Taken from Issue 13 of Highsnobiety’s Print Magazine. Pick up a copy here.
“I’ m catching up on sleep, ya know? I’ m just trying to keep grinding and keep my creative ideas going. I’ m doing this BET ‘Rip the Runway’ thing right now.”
Desiigner is his usual buoyant self when our team arrives at MILK Studios for an in-person follow-up on a phone interview. Anyone who has seen Desiigner perform live or even seen the video of him catching Pokemon in Central Park knows that a phone interview would do no justice to such an ebullient, rapidly-speaking personality. Nevertheless, finding time to chat has been a feat of will and persistence considering the rapper, born Sidney Royel Selby III, is quickly become one of the most in-demand names of the moment.
At the tender age of 19, Desiigner is still in the midst of a whirlwind journey that has taken him from his mother’s home in Bed-Stuy where we first spent a day with him, to studio sessions with the likes of Kanye West and Pusha T. Surprisingly, he hasn’t changed much since that first meeting where, though shell-shocked by the sudden shift in his fortune, he still believed his success all came down to destiny and talent. He’s still a frenetic ball of energy, and he still carries the conviction that everything that’s happened to him was pre-written in the stars. Though we don’t have a lot of time to chat, Desiigner throws himself into the conversation with the same gusto with which he approaches everything else in life.
Lately there’s been a lot of debate about hip-hop is losing its lyricism in favor of melody, do you think there’s any truth to that? Does it matter?
To me, music itself just sounds good, and if it sounds good that’s what makes you superior, period. It’s always been that way, it’s just that now melody is at its peak. Everybody is doing melody and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think the ones who want to listen to more lyrical hip-hop can still find it. There are still artists out there who are still doing their thing with that style of music. But you know [what] time it is, melody always.
Your single “Tiimmy Turner” references The Fairly OddParents. Were you a big fan of the show as a kid?
Yeah, for sure I was a fan. The reason I used Timmy Turner is because I was using myself as Timmy Turner. I felt as though I was him at the time. You know, at that point in time I was saying that I wanted to kill everybody walking, and I knew that my soul would be in the furnace if I did. I also knew a girl, you know, she was doing everything. She was fucking for BET shit, when I say fucking for BET I just mean fucking for the fame. Doing anything just to be on and be on top on a larger platform, so I just put it like that. It was a personal experience. Everything I write is personal experience, you feel me? Ain’t no fake.
Last time we talked you had just been signed to G.O.O.D. Music. A lot must have changed…
Yeah, yeah, now you see me on the billboards and in magazines, you know? I didn’t go to G.O.O.D. Music and just get signed to not do anything. I got merchandise on the way, I’m touring, I got plenty of music dropping;, I’m trying to come in with the movies. You know what time it is. Album coming soon, visuals about to drop, shit is crazy…
How’d you connect with Mike Dean, and what was it like working with him?
Working with Mike was just like magic, and it just came with the G.O.O.D. package. Me and him worked well together; we’re great artists. He put down his tunes, I put down my tunes, we put it together and we made a smash. There’s beats, there’s drums; shit’s knocking. It was all very organic with “Tiimmy Turner.” I made the beat but Mike did the chords. I don’t know how to play the chords but you know Mike Dean is a problem, so when he got on the chords he already knew what he was doing. So he got down on the chords and he was like, ‘I’m going to put some extra on there for you,’ and we just kept at it. Our vibe is crazy.
A lot of people describe your music as sounding very Southern. However given the speed at which information travels these days, do you think we’re beyond regionally-specific music?
You hear me talking to you right now and you realize, to me, it’s not about something being my sound. It’s just how I talk. I don’t know how people can say it’s Southern music when it has no label on it. I don’t put out music with a label on it, it’s just me. The way I’m talking to you right now is just how I talk.
We just saw you performing with Pusha T at Tunnel’s closing party. A lot of people have commented on the level of energy in you performances—the way you dance, the way you move. How did those signature dances come along?
Yeah, I always used to dance like that. That’s how I turned up in the hood. We used to dance like that and just make mad noise in the middle of the street [makes git git git sound effect]. We used to be crazy, so that energy I just bring it to the stage now. I was always like that even as a kid. I was always singing, I used to be in the choir, I used to do performances, I used to be a train performer [one of New York’s many subway performers], you know, I came from the grind. That’s where I get my harmonies and my melodies from, it comes from my soul.
