DVS’ observations are murky, but it’s only because of the way he communicates his polysyllabic bars, demanding repeated plays. London Boy American Dreaming, his latest mixtape, continues on the trajectory started on his previous offering, One In A Billion, emphasizing skills and production similar to its predecessor. “I feel like everyone has had a chance but me. I’ve never even had a music video on MTV. I’ve never had a song on [radio] playlist. I’ve never sold a mixtape until this one,” he says. The Brixton-born rapper is nothing if not determined and that bravado is what people love about him, along with the kind of attachment that goes with treading the line between his sharp, deadpan wit, and personal experiences from his years growing up on the streets.
If you’ve been acquainted with DVS for more than a few months, you’d know he’s a musical mind without boundaries. His 24-track mixtape audibly conveys his refreshing range, exceeding expectations and debuting straight at number one in the UK hip-hop iTunes chart and number four in the overall British Albums chart. His next step is clear: to conquer America. Not every British rapper succeeds, but DVS seems to be on the right track. We spoke with the rhymester to reflect on his past, dwell on his music, and discuss present state of rap.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Is there anything you feel is important for people to know in order to bond with you or relate to your music?
I think they should just take the time and listen. I know people may have an idea of what my music is about from my image, but don’t make untimely opinions until you’ve listened. I make deep, proper reality music that everyone can relate to.
Are there ever moments when you’re not in the mood? When you’re feeling down and just want to give up?
Yeah. I experienced a few of those moments a good number of times during the making of the mixtape, but I cracked on and now we can see the end result.
In a way, it seems like it’s not easy being DVS.
Of course not, especially because music in general is pretty easy to do. However, when you have a lot going on in your own personal life, it becomes a lot harder to focus on just the music.
So what would you be doing if you weren’t making music?
Oh man, I don’t think I’d be so legitimate, so squeaky clean.
Besides yourself, who is your favorite rapper?
Obviously, Tupac and Biggie would have to be my favorites but they aren’t here anymore. So right now I guess — Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Drake. They are carrying the torch for hip hop. Here in the UK, we have a few as well; there are loads of talented people.
On your song “Versace” you state that you were born in Versace. Is that true?
What I really meant was that I’ve been wearing Versace since I was a baby [laughs]. I didn’t literally come out of my mom with a Versace shirt on me. I mean from a young age, I always had Versace around me but I didn’t really understand it. Even when my mom was wearing it, I didn’t take any notice of it, until one of my friends started talking about it.
Do you wear any other brands or are you mostly a Versace guy?
No, not really. At one point, if you can remember, Versace went out of fashion for a long while. It’s people like 2 Chainz and Drake, who have made Versace cool again. I think that’s one example showing the power of music. But the Versace that they wear is not the Versace that I’m used to, like one side leather, the other zebra. I don’t know about their stuff. I like the old skool Versace.
How did that song come about?
Pretty much everyone including Drake had done a song or remix to Versace, so I thought why not give it a go. So we just brought some Versace, jumped on the beat and put it out there. It was that simple.
Do you feel like you have to be fashionable in order to be successful?
No, not at all. Most people aren’t fashionable. It’s only a few who have a bit of style, taste or class. I don’t believe you have to be fashionable in order to be successful in music.
Do you feel any sense of being plugged in to the grime or rap scene? Or do you feel as if you’re working more in a vacuum?
Please do not get this confused: I’ve never done grime in my life. Grime is like a form of emceeing and I’ve never done that. I’ve always done music about what I see or experience. Grime is a lot more fabricated, like kidnapping grandmothers or stuff that we’ve never come across in the real underworld [laughs].
Music can sometimes be isolating. Do you ever feel lonely?
Yeah, I did experience that through this mixtape. There would be nights where a lot of my friends would go out to enjoy themselves, but I couldn’t do that. I felt as though I really needed to focus on the music. Then again that comes with anything in life; you have to sometimes work hard and make sacrifices.
How do you feel about being considered part of a movement?
To be honest, I feel like that’s an understatement. I think people like me, Jaja Soze and PDC were the start of this movement. When we were rapping in straight English back in early 2000, everyone else was rapping with an American accent or either doing grime. Rap wasn’t even popular, so I truly believe myself and a few others were at the start of this hip hop movement here in the UK.
I have a theory that your mixtape, London Boy American Dreaming, is actually your memoir.
Yeah, in fact, all of my work could also be my memoirs.
Where did the idea for the title come from?
I originally did a song a little while ago and there was a part in the intro of that song where I’m saying, ‘We’re just London boys American dreaming…’ I don’t think the Americans respect us over here. It’s like they don’t really respect the UK, they think we all drink cups of tea and eat scorns, like nothing happens over here. So that’s why I decided on that name. I wanted to give them an insight into my life and let them know we’re not fabricating their style or copying them. We don’t need to do that because we’ve got our own strong culture over here, that’s one aspect of it. Secondly, what they consider to be the American dream is actually what we are living over here — a lot of people can relate to it.
