Next Wave #804: Denzel Himself

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From the polite greeting and hug Denzel Himself gives me upon meeting, you wouldn’t instantly clock that he’s a straight-edge, hardcore punk. Nor would you guess he’d spent yesterday evening trying to source a white prom dress for our shoot.

“I love how the abrasiveness and ‘violence’ of the pit is used as a means to exhaust negative emotions,” the South London MC/producer/director explains, having got into hardcore through a love affair with Sacramento band Trash Talk. “That sort of world, it helped me unlearn a lot of things.” It’s also a scene that’s historically been dominated by white people. “I find it important to set an example for people of colour, especially young black ones, that you can be exactly who you are; fuck what your parents think, you don’t owe them your rights to be.”

Denzel’s sound takes fistfuls of that raw pit energy, but is as much informed from “hearing basslines from sub-woofer systems in cars,” he says enigmatically. ‘Chevi, Pt. 1’ employs a bumpin’ West Coast, G-funk bounce, while ‘Bangin’’ is all reverb-drenched guitars and ghostly echoes of rasping, hardcore vocals. While his distinct flow and cadence is real Genius-scouring territory – Denzel’s lyricism operates on another plane. Even in conversation he drops words like “monolithic” like it’s nothing.

Denzel experiences synesthesia, and began producing at the age of 17, around the same time as he started studying film. He cites Tarantino and Nigerian movies as influences on his directing style – as well as “a specific genre of film of Hollywood actors in ’90s Japanese advertisements. There’s literally hundreds of films – Arnold Schwarzenegger is a regular.” Check any of Denzel’s videos for a peep of his next-level directing prowess.

Denzel directs his videos himself, produces his beats himself, and vocals them himself (hence the latter half of his moniker). But he shrugs off my question about the importance of creative control. “I had a conversation with FKA Twigs in early 2015 – we were sat at a bus stop – and she said she finds it weird how people praise her so much for having so much of a hand in her art. It shouldn’t even be mentionable, shouldn’t even be a thing. She gave me an example: Michelangelo, he would be able to draw a masterpiece with one hand and write literature with the other.”

His gold-capped tooth glints as he grins. “Until you’re operating at that level, you’re not working hard enough.” Take note, industry: Denzel’s about to blow a hole in the music scene, himself.

WHERE: South London
WHAT: Unpredictable, hard-as-nails rap with an injection of pit adrenaline
GET 3 SONGS: ‘Thrasher’, ‘Bangin’, ‘Chevi, Pt. 1’
FACT: He’s really into etymology – the study of the origin of words and how their meanings have changed throughout history. A useful skill for a rapper to have, you could say…

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Words: Felicity Martin

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