Interview - UK Hip-Hop Artist, DEACON
I'm going to say it here now, I'm planting the flag into the soil. UK Hip-Hop is on the rise. Now, what do I mean by "UK Hip-Hop"?
I mean music in the UK that takes inspiration from the Hip-Hop we know & love and puts some English Mustard on it. Throughout the past year or so I have been forming an opinion. The opinion that there are three distinct sub-genres of UK black music. (R&B, Caribbean-based & Afrobeats aside) Grime, UK Rap & UK Hip-Hop. We all know what Grime is by now. If you don't, peep my reviews on recent Grime Documentaries "Generation Grime" & "Beats, Bass & Bars: The Story of Grime. UK Hip-Hop, just explained. UK Rap is in the middle of both. It's not the pure Grime, the raw 140bpm 'ting'. But the bass is there. UK Rap is the stuff that usually charts.
So with the flag planted, let's get into our interview with one of the reasons why I planted this long overdue flag. I initially saw this man live in Southampton, supporting one of my favourite artists, Akala. This man came out and he really caught my interest. His lyrics were great, his cadence and performance were very interesting and enticing. I recall one moment where he acted as if he was drunk for one song. I was hooked and hit him up after the show. Fast forward to now, he's dropped his first EP "Cotton Wolf" and I thought it was perfect timing.
I interview London based Hip-Hop artist DEACON. We talk his roots, his first body of work, his creative process and of course... Wait... No Top 5?! Stay tuned for why. Ladies & Gentlemen, my talk with DEACON.
C: We begin, as always, at the beginning. Where were you born, what were you like as a kid and what was life around you like?
D: I was born in London, St Thomas. Grew up in Tooting, South London. My life was pretty normal really. Not the most cinematic upbringing but there was a good community around me.
C: What were you like attitude-wise?
D: I don't think I've really changed that much. I had good people around me and always had good energy. Music has been a constant in my life, used to spend my time at the Tooting Hub. (Community Centre) It's kind of where I started my music career. They helped us a lot. But I've always had supportive people around me.
C: So it was spending time at the Tooting Hub that sparked it for you?
D: Yea, they really pushed us to pursue careers and creative industries. Following that I joined the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company so they really were the two main components that helped me pursue my career.
C: We'll get to the HHSC in a bit but I just wanted to stick with your background for a minute. What was your family life like and how important was music to them?
D: Oh yea, there was always music playing in our house. I always go through my parents & grandparents record collections.
C: Bit of crate digging!
D: Yea! I'm always diving in there. Even now there are some boxes I haven't even discovered yet.
C: Oh really?! What kind of music are they into?
D: My dad is into Dub, well actually both of my parents are into Dub but you always come across some Sade, Barbara Streisand all the way to some really eclectic Christmas records. One of them was blue, first coloured vinyl I saw. But yea, my family is very into music. No musicians in my immediate family but they love their music.
C: So where are we at age-wise when you joined the Hub?
D: I think it was around 6th Form, (16-18 for those that don't know the UK system) late 2010, early 2011.
C: What was it that you did there on a day-to-day?
D: A lot of cyphers after school. Writing & rapping, that was the constant. Then they used to put on shows for us. We had a few live musicians, rap. We would make songs and then perform them, invite the local community. Also, I don't really like saying this because I'm terrible at free-styling now but the manager of the Hub at the time, he organised for us to attempt the World Record for longest group freestyle. I think we went for 12 hours, something in that area.
C: Oh wow really?
D: Yea yea, everybody got certificates. But it was things like that, that made a music career seem possible. Don't think we have the record anymore but having it for a period of time, that small thing, felt really good for the bunch of 16-17 year olds that we were.
C: That is really fascinating! World Records are always something a young kid, especially if you were like me that read the books front to back wants but we never really try, so that's cool that you can say that you co-owned one!
D: I never did get my certificate you know! They probably have it somewhere but yea it was cool.
C: When you realised that a career was possible, how big was the gap between that and working for the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company?
D: Not big actually, it was pretty seamless. At that point I started doing open mics & competitions. I met Akala in Brixton once and it kind of went from there.
C: For those that don't know could you explain what the HHSC is about and what you do?
D: It's a music theatre production company and we compare the parallels of language, rhymes between Hip-Hop & Shakespeare and we go to different places and share that.
C: I find that fascinating how you guys have based your ethos on that and as a person who values lyricism in Hip-Hop, the comparisons can be made. The poetry lens used fits with both.
Continuing on from that, as you were doing that, when did the urge to do your own music come in?
D: Well I like to think I've always had my own career. I was working in a music studio for a few years and I met a lot of musicians coming and going. I made a lot of connections, witnessed a lot of albums being made and I really got the chance to understand the process behind creating a body of work. That's where I met everyone in my team. Freemonk, who's the owner of the record label I'm signed to, brought me in one time and we started doing little bits of work here and there. Move to a couple of years later, built a team. So that's where it started.
C D'you see yourself just as a lyricist & rapper or do you see yourself as something more?
D: I'm an artist man. My expression comes through anything. I have colouring books on colouring books so if haven't got anything to talk about with my words then I do something else. So I'm an artist, if I had to be specific it would be a Hip-Hop artist but I don't consider myself just a rapper. Think that's a bit too limited.
C: I'm glad you said that because I've been writing something talking about the subject of the term "Rapper" and asking if it's dying out. If you could indulge me, what do you think about people not wanting to be called rappers and wanting to be called musicians or artists like you said? Do you find that as a positive, a negative or just a casualty of cultural evolution?
