To me, paranoia was always something that imprisoned people. Something that hijacked and contorted a person’s sense of reality. Something a younger me thought only ‘crazy’ people worried about. But perhaps the most gloriously erroneous notion floating around in my head, was that it was purely negative.
It really wasn’t until my South Eastern Service train docked at “Paro(noia)”, that I would begin to challenge those ideas. Of course, I’m talking about the sixth track on DC’s sophomore mixtape, In the Loop. On the track, he raps; “I remember when mum said son you don’t play with a man that’s got nothing to lose, I got nothing to prove, plus I don’t know what he’s got in his boot”. It got me thinking, maybe he’s right; only the paranoid do survive – or maybe he’s just being paranoid.
But it’s that propensity he has to invoke thought that we love so much about him. His power to fire up your curiosities. Or it could be the duality of his personality that you enjoy the most; with neat flows embellished by a conscious stream of lyricism and enough bravado and swagger for two people.
Almost six years ago, we were introduced to a young, baby-faced DC for the first time through “Gleamin”, a 2015 freestyle over Chip and Stormzy’s “I’m Fine” instrumental. It has since racked up over 450, 000 views. Guided by his natural charm and charisma – with barely a facial hair in sight – DC navigated his way around those window-rattling 808’s with intricate flows, hard-hitting lyrics and superb braggadocio.
Six years, a long string of singles and a mixtape later, DC feels like an almost entirely new proposition. He shelved his wilful energy in favour of a more pensive, thought-provoking approach. His clever, contemplative lyrical content has only grown sharper over time. But it’s perhaps his candour that is the most striking and impressive development over the years.
Now, older and wiser, DC readies himself for the release of his most complete, honest, contemplative body of work yet. It presents a truly masterful display of his abilities that is thematically interesting, powerful in its lyricism and supported by utterly gorgeous production from start to finish. We caught up with him via zoom earlier this week to discuss his humble beginnings, mental health and much, much more.
Let’s start right at the beginning, who were the defining artists and songs of your childhood?
“It’d be easier to mention the artists, the songs are a bit mad. Defining artists definitely J.Cole; that’s my favourite rapper. I’d say Giggs; Walk in Da Park days – even earlier, actually. Skepta, definitely; I’ve been a Skepta fan since forever. Kano, for sure. Fabulous, I’ve been a huge Fabulous fan. Oh, and Nipsey Hussle, I don’t know how I nearly missed that.”
When did you start recording?
“I started recording around the times when I started going to college, so probably around 16/17. A guy that I knew had a little set up in his house, so I just used to go there and record. But I’d never release those tracks, I’d just make them to make them, innit. Then I started sending them around to my friends. I’m one of them that ain’t gonna have something out if it’s not properly there, so that’s what I used to do. I did that for a couple years, you know. “
Then when did you decide it would be a viable career path?
“When I was at Uni, Chip and Stormzy dropped “I’m Fine”. I was a big Chip fan. The song was sick but the beat was crazy. What I normally did at the time, was just start freestyling when I hear a sick beat. I wrote it in my Uni halls, then I recorded myself in my room freestyling over the “I’m fine” beat. I sent it around and it got a sick response, and I was like “Oh, rah”. Then I was like “f*ck it”. I went to record it properly, called a cameraman and then that became the “Gleamin” Freestyle.”
There was line on ‘God’s House’ about you dropping out of uni… I know what most black parents can be like, so I’d be interested to know what impact that had on you and your mothers relationship at the time?
“Do you know what it is yeah, me and my mum have always battled about school. I’m a smart person, school’s not an issue if I apply myself, but I just lost interest after a certain age. So I’d say just before I went to college, I’d decided I didn’t really like school. So, it’s always been in the air – me dropping out of university wasn’t the biggest surprise ever – but I left in my final year.
“I feel like I went to university to buy time. Buy time and get the experience. I certainly wouldn’t say it was time wasted because I learnt a lot there innit. But yeah, when I dropped out it was actually calm because I’d just signed. Actually, I wasn’t signed yet but we were in talks so it wasn’t like I just dropped out to do nothing, you get me. She was disappointed but it wasn’t a huge issue.”
The artwork for the album is a really striking. What’s the real meaning behind it?
“Shout out to Reuben as well, he did a madness. So basically, in the picture you have two of my friends. My mums actually on the cover, just behind me sitting next to the guy with dreadlocks. I have a skit in project with a yardman playing the guitar, that’s who that guy is. The flats to the left are actually the estates I grew up on. The people outside with the umbrella’s is referencing “Tears, Sweat and Blood”, if you remember that scene. On the right, there’s a nod to the “Neighbourhood” video.
“This is the thing, that’s what the project means. If you’re in the loop, you’ll know.”
Trauma and anxiety are two of the tapes key themes. And I loved how open and honest you were about them. Why did you feel like it was important for you to share the things that you did?
“Being transparent is important in music. I think that’s when music connects the most and impacts you the most. I’ll take an example from my favourite artist. What I love about them the most, is that their music is relatable. A lot of people won’t believe how many things we all have in common, innit. So I just thought yeah, let me just open the gate because I’m comfortable with who I am.”
