It probably was mid-2021, 6 months after the Rhyme & Reason® journey had started, that I found myself scrolling through my Instagram timeline to burn leisure time. During this short break from the grind, I found a freestyle video from a femcee. The lyrics were so introspective, and she did have a lot to say in the less than 60 seconds clip. I was immediately drawn to liking her and decided to dump her entire catalogue in my library. Alas, she didn’t have a single record out. So I made (perhaps the video did) a mental note to look out for her when she decided to share her experiences on Digital Streaming Platforms (DSPs).
Then came the TOJ Cypher earlier this year. That was all required to seal her into memory. I became a fan and kept up with her releases on social media (via personal accounts) until her debut tape in December 2021. Then I met her in person in Q4 2022 at the 2022 Hip-Hop Conference, introduced myself, and the rest is history
Ethel Blessing Ngohonba Mote, popularly known as thellO is not your average femcee. Her lyrics have zero profanity, zero props for generally accepted social vices, and clearly show a profound knowledge of Literature (which I dreaded back in school). If you do not open your ears, mind and brains, you definitely won’t be able to follow through her verses. She packs punches, litters her verses with double (other times, triple) entendre, and has remained consistent with her craft and career as an artiste.
Finally had a chat with the 23-year-old (August 1), Ambrose Alli University English graduate (explains a lot) about her origins and plans as she swims against the current in pursuit of her dreams.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
I was raised in a family of 6, born in Benin City to Cameroonian Parents, and raised in Ekpoma, Edo State. One thing that sticks out for me in my childhood is growing up with many books and Rock music. Courtesy of my 3 brothers, Rock music, is the staple genre in my house.
I grew up in a working-class home, so we never had a car or a big house, but my parents were academics, so we always had a lot of books, my first love before music was actually literature. At some point, I aspired to be a novelist like Chinua Achebe. The fun times in my childhood had a lot to do with growing up as the only girl in a loving home. I have the most amazing brothers, and they played a role in moulding me into the woman I am today. My interests in video games, animes, tech, football, music e.t.c were influenced by them.
First Encounter with Hip-Hop
I’m not sure I can recall exactly the first time I heard a Hip Hop song,
Although growing up, my brothers, apart from Rock Music, used to play a lot of Modenine, Eminem, Linkin Park and some Christian Hip hop rappers. But specifically, I think it was Modenine I first heard. I can still remember vividly, as a young girl, my brothers bumping Elbow Room on loudspeakers, rapping along and dissecting his lines afterwards. Cos, lol I mean, it’s Modenine. You gotta break it down. But I wasn’t hooked on the genre at that point, cos I was still very young, so to me it was just another song being played. Later in Secondary school, when I was 16, I would become a fan of Hip Hop songs.
Before that, though, for a long time, most Hip Hop songs didn’t really appeal to me. Cos most I heard were always filled with lyrics about abusing drugs, sex and money. I didn’t find it uplifting, motivating or relatable; I wasn’t drawn towards it because of my ideals. Then I stumbled upon some solid Christain Hip Hop jams. I had heard about them in the past, but when I heard about their new records in 2016. It was like the Rosetta Stone. My eyes lit up, and that was when the spark was kindled.
Albums like Lecrae‘s Anomaly, Andy Mineo‘s Uncomfortable, NF‘s Mansion, Tragic Hero‘s My Own Worst Enemy, Trip Lee‘s Rise, and a couple of other songs and albums from Christian rappers like KB, Jackie Hill Perry, John Givez e.t.c., definitely played a role in forming my Rap Artistry at the very start. I loved their music, cos they were actually good rappers, not just Jesus preachers. Their topics were broad; they talked about society, love, depression, overcoming their struggles, etc. It was basically like a breath of fresh air to me; I didn’t know hip-hop could sound like that.
I listened to it for one month straight. And afterwards, I started writing my own rhymes, It happened like magic, really.
I realised I could rap. My eldest brother, of blessed memory, was the first to hear me rap. I was timid about it, but he heard a phone recording of a song I did on his phone, and he was so excited, and he kept telling me I would be a superstar. He said because I was in the debate club, I would be good at gesticulations on stage; lol. I know, weird, right?
