Nigeria's preeminence as a launch pad of innovation continues with the arrival of a new rap provocateur: Deto Black has entered the chat. Born in Delaware, US, before moving to Nigeria as a child, the polymath, born Deto Tejuoso, is a next-gen talent rewriting the feminist rule book. A masters graduate (in global governance, might I add) and a trained chartered accountant, Deto is proof the pin-up can have it all; academia and art, two dominant themes running concordantly in her life.
Emerging last year to fanfare with notable guest features, Deto is ready to make her own mark with her first solo material. Her debut single 'Tesla', produced by regular collaborator and alté pioneer Odunsi, is a maelstrom of sirens, bleeps and the aural equivalent of insectoids descending from the sky. On the track, Deto affirms her autonomy and sexual prowess, a rallying cry to leave parasitic exes behind for the next conquest awaits!
Don't be misled by Deto's pococurante delivery: her bars bite! Deto's as-yet-untitled debut project, is hardcore titillation wrapped in rainbow-coloured confection. She plays up the role play exhibitionism with a faux California girl inflection that sounds like a cheerleading chanting crossed with a raw hotline snarl. Erotic yet playful, hypersexual but mettlesome, Deto Black channels Lil Kim's brand of debauched salaciousness with a club-honed sound that will come to soundtrack the summer. Foregrounding Deto's protean musical ability, the project moves from the hyperpop digi-drama of EP highlight 'ThreeFiveZero', to the throwback-rap anthemics of 'Betterrr' to the reggaeton fever of 'Fun', a revenge raunchfest.
Already a fashion muse and iconoclast, Deto Black is challenging conservative wisdom and expectations through liberation. Welcome to her maximalist, material world.
Clash spoke to Deto Black ahead of the release of her debut project, as part of our digital #PLTFRM series spotlighting global talent breaking down barriers.
You're part of Nigeria's alté scene synonymous with artists like Amaarae, Santi and of course your chief collaborator, Odunsi; which has metastasized and grown into this nonconformist sub genre. What is so special about the alté scene?
it's just people being themselves and being free to pursue whatever sound we want. It's us saying that this way of living and being in society doesn't work for me, so I'm going to be my authentic self. Nigeria is a place...I don't want to stereotype, but women are expected to conform. My friend told me about the time she was going through the airport, and was told by the person at the desk that she needed to conform. He was saying "why is your hair like this and why are you dressed like this?" You're expected to fit in and if you're against that you're considered weird. It's about being confident enough to dress the way you want to dress, sing the way you want to sing, doing what feels right to you rather than what you're told.
You were born in the US, but your formative years were in spent in Lagos, Nigeria. How has your environment fostered your creativity as a child and a teenager?
I was born in America but went to school In Nigeria. I grew up not using the computer that much. I wasn't one of those kids who played SIMs all day - I was more obsessed with my Bratz Boy barbies! But I was always a visual child and as I grew up I watched a lot of MTV and escaped into film and cinema. I think it played into my creativity because I was having to use my imagination.
You've lived a nomadic life, between the US, UK and Nigeria. How has that impacted the way you approach your art. For me, your songs carry many different inflections, a kind of borderless sound...
Definitely. From a young age I realized that I had so many cultures to pull inspiration from; there's not one of way of doing things or one way of being someone. By drawing on so many references, I realized I could create something new. At least that's what I'm trying to do.
Which artists shaped your sense of individualism? If you had to cite a record by an artist that changed your outlook on life - be it a radical record, a pop or rap record - what would it be?
That's very hard! I feel like the song that blew my mind as a teenager was Lil Wayne's 'Lollipop'. It's so memorable. The video, the sonics, the hook. It felt like a real pop culture moment. I was also a huge Britney fan...
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Music is really drawing from turn-of-the-millenia pop and R&B at the moment...
Definitely. That era is so influential and it absolutely influenced me. I love Kelis, musically of course but even more so her energy and spirit. She very much went against the grain and was fearless in her approach and that really resonates with me.
If you had to pick three describers of your music for people who have no idea who Deto Black is, what would they be?
I only have one word and that's 'everything'.
I first heard you on Odunsi's 'Body Count', which became this underground anthem. This was your first record and feature. Describe that moment...
'Body Count' was the first thing I ever released. Odunsi played the instrumental for me and I immediately loved it and recorded a verse for it. But when I recorded my verse...you just never know if it's going to be used. Thankfully Odunsi loved it and it became my first feature.
Much of the world was introduced to you on a freestyle with Skepta, Unknown T and Lancey Foux to commemorate World Nigeria day last year. Do you feel you this freestyle was a turning point in your trajectory as a rapper?
Oh it definitely was. It was amazing to work with all three of these amazing rappers. I loved the Travis Scott instrumental and I'm glad I was able to put my mark on it. I was at my friend's house and she told me Skepta wanted me on the track. I went and recorded really late at night and it became this huge moment.
Your first solo single 'Tesla' is a bold and rambunctious introduction to the world of Deto Black. What are you saying to the world with 'Tesla'?