Mary J. You might be the first rapper I’ve ever heard say they have a weed addiction without trying to make it sound cool. Was it hard for you to reconcile with that? And then again why did you feel like that was important for you to share?
“Na, you know, not really. If you ask my friends, I can be the most annoying person sometimes. I’m very self-aware init. So, when we were a little younger, we’d be bunning or whatever and I’d turn to them and say, “you man, you know we’re addicted, right?”. We’d been doing it for so long and I was just so aware, you get me. Like it’s a problem, but the effects are aren’t so strong or long-lasting. I still get everything I need to get done, done. But I’ve always been aware that it’s a bit of an issue.”
Just listening back to Under the Influence, I gathered that you were much angrier when you recorded that. Your tone, your delivery, your lyrics: all much angrier.
I’ll refer to the hook on “Dock City” (nobody cares round here, real talk no one gives a fuck round here) versus a line on “Diamonds”(where we’re from people don’t amount to much). The sentiment is the same but the energy is completely different. How do you think you’ve grown as a person in the time between your first and second tape?
“I think the growth has been crazy, I can’t lie. I suppose as you get older, you get wiser and when you look back on things you’re able to learn more from them. Even with how I look at certain things, my views have changed on a lot of things, too. My priorities too, bro. I’m a lot more introspective now, a lot more self-aware with myself.
“And I think even in terms of music, you’ve got to think about who’s listening to your stuff as well. I try to bring a different perspective to things as well, you get me. Also, I realised I didn’t have to squeeze a million words into a bar for it to be sick. It’s more about spacing, I don’t have to fill in every gap. I learnt that you can rap with tempo without it feeling so erratic.”
Sonically, the new tape is a complete level above Under the Influence. You and TSB have low-key a created a new soundscape. One rooted in garage/ grime, but new nonetheless. Tell me about your relationship with those genres, and why you were so eager to your very unique spin on it?
“With garage, I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t the maddest garage head. But every garage song I knew, I loved. So I always had it in my head that this was a lane I didn’t see a lot of UK rappers in, or doing it well enough. I remember back in the SoundCloud days I dropped a track called “Strong” on the Daniel Bedingfield “Gotta Get Through This” instrumental and It was like my biggest song at the time. So from early doors, I’ve been experimenting with garage, I’ve always liked it.
“But with grime, I grew up on grime. I remember, the Marvel Movement Freestyles with Ghetts and all them lot, all the Skepta freestyles… I know like every grime freestyle. Grime was the thing, you get me. So I’ve always felt more comfortable at faster tempos. It’s just a part of my music now, it wasn’t really a conscious decision to try and incorporate grime elements into my music.”
Also eager to understand how hands on you are with the production?
“I’m hands on in every aspect. But luckily, with someone like TSB, I don’t have to be as hands on as I usually would because he already knows what he’s doing, you get me. So sometimes I just take the backseat and let him do his thing ‘cos I know he’s gonna go crazy.”
The natural chemistry between you and TSB is really quite something, how did you guys meet, what’s the story?
“I think the first time we met was when I was on tour with Hus, and Young T and Bugsey had a session with TSB, so I slid through and that was the first time we met. I think that was in 2017. So, after that day when we met, I was like “yooo, this guy is crazy” and I always wanted to work with him again. Then we made it happen again around in 2019, and in the first session we had we made “Neighbourhood”, then “Tears, Sweat and Blood” and then rest of the songs on the tape.”
I always thought of Paranoia as something that people were imprisoned by, but you’ve given me a new way to look at it. It’s a double-edged sword innit, sometimes it helps, but for most of the time it’s probably a pain in the arse. Would you rather it be different, or are you glad with how it helps in terms of sizing up situations sometimes?
“Erm, I think it depends how you want to use it. I think we’re all paranoid, I think our whole society is paranoid. I think there are a lot more positives about it than people will acknowledge it for. Paranoia keeps you safe in a lot of situations and it makes you more aware, you get what I’m saying? I love to be paranoid. But I think I would say I’m glad about where I’m at, I think there always has to be a balance. But I think the positives – for me – depending on how you use it, can definitely outweigh the negatives.”
Your creative powers extend far beyond the music. Why are you such a meticulous all-rounder?
“I think it’s just important man, one of my friends always says, “every move you make has to be intentional” and that you can’t just make moves for the sake of it, and that’s kind of what we’ve been practicing for the last few years. So everything matters man, down to the artwork, the videos, the mix, everything matters when it comes to the final product.”
What is your favourite DC song?
“Damn, just one? Let me give you my top three, yeah. In no particular order, the first one would have to be “Overdraft” that’s one of my favourites, for sure. For me, “Paro(noia)” just mainly because of what I’m talking about. The last one would be “Receipts”. What about you?
Mine would be: “Tears, Sweat and Blood”, “God’s House” and “Overdraft”. Nah, but I really like “Paro(noia)” as well, you’ve got tunesss.
“How could I forget about “God’s House”, that’s got to be up there somewhere.”
Looking forward, what is the goal for you?
“Just growth man, continued growth. Musically, I’m just tryna hit new heights, experiment with some new sounds, that’s the number one goal. Everything follows after that. “
Be sure to listen to the new mixtape In The Loop below right now.