AE are the South London female duo of Ads and Els. The young duo burst onto the scene during lockdown with their debut 4-track EP ‘Summer We Never Had’ (2020) and have been going from strength to strength ever since.
In 2021, AE were amongst the MOBO Unsung top 20 finalists, touring and performing across the country. They also feature on the MOBO Unsung compilation album Class of 2022.
With the release of the self-directed music video ‘Mistaken‘ (2022), AE caught the attention of many, going viral and grabbing public and label interest. Choosing to remain independent for the time being, the girls had a mini press and radio run earning features from the likes of Complex UK, TRENCH and radio plays on stations such as Kiss, Reprezent, No Signal and 1Xtra. They also received a co-sign from Grammy nominated US superstar, Rapsody. Infusing authentic hip-hop, drill and R&B into their raps gives the girls a unique edge. With their fiery lyrics, fun wordplay and catchy melodies, these girls are definitely ones to watch.
About to complete the 2023 Incubator programme, a six-month talent and career development opportunity for up to 10 exceptional independent artists, making music of Black origin, Kat Friar caught up with AE…
UD: What made you guys decide to be in a duo?
E: We basically grew up together. We met in secondary school and [we were] just really close friends and in school everyone raps and makes beats on the tables and stuff – literally everyone’s rapping… Then we grew up and made a song one time and everyone was like, “play it out!” So we did. And that’s our first single – ‘5K Freestyle’, but it wasn’t like on purpose, we just always made music together.
UD: What are your creative processes when it comes to writing and how do they differ from each other?
A: To be honest, I think they’re quite similar. I think we’ve been branching out recently, but I think we both kind of prefer the method of hearing a beat and write – if it takes you write to it. Els might write to a beat, [she] might pass it to me, I’ll just write to this, see what [I] can do and vice versa, but nowadays we could do that. We could write in a studio depending with who we’re working with, what the vibe is.
E: Yeah, I think ’cause we’re close friends, we have similar traits I guess in general, so it goes into with music I guess as well. We’re trying to branch out and try different things, try new things.
UD: Does it help to go through the artist journey with someone by your side?
A: Yeah, I would say it does.
E: We both obviously have strengths and weaknesses and where one person’s maybe more social, the other person might be more [introverted]. We balance out each other. And getting on stage sometimes, knowing that there’s someone on stage with you is great.
A: We have our strong points… Sometimes you just need to know if you’re crazy or not looking to the person and it’s like, “Yeah, you’re actually not crazy.” It does help.
UD: How would you describe your sound and who’s your target audience?
E: That’s always a hard question to answer because I think we just make rap music. We just like to rap and we make UK rap but there’s so much that falls under that, so obviously growing up there’s probably influences from like SNEAKBO‘s era, we had Chipmunk [aka Chip], we’ve actually grown up in quite a lot of good music and then obviously we had the American side as well. One of Ad’s biggest role models is Missy Elliot. Mine was Lil’ Wayne but when I think about it, we grew up on UK music and then you obviously have African influences as well, like Ads is from Sierra Leone and I’m from Nigeria, so I think it’s actually just a mish mash of stuff and we just try to do different genres but making sure like it’s AE on that beat, if you know what I mean.
A: The whole reason we started making music was because we felt like no one really made music for us. No one really was saying anything that [we related to], so one target audience I would say would be the ladies. Just kind of having that point of view for them. Another target audience of course is the mandem. I think most of our listeners are men, unless that’s changed. I just feel men sometimes do wanna just hear that non-gimmicky side of a female… I think it’s hard because we just like to make music for people that like good music. I don’t think we have a target audience based on gender [or] age. It’s just people that like good music – you’re gonna f**k with AE.
UD: Which rappers inspire you?
A: I would definitely say Missy Elliot, when she first came out she wasn’t your stereotypical rapper. Everything you would think would make you be successful in that kind of industry, she was none of them and she was still successful. She still did it being different. I just feel like even if you watch a Missy Elliot video right now, you don’t feel like you’re behind. You’re still gonna be fascinated. Yeah that’s queen, that’s bae.
E: I think in the UK people always compare us to the City Girls, which is fine. I think the City Girls are hard, but I think in the UK we have so many cool duos that we are kind of inspired by. Krept and Konan is definitely one of them, just in terms of things that they’ve done. They actually have a Guinness World record. I know there’s certain things that will go after as just a duo that Krept and Konan have already done as a duo. The chemistry, just what they’ve been able to build, I think is very hard. And obviously people like Young T & Bugsey, there’s DBE – there’s a lot of male duos that actually have done cool stuff, but yeah I’d say Krept and Konan.
UD: Who’s your dream feature?
E: I think something that would be so cool to do would be FLO. Three girls singers, two female rappers. They’re British, we’re British. I feel like it would be so cool to do something with singers and to be able to do it with British black girls [that] pretty much are around our age. I think that’ll be so cool… I would love a verse from Skepta.
A: I would love a song with DBE, I’m not gonna lie. Even Ayra Starr as well. I keep saying like females because I just think with female singers, doing something with someone in a different genre would be so hard.
E: And it just kind of helps you expand what you can do musically as well.
A: We should have a song with Spice!
UD: What are your thoughts on the UK female rap scene?
E: I think I’m happy to see that it’s growing, to be honest. There’s a lot of females in the music industry right now as well, just in general snd I think it’s like cool to see that they’re making space for themselves, ’cause I’m not really gonna say people are giving them space. I feel like they’ve kind of come and made space for themselves. The R&B girls, you’ve got Bellah – that would be another cool collab – you’ve got Bree Runway and the different, alternative pop scene. They’re making space for themselves and I think that’s cool. I think that’s really, really cool.
A: I think there’s enough room for everyone really. People just need to get it together.
UD: What’s coming from AE in 2023?
E: A lot of exciting stuff!
A: We just released a single. I think we should have one or two in the works. I think we’re trying to work on our kind of autumn-y wintery EP so far,  should be good.
E: We’ll have a few R&B vibes on there – just something different. I think we like to explore a lot, but yeah, definitely this summer. Hopefully a lot of shows. Maybe a festival two, but you guys will see us outside.
Words & photography: Kat Friar