UK legend Dabbla breaks down new album ‘Death Moves’ in our new interview- “a fan handed me his baby to kiss!”

In Hip Hop, Interviews by Nick Russell

One of the most prolific and charismatic of all the characters in the British hip hop game, Dabbla is a name whose distinct vocal style is loved by many around the world. Having been at the fore front of the game for years, he’s nothing short of owning the talisman title and with such a successful full length debut in the form of ‘Year of the Monkey’ in 2016, Dabbla is about to drop his second album ‘Death Moves’. Our founder and editor  Nick Russell  headed to The Star by Hackney Downs for a pint or two with Dabbla to talk about the new album, career highlights and what it was like shooting the FUTD video in Death Valley!

The album ‘Death Moves’ is available to preorder from Potent Funk.

Follow Dabbla via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Words and editing: Nick Russell // Photography: Garbs

BB: So, we are here today in East London to talk about your forthcoming album, ‘Death Moves’.  What was the spark that made you want to start recording again after the success that was ‘Year of the Monkey’?   

DABBLA: I think I just wanted to make more music. Obviously, but I didn’t think I’d make another album if I’m honest, I was just concentrating on making one sick song and a sick visual at the time.  And then before I knew it, I had about a dozen bangers with videos and I guess it just made sense to collect them all onto a record. So it just naturally became my next album. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened that way.

BB: Brilliant, okay.  And what was the length of the recording process from day one until you realised you had the final product?

DABBLA: The first track, which didn’t actually make it on the album; was ‘Self-Made’, the first solo release of mine on our own label “Potent Funk” which I run with Sumgii (LDZ, problem Child, Cult mountain/616 producer). That was back in August 2017. I kind of thought it would be on the album but it ended up not on the album so I decided to include it on the limited edition Death Moves cassette instead. Then in November we released ‘Flying’ produced by AJSwizzy . We shot the video in Switzerland and I think that’s when I thought, yeah, I can do this on my own and it can be great. So yeah, November 2017 was when I thought yeah ‘next album’ is the obvious place where this is going.

I was in Vietnam with Jam Baxter touring as Dead Players when Flying dropped and I was working on “There He Is” at the time. Spin City flew out to meet me and we shot the video which dropped in January. It was in Vietnam where the name ‘Death Moves’ came to me. You know I love my kung fu and it just sounded like a cool fucking title for what was cooking, at it just stuck. I’d made about 60% of the album by then so when  got back to the UK, I decided to go to California to shoot a bunch of videos for a bunch of other tracks that I had ready. I flew to California mid-march with Spin City and we mapped out five videos which we needed to execute in 4 weeks. Those video were Hemisphere, ‘Devil You Know’, ‘FUTD’, ‘Same Old Me’ and ‘Learnings’, a few of which you ain’t seen yet!

I still don’t know how we did it, it was a challenge, and a proper graft. But we kind of mixed that whole work and travel thing and came up back with the gold. It was whilst shooting FUTD in Death Valley when I thought, oh shit, this IS Death moves! So all in all, creative-wise – the whole process took approximately one year from start to finish.

BB: With the lead video, ‘Fuck up the dance’, obviously Nevada desert, Death Valley is not the average video location to shoot a UK hip hop single in – how did that concept come about?

DABBLA: So we landed in Cali and just got on the internet straight away looking for the most iconic, coolest fucking locations we could find and started making lists of which videos we were gonna shoot where. We actually shot the second half of the FUTD video at Joshua Tree, first. Joshua Tree is where all the hippies used to go and eat mushrooms. We were staying at a friend of a friends yard in Van Nuys (Los Angeles) and he had loads of shit in his house like a huge clock, a globe and a fold-away bike, so we just loaded up the car with all this random stuff and headed out with the drone.

