13 Apr 2021 Interview: DC’s growth is clear for all to see and ‘In The Loop’ is proof of quality over quantity
How many bodies of work actually contain replay value? Firstly, a strong concept is needed to tie everything together. Secondly, there has to be an element of truth to the music you hear. Another prerequisite is the artist making music for the long-term is that it is in some way relatable. DC’s In The Loop project ticks those boxes and then some.
Sometimes, when you listen to an artist’s music and believe what they’re saying, it goes a very long way. And that’s certainly the case with the 10-track project DC has just released.
Since making a name for himself with his ‘Gleamin’ freestyle in 2015, his career has been a lesson in sticking to the script even if you don’t always see the numbers you feel your work may deserve. ‘Gleamin’ gained a lot of traction online, but in the releases that followed, those views total weren’t quite the same, even though his quality of output remained high. Take ‘Dock City’, one of the headline tracks from his second project, Under the Influence, which flew largely under the radar until his first breakthrough single, ‘Neighbourhood’, took off, and new fans flocked to his earlier work and brought some of the statistics that ‘Dock City’ merited.
I was one of the first to interview DC back in 2015. He didn’t have much material out at the time but it was instantly clear that there was something effortlessly smooth and authentic about his sound. Some of his work since then has verged on experimental, and at other times, it’s been downright under-appreciated. But with In The Loop, you get the feeling things are coming together at the right moment and those years of honing his craft are beginning to pay off.
A key contributor on this project was TSB, a versatile producer who plays the keyboard fluently, thereby allowing him to cook up original sounds on the spot, rather than using something pre-existing material. Another was Nastylgia, a sampling connoisseur and long-time collaborator with DC who understands his sound and has worked closely with him over the years. Lyrically, there is a sense of consciousness throughout In The Loop that meshes brilliantly with his crisp delivery and smooth rhyming patterns, as he takes the listener through an unfiltered train ride that begins at Greenwich station. Given the project’s coherency as a body of work and not just a compilation of random tracks, that doesn’t look like a journey that will end anytime soon.
In this interview, we delved deep into his career so far, how he made a name for himself, why he dropped out of university, signing a record deal, his ear for strong instrumentals, touring with J Hus, In The Loop, and much more.
Let’s throw things back to where your music career began, back with ‘Gleamin’. How did you go about building a buzz for yourself after that first viral freestyle?
Around the time of ‘Gleamin’, if I’m being honest, I didn’t know what to do next. It was my first video, I didn’t know at the time it was blowing up. In my head, I thought, ‘is this the norm?’ You release a song, people like it and you get a good reception. But I wasn’t aware that at the time, I was creating buzz and people were talking about me seriously. So I didn’t know what to do next, hence why I probably did a few more freestyles and tracks here and there just to find my feet. The next step after that freestyle was to try and maintain that level of interest from people, which was difficult because I wasn’t prepared.
Listening back to your earlier releases, it feels a lot like you were trying to find your feet, with tracks like ‘Local’ and ‘Cold’. Nowadays, you seem to be rapping from a much more assertive place. How did you go about harnessing your sound to find your lane?
When I look back at those tracks, I just see an inexperienced version of myself. There’s so many things that I’ve learnt since then. In terms of sound, I’ve experimented so much and I’ve finally found my lane. Thanks to TSB as well, obviously he’s a wizard with it, so it definitely makes it a lot easier when you’re working with someone who’s on the same page as yourself. But when I look back, there’s been a lot of progression. I just needed time to find myself and find what serves me best.
In my opinion, ‘Fresh Prince’ was one of the first tracks I heard from you where it sounded like you’d carved out a unique voice. Would you agree?
I think that song opened my eyes to the fact that there’s music that’s still at the same tempo I rap at, but it sounds completely different and fresh. That beat was very similar to 140 I think, it must’ve been, that’s why I jumped on it, and I got a different vibe to any of the other beats I’d rapped on at that point. I realised I can still rap fast, but the music I make can be so much better and different, so ‘Fresh Prince’ definitely did something.
When you released your first EP, Whats the Debate?, you didn’t have many producers to work with at the time. Describe the challenges you face when releasing a body of work without a go-to producer?
It’s difficult because you can’t really bring your ideas to life with the level of quality that you’d want. It’s definitely easier when you’re with someone of a certain level of talent. In my opinion, you write something crazy, but if you don’t have the right beat behind it, it can’t bring it to life. The right beat can definitely amplify what you’re saying.
The release of ‘No Manners’ on COLORS’ platform in February 2018 was a big moment. How did that freestyle come about?
