Considered by many to be one of the greats of East London’s Rap history, Daff was unfortunately sentenced to 16 years in jail almost a decade ago. With the release of his new EP, ‘Rap Never Left’, he’s being introduced to a new generation of fans of UK street Rap. Another London Rap icon, Potter Payper has been part of this push, shouting out Daff on his recent tour. Prior to the release of his new EP, we caught up with Daff to talk about positive developments in the UK music scene and hitting a million views

It’s 10 years since you dropped ‘Only Just Begun’, what made now the right time for you to drop a new project?

‘Rap Never Left’ turned out to be an EP. I wanted it to be a mixtape but due to certain circumstances I could only get out five tunes and it had been a long time since anyone’s heard a body of work from me. Like you said, it’s been 10 years since ‘Only Just Begun’ so I thought it’s only right to give my fans and supporters something to let them know I’m still here, road Rap’s still about.

Why did you pick the name rap never left?

I think music has changed, there’s loads of different genres, there’s melodic Rap, party Rap but there’s not a lot of people spitting that rawness. For example, there’s Potter Payper, Mover there’s a certain bracket for certain rappers with that real back in style rap. Rimzee, Pak-Man, I don’t think there’s enough of that getting pushed so that’s why I called it ‘Rap Never Left’ because Rap is still here. Even like a lot of different genres of music are getting heard more, like people that actually rap, if you know what I mean. So that’s where I got the name from, rap’s still here, it never left and it will always still be here. 

When did you first start rapping?

I’ve been rapping since school days, year seven, I come from the Grime era, the Dizzee Rascals, the Wileys, the Roll Deeps, Ruff Sqwad. Just from school, chilling with my bredrins in the playground and clashing each other, rapping on the bus and just spitting bars from year seven and elevating year by year.

Was it only Grime rappers really or was it other styles of Rap too?

Obviously I listened to American Rap like DMX, Jay Z, one of my favourite Rap albums is ‘Chronic 2001’, classic. Growing up in East London where Grime was, East London was where it was at, so pirate radio station era, I used to run back home just to record Nasty Crew on the radio, Deja Vu 98.3 so yeah the Grime influenced me. 

You said that you can do all styles of Rap, Grime, Drill etc. which is your fave tho?

I think the people that have been supporting me since way back, I don’t think they’ve really seen the versatility of my skills because I haven’t really put out a lot of music if you think about it, I’ve put out ‘Only Just Begun’ and a few videos. I can spit fast because obviously I come from the Grime era, so spitting fast is not a thing to me, I can spit fast, I can slow it down and as the years go by, you’re gonna see some more versatility if I can still put out music. 

‘Half’ hit a million views, does it feel good to see the reception to your music when you’ve been away so long?

Yeah I’m part of the million view gang, it did feel like an accompaniment but it wore off straight away. Like when it hit a million views, I was like “I’m a part of the million view gang” but it wore off quickly. That tune deserved a million views though 100%. It’s a timeless tune and a lot of people can relate to the tune. Every day the views go up slowly, I think someone listens to ‘Half’ everyday on YouTube without fail, someone in the country is listening to ‘Half’ today. That’s why it is such a timeless tune, it eventually got a million views. Obviously I’ve been away for a long time so I only recently put all my stuff on streaming platforms, ‘Only Just Begun’ and ‘Link Up Behind Bars’, only recently I put it up on Spotify. I’m starting to feel more like an artist [laughs].

How much do you feel like the industry’s changed since you first got started in music?

It’s changed a lot because when I went away, the hottest people in the streets was like Squeekz, Joe Black, Benny Banks, J Spades was making noise, K Koke was making noise and then out of the blue, loads of new artists started coming out of the woodwork like J Hus, Kojo Funds, Yung Bxne, loads of artists left right and centre were coming out of the woodwork and it’s changed a lot but I think it’s changed for the good though and I’m happy that it’s changed ‘cause I’ve seen a lot of young artists aged 18, 19, 20, live life and performing abroad. When I was 18, I was out in these streets, so an 18 year old in this era of music, is not really out here on these streets. I mean he probably is but he’s still doing his music, he’s performing. So I’m happy for all these young G’s from this era of music cause it’s probably keeping them away from badness.

What moment did you decide to take it seriously?

When I released ‘Only Just Begun’, when that tape dropped, I linked up with my bredrin Cons ‘cause he had his own studio. He saw me in a McDonalds drive thru out of the blue, he was like I’ve got my own studio, link up. So we linked up and went to the studio and he’s a producer as well so he’s got loads of beats, so that’s how we put ‘Half’ together, put ‘Only Just Begun’ together, released the ‘Half’ video and I’ll be real, one time I was at a House rave and people started coming up to me like “are you Daff? Let me get a picture!” I was like “Rah!” I was shocked, I ain’t gonna lie, I was kinda gobsmacked, like “you wanna take a picture with me?!” I was thinking the hard work is paying off, let’s take this seriously now. So from then, that was late 2011, 2012, I started taking it a bit more seriously.

