Deema interview: South London rapper pushes boundaries with vibrant EP Rainbow

Emerging rap talent Deema is an artist you need firmly on your radar.

Aged just 20, the Lewisham-based star in the making shot to attention as part of the revered grime crew The Square before dropping his boundary-pushing debut EP Chew Your Food last year.

His new EP Rainbow further pushes the heady promise of the lyrical talent, who was named one of Daily Star’s 50 Rising Stars to Watch in 2021.

As its title suggests, Rainbow sees Deema and his team of collaborators – including Grammy-nominee Venna – take a sonically vibrant and colourful route away from Chew Your Food’s darker tones.

“With Rainbow, the intention was it would be four different colours or four different songs”, Deema revealed to Daily Star. “But after that, we just wanted it to sound summery, happy and smiley.”

Deliriously catchy EP opener I Wish I Had To entwines Venna’s hypnotic beat with Deema’s powerful lyrics, flowing into the upbeat Can I? before he shows his more vulnerable side in closer Mama, Don’t Judge.

Deema’s ascent first ignited as fellow Square member Elf Kid’s hype-man, which culminated in the 2015 Amerie-sampling hit Golden Boy and legendary sets at Reading Festival.

Merging diverse influences ranging from Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar to Arctic Monkeys and Jamie T, Deema’s musical dexterity and impactful, honest and witty wordplay is pushing him ahead of the pack.

Daily Star’s Rory McKeown caught up with Deema to talk about his journey so far, the creation of Rainbow EP, and his plot for world domination.

Lewisham’s Deema was part of The Square collective

Hi Deema. You’ve just released your new EP Rainbow, the follow-up to last year’s stellar debut Chew Your Food. Tell me more about the journey.

“We’ve had the song Rainbow for a long time. The plan was to drop Chew Your Food (the first EP) and do a short project for four different songs on it.

“We had Rainbow before Covid hit. It took a year to get Chew Your Food out and it took another year to get Rainbow out, more or less. Covid made things long.

“The other three songs on Rainbow we made immediately after we came out of lockdown. We hadn’t been to the studio for ages. I went back to the studio and it was all spilling out.”

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The EP is excellent and diverse sonically. It starts off with the excellent I Wish I Had To, which has that awesome sample, before flowing into the upbeat Can I? before showing vulnerability on Mama, Don’t Judge. What was its creative process like?

“With Rainbow, the intention was it would be four different colours or four different songs. But after that, we just wanted it to sound summery, happy and smiley. It’s got diversity in it, I think, but I think they all sound quite similar in a little way as well.

“In terms of writing, I’m not that premeditated in a lot of things. We just go there and have some fun. Whatever comes out, comes out. We just pick the best one! (Laughs).

“We knew in terms of choosing songs to go with each other, we do think about that a lot. Should that song pair with this? Should it go on the other project? When in the studio, we try not to think.

“On Can I? I freestyled some of it, while my producer Dom was on the bass. We were jamming. We never really jam because there’s only two of us. It’s more like a band thing. Jamming with a bass guitar and a mic is a bit different. We did it for that song and some of it actually ended going on the song. Part of the first verse was Dom recording bass while I was spitting bars.”

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Do you think you’ll take some of that experience going forward onto your next project?

“I think I’m getting better at writing in the studio and free flowing. We definitely want to do more jams but also want to bring some more musicians in.

“That’s something on the horizon, bringing more musicians in and getting a bit more depth in what we’re doing. It’ll be cool to involve people.”

You mentioned the lyrics are freeform. Do you get into a mindset before hand?

“One of the biggest changes I had to make was from being an MC on set, ready to say anything that fits well and having it prepared in my head, to making a transition to ‘Does it make sense as a song? ‘Would I listen to this? Does it have a meaning? Is there a narrative to it?’

“I’m a lot more conscious to that stuff nowadays. I try to put on my writer’s hat and try to be a bit more concise with what I’m saying. That’s my end goal – to be a really sick songwriter and producer.

“I feel like in a lot of rap, the raps are sick but the songs are not the best. With rap, you’re saying so much that it can be hard to stay consistent in a song. When rap really works in a song, I think it’s magical. There’s a lot of content there.”

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Chew Your Food seems a lot grittier with its dark basslines. It all seems a bit more brighter and colourful in Rainbow in comparison. Did you set out for it to be this way?

“With Chew Your Food, the bass was a bit heavier and we had a lot of saturation on the vocals. We had happier, more chilled tunes at the time but they just didn’t fit in our head.

“We needed to do something that people can listen to easily. There’s no shouting in it. Rainbow was my answer to that. I wanted something that was playlistable. You can turn it on and chill or dance vibe.”

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Are you already thinking about the next path of the follow up release? Is it much different to those two or a combination?

“The next project that you’ll get will be a longer form mixtape of a few styles. We try to keep it quite consistent. We have most of the tracks ready to go but there are some lighter-hearted singles we want to get out beforehand. The drums aren’t as clangy.

“I am excited to get the new stuff out. It doesn’t sound like throwback music.”

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“I think I’m getting better at writing in the studio and free flowing. We definitely want to do more jams but also want to bring some more musicians in”, Deema told Daily Star

Are we expecting it this year or next?

“It’ll be out next year and hopefully we’ll have some singles out this year.”

Tell me more about your journey to now. You were part of the Lewisham grime collective The Square from a young age. What did that experience teach you? How has it moulded you?

“I always wanted to go to the London School of Economics and do stocks and s***. That was my goal. Then I realised an office wouldn’t be that fun.

“I got into writing lyrics with my mates in the park when I was 15. I used to drum in secondary school. Once or twice a week our school had a free scheme where you could get lessons. I had them for a few years.

“Even when I was going to radio sets with The Square, I enjoyed it a lot. I spent a lot of my time on it. I don’t know when I thought ‘I want to do this’. It was probably when I had to decide if I wanted to go to uni or not.”

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How did the experience of being in The Square mould you personally and musically?

“It gave me a lot of discipline as well. I wanted to be as good as those guys. I wanted to keep up with them technically. I had to prove myself.

“They were so good as well. Even for their ages. Novelist is still one of the best in the country at MCing. They were top tier.

“Going to radio sets I was allowed to go to…it was all a big blessing. It was like you were born into a family to ninjas. They were training me up from young.

“I was hype man at the shows and seeing crowd interaction from a young age made me ready when it was my turn.

“The experience, I couldn’t pay for it. Going around with those guys and getting the exposure I got was sick.

“They took me to perform in Italy when was 16 – it was mad! I haven’t even been abroad on my own to perform. They took me to Wembley Arena. I really appreciate all that stuff.”

Who are your influences both musically and personally?

“I take a lot from Plan B, Gorillaz, Arctic Monkeys, Jamie T, Dizzee Rascal, and Kano. Modern day influences include Slowthai and Little Simz, for sure.

“I’ve always got love for Outkast. I always credit Jay-Z. Kanye (West) and Kendrick (Lamar) in my teenage years.”

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What’s next for you Deema? Do you have a goal you want to achieve?

“World domination. My next step is to get some singles out and the mixtape out. After the mixtape, we’ll be working on the album.”

Deema’s Rainbow EP is out now via Different Recordings

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