We already had the video for ‘Vines’ finalised, which we created with Pose Works – a  really sick guy who’s a don at animation and CGI. Basically, we designed this little robot called DBLA and brought him to life in a full CGI visual, so I think having that video in the bag sparked the idea of a sequel. I was like ‘yeah let’s do something fucking epic with that robot!’. In the ‘Vines’ video, DBLA discovers earth from his ship, so I think it was obvious the little fella needed to crash land in that desert. Next thing i know, Pose Works flew out and we shot the opening scenes and all the robot interactions out in Death Valley on the way back from Las Vegas. Pose Works is the genius behind all this, even though we had no storyboards and it was hot and dry and we were dehydrated to fuck, he still managed to track the desert and the car, added DBLA seamlessly into the footage. We didn’t really have a plan and we made most of it up as we went along, which is my preferred method in doing anything creative really.

 

We were  in California for a month shooting videos. PoseWorks flew out for two weeks to work on the FUTD video and he smashed it!  I think he’ll be working with ILM or Pixar pretty soon! He’s so insanely talented, all self taught. It’s been a dream come true to watch him work on this! My good friend Skuff put me onto a term used in the film industry called ‘bumping the lamp’, which exactly describes the attention to detail PoseWorks put into this piece of art.

BB: Yeah, it’s a memorable video, it’s definitely different from the rest.  And so on the album itself what producers have you got on there? And what is your beat selection process?

DABBLA: Ok so we got he man, the myth, the genre himself – Sumgii, a long time bredren and family friend, he’s always my first go to. GhostTown is obviously one of my favourites and one of this country’s all-time greatest in my eyes. I’ve got my good friend Don Piper aka Wesley Pipes on there. I’ve got a track produced by Sumgii AND Purist on there, which is the LDZ and Eva Lazarus collab. I’ve got the incredible Dag Nabit from Foreign Beggars on there – he made the track that Rag’N’bone Man features on. I’ve got a beat on there made by Pete Cannon, Ghosttown & Dirty Dike, which is actually the title track. And I’ve got a Hash Finger banger on there, I love Hash Finger’s beats, I’ve been a fan for a while and he provided the beat for ‘Same Old Me’ which is an all time personal favourite.

BB: On ‘Same Old Me’, it sounds like you’re referencing a concept which has become more at the front of peoples’ minds –  the concept of knowledge of self. Was that the theme of the track which you were pushing, and did it come about through something that you discovered about yourself? Or was it to reflect what people are becoming aware of in 2018?

DABBLA: Yeah man definitely a bit of that. This whole thing is self-investigation and self-exploration for me. I’ve been so many things throughout my lifetime and a lot of those versions of me are dead now.  Death is the only certainty and change is the only constant. We are constantly changing all the time and I’m aware of how much I’ve changed but I’m also very aware of how much I’ve stayed the same. That’s why the hook goes … “It’s funny how they say that I’ve changed but I know that I’m the same old me”. And that’s because I study myself hard.

It’s kind of like within my own viewpoint but also aware of how shit looks from the outside.  Kind of like observing the observed. I’m still the same person that I’ve been from the start of this whole shit and this was a reminder – not to get derailed or swept up in all that bullshit music business hype. A bit of attention can change a person for the worse, I’ve seen it.

BB: Certainly – 

DABBLA: I’m sure you have as well, certain people get gassed and they change and I think this is very important to remain as yourself with your moral compass, true values and integrity intact.

BB: Just to let people know that aren’t aware, when did you first start recording music?

DABBLA: I was 15, 16 listening to Kool FM, reciting jungle lyrics.  Like anyone who grew in London in the late 90’s I was heavily influenced by clubs and Rave culture.

BB: what was your start point?

DABBLA: Jungle music was the start, my first bars were 160-180 bpm . Then I met Pierre Green at University in Manchester. University didn’t work out but we made lifelong musical friends through promoting events at Sankey’s  and not long after that we rented our first studio which was next to Chase & Status and Future Cut in the early 2000’s.

BB: Okay.  So you’ve crafted your style over the past 20 years of spitting bars?

