Words by:
Photography: Reece Owen
CGI: George Jasper Stone
Stylist: Lauren Anne Groves
Styling Assistant: Filippo Sandini
Makeup: Jayde Coxon
Hair: Roman Harris
Nails: Leonie Schluter / Bebey Nails

“I feel like this whole project is a conversation with myself in so many ways,” declares Naomi Namasenda. Like many of us at the beginning of March 2020, the 27-year-old artist was stuck at home. Namasenda was in Sweden, forced to abandon trips to LA where she’d planned to work on an upcoming mixtape. To her surprise, it turned out that this environment fostered the perfect conditions in which to get completely lost in the process – and, more importantly, start feeling herself. “I’ve had a lot of fun writing this thing by myself,” she winks, her confidence radiating through her voice. “It’s made me more secure and able to trust my own ideas.”

These ideas materialised as Unlimited Ammo, her debut mixtape that draws from the playfulness of eurodance, trance and 90s techno. It’s a smorgasbord of sugary pop, Auto-Tuned vocals, high adrenaline electronic production, and maybe sounds like what shooting Starbursts straight to the vein feels like. Finish Him, for example, sees her team up with Bronx ballroom producer Joey LaBeija to cockily swat away an unwanted male love interest over a backdrop of glitchy synths and whirring electronica. Having spent a Saturday afternoon speaking to Namasenda, being drawn in by her high spirits and fits of laughter, her distinctive sound world begins to make sense.

Top and leggings: Paula Canovas del Vas
Boots: Jimmy Choo
Rings (right hand): CC-Steding
Rings (left hand): CC-Steding and Joanne Guiraud

Unlimited Ammo, she explains, is something of a concept record – not in theme, but in aesthetics. It’s inspired by the visual language of action movies and the maximal, kinetic energy they emit. The Hannah Diamond-shot cover features Namasenda with smoking gun in hand, decked in icy hair and sleek black leather get-up. She mirrors this image in the thumping Shots Fired, where she defiantly sings, “Pull the trigger and I’m flying/ You’ll feel the shots that I am firing. Over lockdown, she tells me she spent hours bingeing outrageous B movies or drinking in the high tech images of movies like Lara Croft and Mission Impossible. This obsession even shaped her internet consumption: “The meme where everyone’s photoshopped with the gun!” she howls.

Outside of these specific semiotics, it’s difficult to pinpoint how she defines herself musically. Since signing with the heralded – and often misunderstood – PC Music imprint back in 2019, Namasenda’s sound has been called everything from bubblegum pop to trance, right down to the ‘hyperpop’ label that’s proudly adopted by many of her labelmates. But genre is something she pointedly resists in terms of her own work. “I don’t care about labels because I’ve been labelled my whole life, being a Black woman. Call me whatever you want,” she declares. “But I don’t see myself as a hyperpop artist – I don’t even know what that means. No one knows what it means!”

“I don’t care about labels because I’ve been labelled my whole life, being a Black woman. But I don’t see myself as a hyperpop artist”

It’s further compounded by her place as Black woman in the wider electronic scene. She is, to date, PC Music’s only Black signee. “It’s funny how people try to put Black artists under a label,” she says. “I think someone called me a rapper, and I was like, ‘Cool maybe I am. I haven’t rapped a day in my life, but I guess I am.’ That’s also why I have R&B there,” she says, referencing the tongue-incheek descriptor currently emblazoned across her social media bios. “When I was opening for Hannah [Diamond] in 2019, this random guy asked me if I sang R&B. It’s like being Black in any other space…” she sighs. “There are challenges but I try not to think about it that much. Even though it affects me every day, I try to just do me.”

Dress: MYNOK
Shoes: Jimmy Choo
Headpiece: Oscar Oūyáng
Rings (right hand): CC-Steding Rings
(left hand): CC-Steding and Joanne Guiraud

Born to Ugandan parents, Namasenda was raised by her mother who’d emigrated to Sweden in her early 20s. Her family later relocated to Stockholm after the birth of her younger brother. It’s her mum she credits with introducing her to an eclectic range of music in her early years; she reels off vivid memories of hearing techno and experimental electronic music in the family car as a child, with songs like U96’s 1991 hit Das Bootspringing to mind when questioned. These sounds would later coalesce with her own teenage discoveries of mainstream pop giants like Cher and Destiny’s Child, who she’d watch on television and eagerly try to reenact. Consequently, she was dreaming of going to a club before she even turned 18. “I remember seeing the [Cher] Believe music video and thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen,” she remembers affectionately. “The Auto-Tune, everything about that song, it made me want to go clubbing. I even asked my mum if I could.”

Despite her early initiation into pop, Namasenda’s real forays into music were steered by punk. At just 12, she started a band with local friends, appearing as the frontwoman for their shows and festival slots across Sweden. It was a bold move for a young girl who hadn’t even reached her teens – but it didn’t work out. Frustrated with the stagnancy in her career, she moved “dramatically” to LA as soon as she came of age, hungry to experience the club scene and explore her creative impulses. A year later, at the age of 19, she touched down in London – a trip that became formative for both her artistic and personal life: in the city, she forged lasting friendships that gave her the confidence to give music another shot after her stalled attempt to make it as a rock star. Now in her late 20s, Namasenda has settled – for the time being at least – in Stockholm. “It’s been a journey…” she reflects, mulling over the last few years. “Starting out in the punk scene has shaped me as an artist – even today. That whole punk way of doing things is still really embedded in my veins; to do whatever feels right and just kick the door in.”

“Starting out in the punk scene has shaped me as an artist. That punk way of doing things is still embedded in my veins; to do whatever feels right and just kick the door in”

Top: AV Vattev
Skirt: Mowalola
Shoes: Pleaser
Ear cuff: Räthel & Wolf

This take-no-prisoners philosophy led her to drunkenly slide into A.G. Cook’s DMs in 2019. The PC Music label boss, immediately taken by her audaciousness and vision, signed her. In the two years since, Cook has mentored her via Zoom sessions. A recent collaboration with 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady on Black Ops 2 and – both featured on Unlimited Ammo – has only elevated her star potential. But with the rise of her profile comes an inevitable dose of reflection. “It’s funny how things look versus how things feel,” she confides. Lately, she’s been having trouble reconciling the highs of her present success with her past hardships. “I’m very good at not showing what it feels like, but it’s been really tough. It’s like I’ve gone to war with everyone, and also myself.”

And you can really hear it in Unlimited Ammo; for all its over-the-top qualities, it’s a curiously introspective listen that charts Namasenda’s innermost battles. It’s also her first complete artistic statement. “This whole project is really me as a person,” she says. “In the the first song, I’m like, ‘I’m the queen of the world, fuck you!’ Then eight minutes later I’m crying because everyone hates me, and I hate myself,” she laughs candidly. “But that is the roller coaster of life. I just hope that everyone sees me as I am.”

Unlimited Ammo is out now via PC Music