South London’s most poetic young lyricist on gender and geography.
Strolling through the shadows of a place once iconic, I scan the dockside for a kid who looks like Denzel Himself. Known until this moment through authenticity alone, I saunter through a populous London Southbank looking for the rapper. Faster than expected this approach pays off, as I notice a certain youth gazing contentedly over the Thames, emitting that certain scent of ingenuity. As I near the scene, my declarative “yo” seems like a party during prayer. Though as he turns around, his expression casually, quite charmingly, electrifies. “I’m Denzel”. Holding a skate deck in one hand, he goes for handshake instead of fist bump, the first of a few quaint details.
Soon after, we arrive at a Mexican cooking hut, minds distracted from the grilling of an interview. We start with pulled beef as I push forward my first question – why rap?. Pause for chew. “Probably Odd Future, the spring of 2010” he says, “they were more tangible than the stars.” He chuckles at the poetic potential of this first riposte before I question, “was there a particular track, a sonic epiphany?” “You know” he sits up… “Tyler’s D.I.Y. attitude made me see things differently – I connected with OF’s cult spirit, that sense of self-reliance and aggressive desire, regardless of the musical direction.” Throughout the lexicon of game changing hip hop, stalwarts such as The Diplomats, Kanye West or Rick Ross have inspired others through hustle, and not sound. Denzel is keen to harness this determined energy, and use it as a backdrop for his unique sound.
Four releases to date, Denzel’s Oxford-precise pronunciation makes for an invigorating and thorough flow. Asked if this is consequence of upbringing, or a desire to be all the way British, he responds “Fables. My mother used to read me Aesop, and then I have this thing where I’m almost obsessive about etymology, the origin of words”. Addressing the partisan element of the question he muses “I see my geographical situation in the realm of chance, so I’m not necessarily a flag waver”. It seems as though national pride is fairly irrelevant to Denzel, though there is no question the refined nature of his English curiously contrasts vernacular norms.
Recent servings of music including ‘Selsie, ‘Nobunaga’ (featuring Piff Gang’s Milkavelli) and ‘Young Insolent’ are very much like Michelin suppers; The produce is rare, the delivery sharp – and his growing list of patrons are hungry for more. I ask “How would he define his style?” He sips. “‘I’ve called it ‘Pleasure’, a cohesive collection of songs and visuals, produced entirely by myself”. I discover more bows to his arrow when he reveals a thirst for film, previously enriched by a college class where he would borrow tools to learn after hours. “I don’t know if borrow is the right word” he jokes. “In terms of who I’m working with, [thats] my creative partner Gabriella Skies. Together we work under the moniker ‘Brxtherhood’. Also my best friend Myylo Whyte”. Illustrative of a versatility blossoming, Denzel produces one track on the upcoming Hawk House EP ‘A Handshake For Your Brain’. It’s a piece he describes as “funny, relatable and thought provoking”.
This is an extract from the Summer 14 Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.
Words by Shola Timothy.
Photographs by Ryan Warner.