Mercury is shifting her sound into overdrive
It’s mid morning in Atlanta, Georgia, and 22-year-old Mercury is rolling her first blunt of the day.
She went out last night, to a bar down the road from her apartment that she frequents often with her skater friends, and they ended up getting back at 3 a.m., piling onto the sofa and watching Blades of Glory until the sun rose over the city. Now, she rubs her eyes, tired, blue and black braids cascading around her shoulders, t-shirt still creased from sleep. After this video call, she says, she’ll probably go back to bed. She’s got two photoshoots later… but that’s a problem for future Mercury. “We be doing this almost every night,” she says, one eyebrow raised through the iPhone screen, a huge graffiti art piece on the wall behind her. “I kind of got too turnt last night. But I’m up now.”
We’re here to speak about her new EP, Heaven, a four-track collection of clattering, bass-heavy party rap. It’s her fourth release. Her second mixtape, 2022’s Tabula Rasa, with its jittery, infectious production paired with a laid-back, syrupy flow, planted her firmly on the experimental rap scene, drawing comparisons to Awful Records’ mid-2010s output and the kind of stuff you’d find after going down an hours-long SoundCloud rabbit hole. Heaven retains this energy – it’s weird, addictive, typically playful – but it also feels a little more fleshed out and developed: the sound of an artist slowly growing up. “I feel like I’ve gotten so much better since my first project…” Mercury says, “I’ve just been rapping my ass off. Also, I know how to punch rap now, which is basically when you don’t write nothing, and just go with what’s in your head, punching on the bars.”
If her earlier tracks were built for bedrooms and laptop speakers, this new material is custom made for the club. Synth lines are spliced beneath deep techno thuds and bouncing beats; EP closer Me & Gang even veers into mid-2000s electronica, her vocals warped and heavily Auto-Tuned. “Me and the gang/ We talk like we’re rockstars,” she chants over the kind of catchy electronic claps that’d soundtrack the pre-drinks. I wonder where Mercury finds herself clubbing these days; if this musical evolution translates to real life. “I used to be in the clubs twerking all the time,” she says, throwing her head back and laughing. “But now I go to the bar. I just be at the old uncle bar – it’s real chill. It be a bunch of old heads, but I like the music. They be playing rock music.”
Despite this affinity for guitar jams, Mercury makes music purposefully designed for rattling out of a body-shaking sound system, something her friends can turn up during hot summer nights when they all hang outside, having a good time and “smoking like rastas”. “I just wanted some dance shit that bitches can dance to, but I’m also spitting on it,” she explains. “I’m doing it for the girls and the gays because I wanna see everybody shaking they ass. I feel like that’s my main demographic.” She lets out a hearty laugh. “That’s me: the girly and the gay.”
As an artist, Mercury is defined by her eclecticism. Past interviews and reviews have commented on the sheer variety and experimentalism she brings to her sound, and part of this is due to her knack for collaboration, but it’s mostly down to her personal taste, which is vast – and a little nerdy. “Let me show you something,” she says eagerly, iPhone screen shaking as she gets up and pads over to her bedroom. She spins the screen around. There are endless record sleeves, tacked around her bed like a huge, colourful mosaic. “This is my wall,” she announces proudly, pointing and zooming in on each image. “I’ve got Pearl Jam, Erykah Badu, Janis Joplin, Tribe, Björk, TLC, Stereolab. I love Stereolab.” She bends down, flipping through more records stacked by her bed. “I have hella more down here. Tyler. Daft Punk. War. Zambian rock compilations…”
When she’s not making records, listening to records, or dancing to records, Mercury can be found skating the streets of Atlanta. In earlier promo campaigns, the fact she was a skater was pushed front and centre. She still does it in her spare time, although maybe not as much as she’d like – her recent strides in music have made that difficult. “Skating used to be my thing, every day for hours on end,” she says, sighing. “I still skate, but only once in a blue moon. But now I’m an adult… I don’t know.” It’s been harder as she’s gotten older, she says, because she goes out instead. She plays a lot of shows, too – over the last year she’s toured with rapper MIKE and supported Yaeji, black midi and TisaKorean, with her own shows dotted around packed, sweaty venues around the US. Life just gets in the way sometimes.
Still, she says, skateboarding remains at the centre of her social life. Most of the people she knows now are from the skatepark, including her best mates. We joke together about how skateboarders (the straight male ones, usually) have questionable, and widely memed, reputations. But they’re also some of the nicest people you might meet. “They’re my homies, they’re my dogs,” she says, smiling. “But I feel like their bad rep comes from the romantic side. Because they fucking suck as romantic partners. But I feel the same way about myself; I’m a terrible partner. It’s just the attitude. I feel like every skater thinks they the shit, like, ‘I’m good with you, I’m good without you…’” She trails off.
“I’m doing it for the girls and the gays because I wanna see everybody shaking they ass"
I’ve caught Mercury at a slightly odd, transitional time in her life. She’s on an upward trajectory right now, booking shows with major acts and being taken seriously by the industry’s big players. But she’s also got two feet securely on the ground (or on a board), where they’ll likely remain. Chatting to Mercury feels a bit like gossiping with a mate; she’s relaxed, blowing smoke onto the iPhone screen, peppering her answers with jokes and asides. She’s also not planning on leaving Atlanta anytime soon, regardless of how much she blows up. This has been her home since she was ten years old – she was born in Memphis, then moved to Jackson, Mississippi, before landing in Georgia – so why would she want to be anywhere else?
“I love the fact that there are so many successful Black people [here],” she says, by way of explanation. “It inspires me; not a lot of places are like this. It’s run by Black people.” She leans back on the sofa. “Especially because, where I’m from, Black people are portrayed in such a negative way. Here, Black people are senators and mayors. And there are so many creative people – I love that.”
Mercury is undoubtedly part of this bustling artistic community she reveres; one that is not only steeped in a rich and storied musical history, but is also shaping the future. So what’s coming up next for Mercury? She pauses for a long time, as if wrestling with how much she ought to give away. Eventually, she answers. “I be making rock music,” she says, definitively. When? I ask. She lets out another one of those hearty laughs. “It’s in the vault. I don’t know if I’m ready yet. I’m creating an alias… it’s a whole thing. I already know the name. Just know it’s coming.”
Other than that, Mercury concludes, she just wants to carry on that path she’s already forged, “playing hella shows, getting more opportunities, recording music all the time. Everything I’m doing now… but on a bigger scale. But we’ll see, you know?” She winks. “All in good time.”
Heaven is out now via Honeymoon