The Paradox Of Rap: Deyah Interviewed

The lyrical storyteller excavates trauma on introspective new project 'Black Glamour'...

Cardiff-born rapper Deyah is an old soul, a student of life’s trials and tribulations. First stumbling upon her craft as a teenager, the riser is dictating her own journey through hip-hop, an anarchic force against the tropes of materialism and self-indulgence that haunt the genre today. Operating within a space that has classically felt limited to London-based artists, debut EP ‘THAT WorLD.tapes.’ earns its charm, a soothing listen melding together R&B and jazz influences. Lyrically however, the project is a chilling introduction to the rapper’s underworld, penning her battles with addiction and depression across husky, straight-to-the-point bars. 

This year’s ‘Black Glamour’ project is a reboot, stripping away its predecessor’s softened exteriors, pushing Deyah’s impact with a much more hard-hitting, experimental sound. Across the mixtape, the rapper sits on dark, minimal production that elevates her stark storytelling, extending itself as a critique of contemporary hip-hop whilst reflecting on the roles of religion and relationships. The current day marks a turning point for the 27-year old who has become a bold voice of unnerving honesty, morality and reason. 

CLASH sat down with Deyah to discuss her latest body of work, her creative inclinations and how life experience has shaped her approach to self-expression.

What led you to pen your first lyric and how did that moment evolve into considering music seriously as a career?

I was a bit wayward in school and one of the teachers had noticed that when I spoke, even when I shouted at teachers, I spoke in a certain way. I wasn’t swearing or insulting them, I really was able to communicate how I felt in quite a fluent way. She said I’d be good at poetry, and originally, I was thinking this is absolutely ridiculous, but I enjoyed it – I loved it! From poetry, I realised that I could easily transfer that into rap and I’ve always loved music since I was born. The two went hand in hand.

How would you describe your experience growing up on the outskirts of Cardiff? What kind of music and sounds were you being exposed to and what was it like venturing into rap in Cardiff?

Growing up in Cardiff was a bit dead, only because I grew up in the outskirts, I wasn’t in the city I was in the valley.  My father’s Nigerian and a massive music head so in the house I’m hearing A Tribe Called Quest, Aaliyah, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, a lot of garage and a lot of African music. But then when I got to school nobody would understand what I was talking about and that was always a struggle. There wasn’t really a scene to push into because historically Wales is known for pop and classical.

Admittedly, when I first started rapping, I wasn’t good. There was a guy who did blogs for Cardiff and Wales and he was kind of getting into the London scene as well, people respected what he said. When I was 16, I did a freestyle outside the Millennium Stadium, he posted the freestyle saying “she is the worst rapper in the UK” – that didn’t help. I think I’ve always felt capped in Cardiff if I’m honest, and since I moved nine years ago things have changed for me.

How important do you think is it to draw inspiration from art that sits outside of music?

Very important because I think music is just one part, a main part, but one part of the creative hemisphere. For me, I gain more influence from talking to people, watching films and walking around, than I do from listening to music. 

The Paradox Of Rap: Deyah Interviewed

Throughout your come-up, you’ve released a series of freestyles. When considering how more recent genres like drill are less freestyle-centred, in what way do you think that form has shaped and refined your own craft?

If I’m honest, I’m still stuck in the Drake ‘Marvin’s Room’ kind of day, that kind of J Cole meets Little Simz storytelling. The whole drill situation isn’t really pulling on me right now and I don’t think it will. I’ve got a cousin who’s 14 and he’s like, I just don’t get what you’re saying, and I always say, do you not get what I’m saying or do you not want to get what I’m saying because it’s not on drill? Naturally, what I started doing was this kind of lo-fi, conscious freestyle rapping anyway, so that’s what I went back to.

Tell us about the meaning behind the title ‘Black Glamour’?

In a nutshell, I feel like hip-hop as a whole is so dark: it’s egotistical, it’s about money and it’s a misrepresentation of women, black people and culture in general. What I know hip-hop to be is pure, authentic, honest, wholesome with morals, and it feels like all of that has been stripped away. I’ve tried to serve the industry with truth and honesty; I want to better people, not bring them into this narrative that keeps getting bigger and bigger. Throughout the project from beginning to end, I wanted to really talk about the sway between being able to go in one direction and the other direction, but ultimately taking the higher ground.

Across your music you demonstrate a resistance towards materialism. What is your response towards the expectations that surround rappers and hip-hop culture?

Not interested. I actually went to private school as a kid. My Mum came from humble beginnings, she was homeless and had a mad, mad life. She is a very honest person and has worked her way up in the most honest way. She’s very successful in what she does. 

I was brought up to not really care about material things because my Mum wasn’t born into that. But being at school, one girl would have her iPhone broken and at lunchtime her parents would send a new one to reception. I know how people can be with money, they’re not happy. I think ultimately I’ve been through stuff, I’ve been through drug addiction, been through rehab, two of my friends died all in the space of a year. When you go through certain things, when you’re in a rehab facility and you’re on your own in a room looking out a window, you’d give anything just to have freedom from addiction or someone to hug you and not judge you. If someone gave me a Ferrari, that’s not going to do anything for me at that moment in time, and it never will. So it grounds me, I think.

You are very open about your own struggles with addiction and depression. How important is it for you to speak on these topics, considering that they remain relatively taboo within hip-hop sphere?

Not everyone feels the need to be honest; they see music as an alter-ego, an artistic form that doesn’t require them to match who they are in real life, and who they are as an artist. Drugs almost killed me multiple times and drugs are being glamourised. Depression, to a degree, is being glamorised. Feeling lost apparently is cool. Being found is the nicest feeling. I don’t really feel any type of way that I’m sending out a different message. Since I’ve been young, I’ve always gone against the grain. 

Talk to us about how you explore your relationship with religion in your music...

That’s also important. I was a student pastor for three years, and I was looking to do my masters to become an actual pastor. I was in this nunnery and there were rules: no drinking, no smoking, you can’t talk to men. That experience was wild but I loved it. I wasn’t always accepted because of my tattoos, the way I am and other people there were quite different to me. So moving on from that, I’ve explored faith in different ways. I’m not a gospel artist and actually, my purpose ain’t to tell you, Jesus Christ is Lord. My purpose is to share that the idea of religion is all to do with control. I read the Bible in Hebrew and Greek, and when you actually read about what it’s supposed to be about, it’s about freedom and being secure in who you are. I wouldn’t be where I am now without God.

Across the track list you place a lot of significance on the word “her” across different titles. What led you to make this creative decision?

At the time of ‘Black Glamour’ I was in hospital for an accidental overdose. When I was doing psychotherapy, and I was looking at everything I’d been through, I started to realise how powerful I was as a woman, how every woman holds that power. I then started to look at the elements of water, earth and fire – there was so much in all these elements that I can really relate to as a person. So that’s where it came from.

Although tackling similar themes, ‘Black Glamour’ feels much darker in its sonics. What made you want to take this direction?

I wanted to try and not make it so dark that it’s hard to listen to, I wanted to make it dark to the point where you could find some sense of comfort in it. I think my co-producer, Otis Saint Carter really helped and I owe a lot to him for doing that. It’s a documentation of where I’m at, my next project is going to be very different because I’m nowhere near where I was back then, you know?

Inching towards 2023, can you name your favourite release from this year and why?

A track called ‘Foolish’ by Nantanya Popoola

Words: Ana Lamond

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