South London artist Deema is certainly on the rise. After coming up through one of the hottest grime crews of the past decade, he has learnt to experiment and play with his sound, leading to the release of his latest EP, ‘Chew Your Food’ earlier this year. For a young artist with years of experience under his belt, his output is varied, exciting and fresh; learning on the job and picking up things along his journey. One thing that is clear is his commitment to the art of music and paying it the respect it deserves.
Linking up with the man himself on what seems like the hottest afternoon of the Summer, he projects an approachable quality from the off; proclaiming that the nearly £3 pastry he’s purchased from the local artisan bakery just doesn’t match up to its cheaper supermarket equivalent, or that he’s spending too much on Ubers (he swiftly deletes it on the spot). His real life struggles are exactly that; real life. One of his latest tracks, “Rat Race”, is an examination of it’s subject matter, looking at how we have fallen into structure and schedules and the effects it ultimately brings; “Livin on a platform. Looking at my phone until my backs worn. Staring at a screen until my eyes red”. For an artist that balances music alongside work, time is always of the essence and there is a clear direction of what Deema looks to achieve.
This fascination with music started from an early age and was influenced and shaped by his environment, mainly Telegraph Hill in Lewisham where he grew up. A spot for teenagers to link up, smoke and spit bars; Deema took the opportunity to perfect his 16s and flows. These meetups and makeshift cyphers eventually led to Blakie of The Square, a South London grime crew whose members had included Elf Kid and Novelist amongst its ranks, bringing Deema through to radio sets and festivals. These experiences not only helped Deema understand the industry, but also opened up doors to who he could connect with; “They [The Square] definitely bust me, they would take me to loads of different shows and radio sets and from there, I’d chat to DJs or other MCs and start to meet people. I actually made all my connections from radio and studio with them man there”.
His time in The Square is obviously a fond one [“If The Square had stayed together, it would have been peak”] but as with many crews, individuals need to lead their own path and with members going on to chase music, become characters and even go back to education, Deema knew the time was coming for him to step out on his own. After pursuing grime for a number of years, a shift came when he looked to hip-hop and started penning what he believed to be better lyrics. In 2017, he released ‘The Debut’, a two track release which marked the intersection of his sound; ‘Spread The Word’, a slower hip hop production and ‘To My Self’, a more fast paced number, both with their own merits and values. This two part project seemed to be a conscious decision by Deema.
“I was surrounded by sick people who do grime and they’re doing it well so I felt I needed to drop a grime tune…I also knew I wanted to do rap as a whole thing anyway so dropping the two at the same time just felt like the right thing to do and kept the doors open for both anyway”
The response to the project was well received and in Deema’s own words, helped him step away from 140 BPM [“The tempo can be so strict”]. The slower laid back pace also allowed him more space to experiment and fill with lyrics whilst also being befitting of his character, laid back and calm. This new path saw him build a hype, with many excited for what he had to deliver next. His following releases, including ‘Through It All’ and ‘Maddie’, were reflective of his willingness to experiment and showed his versatility. The past few years have seen him grow as an artist and take time to learn the workings of the scene, including understanding what to drop next with music and distribution. He never wants to be seen as dropping music for the sake of it and wants people to understand the vision of his releases. Alongside this process, he also ran a radio set on Balamii entitled ‘Southside Selections’ where he invites MCs and crews, many of whom are younger, to come down and showcase their talent. The sets have that nostalgic feel with 20/30 cramped into a room, passing the mic amongst themselves, looking to score that sacred reload from the DJ.
While the conversation swings round to the global pandemic and nationwide lockdowns, Deema is clear to point out that while it had an effect on his plans for the year, it may have also offered up its positives as well. Deema’s debut EP ‘CHEW YOUR FOOD’ was released in July 2020 and including the aforementioned ‘Rat Race’, is a deep dive into its subject matters; “The whole project is not necessarily deep but makes you think and reflect, taking time to chew your food. Tunes like ‘SE4’ and ‘Rat Race’ actually work better in these times so while it wasn’t my initial plan, it worked out in the end”. Teaming up with fellow Square alumni Dom Valentino, who handles the production, it takes listeners on a journey and is a credit to the work put into it. Moments of introspection balance out amongst a more playful side, with the EP serving as a true introduction to Deema as an artist. The project had actually been in the works for the previous 15 months, with Deema explaining how the construction of the project meant so much. ““For the aim of making it, it wasn’t really about the aim of the lyrics but more about the sonic and getting everything to sound cohesive. I knew it wasn’t going to be my most party tunes or easily listenable tunes but I wanted people to listen to it and know the tracks were from the same project.”
– I wanted it to flow, I wanted the skits, I wanted the transitions to be smooth. That’s what makes it a project for me.”
Injecting humour and a more down to earth style is a true reflection on his personality – something that he believes is important in today’s scene. Genres such as rap and grime have always been governed by feelings of masculinity and machismo, thus personalities such as Deema’s shine through by remaining true and authentic at their core. However this doesn’t mean he isn’t open to growth and development; “There will come a time when I will cut back the funny stuff as I take music more seriously. When it comes to album time, I might dead off the joke thing as I want people to listen to my stories and messages. It’s all about paying respect to the music”. This idea of respect also comes into play with his visuals, working alongside regular collaborator Jack Harper on artwork and videos, ensuring that everything is of the highest quality.
The past five years have certainly been formative for Deema. He feels like he is constantly learning and elevating himself to succeed within the music scene. He remarks that his confidence is growing by the day and while he remains trustful in his connections within music, video and beyond, he is able to take on more creative control with regards to the long term plan. For Deema, even this article is important in allowing readers to understand him for him and being as authentic as possible. With many artists drawn to playing characters or succumbing to industry standards, it’s refreshing to hear a young artist enthused with being himself and using that to his benefit. He is also already back in the studio following the lifting of restrictions in the past months but is adamant he won’t make a tune about the virus. As we wrap up, I ask him what he hopes to achieve by the end of 2020. His answer is bold and humble in equal measure; “make it out alive!”.