Highlife’s DJ Cuppy: We’re Africans, we’re British and we’re here”

Channel 4’s new reality show Highlife focuses on the lives of ambitious young Black West Africans living in London. Meet the 28-year-old THE FACE is calling the show’s break-out star.

It’s quite clear that as a nation, we are – still – completely obsessed with Reality TV. Love Island? Inject it. Made In Chelsea? We love the drama. Geordie Shore? Wey aye mate! But there is always a gaping hole where an important element is missing: Black excellence.

Until now.

High Life is Channel 4’s new Black reality show. The four-part series focuses on the scandalous lives of the Black British elite while also highlight[ing] a community where high family expectations often impact career choices, relationships and even friendship groups”.

Directed by Nigerian-born Daps (best known for music videos for artists such as Migos, Stormzy, Kendrick Lamar and Wizkid), Highlife is produced as part of Channel 4’s Black To Front project.

Featured in the series is 30-year-old music producer Tomi, alongside 33-year-old Grammy-award winning singer-songwriter/producer Kamille, a fellow Londoner best known for penning tracks for Little Mix, Dua Lipa and Mabel.

Also on the show is 28-year-old King’s College graduate and DJ Cuppy (Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola). She’s a musician, entrepreneur and philanthropist who hails from one of the most prominent Nigerian families in the world. Having released her debut album Original Copy last year, Cuppy is known for her bubblegum pink style, pink penthouse (which featured in MTV Cribs) and pink Ferrari (a gift from her billionaire father).

Ahead of the show’s launch, we caught up with the multi-hyphenate to discuss her role in Highlife, what the show means for Black Britons and what exciting plans she has stuffed up her reliably pink sleeve.

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Hey Cuppy, congratulations on the show. Can you tell me about your role on Highlife?

It’s so exciting! I’m so proud to be part of the Black To Front project. My role in Highlife is important, as is my role as an African woman. I’ve been able to create a brand that breaks barriers in different industries. Everyone knows Cuppy is unafraid and unapologetic. So what you’ll see on the show is a young girl with dreams but now becoming a woman with a global vision trying to take over the UK and the world.

You’ll see me dealing with my day-to-day business as a DJ, my philanthropic world, my education, friendships, as well as disappointments, family pressure, single life and motherhood. You get a piece of Cuppy throughout the show.

The show focuses on the successes of Black British people. What does success mean to you?

That’s so funny you ask because I ask myself this all the time. I don’t consider myself successful. All I know is that I want to do multiple things that bring me joy. I think success is super relative and I think it’s really important not to be in competition with anyone else but yourself. It’s being able to open doors and have access to the things I want to do. I come from Nigeria, a place where there is so much talent and potential, but less access or opportunities to execute those ideas.

I’ve been very fortunate to be in the UK, so success is being part of projects like Highlife that are able to open a path, conversations and opportunities.

I always tell people that when they go to Nigeria, you will never meet someone who only has one job”

DJ CUPPY

What do you want young Black Brits and young Black Nigerians to take away from Highlife?

I really want them to see beyond the surface. I have been DJing for over 10 years now and people get so excited about the showbiz side of it. But Highlife showcases the hardship, the sacrifices, the frustrations, the hard work, the pressure, all to make that high life.

So it’s a balance of both. There’s glossiness, and the show is super aspirational, but there’s realness and human emotion. So I want people to understand that you can do what you want and achieve what you want to achieve – but it comes with a lot of hard work and sacrifices. We can’t have it all.

What do you think the common misconceptions are about successful Black Britons?

Apart from hard work, it’s about understanding. I think a lot of people think that Black success is monetary based, about validation from society. I want someone to look at me as Cuppy and being a successful DJ – but also as a 28-year-old taking up the challenge to go to university.

As Africans, we come from a very difficult environment where we have a survival instinct. And for whatever reason, I felt that in order to survive and be a better version of myself, I need to go and study more.

I always tell people that when they go to Nigeria, you will never meet someone who only has one job. Nobody ever does one thing. It’s that hustle mentality that you will recognise in every single cast member on the show.

I’m hoping that some of my sacrifices are worth it because at the end of the day, that’s the price of ambition”

DJ CUPPY

How do you fit it all in?

Basically… somewhere down in Lambeth is a lab that clones people. And I have been cloned several times. The real Cuppy is actually in bed [laughs].

No, it’s actually something I do struggle with and something I speak about on the show, I’m very honest about it. Something has to give. I don’t spend as much time with my family. My love life has certainly suffered for it, so I just prioritise. I’m hoping that some of my sacrifices are worth it because at the end of the day, that’s the price of ambition.

You mentioned that you’re making a new album. Can you give us a little intel?

I’ve been working in the studio, which is really exciting. I haven’t dropped new music in a year, but I have some pretty big announcements to make. But I can’t talk about that right now.

OK, what can you talk about?

My new jewellery brand has launched. During Highlife, you will see me and [castmate] Chiefer working on an amazing collaboration. I haven’t spoken about it yet but it’s called Cuppy Cuts and it is jewellery designed by my brand. On the show, you’ll see Cuppy as an entrepreneur. There are so many young people who want to go into business.

What can we expect from Cuppy Cuts?

All the jewellery is rose gold and pink-inspired, silver-plated and luxe. There’s an ice-lolly charm which is inspired by my most popular song, Gelato. And the collection wouldn’t be complete without a cupcake, which is where my name comes from.

I’m planning on launching the products in November, and I feel it will sell out really quickly, but I must add a disclaimer: the jewellery is not edible!

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Name three artists you’re loving right now

As a female DJ, it will definitely be my ladies. I really am enjoying – a long with the rest of the world – listening to Tems. She’s phenomenal. She’s someone I knew from Nigeria and I’m proud to see her development. I’m also enjoying ENNY. I think she’s a really strong woman with so much to give and she’s unapologetically herself. And I also love Nigerian artist Ayra Starr.

In Black families, creative industries are not really an option. How did you have these conversations with your dad when you wanted to be a DJ?

I also believed that. I didn’t want to take the risk and I always felt like I was different and special and I wanted to be in a position where I didn’t fail at anything. I didn’t grow up having female role models within the music industry, and it’s crazy to think that in a hundred years from now when they speak about female DJs in Africa, my name might come up.

What advice would you give anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Live a passion-led life. You touched on it earlier – sometimes we do things because of our parents, or our friends or what society tell us what to do. Do what you want to do and you’ll be happiest.

So what’s next for you?

I’m going to be a full-time student at Oxford in two weeks. So when I’m watching Highlife I’ll be doing my essays in college. I’m going to study for a masters in politics and African studies. No rest for the successful! I have to get on with it and have to carry myself and my boys to Oxford. I also have a university DJ tour coming up.

Highlife starts on Channel 4 and All 4 on 10th September at 10pm

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