Courtesy of Tiffany Calver
The UK rap scene was once overlooked internationally by its more widely famous counterparts in the US, for reasons including the difference in accents, execution style and dress code. However, in recent years, music acts such as Skepta and Stormzy have built up a following across the pond, gaining commercial success without diluting the authenticity of their sound. British radio show BBC Radio 1Xtra has given many of these artists their first taste of national exposure and has attracted millions of weekly listeners on national radio and viewers on YouTube. Many of the best-known DJs and artists in the UK rap scene have hosted the prime time Saturday evening slot and last year, Tiffany Calver, a 25-year-old from a rural town near Shropshire, became the first female host of The Rap Show.
Music was always a big fixture in Calver’s childhood. “Growing up, my parents were massive music heads and our coffee table doubled up as a turntable” she recalls. She developed a love for rap music and has fond memories from her childhood listening to her mother playing garage music, a genre that has had a significant influence on modern British rap. At age 17, she moved to London, in part to attend a local college but also to get closer to the burgeoning music scene. She convinced her father to allow the move and enrolled at City of Westminster College, studying media with a desire to become a music journalist.
Outside of academia, she spent her time blogging for the likes of MTV and SB:TV. “Blogging was like an informal education in understanding the UK rap music scene, as well as a way to meet people” she says. Whilst Calver’s blogging career flourished and she had built up her niche, she found herself at a crossroads between pursuing a university education and jumping into blogging full time. She knew that many of the best journalists before her had gone down the “traditional route” and assumed that she would need to do the same, however, with encouragement from a teacher and mentor, she chose to follow her dream by taking a sabbatical. This gave her a year to find her feet and, if she didn’t, she could apply for university,
Fortunately, an opportunity came up to intern in public relations with Rachel Campbell, founder of Wired PR. The company was at a relatively early stage back then, but now represents some of the biggest UK acts including Stormzy, Jorja Smith and AJ Tracey. The internship gave Calver the chance to expand her knowledge and network within the industry. She also spent her leisure time at events centered around the music scene and, it was at events such as ‘Licence To Trill’ and ‘Fiesta’ in Dalston that Calver realized she may have a knack for DJing. She remembers that one of her friends who was a DJ at these events would frequently ask her for suggestions, as Calver always knew how to read a crowd. “A few people suggested I start DJing, particularly at a time when my career path wasn’t so obvious, I was scared at first but eventually downloaded the only basic software I could afford and started playing around with making mixes” Calver says.
Starting Out As a DJ
One of the first mixes Calver made, jokingly titled “Will Sin 4 Chipotle” gained traction and landed 50,000 hits which, “at the time felt like hitting the jackpot to me” she says. Her interest in all things around DJing grew and “it felt like I was playing a PlayStation and obsessed”. Soon after, a position at Radar Radio became available and, although she felt it was a long shot, applied for the role. The interviewers,whilst impressed by her talent, were less thrilled by the equipment she used and were kind enough to provide Calver with an informal education in Serato DJ software. After a stint there, she moved to NTS, an online radio station. where she continued to refine her craft before being headhunted for her own show on KISS FM, a national radio station. Calver was admittedly hesitant at the time, with a desire to be closer to new music releases rather than focusing on the commercial aspect of national radio. However, after consulting with Clara Amfo, a fellow DJ who now hosts the mid-morning show on BBC Radio 1, she realized it would be a great learning opportunity and joined.
Tiffany Calver In The Radio Booth
Courtesy of the BBC
Achieving a Dream
Calver had now worked at a few different radio stations, yet her long term ambition, like many DJs focused on UK rap, was to work for BBC 1Xtra, specifically on the Saturday night slot. In 2018, it was announced that the incumbent DJ, Charlie Sloth, who had brought several UK rap artists to mainstream audiences, was leaving. Calver assumed she was still relatively new at her role at KISS and had no chance of being selected. However,to her surprise, the team at BBC reached out and offered her a place to host a pilot. A few weeks later, she completed the pilot, stating “I was extremely nervous at the time, so I felt I had bombed it and was gutted given this is what I had been working for” she recalls. Soon after, she received a call and was offered the Saturday night slot.
Settling in at BBC 1Xtra has been challenging for Calver, as there is a huge amount of legacy behind the station, given the well-known DJs who have once been in her shoes. The criticism received hasn’t always been fair either and, being the first woman taking this role, means it is often personal. However, “I’m embracing the fact that I am a nerdy music fan with wacky ideas that are a bit less by the book” she says. This approach is starting to pay off as she was recently invited to DJ for international rap star Drake during his world tour. Calver was responsible for the opening sound set, as well as DJing during the intervals where she would often bring out local UK artists, something her and Drake would plan out together for each show. Additionally, she has launched her own events platform called ‘Tiffany Calver And Friends’, which features well known artists, as well as the hottest up-and-coming talent.
It’s easy to read Calver’s story and assume that she has stumbled to where she is today. However, if you trace the steps, like many seemingly overnight successes, Calver sometimes faced disappointment and always worked to achieve incremental growth due to perseverance for her passion. “A lot of the stuff I’m doing I would have done for nothing” she reiterated at the end of our conversation. She’s done a great job to be in the seat she is in at such a young age and I’m sure that, as the UK rap scene continues to flourish she’ll be a face we’ll encounter frequently.
This article is part of a series featuring underrepresented people making a difference. You can find more articles (click here) and if you have a story to tell or want to be updated as soon as new features are released message/follow me on Twitter @TommyASC91