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This Is Death Of The Ego: Dabbla Talks The Ambitious Cross Pollination of 'Death Moves'

Tuesday, 02 October 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

The hip-hop industry can be pretty cut-throat at the best of times and it's a challenge for artists to keep the fires burning past a certain age, let alone remain at the top of their game. And yet, as he edges closer to 40, Dabbla is running rings around rappers half his age with swagger and conviction. Hailing from London, he has long held a reputation for being your favourite rapper's favourite rapper and in the last 12 months alone he's been endorsed by comedian Romesh Ranganathan and actor Ed Skrein, among others.

On closer inspection, though, Dabbla hasn’t been a stranger to adulation for a while, despite his low-key artistic profile. His jungle crew LDZ, short for London Zoo, received play from the legendary John Peel almost two decades ago and went on to work with the likes of Chase & Status and Foreign Beggars before either had become household names. They even went viral before viral was a thing with Lips to Da Floor, one of the first “user-generated music videos” when it dropped in 2007.

Dabbla's reinvention as a wise-cracking double-time spitter, as shown on recent projects 'Year of the Monkey' and 'Chapsville', has thrust him back into the limelight at a point when many emcees would be hanging up their boots. He expects 'Death Moves', which is out now and heavily inspired by martial arts, to be exactly that: a rousing denouement to a second wind perhaps nobody expected but Dabbla himself.

“To quote the kid from Kindergarten Cop: everyone dies,” he says. “Or if we're going to be more profound, it's also the first teaching of Buddhism – you've got to accept death before you accept life. This is death of the ego, death of my own bullshit, but it's a beautiful death. I didn't think I'd be able to do something like this on my own, and it turns out I can. I'm not going to be rapping forever – I've probably only got about five years left jumping around on a stage without looking sad – so I wanted to go out with a bang. I've never had as much fun making an album as with this one.”

Dabbla seems animated and active ahead of this anticipated “death”, which is reflected in his marketing strategy. In a move that somewhat resembles Brockhampton's campaign for the 'Saturation' trilogy, Dabbla has written and released approximately a track a month over the past year. The logic is simple: drop an album and within months it's “dust in the wind”, as he puts it, whereas a constant conveyor belt of material keeps him in the public consciousness. He describes it as “taking it back to the club days, where you'd be rapping on the mic and four other people would have their hands on the mic ready to jump in and spit”.

These tracks vary in character dramatically. Long Gone sees Dabbla showcase his signature fast flow over a road-inspired beat; Flying is a sample-led boom-bap banger; carnage-inducing Tweeters was produced by Dag Nabbit, who wrote the Rizzle Kicks hit Down With the Trumpets; and new single FUTD is stacked with 808s, dark samples and an unwieldy bassline.

Impressively, this has all been handled and promoted in house at his co-owned label Potent Funk. This might seem odd given Dabbla's affiliation with High Focus, the hip-hop label tearing up the UK underground, but he insists this is down to artistic ambition rather than any personal issue.

“It's not that album is too big for High Focus,” he says. “They've got their trodden branding. They do a lot of rehashing of ‘90s boom-bap and it's very much a hip-hop label. I just felt this album was too big to be confined to the realms of just hip-hop. It was very personal to me and something I wanted to do completely on my own with my own money and resources. I wanted to own that shit, know what I mean? Even though High Focus have been very good to me, I didn't want to give it to anyone.

“This album's more about the hybrid rap shit that I'm about. I call it that because I cross-pollinate. I can make grime music – I make good grime music and I make good hip-hop music – but I'm not a grime head or a hip-hop head. I do think much more craft goes into the UK hip-hop stuff than a lot of the grime stuff that's accepted. My stuff won't get accepted by them, but I'm here to destroy that kind of attitude.”

Dabbla's 'hybrid' sound is explained by his age as much as his entire artistic process. Whereas previous projects have been composed of a mix of material stretching back years at a time, 'Death Moves' was almost entirely written in under a year. Yet as much as his attitude has changed towards releasing music, his liking for abstract lyricism and esoteric production remains. What some might patronisingly dismiss as “world music”, Dabbla sees as the “kind of dutty shit he loves”.

A devout Buddhist, Dabbla comes across as a calm, self-assured individual whose perspective is informed by a winding career in which he's bloomed when least expected. The emcee, who also performs with Dead Players and Problem Child, admits he can't rule out another solo effort entirely – “if it pops off and there's hundreds of thousands rolling in, we'll make another,” he says – but ending the journey at his peak would certainly be in keeping with his character.

“It's a stressful and expensive process,” he says. “Music consumes a lot of your life and things suffer in the process – relationships and stuff like that. It takes a lot out of you. The scene's changed too. You've got to be in people's faces. Persistence and consistency is the key. You keep knocking and kicking down doors. The truth is this album will speak for itself long after I've stopped banging on about it.”

'Death Moves' is out now on Potent Funk.

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