They say age is just a number, but few have put those words into practice quite so dramatically as Joy France, a 66-year-old retired schoolteacher and the world's oldest battle rapper.
Shattering stereotypes within a scene traditionally dominated by young men, Joy is the subject of Joy Uncensored, a new documentary from Northern Heart Films that documents her journey into the "brutal" world of battle rap.
Joy's inspiring story is proof that it's never too late to explore your creative side. After spending her career teaching at a primary school, Joy retired in her mid-50s with the intention of pursuing a creative path. Little did she know that a few years later, she would end up on stage trading verses with battle rappers.
After attending spoken word nights at a local pub, Joy tried it out for herself and quickly developed in confidence, before eventually winning a poetry slam. Upon hearing her spoken word poetry, a friend suggested she try out battle rap. On her 60th birthday, Joy had pledged to try 60 new things before she turned 61; rap seemed like an obvious addition to the list.
Since making her debut in 2018, Joy has become something of a star in the rap battle world, participating in major international rap battles, performing at festivals and taking on well-known figures in the scene; in the video above, she battles Canadian rapper Omar. "I wanted to do rap battles to show them that old, short, fat ladies can do rap,” Joy told the Manchester Evening News.
Joy has even delivered a TED Talk at the University of Manchester that recounts her journey from early retirement to competitive rap. "I compete in rap battles; not as a gimmick, or as a joke, but for real," she says. Joy describes battle rap as a "no-holds-barred battle of aggression", in which "the aim is to unnerve your opponent - no, to destroy your opponent - by bigging yourself up and putting them down in a room of testosterone-fuelled, raw aggression."
Joy goes on to describe how spoken word poetry and battle rap has changed her life for the better. "All my life I was really quiet, worried about what people would say, held back by the voices in my head," she says. But learning to perform has helped her find new confidence, "by silencing those voices and finding my own voice".
Joy is currently performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; From Retirement to Battle Rap runs from 22-27 August.
Watch Joy Uncensored below.