John Glacier: the Hackney rapper mingling catharsis and mystery

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John Glacier is someone who knows the importance of privacy. She says she’s “20,000 years old” when we meet over drinks in a London hotel; her Instagram bio reads “I have no name nor number”, and the icy-blokey name she performs under is intentionally deceptive. But in person she is open and friendly, with an unguarded demeanour. “I have no fucking life,” she jokes, deadpan. “I’m like: ‘Yay, something to do today!’”

In July, she released Shiloh: Lost for Words, a widely lauded debut mixtape full of conversational, stream-of-consciousness raps over twitchy lo-fi beats. It’s deeply introspective, mixing in religious references and diary-like scenes from her life, with genius wordplay casually thrown in: “Can’t chat to me about grindin’ / Push more lines than Pusha T on a full eclipse, I’m all-nighting”, a beautifully unfolding nest of references to rap duo Clipse on Icing.

The tape’s creation was largely therapeutic, to “get certain stuff off my chest,” she says. “[It’s about] circumstances of life and closing old chapters that needed to be closed.” Lyrically, it’s a mishmash of her personal beliefs and memories; things like her views on passing judgment on others, or old memories of writing to friends who were incarcerated. “Nine times out of 10 it’s from my life. Very self-centred, basically,” she chuckles.

It was only a few years ago that she got into music, teaching herself GarageBand and Logic for fun and dropping esoteric beats on a SoundCloud page. These soon spread by word of mouth, catching the attention of other producers she met by chance on nights out – people like Psychedelic Ensemble and Vegyn, who, along with Portuguese producer Holly, produced the bulk of Shiloh. Her often muted tracks create a space for “comfort, but also getting lost and travelling your own mind”.

Glacier is from Hackney, London, born to Jamaican parents, the second eldest of seven. As a child she gravitated to the spoken word as a means of expressing herself, giving written poems out as gifts. She soaked up the endless music playing in the house: reggae, pop and country played by her parents, as well as early 2000s rap and grime like Ghetts and Kano, who she saw at Hackney Empire: “I even bought my friend a ticket with my secondary school money – that’s how into it I was.”

Growing up, she wanted to be a cleaner, footballer and gymnast. She assisted in film workshops for children with physical and learning disabilities, and started an organic haircare line for Black hair, which she plans to revisit.

She lives with a chronic disability, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, so when her music took off it was a happy “accident”, one of many hobbies that ended up fitting around her needs. “It’s realistic for a disabled person to do,” she says. “This one usually involves sitting down – if you do perform it’s gonna be no more than a certain amount of hours. Doesn’t put that much strain on your body at all.”

For now, her focus is on handling a growing presence that was wholly unexpected, and figuring out the kinks of the industry. Despite the accolades she is still humble about her talent, and quietly committed to staying true to herself. “Whether people like what I make or not, I don’t care,” she smiles. “I will always make it, because I know I need it for personal reasons. I always make music for myself.”

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