DABBLA: Yeah, yeah probably man.

BB: And what’s the stimulus to make you start writing a song as opposed to just writing bars? What’s the mindset that you know you need to be in before you decide to write a song?  

DABBLA: Right this is where it gets mental because looking back, most of the gold comes from moments of pain  loneliness and loss. That’s that awful space where a lot artists drop nuggets. But I have always been really careful not to fall into that self-sabotaging cycle. I actually enjoy making music the most when everything around me is peaceful. And that in itself isn’t easy all the time. It’s all to do with space I’m discovering. Creating enough space for creativity to come visit rather than you deciding “right, I’m going to make a song”.  It doesn’t really work for like that for me. Every time I try and force myself to be creative, I end up pushing it further away. But if I can create a space where I’m relaxed and I’m treating myself well eating and sleeping good, I feel more inspired, you know what I mean?

BB: Definitely. Keep it organic!           

DABBLA: Yeah, more love than pain, you know what I mean?

BB: Okay – what would you say are the three highlights that you have experienced in music that you’ve realised, are what you came into music for?  

DABBLA: The first big moment that springs to mind was touring Australia, I was at an after party for the last Dead Players show in Perth with Ed Scissortongue and Jam Baxter. We were sat on a sofa, outside being summer and Baxter was just like, “yo do you realise we are as far away from home right now as possible, doing this shit?” And that’s when things clicked and it was like, right this shits real. This is that shit people kill themselves for, I mean, these opportunities. The second was supporting Rag’N’Bone Man at IntoThewyldes festival, last year…. I think, the years are starting to blur into one ahah. It was an absolutely fucking beautiful festival, beautiful people. I don’t think they would have booked a Dabbla show if Rags hadn’t influenced it that way. But you know they booked me, Baxter and Dirty Dike and after all our solo sets, we all jumped into a massive free for all with Rags himself, spitting bars after his big show on the main stage.  But after that show I mean, my solo performance, I came out front to spud all the people that wanted to spud me. Then a fan handed me his baby to kiss! That’s where the bar “someone passed me a baby I kissed it on the cheek and returned it safely” came from. That was mad. Looking back, I should have signed that baby.

BB: Yeah, like the Pope?

DABBLA: Haha yeah man it was mad presidential!

BB: Who was it that handed you?  What kind of person was it? 

DABBLA: A fan dude yeah, yeah, just wanted me to bless his child so that he can tell his friends, I think, it was insane for me.

BB: I’m sure there’s worse things that fans have done over the years? Maybe further back in your career like one of the first things?  Obviously you’ve been doing it a while…

DABBLA: Oh shit when I left uni, me and Pierre Green went to Ayia Napa because we’ve always written music, like whatever my friends who DJ’d were mixing – that’s what I’d write bars to.  So at that time, we were doing the garage and grime thing. And we had a residency Club Rise alongside DJ Luck & MC Neat, Dreem Teem, So Solid you know, Pay as You go… mad old school garage crews.!  And then so basically immigration was sweeping the streets and just arresting anyone that was kind of DJing/rapping without permits.  And being half Greek, (even though I can’t speak a fucking word); used to get told to grab the mic. So I was in a cypher with PSG and Creed and Miss Dynamite.

BB: What year? That would have been?

DABBLA: 2001 ish? And that’s actually where I drew the little cage logo and came up with the name London Zoo.  But we were living in Manchester for five, six years before that. After that summer, Pierre Green and I shortly moved back down to London, set up a studio, set up Potent Funk Records and that’s how it began.

BB: And that was the spark?

DABBLA: Yeah, it was definitely a spark getting involved with the all-time greats at the time and being acknowledged in cyphers as a sick spitter.

BB: So fast forwarding to 2018 you’ve had six tracks that were synced to Romesh Ranganathan’s US TV series ‘Just Another Immgrant’?