Bro, I have no idea, honestly. I remember mentioning it to management at the time, like ‘yo I really want this freestyle’. I kinda thought people had forgotten about it because I didn’t hear anything. I didn’t hear anything for months, then maybe four or five months later, my management said they got the freestyle for me. I was like ‘what?!’ They said it so casually! But that’s how it came about.
Your COLORS video was one of the first instances after ‘Gleamin’ where your music had big numbers attached to it. How did the release of that video open doors for you?
COLORS was a huge moment for me. I remember when I wanted to do one, but I didn’t think it would be possible for me to do it because of the stage I was at, but God pulled through and they said they were on it. I’ve been listening to COLORS before it was massive, so I knew what the platform was, I knew how sick it was and I knew what it could do for people. It definitely did open doors, I think it got my face out there a lot more, especially in Germany. To this day, Germany is my second-biggest fan base in terms of where I get my support from, so I think that’s down to COLORS as well. The COLORS video ultimately lead me to signing a record deal.
Let’s talk about that deal. When did you sign with EMI?
I signed with EMI in the summer of 2018. I used to be with 2K Management and then it was 2K and Since 93 managing me together, now Since 93 are management and I’m signed to EMI.
What made you want to sign with EMI as opposed to someone else or staying independent? Why did you want to sign that deal?
You know what it is, I think at the time, they just showed me a lot. When I met with them, they showed me that we were on the same page. Before I even spoke, they were telling me things I’d already been thinking about. So it just made sense. I wouldn’t go with someone if I didn’t feel that we were on the same page, but they showed me all the right things.
Under the Influence was your second EP. In hindsight, what are your thoughts about that project now?
In hindsight, I wasn’t the biggest fan of that project. If you’re around me, you’ll that I don’t play it, since it came out, I’ve never played it. At the time, I think because of my environment at the time, I was guided into making a certain type of music. Nobody forced me to do anything, but I guess people’s opinions got to me in a way where I started tailoring my sound to other people’s opinions. I didn’t actually like the music on that project apart from ‘Dock City’ and ‘Overdraft’. It’s jokes, I always try and forget about that project. If I could, I’d just delete it, but it’s part of the journey. You have to go through things like that to realise where you need to improve. But that project doesn’t exist to me, you feel me.
I feel you on that. There was a fair bit of experimentation throughout. For example, ‘Dock City’ was authentic DC, then a track like ‘Holla’ took on a completely different approach…
Yeah, there was no flow throughout the whole project. Even looking back, I wasn’t prepared, I was just so gassed about putting out a project. When I compare to it In The Loop, I put so much into it, the thought behind it, the concept, the skits, everything. I put time and effort into making sure it’s a solid body of work. But with Under the Influence, it was like, ‘I’ll make this, I’ll make that, let’s put it together, get artwork, then put it out’. But Under the Influence has to happen for me to make In The Loop.
How did your thoughts about Under The Influence motivate you to release a body of work you were proud of with In The Loop?
Under the Influence’ definitely motivated my new music. Prior to dropping ‘Neighbourhood’, I don’t think I released any new music for over a year. I was just spending time trying to perfect my craft. I knew that when you take a break from music, sometimes it’s difficult to get people’s attention back, but I knew whatever I did drop next, had to be super strong, strong enough for people to be like ‘rah, who’s this?’ Or for people that had stopped listening to me, enough for them to realise that DC’s back. I kinda knew what I had to do to get back where I needed to be.
How long did it take to make In The Loop from start to finish?
We made ‘Neighbourhood’ in the summer of 2019, so almost two years, bro. Almost two years, it’s crazy.
One of the standout elements of In The Loop is its coherency. You gave a listener insight into your life and how you see the world. Let’s discuss the concept behind this project…
The concept originated from me and my friends starting a new clothing brand called ‘80%’. For the first release, we decided to run with ‘only the paranoid survive’. When I first heard that phrase, I thought that saying was very interesting, because paranoia usually gets a bad rap, but there were a lot of positives we highlighted and I just thought ‘rah, wouldn’t it be sick to dive into that more’. In terms of the train journey, I literally live down the road from Greenwich station. The station had been the start of so many important moments in my life, coming to the station, whether it’s going to uni, going to school, going to work, everything revolves around this and for a long time it had. So, I thought it would be sick to take someone through that journey while they’re on that train with me, experiencing the things I’d experienced.
That’s interesting you mention dropping out of university. I know a lot of people can relate to studying for a degree they perhaps don’t want to pursue. What was that like for you?
