Let’s be honest, the Gen Z experience is full of challenges. As well as facing universal obstacles – like the pressure of school and social anxiety – today’s teens and early twentysomethings are also dealing with the pressures of adjusting to a post-pandemic world wracked with uncertainty.
Gen Z are often misunderstood by adults, labelled as moody and obsessed with their phones. However, this generation – and those of us acquainted with the forward-thinking corners of TikTok and Twitter – are more than aware of the strong currents of activism and innovation that run through its waters.
Since launching in 2011, NCS (National Citizen Service) has sought to give young people a sense of independence, allowing them to tap into their creativity and make their voices heard.
This year, to bring those themes to life, NCS has enlisted the help of three up-and-coming British musicians, as well as a renowned production duo, to create a one-off audiovisual mixtape that celebrates the variety of contemporary music.
In order to gather authentic inspiration and strong reference points for the project, NCS did a call out on their social media for young people to share the issues that matter most to them. A few months and a bucketload of creativity later, Mixtape ’22 was born.
Manchester-based soul singer Victoria Jane, UK garage artist Emma Cannon from Bath and fast-rising London rapper Saidu were selected by sibling producers Star.One to take part. Each artist was allocated a theme, a bespoke beat and away they went.
“We said yes to the project from the get-go,” says Adam Wilson, one half of Star.One. “I think the reason my brother Joe and I were approached is because we’re very versatile in terms of the sounds we make. We’re huge fans of everyone who worked on the project!”
Listen to Mixtape ’22 in full below, and read how these three young stars are rising up through the industry.
Hailing from Manchester, Victoria Jane has already made a name for herself at 23 with a burgeoning music career and a weekly “Future Soul” slot on BBC Radio 1. Describing her music as a mix of soul and R&B, she’s heavily inspired by British female artists including Lianne La Havas, Corinne Bailey Rae and, of course, the late, great Amy Winehouse.
“I have various different songwriting processes,” she says. “If I like the beat I’ll sit down and write, but mostly I’ll just freestyle.”
Jane’s deft approach to lyricism came in handy on the mellow soul track she produced for NCS, which incorporated the voices and concerns of the young people she interviewed. Like the other artists featured on Mixtape ’22, Jane was assigned a project theme by NCS. Her’s was titled “Our World”.
“It’s been really inspiring. I’m obviously still young, but it’s so weird to hear how some things have changed and others have stayed the same. It’s impacted how I look at my career and it’s made me value it so much at the age I’m at.”
For 21-year-old singer Emma Cannon, music became a central focus during the pandemic.
“There’s not really a scene here,” she says of her rural hometown just outside Bath, “it’s literally just a few sheep!” In order to stave off boredom during successive lockdowns, she began singing and writing songs, whilst rapidly building an international online community of producers and like-minded musicians. “Everything I make gets recorded in my bedroom, and thanks to the internet I’ve collabed with people in America and across Europe. Collaboration is central to what I do.”
For the Mixtape ’22 project, Cannon used her track to focus on the theme “Ourselves”, taking a more insular look at the issues faced by young people.
“Each generation is totally different, and I think there are issues young people face now that older people don’t understand,” she explains. With a diverse range of genres influencing her music, including drum’n’bass, garage and electronica, Cannon is developing an approach to songwriting that is all her own. “I was brought up listening to a lot of producers – I was never really into singers. Whenever I’m feeling down, I go to the piano and pour it all out into a song.”
For London native Saidu, the past few months have been surreal. Since winning the third season of The Rap Game on BBC 3 at just 19, he’s thrown himself into making music, buoyed by the support of those who witnessed his jaw-dropping talents on the show.
“Being on TV was a dream of mine and I’ve accomplished that now,” he says. “Being able to see celebrities during that process every other day, that was crazy, and the majority of them are people I looked up to when I was younger.”
The rapper finds inspiration in his surroundings, his roots in Bermondsey and in his own motivation to succeed. “I know what I want to achieve, and I know what’s going to get me there! That inspires me in itself.”
Producing his track with Star.One for the Mixtape ’22 project took Saidu out of his comfort zone. Working with the theme “Our Community”, he looked beyond his own experience to gather the ideas and responses of other young people.
“This project was a challenge because it involved taking in others’ thoughts and finding things that resonate with all of us. To me, it’s where you’re from and who you’re surrounded by – it could even be the shopkeeper at the shop you go to. All of these things come together to form a sense of community.”