Heralded as one of the UK’s most exiting emerging rappers to date, Leiwsham-based artist Deema continues to deliver straight tunes and sleek bars for listeners across the country. Rising through the ranks of renowned south London collective The Square and spending valuable time under the wing of Elf Kid, Deema has carefully honed and developed his sound over the years since dropping his acclaimed debut EP CHEW YOUR FOOD. With support from a slew of UK tastemakers including NME, GRM DAILY and MIXTAPE MADNESS, Deema delivered nothing short of a masterpiece, teaming up with fellow Square comrade Dom Valentino for a captivating four-track affair.
Since, Deema has been busy releasing follow up records — building upon his rising success up and down the country. With the more recent Rainbow EP providing the sleekest of bars and beats, the youngstar continues to prove why he is one of the most sought after rappers in the game right now. Having dropped grime for the slower, lo-fi beats upon which he can truly speak, there’s is no doubt Deema will keep on growing and it was about time we caught up with the Lewisham rapper.
Did you get up to anything over the Christmas break? And do you use this period to take some time away from music and relax or are you in the studio still?
Tell you what, I would have been banging out the studio but I got COVID for a bit and lost time with quarantine and that, so I didn’t get to go to the studio as much as I wanted to. It wasn’t the best Christmas, not gonna lie! Not a very relaxing time.
Hailing from South East London, how much of an impact has the area had on your music – specifically Telegraph Hill in Lewisham?
I’d say a lot, man. To be honest, if I wasn’t from there I’m not sure I would be doing the same thing. All of my peers and anyone who has helped me get started are from that area, and the first studios I went to were in that area. Tom the producer lived in that area, so I’d say Lewisham has been pretty fundamental. I don’t get to postcode-y, like if you’re from this or that neighborhood but I do have a lot of love the place.
Initially starting out in Grime and heavily influenced by the likes of The Square (before being affiliated with them later down the line), did you have any early influences outside of music?
I’d say Jack Harper, a designer and close friend of mine who has designed a couple of my cover arts. He makes clothes, so it’s not directly music related. I like it when people are just doing their thing and coming through, it puts a battery in my back to do the same. Just certain people that make you do better. He always puts 100% in and always tries to make his work mean something rather than just to sell. He’s definitely a big influence there. Also mumzy, I guess an inspiration and an influence. Mumzy has been huge. She’s got a really good work rate, she’s very able for her age and she’s creative having done woodwork and painting, like refurbishing the whole house and that. People around you that just do the right thing.
Did school influence you at all?
Definitely, because of the area it was in there was both poverty and wealth — so you had a mix. Same with the students in school, all of the cultures were mixed together. I think my school definitely had an impact on me man. It wasn’t the worst school but it wasn’t the best school, you know? But I liked the people there and got along with everyone. We weren’t very cool though. We didn’t have any parties, which was weird. Like we didn’t go to any parties where it was just my year group. Everyone says they hate school, but I enjoyed school.
On the topic of The Square, can you tell us how you became involved with the group and how important it was on your development as an emerging MC?
From school we had a really tight group of friends, like five or six of us, and we became passionate about the grime sets we were listening to, it was around the time of the grime resurgence, like 2015 when Skepta was about to drop “Shut Down” and stuff like that. The scene was kinda bubbling. Then all the grime sets on like Rinse FM were really popping off. We were big fans of groups like YGG and The Square, like proper fanboys. We would be in the park copying and singing songs from some of the sets so — we were just copying all the bars and rhythm changes. Eventually we started writing our own bars, then one day Blakey, who I’d known from the skatepark (just opposite the park) came over and heard us spitting and was like, “yo, you’re sick let me take you guys to radio”. It was all very sudden. That weekend we went to radio with The Square.
I knew these guys and I knew their bars, it was like meeting Jay Z. The radio session went alright — I got a little wheelup and I remember Elf Kid was like “that’s the virgin wheelup!”. From then they just took me under their wing and at that point it made sense for them to, because they had lost a few group members at that point but it was proper nice of them to do it and I’ve always been very grateful. After that, Elf Boy had a hot song called “Golden Boy” which hit a milly views on YouTube or something like that and it was back in 2016 as well which was a lot then, not everything is getting a million these day. They had a lot of shows that we went to and yeah, they just brought me under their wing. Their work ethic was crazy and their dedication at being good at spitting barrs was too good. They instilled being good whilst performing, like microphone control and knowing when the beat is going to change. Those guys definitely helped me.