I studied sports management and really and truly, I only studied it because sports is just something I love. I just went to uni to buy time. I already knew that when the course was over, I’d researched the job prospects and wages and what not, and those job prospects weren’t for me. so I went to uni to buy myself some time to figure out what I wanted to do. Then nearer the end of the first year, that’s when I wrote the ‘Gleamin’ freestyle in my uni room, put it on Twitter and got a sick reaction, then I just decided to shoot that freestyle properly. Then luckily, it went off and went well. But uni was just to buy time. I never say this, I always say I dropped out, I didn’t drop out until I knew music was certi. At the time, I was already in conversation with the label about signing, so that made it so much easier to be like ‘yeah, I’m done with uni’.
Was that around the time when EMI starting showing interest?
Yeah, literally. In my final year of uni, that’s when I dropped out.
That’s not an easy decision, to drop out in your third year, so close to the finishing line…
It was just before my last exam!
Does that decision to drop out of uni motivate your music? To make sure that decision doesn’t go to waste?
I wouldn’t say that it drives me, because it just wasn’t for me. I wouldn’t say it’s a motivating factor, because if I wasn’t doing music, I definitely wouldn’t be doing that. I just think it was a very good decision I had to make at the time, because it was bringing me more stress than joy, and I didn’t see the point of letting something you’re not going to use in the future, stress me out. I would say it’s kind of motivating. 11.34
Let’s get back to In The Loop. There were a few insights into the experiences that shaped your life, for example, getting stabbed at a party in ‘Neighbourhood’, being mistaken for a drug dealer just because you’re a black man who dresses well in ‘Tears, Sweat, Blood’ and having security guards assuming you’re going to steal from shops in ‘Paro(noia)’. How did those experiences shape your life?
Those experiences, especially in the track ‘Paro(noia)’, are relatable to almost everybody I know personally, they’ve been through those same things. Those events increase your paranoia. Sometimes in a negative way, sometimes your paranoia might put you on edge in those situations. At the same time, it has a positive effect too, because you’re more aware, you’re alert, you’re switched on in a lot of situations, you’re thinking three steps ahead. It definitely shaped my life, the paranoia, in my opinion, for the better.
Last year, you sent me a track you made with Knucks called ‘Smoke’, which didn’t get released. So you’ve been working together for a while. How did ‘Bobby & Rowdy’ come about?
Like you said, we’ve been working together for a few years and I just felt like the music either wasn’t right at the time. I love the track ‘Smoke’, but at the same time, I thought ‘this ain’t it.’ We knew we could do better than that. So we linked up again, summer of last year, with TSB as well, and that was the glue I guess that was needed to tie it all together, then we just created some magic in one session.
So you made ‘Smoke’, then realised you can level up, and then that level up was ‘Bobby and Rowdy’?
There’s something inside me with the track ‘Smoke’, I don’t know what it was, there something inside me that just didn’t want to release it for some reason. I guess that feeling was a good feeling at the end of the day. Something wasn’t clicking. I feel like ‘Smoke’ isn’t a song that would’ve had longevity. I don’t think that if I just dropped it at the time I sent it to you, I’d still be listening to it now, but with ‘Bobby and Rowdy’, I can see myself playing it in two years and being like ‘this is sick’.
TSB produced a lot of the track on In The Loop. You’re an artist who enjoys working with the same producers a lot. I think there’s a big benefit to that, as it allows for a more coherent sound in the long term. Why do you enjoy working with TSB and how did that relationship come about?
At the time, I went on tour with [J] Hus, back in 2017, and I think Young T and Bugsey had a session with TSB and they just told me to pull up. So I went through, we worked on some tracks and from that day I just knew that TSB was different. The fact that TSB can play the keyboard fluently makes a huge difference to the music because things can be more organic and unique to you because he can make something up on the spot. A lot of producers that can’t play the keyboard have to find a loop or something already made. I just felt like he has a great musical ear and he’s very versatile and he’s on the same wavelength as my sound, they made my lyrics sound better. That was the first time we linked up, then we linked up again in 2019, and that’s when we made ‘Neighbourhood’, the second time we linked up, then the third time we linked up, we made ‘Tears, Sweat Blood’, and things just went from there.
You’ve also been working with Nastylgia for a while, who provides a lot of strong samples for your work. What is it about his sound you enjoy?
It’s mad how life works. How I met Nastlygia was, I was performing one time back in 2016 at some random show, and Bree Runway was performing at that show as well. Nastlygia was working with Bree as well at the time and I heard the beat she had jumped on and thought ‘yo this beat is crazy.’ I’d already heard that song prior to even meeting her, so when I did meet her, I asked her who produced it, and she said it ‘Nastlygia, he’s right behind me.’ so I spoke to him and said ‘yo can you send me that beat’, then when he did send the beat over, he sent a few more over, then ever since then, we’ve been working together. Nastlyiga’s probably the producer I’ve been working with the longest. With his music, it’s kind of self-explanatory with his name, but his sampling ability is crazy. His ear for samples is second to none, in my opinion. And I know that when I want a certain vibe for a track with a sick sample, I know exactly who to go to, and Nastygia’s the guy. The people I work with, all have different qualities and things they’re great at, so it’s a blessing to know them.