Before that were you known for being a good rapper in your area or at school?  

Yeah just like your local rapper, you know when you’re around the mandem, going to youth clubs. I wasn’t really known, besides amongst my peer groups and my friends but obviously YouTube played a big part and Rap City, cause at one point they were doing their thing, I don’t know what happened to Rap City. But they both played a big part in getting my music out there. Personally I think it was ‘Half’ that really got my music out there.

That song’s become a UK Rap classic!

Yeah, it’s timeless, I can listen to it today and that’s what I try to do with my music, I try to make timeless music that you don’t just listen to for the moment. I want you to listen three more times and think this tune is hard.

While away you’ve been shouted out by Mover in a song and Potter recently played Half at his show, how does it feel to experience that while you’re away?

That gave me goosebumps, even to see people spitting my lyrics. That tune is like ten years old and Potter Payper had like half the crowd saying “If Daff linked ten then I give mum five, if Daff linked 20 then I give mum 10.” Stuff like that just makes me wanna do music more, stuff like when Potter Payper said in one of his interviews, when he was in his cell, Stormzy bigged him up in Glastonbury, even Stormzy doing that, Potter said it motivated him like “yeah I have to do this music thing” It’s kind of the same thing, Potter Payper’s fans were singing my bars at one of his shows, it’s like I should be out there as well. 

That whole thing about “your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper” applies to you, all these respected lyricists in the UK, they look to you.

100% man and likewise, it goes both ways as well. I have respect for all the people that really rap, like take time to write the lyrics cause a lot of people now think they can just do ABC bars and just blow up out of the blue. Nothing against it at all, but that’s why I like that real back in style rap, that rap never left – it’s still here, it’s always gonna be here and I think it\s gonna be up there like these other genres like Drill, etc. 

East London’s style of rap is different, what do you think makes the rappers from east so lyrical?

I’m not too sure you know, obviously you’ve got Potter Payper, Mover, Rimzee… that’s a hard question, I don’t know. I’m gonna have to come back to this, I don’t know why we spit like this…

Would you ever like to have come up in today’s rap scene or are you glad you were rapping in the 2010s?

I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason and either way – before I went away it was the come-up stage and everyone says the come-uppance stage is the most fun. I kinda missed my come-up stage and when I went away that’s when my name started to get more known, when I went away so I kinda missed my come-up stage but now I personally think the music is the best it’s ever been, it’s the best era for music for me personally for our genre, I don’t know – it’s a catch 22 because I missed my come-up stage but now it’s the best it’s ever been. 

Before you went away the Uk Rap industry was breaking into a significant place, are you surprised to see the levels today?

Yeah I am surprised because it’s changing people’s lives 100%, it’s getting to that American stage, we’re a bit behind America but it’s getting to that stage where you can make a lot of money and live off music, because back in the day it wasn’t like that. Back in the day you had to pay to get your music out there. But I’m all for it, like I say I’m just happy for the youts dem because, you see the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, the OGs, they’ve saved a lot of people’s lives and I don’t think they know it deep down but they’ve saved a lot of people’s lives till today ‘cause all of these young G’s now they’re performing, they’re touring, going abroad and if it weren’t for them, it wouldn’t be happening to these young little G’s so I think it’s a good change and I’m happy for them.   

Your beat selections are often nostalgic, heartfelt beats. What draws you to instrumentals?

I do like sample beats ‘cause when you get that sample in the beat, it gives off that pain element even without someone’s lyrics on it. You can just feel the pain just listening to the instrumental so I do like sample riddims and just tunes that give you goosebumps – if a tune can get you in the zone where you’re zoned out, I like them tunes, they’re the sort of tunes I can out all my pain in. 

How would you describe ‘Rap Never Left’?

It’s just straight rap, it’s raw, it’s ragged and it’s just straight bars, even from the features, I got Pak-Man on there, he just does what Pak-Man does – it’s just bars, I’ve got Frenzo Harami on there and I’ve got my bredrin Baba Crunch on there and he’s just straight bars, so it’s just straight rapping on there, start to finish, straight rap and different styles. 

How did you decide who to feature on the EP?

