A couple of months ago, I recorded a podcast with one of Birmingham’s pioneers in Grime music – Despa Robinson. As the founder of the brand collective StayFresh, he’s been the man at the forefront and in the know about the Grime scene in England’s second city.
Whilst tucking into some Jerk chicken we got talking about an artist who I’d only recently discovered and talked about as a newcomer. Quick to correct me, Despa put me straight saying “Dapz is Birmingham’s best kept secret”, and since he was no newcomer, it got me straight to checking out his back catalogue.
In that time, Dapz On The Map has been building his buzz outside of Birmingham and recently supported Grime legend Kano on a nationwide tour. Opening the eyes and ears of music fans to his sound, including myself, when I heard Dapz was headlining his own show, I’d already prepared myself for the trip up the M1.
A week before the show, I met with Dapz at Radar Radio when he appeared as a guest on Despa Robinson’s ‘Waved’ show. Speaking to him about his headliner, he told me about how he’d planned a show that would showcase his music and sum him up as an artist. I admitted I hadn’t listened to all of his early work and just he smiled saying “Don’t worry fam. You’ll be taken on a musical journey. You’ll know soon”.
The day came and after a 2 hour drive I arrived in Birmingham. The last time I’d been here was for Eskimo Dance and hadn’t really explored the city before. After getting lost trying to find a Nando’s I made my way back to the O2 Academy and was greeted by the man himself. For someone about to perform to a sold out crowd, Dapz seemed unfazed. With his phone stuck to his ear making sure his people was taken care of, he walked around with no sense of urgency making sure his friends and family got their passes. I stood there and watched him, clearly in his comfort zone I wondered if Dapz’s experience on the road with Kano had enabled him to adjust to this kind of environment.
“You ready fam? Make sure you kill it yeah”, Dapz said like a coach talking to a boxer before the first round of a bout. Those words were spoken to another artist, Tazzle, a young, native MC who was billed as a support act and when he hit the stage, you could feel the energy from the home crowd who were shouting his bars back at him.
One after the next, each support performance, saw the same scenario. Backstage, Dapz was walking around with a smile on his face and kept it coming with words of encouragement for each act. Performances from K2, Tanna followed, each keeping the energy in the room high with dynamic performances. Whilst talking to Dapz, midway through a story about the first time he used honey and lemon before performances, he froze when he heard the speakers blast out a song from another native artist, Scorpz. Standing up with a grin, he looked at me and said “Nah bruv, we’ve gotta go, Scorpz is on stage”.
This was the first time I’d heard of these guys and I got told by DJ and presenter Muna Ruumi that these MCs are celebrated in the streets and there’s more music coming from them. Backstage Mandem greeted each other with hugs and spuds whilst Dapz kept drinking his honey & lemon concoction singing into a camera. His spirits were high. No nerves present at all. Just preparation. A sense of feeling that has been in his mind for a while now. It must feel great being backstage hearing everyone shouting your name in the crowd in anticipation. Friends giving words of encouragement, telling you they’re proud of you and that it’s your time. This was his time to show the city that he’d spent his life and his time to be ready to release his creativity onto his people – legions of Dapz supporters.
As he stepped on stage after a loud introduction from his DJ, the place erupted. The applause was so loud that you couldn’t hear the music. Dapz stood centre stage with his head in his hands, obviously taken back by the amount of noise the crowd had made for him. Regaining his composure he jumped straight into the first song. At this point, there was no point in Dapz saying anything into the microphone. The 50 or so people in the front were shouting every single word to a song that I’d never heard before. Dapz held up the microphone towards the crowd with the biggest smile on his face. The atmosphere in the venue was something else. The level of support was something rarely seen for a UK underground artist. From front to back, everyone was smiling and screaming the lyrics back to the stage. I put my camera down and soaked it in for the first 2 songs and then he went into a set of tracks that I knew. Song’s like ‘Oh My Days’ & ‘Champion Champion’ had the crowd moving around like waves on the rough sea. These are the songs that have expanded his reach all the way to London and been heard on radio playlists from Radar to 1Xtra.
A key moment in the show was when Dapz played a song that had all the mandem in the place making bare noise. Then when the surprise guest, Tempa, walked out on stage, the place turned over and the DJ had to reload the track. It was moments like this that validated the long trip up North. I thought it was important to experience this show in Birmingham. It wouldn’t be the same in London. There is no history. Most of the songs in the show I was hearing for the first time, so being in the city where the music was created made a massive difference. I was educated by the crowd shouting the bars and the music being performed. It was a chance for me to experience the vibe in Dapz’ hometown.
As the hype was settled, the tone was set for his female fans. This was accomplished by bringing PhePhe on stage to perform and then breaking into a song he sung with confidence. It was then I was enlightened to the fact that Dapz is a good songwriter. The performances that I witnessed brought his heartfelt lyrics to life with live emotions. He went on to play a new song from his upcoming album ‘DSAW’ after giving the crowd motivational words to chase that dream. A dream he himself brought to reality after leaving a financially secure job to leap into the music world armed with just his own faith. To be on this stage was the accomplishment of that dream of his.
The calm energy in the room as Dapz sang “time for me to let it go” was intriguing. Everyone was silently focussed in a state of reflection. This atmosphere quickly dispersed as the energy was picked up again when the next track dropped and a moshpit formed. In an amazing example of an anti-climax, the people at the edges of the moshpit didn’t catch the drop and run into other, almost as if the bars Dapz was spraying hypnotised them and gave them amnesia.
As the song ended, Dapz held his jaw with some discomfort to say “I think I have a toothache”, bringing out Jaykae on stage to a roaring crowd as he performed his hit song, while Dapz slid to the side of the stage shifting into his own fan mode.
For the finale, Dapz came back on stage to the song that brought him onto my radar. Driving home from Birmingham earlier in the year after Eskimo Dance, I’d been listening to Elijah & Skilliam’s compilation album when that song came on and pushed my bass speaker to the point of shaking everything up in my car. The first time I heard ‘Murdah’ I had to reload it at least 7 times.
With excellent production from Swifta Beater, another native, Dapz brought forward his signature style of rhyming, using influences from his Jamaican heritage. As the show was coming to the end, surrounded by his friends and family on stage, Dapz let go of the calm melodic flow and just fed from the energy of the crowd. With hundreds of people shouting his bars back at him, Dapz just jumped into the front of the crowd and shouted along with them. Embracing his fans brought the levels even higher.
After the 3rd reload, a gap was made to split the crowd of friends and family on stage to allow a young girl to the front. If you know the song, you would’ve heard LeeLee sing on the chorus. At first, she didn’t want to touch the mic, but when she saw everyone in the crowd saying his words back to her, she quickly got excited and shouted her words for everyone to hear. The smile on Dapz’ face was infectious. Everyone around him was ecstatic. It was the perfect way to end the show.
As I stood backstage and watched family and friends embrace each other, it’s apparent where Dapz gets his positivity from. I looked at him as he just smiled and said “Thank you for coming bruv”. Right there in his element, with a show that transformed his dreams into reality, he assured me he’s now ready to fully embrace his destiny.