Words: Alex Griffin
London weathered a storm last month. There was inexplicable snow falling from icy clouds, followed promptly by torrential and militantly heavy rain. The weather flickered backwards and forwards, the mood changing at the drop of the hat, the sky turning, shifting and howling. April has always been a temperamental month and it proved to be so this year. Over in Brixton however, on April 27th, a different kind of storm was raging on. Desiigner was opening up for Pusha T at Electric Brixton, acting as harbinger of some tumultuous energy.
By the time the next afternoon has rolled around, the pendulum had swung and the storm has passed. It’s a sunny and sticky day in Hyde Park, while a nearby hotel’s conference room is buzzing with a different kind of atmosphere. Desiigner is showing off a video of his set from the night before, grunting and flicking the gold chains on his wrist, his fingers twisting, emblazoned with a literal handful of rings. He’s all smiles and all cheer, a strong scent of weed permeating the air. He and his entourage had shortly re-entered the room, having gone for an impromptu smoke break. With his manager, photographers and a handful of select others, the bud certainly hadn’t calmed him down an iota, as his presence looms large in the room. It’s his first time in England and he’s visibly happy to be here.
“I’m finding London good, you feel me”, he says. “I’m loving the air I’m breathing, everything feels good out here. We shut the club down last night, shout out to Tape, shout out my man Pusha. That show last night, we just shut it down.”
It’s no wonder he feels so good either. His song “Panda” had that week climbed up the Billboard charts to take the number one spot away from Rihanna and Drake, a mean feat for anybody, let alone a brand new artist with his first single. Its success is a surprise to a lot of people, but not to Desiigner. He confides prophetically that, “I saw this coming. I’ve always seen myself on a higher platform. I’ve always known my worth and remain humble. That’s the best thing in the world. Knowing your worth, but remaining humble and knowing what you can do. Knowing how talent is created. Creativity is being an artist itself”. His performances might be out of space, but clearly internally he’s remaining very grounded. He continues, “So yeah, being that number one shot, being at the top right now, I’m just remaining humble and making more music.”
“Panda” began life as a surprise SoundCloud hit, picking up traction at the start of the year. The beat was bought from SoundClick for $200, created by a beat maker from Rochdale, called Menace. It’s a random link up that led to one of the most bizarre DIY hits of the year, but Desiigner says meeting him was “a blessing from god”. The infectious songs meteoric rise eventually culminated in it appearing (sort of) on Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’ album, in the form of his track “Pt. 2”.
Desiigner has since inked a deal with Kanye’s label GOOD Music, a result that he tellingly says came from a bidding war between 11 labels. “It was going crazy. At every label I jumped on the table, went crazy, took my shirt off”, he says, waving his arms and speaking physically as well as verbally, “They all went crazy for me, but I thought it was best to go with a brother like Kanye. He’s looking to change the world in other ways.”
Don’t get it twisted though, as he assures that he didn’t just sign “because of his name”. He dryly comments, “Somebody can give you a million dollars and slap the shit out of you after that. Kanye was a good vibe, when we were around each other and in his car, we’d be laughing and joking. We’ll be in the club, it’s just a good thing. We’re just having fun… It’s a bond with GOOD Music, it’s not just me signing, it’s family. We’re in a big ass family filled with cousins and brothers.
“We’re two artists that have got that mind. Me and Kanye are cooking up, we’ve got some things coming. It was just, that feeling, I was excited. I’ve seen this man doing music when I was younger and now it’s time for us to get to it.”
Having a mentor like Mr West is bound to mean you learn a lot of life gems, and Desiigner confirms that. He divulges the most memorable piece of advice he has received from ‘Ye, saying, “One thing that he’s definitely told everybody, was that we are not just rappers. We are artists. That’s something that I really took in and embraced. Every moment that I get, I’ve always thought like that. So when I heard him say that, it was just like, I’m on the right path. I’m an artist, I’m an entertainer. It opened up the vision, it opened up a clear door for me and for us two to bond more.”