DABBLA: Yeah, man.  I dropped Year Of The Monkey on High Focus in 2016 and Romesh who loves UK rap music – posted a picture of my album cover on his Instagram. To which I instantly DM’d him, thanking him and expressing how much the exposure helps UK hip hop (which is kinda the only scene that’s ever accepted and support us man fully).

I don’t like using terms that pocket and pigeonhole things but ‘UK hip hop’ needs as much exposure as it can get. More so than grime music and other stuff which is in the forefront, so I just kindly thanked him and he was just like ‘bro …this shit is sick, you should be massive’. It’s amazing and we just kept in touch. Then while we were preparing to shoot the Problem Child X Foreign Beggars video for ‘what you want’, the one where we’re all playing table tennis, I said to Romesh “dude , have you ever been in a rap video? Do you want to come and be the umpire that’s just un-interested in the game?” And he was just like, “yeah man swing it”. And with no direction, he just turned up and smashed it, he’s an absolute G! Then after, me and Illaman appeared on ‘Hip Hop Saved My Life’ podcast – WHICH YOU ALL NEED TO GO CHECK! He let me know that he was looking for music for this new series. So I was like, boy, get in touch with High Focus and I’ll send you some music and whatever you want, it’s yours man. He gave us descriptions of the scenes he needed songs focusing the brief, we cracked on making some bespoke songs for the series. I made a bunch of tracks and he took them all. I think there was like bespoke ones in total but they used a load more from Year Of The Monkey and Chapsvillle.

BB: What was his brief when he commissioned songs?  Did he give you anything to say like I want this type of song, I want this subject matter?  

DABBLA: Yeah, yeah.  So he basically was like I’m going to be walking out of a bar across the road and I need a track for that.  We had a brief which painted the scenes, our job was to make songs that would fit those scenes. For example, imagine Romesh walking in slow motion like a badman, you know what I mean? So yeah, pretty much that’s how it happened yeah. Fucking massive shout out an huge love to Romesh and the whole team and also huge love to Fliptrix and High Focus for sorting it all out!

dabbla

BB: So like with the new album like what do you want fans to learn about you on this project that they may not have really perceived in the past?

DABBLA: That I’m just not one thing. I’m a whole lot of other shit too. So you might know me from a bit of boom bap, you might know me from a bit of grime, you might know me from that stuff that hasn’t even got a name! That’s why any time I’m asked what kind of music i make, i tell ‘em ‘Hybrid Rap Shit’. That’s what I do.

BB: And where do you want to take the hybrid rap shit moving on into 2019? Is that like a real kind of subculture or a sub-genre that you want to push? And how are you going to kind of unfold it?

DABBLA: Well I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know what the fuck I am doing, I’m learning, I’m just like trying to enjoy it and have fun because unless I’m enjoying something or having fun with it, it’s not going to go anywhere.  So that’s at the forefront of my approach. Being creative and having fun. Where’s it gonna go ? I hope it just goes as far and wide as it can go, and people can enjoy it and get something positive out of it because there’s a lot of negativity in music as you know.  And you know, I think they’ve got all that covered so I’m trying to make it nice and leave the place smelling better than when I arrived over here.

BB: Love that.  Any tips for MC’s that want to become the next Dabbla?

DABBLA: Huh? Never.  But you know, you can be your own version of whatever or whoever influences you of course! Today there’s no excuses, everything you need to make music is at your fingertips so just collaborate and reach out to as many people as you can.  People are usually cool and on a level if you approach them correctly. I try and respond to everyone who reaches out to me, I make an effort to listen and give feedback as much as I can too if i’m asked nicely. One thing’s for sure, you can’t just be good rapper. You need to have those human skills people want to work with. Ultimately, I think if you’re just a nice person, the world turns into a nice place.

BB: Brilliant, awesome, thanks very much man, love, respect.

DABBLA: Said the right things… didn’t make it weird… And hold tight Don Piper in the place! Thank you very much of having me!