With her music, thellO aims to leave a legacy of musical excellence, be a difference in her world, and leave an unforgettable impact on people with timeless art…
By Hope Ibiale
Rap music in Nigeria and across the world is predominantly centered around men. While female rappers like Sasha P, Weird MC, Bouqui, Muna, and many others have left their mark in the industry, their male counterparts still heavily overshadow their prominence. Over the last decade, however, listeners have been introduced to a new generation of female rappers equipped with a resilient spirit, armed with braggadocious lyrics and enticing vocals. These women have stories to tell, and have continuously challenged the status quo in rap music.
One of these talented rappers challenging societal norms and leading the pack with unique storytelling is Ethel Blessing Ngohonba Mote, popularly known as thellO. thellO is a Cameroonian-Nigerian-born Hip-hop/Afro-fusion artiste, who makes music laden with distinct melodies and insightful lyrics. With her music, she aims to leave a legacy of musical excellence, be a difference in her world, and leave an unforgettable impact on people with timeless art.
How it All Began
Straight out of Benin City, thellO used to listen to music with her brothers and watch them play the guitar and write their songs. Her interest was creative writing. As a young child familiarising herself with her love for music, she grew up listening to artistes her brothers fancied. Some included Modenine, Eminem, 2Pac, Lil Wayne, and others.
At 16, thellO began writing her songs, and during a late-night session with her brother, she began to rap while he played the piano. “When I was 16, I spent a month listening to Christian rap songs from Lecrae, NF, Andy Minoe, Trip Lee, and many others. From these artistes, I got inspired to start writing my songs. They inspired me because their music was positive. The moment I decided I would do it professionally was some weeks after I started rapping. It was on a late night when my late brother was playing the piano, and he told me to rap on the keys.”
“At first, I was rapping the verse normally. But then suddenly, there was a crescendo, an awakening, and the lines I was rapping became alive and more than just mere words, I felt like music was speaking through me. It was an indescribable feeling, and it felt surreal. And it was at that moment I knew I had a gift, and I was going to make music on a grand stage someday. It wasn’t until 2021 that I finally started doing it professionally.”
Like many children who grew up in African homes, thellO’s father didn’t support music as a career. On the other hand, her mother encouraged her by paying for her first music photo shoot, went on to buy a guitar for her brothers and secretly paid for piano lessons. Eventually, her father came around. “I was stubborn and persisted in my endeavors and now, he’s in full support. During the Hennessy VS Class competition, after the final day, my father called me, and when I told him I didn’t win, he said ‘I really wanted you to win, but it’s okay. Don’t be sad, don’t lose faith,’ And right in the middle of the phone call, he started singing for me. He was trying so hard to cheer me up. It was the most heartwarming thing ever.”
Her Journey So Far
thellO came on listeners’ radar when she participated in the 2022 Hennessy Artistry VS Class competition, which earned her a co-sign from LadiPoe, Vector, M.I, and Modenine. According to the rapper, participating in the competition was the validation she needed to pursue music unapologetically. “I’ll start with my experience with getting a Modenine Cosign. My brothers couldn’t believe it, because they’ve always been huge fans of his. And now I was on the phone chatting for hours while he told me how much he loved my music. It was like grass to grace; everything was coming back full circle. And then, of course, meeting Ladipoe Vector and M.I. It was validation for me definitely, meeting top Hip Hop acts.”
Aside from the internal challenges the young artiste has faced, she has also overcome external hurdles that have inspired her to improve. “Well, the only challenge would probably be being challenged, and I love challenges. The competition in the rap game is fierce. Most of my peers are men focused on being the best in the game, and it’s inspiring working with such hardworking people. We all push each other to be better and be more.”
What thellO Hopes to Achieve with Music and her Language of Expression
Making music that leaves an unforgettable mark on her listeners is one thing thellO strives to achieve with her music. Her debut EP, THELLO, was the breeding ground for her audacious lyrics and songwriting to leave a mark on the souls of listeners and forever remain etched in their memory. With this project, thellO travels through her loss, survival, and resilience terrains. For instance, “No Bars Held” was created when the rapper was going through a rough time. “It was a hard time for me, but it taught me mental fortitude. And so I wrote the song because I wanted to inspire others to rise above their challenges as well.”
According to thellO, her brother’s death birthed the circumstances in which “Roses and Diamonds” was created. “Love, life, death, etc. The plethora of experiences that encompass being human is what I’m drawn to when making music,” she tells me.
While thellO raps and sings in English, she hasn’t shied away from incorporating other languages in her craft. “I’m drawn to different languages, and I sometimes use French or my dad’s Cameroonian native language, Bassa. Other times I might use my mom’s Cameroonian native language from her village in Kembong. And sometimes maybe Yoruba depending on how I’m inspired,” she says. “I have also used Spanish, and I’ve considered using a little Chinese or Japanese, because I find them exotic. I love playing around with language in music. Being part of different cultures has made me more open-minded.”
thellO’s Future Plans
In a similar thread to the names whose music thellO grew up listening to, the list of artistes she hopes to work with cuts across past and present music legends. They include Michael Jackson, Nina Simone, Freddie Mercury, Fela, Bob Marley, J Cole, NF, Eminem, Lana Del Rey, and Adele. “If a collaboration with a dope artiste presents itself, I’m down to work as long as we’re making meaningful music.”
On what’s next for thellO, the rapper said, “Achieving some major success for sure, like more streams, more recognition. I think those are the milestones I’m trying to hit,” she says, “They can expect to hear more amazing music and great content. Music is not a hobby or a part-time job for me. It’s my life now, so I’m not quitting anytime soon.”
Hope Ibiale is a writer and a book lover. She is currently a student of Communication and Language Arts at the University of Ibadan.