Around 2018, you switched up your quick-tempo grime sounds to a more mellow hip-hop orientated focus – releasing an captivating EP entitled The Debut. Why the switch and have you looked back since?
Nah, I haven’t looked back. To be honest with you, at the time I didn’t want to switch. There was a time when I was trying to make a really good grime track, but I couldn’t really come up with anything that didn’t sound cringe to me. I think it’s really hard to make a good grime song that isn’t cringe. I feel like the best ideas for songs are really cringe but they’re just done well and that’s how they make them so catchy. For example, I feel like for most Kanye songs if someone else did them, they just would be cringe. That’s what it’s like with grime I think. It is difficult, there aren’t many grime hits but when they do hit, the whole country gets involved. I never actually said f*ck grime, but it just never happened. Then one day, I don’t know how, I was listening to one of my mates beats on Soundcloud and ended up writing a really good verse, like my best verse I’ve ever written to that beat. From there I thought I need more beats like this. I sounded more presentable and I wasn’t rapping at like, a million miles per hour — I was rapping what I wanted to say, not to fill space. With grime, I felt I was putting in so many words and it was just too much.
Since The Debut you have dropped a plethora of delightful soundtracks including your two-track EP Maddie & Blame alongside Kish!. The production matched with your vocals works a charm. Did you expect it to pop off as much as it did?
Do you know what, I wouldn’t say it popped off straight away. It kind of did on YouTube but then I realised we put ads on the video and thought it must just have been them pulling through. With the streams, it built up over a while. It didn’t really ‘pop off’ as such, it went… accordingly! I had confidence in the stuff I recorded and thought one of these songs has got to do well. I didn’t know how well, but was thinking within the hundreds and thousands of streams.
Just on the topic of streams and views, is this something you look at to gauge success? Or would you measure success differently?
Yeah, for me Rainbow didn’t stream as well as I thought it might. Those songs were f*cking good songs. One thing I need not be upset by the end of this is to make sure that I’m happy with the songs that come out. If I was to hit one hundred thousand streams or a million, I want to be happy with what I put out. To be honest it’s not just the songs either, for example with Rainbow I was a bit disappointed with how the videos came out. It’s about how good the creative is — that’s how much of a success it is to me.
Perhaps equally as popular was your longer-form project CHEW YOUR FOOD. You’ve previously stated the idea is to take time to reflect and take your time over decisions. Do you think in this day and age there’s too much information for us to process?
Hmm, it’s that double edged sword init. There is too much to process, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. I wouldn’t change it, but just be cautious with what you surround yourself with. If you are going to do something, savor it.
Your more recent EP, Rainbow, contains four tracks of joyful tunes. What was the idea behind the record, and/or the creative process?
It’s funny because as I said earlier, it didn’t perform as well as we thought it would but the idea was just to put out four songs that were just… listenable. Not trying to demand too much, or trying to do alternative weird sh*t. We just put out a handful of songs that could go in your playlist and on your rotation. I felt like CHEW YOUR FOOD was a step away from doing normal rap, doing something slightly experimental. But Rainbow didn’t feel like too much of a project, it just was meant to be a nice and short EP.
The record is produced by long term collaborator Dom Valentino. How did this partnership come about and do you have plans to work together in the near future?
Yeah man, Dom’s my main producer. We went to the same school but were a few years apart. In the park, Dom would always hang out with Clay, and they set up a studio in Clay’s back garden shed. That place was a proper communal, smokey spot and you’d get so many different types of people coming through. Literally so many people I know from that place. Proper communal.
Like a creative hub?
Let’s speak some stuff into existence. Where will we be seeing you this year? And where do you want to be in a year’s time?
I want to double, or triple, my monthly listeners… on the earlier topic of success! Also I want to be calm at the piano by that point, so I’m hoping to get a teacher this year. I want my mixtape to be out too man. Let’s hope!
Check out Deema’s latest release Rainbow EP below.