Old woman comes from retired school teacher to battle rapper

June 06, 2024

A retired woman who took up battle rap to help dispel the stereotype of “old, white-haired women” is the feature of a new documentary.

Joy France from Wigan, started taking on opponents in performances after she was told the poetry she wrote as a hobby matched the rhythm of the genre.

A battle rap sees two rappers exchange insults and boasts through word play in front of a crowd.

Ms France said there was a “magic” in stepping outside of your comfort zone.

“All my life I was quiet and shy and not creative until my mid 50s,” the 66-year-old said.

“It’s a life of two halves, the old me wouldn’t have done anything like this whatsoever, so this is really from one extreme to another.”

Northern Heart Films Joy France in a Rap Battle
Ms France’s journey into battle rap is documented in the film Joy Uncensored

The life-changing moment came for the retired teacher when she made her debut at a club in Coventry in 2018.

“I wondered whether I could go in there as me and dispel a few myths about older, short, fat, white-haired women,” she said.

“Older women tend to just become invisible and stereotyped, so that was the plan, to see whether I could do it.”

When she first tried to enter the venues people thought she was lost.

“I’d get to the security to go in and they’d say ‘I’m sorry the toilets are around the corner’ or ‘the bingo is in the other room’.

“You could see some people looking over thinking ‘Who’s brought their gran? What’s going on here?'”

Northern Heart Films Joy France in a Rap Battle
The retired teacher said battle rap is “intense and brutal”

She explained how the “intense and brutal” art of battle rap is always about entertaining the crowd and in her first league battle she was matched with a rapper named Blunt Ted, who Ms France said she called beforehand to make sure he did not go easy on her.

“I said, ‘Listen I want to do this for real. Please don’t dumb down. Give me exactly what you give everybody else’ – and oh my did he,” she said.

“It turned out he was a lovely guy.”

She reflected on how she had her own stereotyped views challenged and how she was grateful for being accepted into the supportive scene where she has made “genuine friends”.

“I went in then to get some of them to rethink short, fat, old white-haired ladies who might have a bit of attitude and that we’re not all sitting knitting in a rocking chair.

“It’s a beautiful scene and they’re absolutely some of my best, genuine friends,” she said.

She is now in performing to packed out venues and has taken a show about her journey to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and plans to battle rap in New York next year.

Her journey has been documented in the film Joy Uncensored which was released online earlier this month.

She is also learning to DJ and is recording collaborative music with friends she has met through the battle rap scene.

“If I didn’t have this attitude about growing old differently and playfully, my goodness life would be so dull,” she said.

“By shaking it up I’m finding magic by going into parts of the world that are not like your own it just makes me feel alive.

“Whatever age you are everyone has got their little voice in their head holding them back from things but why wait? You’ve just got to get on with it and enjoy for the rest of your life.”

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