Can you identify with the American dream?
Yeah, of course, if the American dream is what I think it is.
You have a lot of guest collaborations on the mixtape. The only genre you haven’t really covered is dance. I’m assuming, you’ve got David Guetta and Pitbull lined up for your next project?
You know what; I’m going to do the whole Chris Brown thing and go all out with blonde hair for my next project [laughs]. Obviously, I wanted to branch out into other genres. I was even going to put a house and afrobeats track on this mixtape. I think those two styles are really relevant right now, but it’s not the end of the world. I will find the time to work on those for next time round.
Looking back, what sort of statement do you think you were making on London Boy American Dreaming?
The thing about me is that I never try too hard. I just knew the fans needed some new music and I provided it for them. I wasn’t trying to make no statements. My main intention was to get the music out there for everyone who had been waiting patiently for a long time. The only big decision was, was I going to sell and believe it or not, this is my first ever sold project.
How did you write “Black Waterfalls?”
I wrote that about a year ago. I have also had feedback from the song, and a lot of people really seem to think when I say “sisters” I’m referring to Muslim girls, but I am not. I’m talking about good girls in general and out of respect that’s why I said “sisters”.
The song is very different from the other tracks. Was it difficult for you to go to such a mellow place like you did?
No. There are a lot of other mellow songs on there and I really kind of like the flow and simplicity. No heavy beat, just a piano, my voice and a guitar.
I noticed throughout the song that you identify with everyday issues, male and female relationships.
If you’re a female who is a bit loose and you’re listening to the song, you’re bound to start checking yourself, no matter what you do. It’s probably not going to stop you acting the way you are, but it will make you think twice. If you’re a guy and you don’t really know about females, the song will give you a good blueprint on what not to go for. I know everyone likes it and have been going crazy about it, but I feel it’s more powerful than what people actually think.
Let’s talk about your great collaborations with Wretch 32 and Sneakbo, who both appear on the mixtape. Why did you choose them?
Sneakbo is from my area in Brixton, and he’s always been one of my favorites. I had to put him on there; he’s even on there twice. Wretch is just out of this world and he’s a really great rapper. Our collaboration “Celebration” was recorded before I even started work on the mixtape.
Wretch 32 has a real knack for capturing emotions and putting them in song, doesn’t he?
Yeah. That’s something he’s very good at doing.
Did you have any concern that they or your other guests would have maybe tried to upstage you?
No. If you’re a real artist you don’t worry about those things, you just go and do your art. There’s no need to worry if another guy next to you can paint a better picture. If he paints his picture in a different way, that’s his picture. I don’t worry if the other person sounds better than me or if they are upstaging me. I have enough confidence in my own work to know whatever I add to the table is good enough.
Is there a rapper that you feel is on your level?
I’m not conceited, so I’m not going to say no one is on my level. Like I said, when you’re an artist you don’t worry about the competition because when you have self-belief, there’s no room to worry about the opposition. There’s no room for jealousy or fear, none of those things.
So, do you think that some people feel threatened by you?
Yeah, a few people, especially because the way I am with myself and my work. I never can understand it when people are frightened.
As an artist who talks a great deal about the streets, do you think when you’ve financially moved beyond the street life, you will still be relevant?
It would be harder for me to get rich and switch because I’ve been through so much. Everyone can say they’ve grown up in the ghetto, but I was and still am in the thick of it. You could hand me a billion pounds tomorrow, I wouldn’t run out of things to rap about or say. I don’t think it will happen to me, I speak about real-life and whatever I’m going through. The secret is to keep it real.
Do you feel like an underdog?
Yeah, of course. I feel like everyone has had a chance but me. Everyone has had a chance with the major labels. I’ve never even had a music video on MTV. I’ve never had a song on [radio] playlist. I’ve never sold a mixtape until this one, so I don’t want people to pass it around because that’s bootlegging. In fact, we’re going to get all the bootleggers. I want people to go onto iTunes and purchase it.
Do you ever worry about being over-exposed?
I’m not a squeaky clean guy going into the spotlight and then having things emerge about my background or dark past. I’ve come into the game very honest and open. I think it all goes wrong when you try to portray a polished image, because before you know it a sex tape comes out and it all goes wrong [laughs].
I recently cried when OutKast announced that they were getting back together: When was the last time you cried?
I haven’t cried for a long while, but my uncle recently died and seeing my mother and the rest of my family sad made me feel like shedding a tear.
What do you hope to accomplish as a musician?
The first and foremost thing I would like is for everyone around the world to hear and understand my music. And secondly, to gain success from all the work that I’ve done.
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