What does success look like for you with In The Loop?
I think the aim for this project was to reintroduce myself, a new and improved version of myself. To increase and level up in every aspect. I want people to be able to deep the visuals I dropped for this project, ‘Tears, Sweat & Blood’, ‘Neighbourhood’ and ‘Bobby and Rowdy’. The aim of this project was to make people aware that I’m back and to open their ears up to a new take on UK rap. It doesn’t always have to be the same old thing people might be used to. You can be honest, that’s the main thing, you can actually be honest and be yourself, it’s cool.
You mentioned touring with J Hus, what have your experiences been like with live shows?
I haven’t actually had that much experience. Prior to going on tour with Hus, I’d only performed like four times. It was kind of like a blessing and a curse. Obviously ‘Gleamin’ did well so people wanted me to perform, but at the same time, I had zero experience and I didn’t really have the music to perform, it was just freestyles, so it kind of threw me in the deep end. The positives were I gained the experience but at the same time, they weren’t the best performances because I really didn’t know anything about connecting with the crowd or even how to walk around on stage. But the Hus tour really changed a lot for me. I started off not really know what I was doing, but during that tour, towards the end of the tour, I found myself. I was comfortable and it really changed a lot, it gave me a lot of confidence. After the tour, I didn’t actually perform until the summer just gone, and that was Wireless’ virtual festival. But that was probably the best performance I’ve ever done. I guess it’s muscle memory from the tour, I was very comfortable. I feel like now I’m very confident in terms of performing.
I personally think you’re someone who been putting out quality work for a while, and now the numbers are starting to come through, but it hasn’t always been that way. What advice have you got for artists who believe they’re putting out quality but not seeing big numbers?
I think it’s perfectly normal to feel a type of way to feel you’re not getting the flowers you feel you deserve, we’re human, we’re going to feel disappointed if you feel like what you’re putting out is quality. It’s a lot easier said than done to say ‘ignore the numbers’, but when you look back at what you’ve put out, you won’t regret it. That’s all the matters. Whatever you put out now, it might not be appreciated until two years time. For example, when I put out ‘Dock City’, I don’t think at the time it was appreciated, but when ‘Neighbourhood’ came out, the views and streams for ‘Dock City’ shot up, so it was important that it was good quality music. You want to be able to look back and be proud of your releases. To anybody that’s doing music, don’t focus on numbers, focus on quality. You want to be able to look back in a few years time and be able to say ‘yo, that was sick’, and for people to be like ‘this guy’s stuff has been amazing’. A lot of it comes down to self-belief and confidence.
I can relate to that. It might not work on this day or that day, but if you keep at it, the flowers will come. Then again, it’s not always easy to say ‘forget the numbers, they’re irrelevant’…
Numbers are the currency in this game, so it’s important, to an extent. But it’s just all about the quality at the end of the day. I’d rather have the mindset of ‘I think I’m sick and people are just not rating it’, rather than me thinking ‘I’m just not good enough.’ So you’re on the right path if you’re thinking ‘my work is good, why are people not taking to it?’ That just means you need to continue, keep going, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
What does success look like for you from now until the end of 20222, the next 18 months? What has to happen for you to say you’ve had a good 18 months?
I would say just more of the same. For me, I’m not trying to over complicate it, I just want to be consistent. That was a problem for me before, I wasn’t consistent, I’d just drop here and there. And consistency in terms of quality as well. I also want to do a show, so for me, as long as there’s consistent growth and the quality is improving, better ideas, fresher sounds, that’s success to me. as long as there’s growth, I don’t have a certain number in mind, but when I do my own show, that’ll be a moment, maybe perform at a festival. I’m not trying to disappoint myself but at the same time, I’m still ambitious.
Why were you not consistent before?
There are so many reasons. Prior to signing, one of the reasons I wasn’t consistent was funding. I didn’t have the means to pay for videos and stuff. Music is expensive. Another time I was working and at uni trying to balance things, and it was like, there’s a lot of things going on right now, I can’t just prioritise music. Then after I signed, I was just trying to figure myself out, figure out my sound, what kind of direction I wanted to go in. since I started making music, people have often said I’m sick, but there are a lot of people who are sick rappers, a lot of people can rap. I didn’t just want to be a sick rapper, I want people to take me as an artist, as someone who makes good music.