Exclusive Interview: Dapz On The Map – “I’m Already The Undisputed Champion of Being Me”
We drink tea with West Brom's finest export since Frank Skinner...
Art is not strictly created for the consumption of other people – often it is fun to be in the creative process, while for others their artistic expression can be a necessary catharsis – but the relative ‘success’ of someone’s art with other people can also be a huge factor in their work. Commercial success can make it easier for artists to continue being just that, but successful art can also mean that it simply resonates with others, and a positive response can provide the artist with a belief in their own ability, which they may have needed to keep going and keep creating. Just ask Dapz On The Map.
“One thing I’ve noticed: it’s hard getting noticed” said the West Bromwich MC/singer on ‘Gotta Be Me’ back in 2012, and that is something that he, by his own admission, could get hung up on. There are plenty of questions to an artist in his position that could mess with their spirit and creativity: Why hasn’t he blown yet? Would he be bigger if he were in London? Can a grime MC be allowed to sing? But something clicked.
The last year or two has seen Dapz choose to let go of any frustration and, as said in ‘Murdah’, “remind myself who I am sometimes”. Almost inevitably, focusing on himself, his art and the knowledge that he is an artist in its purest form has coincided with a trajectory that has pushed him a good few steps forward in the past twelve months. The aforementioned ‘Murdah’, produced by Swifta Beater, was playlisted on Rinse FM and later BBC Radio 1Xtra across the back end of 2015. Soon, there followed an invitation from his idol Kano to open for him on each of his nine UK tour dates, while the PRS for Music Foundation’s Momentum Fund also recognised and rewarded his talents with the financial resources to accelerate the creation and release of his forthcoming debut album DSAW (as in Don’t Say A Word, his motto).
When we meet Dapz, it is less than a fortnight since his debut headline show, where he and his friends performed to a sell-out crowd in Birmingham. Now, not only does he have self-belief but evidently that of plenty of others too. Dapz On The Map has become Dapz On The Atlas. As such he feels vindicated, unstoppable, and he’s only just getting started. Sat at an 18th-floor hotel restaurant in Central London, where the view grabs the awe of Dapz mid-conversation on more than one occasion, we drink tea (he takes three sugars, although our half-joke about diabetes convinces him to reduce to two on this occasion) in an hour in which we are inspired by his energy, self-belief and potential.
We were listening to your Round 2 mixtape on the way here, and your state of mind in ‘Something’s Gotta Give‘ stuck with us. Is that a place you’re still in?
Nah, not no more. Two days ago I linked up with Thomas [Mellor] because I have to try and write a Daily Duppy – that’s what the next step is supposed to be – and Thomas doesn’t live far from where I used to work before I quit and just started doing my own thing. I don’t know, I’ve had so many opportunities to go there – it’s not like it’s so far out of my reach – but I went there and I was like ‘yo, this is really real’. It was nighttime, and the way the lights were shining and it was just different fam. The whole fact I was taking pictures for my brand and my business outside of a brand and business I used to depend on so much to do this, it felt really good man. Forget everything else, I feel proud of myself for doing that alone, you know them ones fam? That’s not easy bruv, not everyone can do that so I’m proud of that.
The energy and belief is clear, as evident in the brilliant behind-the-scenes interview at the ‘Oh My Days’ video shoot, so what effect did your recent sold out debut headline show in Birmingham have on top of that?
The ‘Oh My Days’ video was shot in West Brom, and that’s my area. There was like 60% fam & friends, about 30% supporters and 10% bloggers, and it was just amazing. I was like ‘rah, this is mad’. It was only 3 days promotion. You know me fam, I’m more reclusive, not tweeting and that. I’m more face-to-face like this, because I say too much and that contradicts DSAW! 60 people in there, wicked. I was like ‘alright then cool, be brave man. You’ve just come off this tour with Kano, you’ve seen what needs to be done to some extent. You’re around like-minded people who have been in that industry and know that market, and they’ve related to you. Just do a show init, be brave. Be brave! Do it.’ Done it.
