you don't try, all that does is increase your chances of what you don't want to happen. Whereas if you start making good steps towards what you want to do and taking those risks, that hopefully will lead to better outcomes. You can increase your chances of getting to your dreams.

Follow Mercy!

Do It by Mercy's Cartel is now on all streaming platforms.

Check out the music video to 'Do It' by Mercy's Cartel.

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