D: I don't think it's positive or negative. Like you said, I think it's just an evolution of culture. If you look back 10-15 years ago, it was very mainstream to call yourself a rapper. It's different now. Look at Childish Gambino/Donald Glover. The avenue he originally put himself in was a rapper alter ego. Now, when you hear "Feels Like Summer" or "Redbone", that's Prince vibes! It's a totally different world.
It's accessible now, rappers back in the day, kicked down the door so that we can be artists. Without our heroes kicking down the door, Stormzy wouldn't be writing a book right now. With that said I do think it's a positive that we're seeing ourselves in a much wider light. Yes, rap is still important but I don't think it's been diluted, I think it's been more saturated. Everyone has a microphone nowadays so the overall quality is bound to dip. People that could rap back in the day could RAP. Doesn't mean there are any good rappers out there, there's just more noise. Does that make sense?
C: Yes! Completely! I think you've made my mind for me there. That little bit you said about "Kicking down the door" was perfect!
So as a writer, d'you have a creative process?
D: Nah I don't really have a process. It's quite inefficient if I'm honest. I know what inspires me but it doesn't always inspire me to write. For example, I work with kids a lot, for the past couple of summers excluding the one just gone I've been working at Summer Camps and the conversations we have with 15 year olds are crazy profound. They can talk about something so simple but articulate it in a way that I haven't before. Things like that are super inspiring and can get me going but also I can also simply go to the studio, have a bit of rum and I'm good! Can also be going to the studio, talk for five hours and we don't get any music done but it's part of the process. So I couldn't really tell you my process because I don't really have one. It just happens.
C: Well you could say the process is that you don't have one. Reliant on yourself that it'll come to you.
D: Yea yea. I believe in my sauce.
C: So your EP is finally out, "Cotton Wolf". Back to the process of sorts. How long did that take to do? Because I heard three of them live so how was the experience creating those?
D: I think that's a good example of explaining my process actually! So "Negritude", which is the last song, is the oldest. I wrote that in 2016 while I was in LA. Conceptually, It was for a different project. The EP was based on the first track "No Evil". I have breakdowns of the EP on my Instagram (Check them out here) but in brief, I wrote "No Evil" off the back of a bunch of recordings we found from African Amercian ex-slave Laura Smalley She was describing some of the things you would see in the field back then. I wanted to parallel that with recent things we see today. So when you look at Mike Brown for instance, there's a line where I say "Ain't nothing changed since the strange fruit trees had us in the streets now with our blood on the police." That was saying the lynchings are still happening but it's not on the trees. Look at Mike Brown, look at the pictures. So that's where the EP was born from but I didn't want it all doom & gloom. That's why I had a jovial nature of "Negritude" because there's also a lot to be celebrated about our culture. But I thought it was important to reflect on what is going on.
C: So you can say it was encapsulated in the words of Laura Smalley. Using that as a bubble and taking what's going on now, linking them together.
D: Exactly, compare, contrast and also bring attention to her story.
C: The whole project is very conscious and aware. D'you see yourself doing more of that down the line?
D: No. I just talk about what's on my mind. My music is a reflection of conversations I have. Sometimes I will talk about historical stuff but also I like talking over a nice Espresso Martini! I don't want to give off the idea that I'm holier than thou and I have all the answers. I really don't. I don't know what music I'm going to do next but you might hear some rachet shit! Not to try and catch people off guard or anything.
C: That's fair. I find that when people listen to conscious stuff. They misconstrue you as a person and think that you're always in a dark room thinking of real woke shit. Obviously you have a life. People should appreciate that you done something like this and gave something that can give a little bit of education. Some artists base their whole career of doing things that require no attention so it's commendable that you've done something like this.
With that said, what music d'you usually listen to?
D: I guess my staple is Kendrick & Cole. But honestly I'm usually just listening to my guys. I got a group of friends called The Swirlers. I listen to them everyday. I keep it simple. I have external idols but I also have my internal idols. J2ND, member of The Swirlers, he's gonna be the greatest rapper alive. Being amongst that kind of talent really keeps me sharp.
C: What is the value of supporting people in the same position as you?
D: Honestly I don't even quantify it as support. If I like the music, I like the music. If you're making good music, I want to hear it. I feel like instead of me supporting them, they're actually supporting me because they're making good music and I get to listen and enjoy it. I like the idea of removing number and all the statistics because you see it differently.
C: Yea I try not to be that kind of person but you always succumb to it at some point.
D: Oh don't get me wrong! I do the same! Very often I'm kicking myself asking why am I looking at this right now, how did I even get here. But I try and stay aware of the Celebrity Culture.
C: Damn, got me self-conscious now!
So what's next?
D: I got a couple of shows coming up. First time I get to perform the whole EP fully so that'll be exciting. But other than that not much honestly!
C: Good stuff. So we usually end with asking for your Top 5.
D: Just Top 5? So I can do Top 5 pasta if I want?
C: I mean.. You can if you want! It's your Top 5!
D: Man, I don't know if I can be locking sown a Top 5, I'm too indecisive! I don't really have a Top 5 anything! You've stumped me! Is this a Top 5 swerve?
C: This is the first swerve I've had! But I'll keep badgering you for one! Consider it homework!
D: You can pursue it if you like but I never did my homework at school!
C: Always time to grow! Thanks for the time anyways.
D: Nice one, big up.
Thanks to DEACON for the time. WE SHALL GET A TOP 5 OUT OF YOU!
If you want to listen to "Cotton Wolf", it's embedded below. Be sure to give it a listen.