'Tesla' is me being completely free; there are no restrictions. I wanted to make something hot and sexy, but also hard and gritty at the same time. 'Tesla' is all about a feeling, an attitude. It's about owning your sexuality.
And we must reference the graphic hedonism of the accompanying visual, which felt like an homage to Y2K rap aesthetics...
I worked with Aidan (Zamiri), who created a treatment from me wanting to express my darker side, compared with 'Body Count' which was more playful.
Your debut EP isn't just rap but a smorgasbord of genres; trap is a prevalent genre on it, but you also delve into hyperpop and there's a punk energy about the project. Guide me through the sound design. Were you involved in the production side?
Yes! Some of the beats were readymade and I selected which ones I could vocalise or rap over. But for most of the beats me and my producers sat down together, I'd describe the mood or feeling I was going for, the type of song I wanted to make, I'd show visual references. It's a very abstract concept but very collaborative. I think most producers like it this way, otherwise they're just out churning beat after beat. It's nice to create something more personalised and bring out what's in your imagination.
When you're rapping, is it a loose, improv style your prefer or do you go for something more rehearsed?
I like freestyle but I prefer to have what I rap written down. I have so many ideas in my head! Sometimes a beat completely changes what I want to rap about and it's about filling in the spaces.
We have to talk about a track called 'ThreeFiveZero', which sounds like a Gameboy, cyberpunk dream. It's a standout track!
I had the lyrics in my head immediately when Odunsi played me the instrumental - I think I wrote the lyrics in an hour! At that point, I'd recorded all the other songs on the EP, this was final track I recorded. It was me trying to push myself and try something new. I didn't want to stick to the conventional rap mode because I'm a fan of so much else.
Lyrically you're talking your shit on this project! You're unapologetic about your sexuality, your femininity and your identity. For some artists, the performance aspect gives them the opportunity to come out of their shells. Does music do that for you? Give you an outlet?
Definitely, it's a place for me to channel all my emotions and get them out. Growing up as a child I was extremely shy but I was always creative; I'd make songs and perform them only for my cousins. That was my outlet. I liked all forms of art; painting, makeup, fashion. Music is so great because I get to tap into all these creative fields and bring all of these strands together.
The EP is honestly just me flexing and having fun. It may be my life but it's fun, creative and I'm not working a 9 to 5. I need to keep reminding myself that I have to keep it light-hearted.
What's your favourite track from the project and why?
They are all my children! You don't have a favourite child, you know? 'BRAG' is the first track I recorded, so it's special to me. On the other hand, 'Geekd & Gorgeous' I'm told, represents me and my personality. But then 'ThreeFiveZero' is something I made that I never thought about making or thought I could make. But then 'Betterrr'...
'Betterrr' features this female-male interplay that reminded me of the best RnB-Rap collaborations of past, it has that quintessential throwback feel...
Yes! I feel like that’s the one people might understand the most, coming from my ‘rapper’ side.
What's the primary message of this EP? What energy are you transmitting into the world with this project?
I guess what I'm trying to say as a Nigerian woman, whatever you are, you don't have to follow any rules. You can be whoever you want to be. The energy I'm trying to give off is that if you're confident within yourself and you love yourself, nothing else matters.
You have a very pronounced visual identity, not just in your music but also through your forays into the fashion world. What does expression through fashion give you?
Fashion for me, enhances the full idea of who Deto Black is. it's one thing to hear, but it's another to see. I'm just trying to give you the full picture.
You've embraced the role of a fashion muse and you can see that on your social media. What's your relationship like with digital platforms?
I embrace it, I enjoy it actually. I think we decry social media as this negative thing but the one thing I realized recently is how easy it is to make genuine friends on instagram. I think for someone like me, who lives in this insular world, it's given me the opportunity to interact with people I usually wouldn't. I would follow people but never actually talk to them, if that makes sense? Initially I didn't use it the way it's supposed to be used, as this social tool that in it's own way can build relationships and community. It is the new world.
In terms of posting pictures of myself, I show what I want to show. I don't feel pressure about that.
This last year has been a complete whirlwind for many reasons. How have you kept a measure of stillness and calm in a crazy year? What do you do to keep sane?
Planning my year with music, really. I started recording this project at the start of quarantine and it became my passion project. It's kept me hopeful and kept me going. I'm the kind of person who has to have something to look forward to. Working on this project gave me focus. I've been so excited about having it out in the world. Honestly, the release date gives me so much anxiety. I have a few videos planned, treatments I'm working on, maybe one for 'ThreeFiveZero'....
What advice would you give to young African female musicians or creatives coming up, calving out an identity for themselves like you did?
I'd say trust your gut. You'll be surrounded by opinions and some of them will be negative, other people trying to impose an identity on you that isn't authentic to you. Trust yourself, trust your gut.
I hope my work inspires them to do their best, go hard and go outside the confines of what society tells them they should do. It's so important that nothing stands in the way of that.
Words: Shahzaib Hussain
Photography: Conor Cunningham
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