Anyways that was how it all began.
Hip-Hop Head to Femcee
The first rap I ever wrote was called Violins. It was not your typical brag rap song. It was a storytelling song centred on the life of 3 boys of mixed races, Black and White. It was about their life in Nigeria in the 1960s and how, despite their brotherly love and a shared affection for music (violins) in a small village, they split apart when they travelled to the City to chase their dreams. The split resulted from the trials and the uncertainty of life in the city, which led them to become shadows of themselves.
Yeah, a pretty odd concept for a 16-year-old to write about. But I’ve always been the introspective type and I have always loved to express deep emotions and concepts. My early writing when I was 16/17 years old had a lot of Christian elements. I think I sounded a little like Trip Lee, funny enough.
I’m still Christian, and it shows in my art. If you listen keenly, I don’t use profanity, and I never rap about vices in a positive light. I’m very careful about the content of my verses because of my Christian faith. But as regards my writing style, I eventually grew out of some things. I found my voice. I became vulnerable and more authentic when writing my verses. I also became more technical with my writing style. I discovered rappers like J Cole and Eminem and became huge fans. I went to the oldies, like 2Pac, (Notorious) B.I.G, etc., and I was impressed. I listened to top African Rappers from Modenine to M.I Abaga, Cassper Nyovest etc. I listened to Meek Mill, Joyner Lucas, Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne, Drake, Jay Z, Hopsin, and Kanye West. You name it. I basically listened to anyone worth listening to. If they were good rappers, then I listened to them. I wanted to know everything about Hip-Hop, its history, culture, greatest emcees; everything.
I also listened to freestyle rappers like King Los. In fact, I think I might be able to rap a particular King Los freestyle on Sway word for word. I watched a lot of Mc Supernatural and Harry Mack as well. I was highly impressed by what they did. It was quite inspiring, and I really wanted to freestyle like them. Then I watched battle rap, Nigerian battle rap especially, but that was way more recent, that happened this year actually, and I really enjoy certain elements I think it’s a very interesting and enjoyable art form.
I learnt to love the Hip Hop genre for its artistic beauty despite some aspects I didn’t accept or conform to. However, I’ll admit that when a song is too lewd or explicit with no meaningful message, I’m still put off by it. I still don’t like songs like that.
Most Underrated Song/Verse
No Bars Held probably has the lowest streams on my debut project, which is no surprise cos it’s an old-school boom-bap rap record. It’s my most personal track though, and it came from a very deep place. There’s no other track I’ve released that is as personal, so yeah I think it’s definitely underrated by the fans.
Then there’s a line, on my entry for the Aktivated‘s #ShowOff Freestyle Rap Challenge that I always have to explain to people(non-rappers mostly).
“So if a rapper singing No L, he prolly talking Christmas, cos ain’t no way he didn’t take the ’12th‘ when I dissed him, alphabetically I always come 1st. That’s A given.”Thello
“No L” also means Noel. “12th” actually means the last month of the year, it also ties in with the Christmas theme in the 2nd line, and it’s me saying the rapper is taking the last position. But the second meaning, which most people seem to miss is that the “12th” is also referring to the twelfth letter of the Alphabet, “L”. So me giving the rapper the 12th is giving the rapper an L.
Well, all the songs on my 2021 THELLO were amazing, but being the perfectionist I am, I think that a few lines on the tracks god and The Difference could have been more technical. The verses were dope, but for a few Lines, I would have written differently now. And, of course, the mixing and mastering of the entire project could have been better. I worked with a great producer, but he had limited studio equipment, so he had to make do with what he had. And he did a good job.
New single next year, as early as February/march, then a project afterwards, most likely 2 collaboration projects with Dj Teck Zilla and Mage the Producer. It’s still in the works though, so we’ll see how it goes.
My earnest prayer is that by this time next year. The name, THELLO, would be a household name. I want to make significant progress in my career and emerge as one of the country’s top young rap and singing talents.