There’s been a lot of conversation about what’s going on in the world in terms of issues with injustice, police brutality and more. Do activism and hip-hop go hand in hand? Is it fair to expect artists to speak on these issues?
Activism as in how we’re approaching things and how we’re saying things? Are you asking if we’re igniting anything?
Yeah, do you think it’s fair that people are asking entertainers to take a stand on these issues?
I’ve made a statement about what was going on. How I feel about it is that these things needs to come to a stop. I also feel like all lives matter, not just black lives—all lives matter. I’m not just going to say one race should just be saying stop it, because it happens to everybody, so all lives matter. So that’s why I say that more. I just feel like it’s time to stop the violence, period.
I actually wanted to do something in the hood like march through the hood just to motivate and show inspiration. I want people to see that I’m still there and still watching, even though I left the hood. I might be off the block, but I still hear that crazy things are happening. I want to keep it true to where I’m from and pay attention to the neighborhood and help the community.
“Tiimmy Turner” came out of your XXL freestyle. It was pretty polarizing at first. Are you surprised at the reception the actual song got?
I make music, baby. I knew what time it was. I’ve had that thing in the sauce since, like, three years ago off of a promotional app I used to use for my “Zombie Walk” shit. If you go down my Instagram, I used to promote my songs with this app that was on the Android. There was a loading screen and they had a sound check on the app, and I used to sing behind that, like, “Timmy, Timmy Turner, he be wishing for a burner.” I lost the app, but I always had the melody in my head. I started building on it because I had lost the app for so long that I had to start building on the mufucka to keep it going.
There’s an idea that rappers don’t know how to freestyle now. Does it even matter anymore?
Music is art. Freestyling is a way to show a taste of that art; it’s not supposed to show you a complete form of what I can do in the studio, it’s just a taste of the art. Some people go fiend for freestyles, I love when people do that; it’s not like I’m discrediting them because that’s their way of forming their art. I never give you too much in a freestyle because I’m not that type of freestyling dude; I’m an artist. So, I give you a form of the freestyle, but not the whole thing. It’s almost like marketing, because you just give people a taste.
Are you nervous about the future? It must feel like there are huge expectations…
I’m not nervous. I’m really here and I’m ready to put my creative art on the map. I’m making records, putting records together, I’m writing records with people, I’m just trying to do my thing. You know what time it is.
Do you plan on working with Menace again? He did make the “Panda” beat after all…
Definitely, definitely, definitely! Hell yeah!
Your grandfather was a blues musician. How did that legacy influence your music? Especially since so many people feel like there’s such a generational gap between the popular music of now and that of the past…
I can say that my voice… it turned different the more I got older. It dropped and got this really dry sound, like my grandfather. So, my grandfather, he inspired me through his music and soul. I just made a song for him recently, he’s going to be on the track. Me and my grandfather about to be on the track together soon!
What makes you independent as an artist?
My energy. I give you energy every time, and I have a vision—even the video for “Panda” is doing nice. I got tremendous numbers on it. When “Panda” dropped, I didn’t give people too much, I just let them rock on it. I gave them one verse and shut it down. It makes you feel like that shit should jump back on one more time, so then they keep it on repeat.
What do you think it takes to create longevity in an industry as competitive as music?
Creativity. If you are someone who has always had a creative mind and were interested in creative things outside of music, you can make it. You can’t just do a track and be creative. It’s visual, it’s everything about the art. And, with music, you have to treat it like art. You need to be good with art and able to see things in more than one way. If you’re someone who knows how to put things together, who sees how colors work, sees what’s beautiful, and sees what makes people feel good, that’s what it’s about.
Why the title New English for your debut mixtape?
Because I’m talking that new English, that new style of funk. It’s that new way of talking, that new way of walking; it’s just a new style and a new way of life. I gave it that straight trap vibe just for that “New English,” but then I slowed it down with “Overnight” so people could know I fuck with other shit, too. People were already fucking with “Tiimmy Turner,” so I think they understood what I was doing. There’s probably going to be a New English II coming soon. Ey, ey, ey!
- Words: Stephanie Smith-Strickland
- Photography: Robert Wunsch
- Styling: Chantal Drywa
- Casting Director: Anissa Payne
- Producer: Jean Jarvis
- Photography Assistant: Brendan Phelan
- Styling Assistant: Josie Danziger
- Brands Featured: Givenchy, Acne Studios & Public School