It could be a surprising answer to a lot of people, who have already been quick to write Desiigner off as a one hit wonder, a copy cat, or an amalgamation of the two. He’s already taking the steps to prove the naysayers wrong though, with the release of his “Panda” video, which is clever, original and has a clear hold on aesthetics. He speaks sparingly about the under-wraps visual, which he says in a hilarious faux English accent is “full of big panda bootys”, dropping the T in an endearingly cliched fashion. The room erupts into vociferous laughter.
“Artists, we think beyond just lyrically. We don’t just want to think lyrically when we make a song. It’s art. What makes it sound cool?”, he animatedly declaims, clicking his fingers. “What makes it have that vibe? What gives it that funk, that style? That’s how real music is created. It’s created to give you a smile and give you a feeling and make you think about it.”
With a catalogue of music that still remains succinct for now, he’s actively taking steps to ensure he can last the full mile. “I always work and I don’t worry about the badness. I always see myself on great platforms and when, like I said, you know your quality and know your worth you’ll be OK. I won’t listen to anything that’s hurtful, because I know god has got my back.”
A lot of the negative attention thrown Desiigner’s way, is the inevitable comparisons to Atlanta rapper Future. With these opinions being presumed after hearing one song, it seems like a lot of people could be eating their words. “I make all types of music. I got the more low key vibes, I got the nice funk too. I got the trap vibe. I got everything you feel me, I’m pulling tricks out the sleeve. You’re definitely going to hear more, real soon”, he admits. “It’s just being creative and being an artist. I’m not going to emulate myself over what somebody else says. I don’t worry about what the next man says, I do what I do. Even though I get a lot of comparisons or whatever, I do what I do. Niggas know what time it is, when you see me, you know what time it is”.
His influences run deep, and although his music doesn’t sound like the traditional, boom-bap vibes so famous in New York, growing up in the borough of Brooklyn has still left it’s stamp on him. He reminisces on the music being played on stereos in his household during his childhood, saying, “See, my daddy, he’s old school. My big sister, she listens to reggae and my little sister listens to music from everywhere, like Hannah Montana, Justin Bieber. So I’ve been bouncing everywhere, I enjoy all kinds of music. I’ve always enjoyed music since I was really young.”
Desiigner’s energy and excitement as a person is more infectious than his single, which is saying a hell of a lot. As a 19 year old (still only 18 at the time of the interview), who is living out his wildest dreams daily, it’s impossible to hate on him. He’s hyper and animated in every detail he gives, rallying off answers hurriedly in his deceptively deep voice. Desiigner claims that he’s always been this way though, from growing up, right through to the impressive young man he is today.
“Life has so much to give and you can do so much…”
“It comes from the soul. It comes from god, it comes from living, it comes from just enjoying life. Knowing that life has so much to give and you can do so much in life, it just comes from there. From the gut and from the man above the clouds”, he candidly admits.
With such a rose-tinted and hopeful outlook on his future, it becomes difficult to really believe anything else is coming for him. The conversation finishes with talk of his upcoming plans. He promises “tours, video drops, merchandise, more booty on the streets and more music”, before teasing just what new music we can expect. Everything it seems, as he says that an EP is coming imminently, while a mixtape and a full length album are also in the works for 2016. “You can’t throw no slugs until motherfuckers stop moving funny” he laughs. “I’ll back it up, but I got a whole bunch of tricks in the bag”.
Desiigner poses for photos just as energetically as he had performed and answered questions. He holds a banana up to his ear like a telephone, before laughing outwardly again. Despite pleas from the PR people around him, he convinces them that he’s returning to the hotel room to smoke another zoot. He bounces off of the sofa and around the conference table, and out of the door. Something suggests that the extra spliff didn’t put the brakes on his energy train, as it certainly didn’t leave the room even after he had. With a personality larger than life and a hit record under his belt, don’t be surprised when Desiigner lasts the full mile.