Cause they’re people I listen to, I class them as the Potter Papers, the Movers, the Rimzees, shout out Benny Banks as well, Squeeks, I think that’s my genre of rap, real rap – like rap never left, that’s the genre for me, where you’ve got Grime, you’ve got Drill, you got Afrobeats, you got Melodic Rap, Rap never left is my genre, you know what I’m saying? I got Pak-Man on the track through a mutual friend, that’s how that happened, Frenzo Harami, he’s local, he’s from the ends and Baba Crunch, that’s my brother’s bredrin Lex and my brother Lexy showed me about Baba Crunch and he’s cold so that’s how we linked up and that’s how ‘Rap Never Left’ got made. 

The features compliment you.

The next tape I’m gonna get a couple more features, oh yeah, shout out Tiny Boost as well. Tiny Boost, the voice of the streets – that’s the sort of rap that I listen to.

You talk about watching Real Housewives. What other things have you got into while you’ve been away?

They’re my favourite housewives on Real Housewives of Atlanta; Kandi and Porsha but yeah I wouldn’t be watching that if I was on the outside 100%, but it’s something that comes on ITVBe, but I’m a fan though, I’m a fan of Real Housewives of Atlanta 100%. I don’t really read too much, I’m not really a reader still unless I’m in segregation where you have to read, there’s no TV. But yeah I’m not really into reading to be honest, I just try to stay healthy, I train, I keep tight with the family and just take it day by day to be honest, write lyrics, get hold of instrumentals, try to perfect my flow, cause I still have plans to put out more music.

What’s coming after ‘Rap Never Left’?

Probably a mixtape, same sort of style of rap, couple more features. I’m thinking like a 10-12 track thing, it’s in the process now – I’ve got like probably seven tunes ready to lay on the beats, I’ve just got to find the right instrumental. Sometimes finding instrumentals is hard, it’s not easy finding instrumentals – even getting hold of instrumentals from producers, some producers act bougie you know. Some producers act Hollywood but I’m a person that always gets stuff done; once I put my mind to it, I get stuff done regardless. I don’t really rely on anybody. 

How have you managed to keep your mind state positive throughout your sentence?

I’m a positive person anyway, I’m always smiling and I just adapt to my environment man, you have to. I know I’m coming home soon, I’m not even stressing. I know I’m coming home, it’s just a matter of time. You have to stay strong, I stay strong for my family, I have to stay strong for my family on the outside because as long as I stay strong, they’re strong. The system will never break me, that’s a fact. The system will never break me still. 

At least you’re still able to write and you’ve got that release.

Yeah man, it helps. As an artist you can release your stress on beats. 

How do you feel about the prison system’s effect on UK music?

Yeah there’s loads of rappers in jail, there’s a few Drill rappers in jail but I don’t know them personally. Drill is a tekkie one, I’m gonna watch how I step around it but Drill comes from the streets obviously but people do music to get away from the streets. It’s still 50/50, they’re waiting for that break where they don’t have to go back to the streets. Some people make that wrong decision where they still put their foot in the streets and they still try to do the music, just like what Potter Payper said, I have to do it now and put my all into music, I ain’t going back to jail. It’s about making that transition and that choice to put your all into one because you can’t do both. If anyone says they can do both, you can’t. Just put your all into one and watch everything flourish from there. There’s a lot of talent in jail though, rappers, Drillers, they just need that guidance. Once you’re in a certain position in the music game, why are you gonna risk it? And for what? To prove to this person or that person. You don’t need to prove nothing man, just do your music, look after your family and that’s it. Get into the charts, get your streams, get your sales and just keep it moving. 

And of the young guys you wanna work with? 

You know who I like? He does that melodic Rap, Born Trappy. I like Born Trappy still, he’s making a lot of noise. Drill artists, I like M1llionz, Headie One, Kwengface. My little brother likes Kwengface, he showed me about Kwengface; I like Kwengface. I’m in tune with the music scene, I know what’s going on. I’m about so I know what’s going on out there but there’s a lot of people I like. I could go on still, the music scene is good, I think right now, it’s the best it’s ever been in the UK because there’s just loads of different styles. Like everyone’s got their own style. I’m a fan of originality, once you’ve got your own style and you’re original, I like that still.

What are some of the things that people do now that you couldn’t have got away with back when you started making music?

I’m not too sure, it’s pretty much the same but the only thing is people wearing masks. I don’t think a lot of people were wearing masks when I was coming up, everyone wears a mask now. I don’t even know who kicked off the mask thing, this person might say they did, or that person says they did. But it’s pretty much the same now, it’s just elevated. Each year the music scene elevates.

What do you think about people saying the UK is bad vibes? Like we don’t always back an artist until they’ve blown properly.

Yeah it’s true, you’ve just gotta have your hood behind you, some people don’t have their hood behind them. Does it give off bad vibes? Yes and no still. 

Stream ‘Rap Never Left’ on Apple Music.

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