I was thinking it was gonna sell out first week. Reality check: didn’t. It kind of disheartened me for about…24 hours. It disheartened me still, because I thought ‘this is Birmingham and Birmingham love me’, and it’s not that they don’t, it’s just that it wasn’t time for it to sell out at that time. If it did, I think I would’ve been a totally different artist. I feel like the preparation that me and the team around me, conjured up to get it selling out was so worth it. I know if I did sell out in a week, I would’ve tried to go for the bigger room and put all that pressure on. You don’t need that, I’m not ready for that and I realise that now. I was ready for my settings and I’m perfectly at the right place for where I’m supposed to be. It sold out at the right time and it was just wicked, an amazing experience. Amazing. I understand now why artists do this.
What were the big lessons from that Kano tour this year?
That was what gave me the motivation to do [my show], seeing that. When I came back home and reality kicked in – you’re not travelling from Norwich to Bristol or London to Sheffield or whatever, you’re just back home – ah man. I think I kind of got homesick…homesick from the tour! It was like a car crash. Boof. ‘Ohhh my gosh, I’ve stopped moving. What’s going on?!’ That’s what inspired me to do my own one.
I’d never been on a tour before. The backstage life, even the smell, all of that is amazing fam. City to city all had the same smell, it’s weird man. Backstage, wires, mics, big speaker boxes…whatever that smell gives off. It smells like new equipment. I can remember the smell and I’ll never forget it either.
What have I learned most from that Kano tour? You have to be a true artist man. That’s what it’s about, it’s not gonna work if you’re not a true artist. I saw Kano come out to nine different cities, and the way he carries himself before, after and in the process of the show. Things like saving his voice, little gems that he was giving me on stage and all that stuff. Drinking honey and lemon. Yo! People used to tell me about honey & lemon but it was actually seeing him do it and knowing the importance of it. I realised that my man’s a champion in his own settings, and I believe that I’m a champion. Like a diamond, one of those diamonds that’s hidden fam. A diamond’s not trying to show you that a diamond’s a diamond. A diamond’s gonna still shine regardless, and I’m trying to move like that fam.
I believe that man’s on a champion champion diamond sound right now, I really do. I’m not talking about the scene, I just believe in myself compared to where I’ve come from so it’s not arrogance, you know what I mean? I feel like I’ve got the cup already. My cup. I’m in a new place and now it’s time to get to new levels but I feel like I’m already the undisputed champion of being me. Leaving old lifestyles and entering new lifestyles, I feel like I’ve got the cup. I feel like I’m on some diamond levels, you have to go and find me. The music, that’s what I’m interested in exposing myself through. Man treats this as art.
There have been snippets in your songs of interviews with people like Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee, and your ‘Champion Champion’ video showed footage of a whole load of greats. What inspires you about these people?
I’m interested in confidence fam, cos I realised that’s one of the keys to me elevating as a brand, as Dapz On The Map. It’s all down to confidence. The more I started to believe and get confident within myself, that’s when everything changed. I think confidence is an attractive trait for a female or male, you can’t lose. You make people feel cool and calm. You can mistreat it but you can definitely have it in a good way. People like Bruce Lee: “If I tell you I’m good you will say I’m boasting, but if I tell you I’m no good, you know I’m lying.” That’s confidence. Ali, that’s oozing confidence. I just like the confidence and now I’ve found it within myself.
How long did that take?
Years, bruv – from since I’ve started until 2015, when I dropped ‘Murdah’. That’s when I said ‘alright cool, it’s time to really really believe in yourself Dappy. Do your thing, the time’s now. All on the line, no messing about. Let’s go’. July 18th 2015, I put it on my Soundcloud. Now, just over a year later, mad things. I’m so glad I use my Instagram. That’s my little diary you know. I don’t do it for likes, I do it to show myself what I’ve been on fam. The year has been crazy and I still don’t feel like I have done anything. I don’t feel like I am in. I feel like I’ve got a whole five to seven, maybe ten years left.
Case in point being that sold out show, with still not so much as a DSAW album release date in sight. Is it done?
