Like your first day of school, the details surrounding your first time hearing Lila Iké are curry-stained into memory.
Mine center around a regular evening at the Jamaica Observer in 2017. I was probably pretending to work when I heard a sweet foreign voice and groovy guitar strings playing from Richard Johnson’s computer.
“Richie, who’s that?” I glided across quickly to enquire.
“Lila Iké,” he said, bopping his fro and doing the finger-snap dance he always does.
The song, Biggest Fan, was an ode to her mom who wasn’t initially sold on her doing music, but ultimately became her cheer captain.
Richie later interviewed Iké about her roots and the success of the track, and I sat so close to him as they spoke, that I’m pretty sure she could hear me breathing.
The Manchester-native would become a national name on the new wave scene within a year, and Swizz Beatz-approved by May 2020.
InDiggNation’s curly fro Queen, Lila Iké, released her debut EP, The ExPerience, on May 15, and it’s truly a safari through the nuances of love and fame, humble beginnings, spirituality and destiny, ribboned with girly vibes.
The seven-track project is the first from the Protoje-led camp since announcing a partnership with RCA and Six Course Records in April.
The genre-playful journey starts with Iké’s roots, narrated in the soul-baring Where I’m Coming From, co-written with mentor Protoje. The track was Iké’s biggest for 2019, and chronicles her aspirations of superstardom, from her days deejaying to classmates during her lunch break, to moving to Kingston to pursue her passion where destiny aligned her with King Digg.
It’s a perfect set up for Solitude, a journal entry penciling Iké’s tussle with newfound fame. The recluse’s anthem, produced by Sean ‘Ziah’ Roberts, was inspired by her actual feelings at the time, and hits hard with Roberts’ violin solo, complementing the theme of isolation.
Taking to her guitar gifted by Protoje on her birthday, she started the framework to what would be her favourite song on The ExPerience.
Right ya now nuff a dem fi get block and delete
Airplane mode, how da life ya so sweet
Come a ring off mi line seven days a di week
Oh, mi nuffi write? No? Mi nuffi sleep
Lila beg yuh dis, Lila beg yuh dat
Aye, shut yuh sssshh, cut di crap
2020 now, certain tings fi stop
So we disappear to The Habitat
Protoje’s Habitat Studio in Kingston is also where she recorded the next track, I Spy. The flirty reggaeton number debuted in April and was produced by Grammy-winning producer Andron ‘IzyBeats’ Cross. But the song almost didn’t actualise. After initially recording it at his Red Hills studio, Cross lost the files.
“Usually when mi voice a tune that I didn’t do with Diggy… mi normally bring it back at the studio and re-record it cause you know quality over everything,” Iké told Koffee during the recent virtual EP listening party. “Mi seh, ‘boy mi nuh think maa go sing back da tune ya this time, da tune ya too high fi sing yow’. So we a depend pon Izy fi the files only fi hear seh him lost it and he had like one day left in Jamaica di night when we re-record it and it actually turned out extremely dope. Way better than it was initially.”
Imagine a world without the alluring falsettos and sultry feels of I Spy?
Same can be said about superproducer Phillip ‘Winta’ James’ Bout Noon instrumental. The beat, first used on Protoje’s title track in 2018 then Mortimer’s No Lies in 2019, ages perfectly on Iké’s Stars Align. Adding her own interpretation of the classic (with writing help from Diggy), she delivers an intoxicated daydream which starts with a line I’ll be using as a caption soon: Bout to pull up like your favourite song!
The track blends with Iké’s natural toasting style and success with dub-driven sounds. With ‘exotic soulstress’ Sherita Lewis and Chevaughn on background vocals, Iké effortlessly flows and keeps it lyrically light, tempting and sexy.
James blesses his Grammy-nominated hands on the project again with Forget Me, a genre-mindfucker which tells the tale of a woman at her wits’ end with a trifling man. James also wrote the hook.
If every day we a go fight, I think it’s best that you forget me.
Cause dem ya something ya nuh right, how can I go if you don’t let me?
Inna di middle a di night, when you fi deh ya a caress me
Is like yuh hurt mi just fi spite
Baby tell me why yuh woulda stress me?
I live for this ‘big ooman’ Lila, and that second verse? Sis goes off in a cool and deadly style, giving us an anthem for a good love turned sour, petty and ugly. True to his style, James drops a surprise element at the bridge, backed by Iké’s rapping skills.
Her 2017 hit Second Chance explores another relationship experience. It shows Iké in her dub element, her calling, her X-factor — whether she recognises this or not.
The ExPerience culminates by returning to the center of it all — Iké’s spirituality and groundedness. Thy Will, written by Iké, samples production-duo Sly and Robbie’s More Baltimore classic.
She also returns to her toasting style on the record, reminiscent of the tomboy Iké we met three years ago who bodied freestyles on BBC’s 1 Xtra.