and in the pink corner...SHYSTIE photographed by Sarah Bowles

Straight-talking grime MC SHYSTIE represents for the ladies


When my best friend and I first heard 'Woman's World' by Shystie we looked at each other and did this half-laugh, half-gasp thing. We played the track twice. We rewound bits to make out the lyrics. Over an old school electro beat, a young girl was envisaging a female utopia - and it was stunning.

In her world, men posed nude on page 3 of the The Sun while she set up a webcam in her room, got a man to poledance on her bed, then posted it on the net so all her friends could see. In her world, men took care of their appearances, washing their ballsacs before sex while ladies walked round with hairy 'pits and unbleached upper lips.

In her world, women used men for one-night sex then pushed them away: women pimped guys on the streets at night, and the shop windows in the red light district of Amsterdam were full of men, not naked ladies.

'Imagine if men lived in kennels like dogs / and we only let them out to do the difficult jobs. In the street, walk them round / leads around their neck / show him to my friends saying 'he's my new pet'.





It was a gasp of indignant fury from a mind young enough to remember the seemingly genderfree realm of childhood, and it made me and my friend - both older, jaded, too grown-up and cynical now to bother imagining a world where men give birth and women run governments - share a shiver of trangressive delight.

You might not think it if you've seen her glaring down at you from one of those giant billboards on the Old Street roundabout, but Shystie is tiny.

Not in terms of musical stature: since she recorded a riposte to Dizzee Rascal's 'I Luv U' and got signed to Polydor - who released her recent debut album Diamond in the Dirt - she's massive, getting into the top 40, designing her own clothing range, appearing in a video game, recording with Wu-Tang, in talks with Missy Elliot's record label over in the the States: all the rags to riches stuff most grime MCs' wet dreams are made of.

But in real life she's little: skinny stick arms poking out of a yellow ragga-girl net top, barely brushing five foot three, the N-Gage game phone and the trusty pink Nokia on which she writes all her lyrics looking like they're gonna topple her over through their weight around her neck.

'Yeah, we cross the line - but men do that shit all the time!'

Why's it a shock to see her so tiny? Because she's so goddamn mouthy, of course. Not just because of her flow - she spits lyrics in the Hackney accent I hear every day on the streets of Dalston, her staccato syllablles (fastest MC in the UK, it's sometimes claimed) - sounding at turns sarcastic, arrogant, playful, furious and rabble-rousing, yet always clear and sharp.

It's more because there's something so audacious about putting a fantasy like 'Woman's World' onto record: ideas like these are something you share with your best friend when there's no boys around to hear you, when you're able to vent free of accusations of misandry and overgeneralisation, and - gasp, shock horror - feminism.

'I just wanted to show us as women having to see guys do this stuff all the time', explains the 21-year-old Shystie. 'I hang around with a lot of boys, and I hear them dissing this girl and that girl, going on about football, and I just started thinking: what if women did that? What if we used guys? And made them cry about us down the phone to their friends? I just flipped everything about.


'A lot of girls say 'Woman's World' is one of their favourite songs on the album. They're all, 'That song's so true! I love that track! Imagine if the world was like that!' I thought it was funny that I opened people's eyes to stuff that does go on every day.

When I vocalled it in the studio all the boys were like, 'Tell us off man!' but they were laughing about it. They were like, 'Ah she killed us man!' And I was like, yeah. And you kill us girls every day by doing the same things.'

And Shystie's not the only straight-talking female coming out of the grime scene. 'I dont give head but I give head butts / Punch in the guts for calling me a slut', says 18-year-old Lady Fury, asking elsewhere 'Your tool's too small / how the fuck do you penentrate pum pum at all?'

'Most of the females I know, like Lady Fury, Maihem, they're a bit tomboyish, like me', Shystie explains. 'I haven't really met a female MC who's a proper girly girl with their handbag, worrying about their hair every two minutes. We're from the scene, we hang around with boys, we pick up certain things that the boys are talking about, certain boys' ways, a bit rough round the edges.'



It's reductive to listen to any music just for its lyrics, and I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't find Shystie tracks like 'Step Bac', 'Gutter' and the skeletal Eastern groove of 'Get Loose' eminently danceable (rough basslines, handclaps, whooshing airplane sounds and effervescent synths clattering round with each other like ball-bearings in a cocktail shaker and all that).

But the lyric on 'Get Boyed' (it's not on Diamond in the Dirt - download it) really does deserve the kind of old-school attention we used to give songs whose words failed to appear in Smash Hits: tip of tongue between teeth, pen in one hand, the other poised over the 'pause' button of the Binatone tape recorder…


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