No, DSAW is not finished fam. DSAW’s probably gonna end up like Konnichiwa fam – not musically, but cos it’s not ready and it can’t be rushed. It’s not gonna be rushed. No. No! I know it’s gonna get tense for me soon cos I can feel it in my soul already. The @s I’m getting on Twitter are horrible! [laughs] They’re saying ‘yo when’s DSAW landing’, ‘Any news on DSAW?’, ‘Yo what’s the album saying?’ all the time, and they have no idea I’ve gotta take time.
What’s the reason for that? Is it just a case of you being a perfectionist?
It is man, that’s the bottom line. Every tune I make, I try to make a tune on the same level when it comes to the feel-good factor. Even when it’s a sad tune, it’s the power of the emotion that the song gives you. How strong that emotion you’re feeling decides if it goes on DSAW or not. That’s why it has to take long. I swear on my whole life, I’m not sacrificing it you know. Every song has to be a champion champion song, and if it’s not a champion champion song it can’t go on there. I’m gonna do at least 13 songs. It’s not gonna be no joke album. My whole life compacted on a 13-track – two or three hidden tracks, probably – CD. Bare gems and tunes that I’m gonna extend. Ah man, you know my motto fam. I’m trying to hold it down. It’s gonna be special, it’s gonna be amazing.
Do you feel like, because you can sing, you’re freer to talk about more than some of the grime artists you emerged alongside?
Back to what I was saying about confidence, that’s all that it’s about. If you’re not afraid, you’re confident to speak about what you’re speaking about. Look at what Skepta says: “Say what I want, don’t care / don’t care if it make things awkward”. You just have to have confidence inna real life. The moment you do, it becomes acceptable. People are cool and calm with it – ‘Oh, that’s ok then’ – because you’ve made it ok. If you move shy and shaky, it’s no longer ok. That’s the energy you put out. I started gaining confidence and started singing and that.
I just reckon I’m a collection of everything I listen to, like the albums I grew up on. That’s why you can’t say ‘What is man’s sound? Is it grime? What is it? Who is he?’ You don’t know. I think I need to create a genre fam, I feel like I do. When people ask me what do I do, I say I’m a recording artist but when they say what music do I make I say grime. I think to myself, do I make grime? Is grime a sound that’s now evolved to the point where the music I make is still classed as grime, or is grime just what we know it as and you need to make another genre, because you don’t make grime? I don’t actually know. I’m not sure I actually care. I’m just a collection of everything I listen to and that’s not only grime. That’s why I talk about the things I talk about, and it sounds how it sounds. If anything, my sound is more reggae and soul influenced. The grime element comes from me, where I’m from and where I grew up. Apart from that, everything’s reggae and soulful. I think that’s what I bring that’s a bit different to everyone else in the ‘grime scene’.
How is having a family factor in with what you do? Does it add extra focus?
The mad thing is I don’t even dwell on it a lot. I should do, but if I did it would probably be mad settings. It is definitely a motive though, serious agenda. I need to provide now for my family, friends and loved ones who believe in me as an artist who can do great things. I don’t wanna let man down. I don’t like to let people down.
If I’m not doing music, what am I gonna do? I’ve suffered fam, I have to do this. It’s different because I’m not trying to live unhappy, that’s dead. I’ve done it, I’ve tried and there’s perks to it but there’s also downsides. I’m an emotional person, and I can’t have too many downsides. Not when I wanna do something else.
Don’t be scared of the sacrifices and the repercussions of the sacrifices. Don’t be scared. You know when Neo sees everything in green? I’ve seen it in real life. It’s different settings now, everyone’s moving in green and I feel I can do whatever I wanna do. It’s why I can talk like this – it feels like I’m talking like I’m bigger than I am but I’m not, I’m just talking based on what I’ve done. That’s what I did, that’s what I had to do. Do not be scared fam. It just so happens that the move I’ve done is bigger than I am, if that makes sense, because this is normally a story that superstars tell. They’re rich and ‘I had to do this and that’, you know what I’m saying? I’m saying it now and I’m still nowhere near. That’s a bit scary you know, because when I am there, where is that? What is that famo? I know I’m on the right track – I’m a spiritual person, I don’t do this alone – and I believe I’m in this for the long run.
Tell us more about Thomas Mellor, because it feels like we can’t talk about your music without talking about Thomas.
He is the key to Dapz On The Map sounding to how I sound. Obviously I am the captain of my ship but trust me fam, some people are just fundamental to the team and he’s a key one. If I made beats, I’d make them like that. Thomas is…I don’t know bruv. He is the Shinobi master, you get me – a man of few words, very calm and reserved. He’s gonna make it with or without anyone on his tunes. He is different. He’s got another artist that he works with called Penny Bridges. Listen to the music he makes for her, then the music he makes for me. Different worlds. How does he manage to tap into that world so well? He’s a musician, The Locksmith. He’s got the key to whatever you want.
He’s a friend as well, only blood could make us closer. We will sit down and have mad debates about music bruv, about our sound and what we need to do. Hours fam, to the point where he’s like ‘get off my phone.’ Thomas is sick and we’re gonna make a lot of progress together.
Is it true you two make music together in the car?
Yeah, in the car fam. He’s got his laptop, plug the AUX lead in and get busy. Bruv, the journeys we end up on! Sometimes I just jump on the motorway and come off when I feel like it. What junction’s this? I don’t know. Where are we? I don’t know. Spin back around, go the A-roads back and make a beat. ‘I Swear’ got made on the way back from London, and if Thomas was here now we’d be making a beat on the way back, standard. We make tunes in the car fam: the second part of ‘Oh My Days’ got made in the car. ‘Shinobi’ got made in the car. ‘Champion Champion’ got made in the car. That’s probably why I’ve been even more so on that melodic stuff, because it’s on the go so it’s all vibes-y music. When I feel like I’ve got something I’m speeding up fam, going crazy on the roads like ‘yo we’ve done it!’ On the go, always. It really is driving around the city until we get bored.
We’ll close with the big question: What’s next?
I kind of feel like not doing no more tunes and just going right into a cave, and just coming out when DSAW’s ready, no matter how long that takes. If it takes eight months, do it. Don’t tweet don’t Instagram, don’t do nothing. Do a Frank Ocean and just ghost!
I have to step up my level. I don’t feel like my power level is high enough to make DSAW the way I want it to be, and still have tunes on the internet that’s not attached to it. Like, I can say ‘I Swear’ is not gonna be on DSAW, but I want to have those kind of tunes out there plus have ‘Oh My Days’, which will be on DSAW. I feel like I have to get to that level of consistency, you know what I’m saying? Either I level up or go into hibernation, and I don’t know yet. Mandem want me to level up, but I feel like if I go into hibernation I will be an absolute MONSTER when I come out fam, I swear. I’m definitely going in soon, like it or love it.
My next one will be my last one..
Then it’s hibernation until DSAW
— Dapz OTM (@Dapzonthemap) August 24, 2016
I’m just enjoying the process man, and this journey. I’m an innocent soul in this music game, learning along the way. The key to it, I’ve realised, is just all about putting out good quality music and treating it as an artform. You don’t have to do that to go far in music, because there’s loads of people that do it and more here and now but fade away in six months, or you can do it the other way. The other way’s longer and harder and more strenuous, but it’s like being a footballer. I used to go to school with Daniel Sturridge – I used to see him from primary school just being a champion, way ahead of his age. You could tell he was going to be a footballer, but the commitment, dedication and how his parents were going on, that’s the difference. You can either move like that or you can just play in the park and be really good in the park. I feel like music’s like that. I know how to kick the ball now, but it’s all about how far do I want to take this? Do I want to play in the Premier League for Arsenal with ‘OTM’ on the back of my shirt, or do I wanna be playing Powerleague being sick?
Before I go as well, I feel like this should be said: I’m trying to treat everywhere I am like a vacation, like I shouldn’t be here for long. Soon I should be travelling and have a show somewhere where I can’t be in England no more, so then when I’m back in England it’s like a holiday. That’s what I’m trying to do, because certain man move like that and they are the ones who enjoy life the most. New experiences and happy settings constantly. Go abroad for like longer than two or three weeks and come back to England, the air’s different. It feels fresh for about two days and then you’re back to reality and it all feels normal again. Those two days, though! I need to be like that all the time. I realise that’s the key, to put myself in that position, and music is how I’m gonna try do it. Don’t Say A Word.