Back in 2011, when Berwyn Du Bois was 15-years-old, his drama group was profiled by the Evening Standard as they were performing Macbeth. The reporter asked him if other pupils were mocking him for playing the character of Lady Macbeth, and he replied with an answer sage for his years: “No. Every man wants to wear a skirt.”
Now 24, it seems that a sense of freedom is still customary for BERWYN. He’s unafraid to discuss his struggles and his raw emotions, which he’s expressed with sharp wit and layered storytelling on his 2020 breakout project DEMOTAPE/VEGA – a self-produced 10 track collection that fluctuates between stripped-back hip-hop and sparse, piano-based songs. On the song Trap Phone, Berwyn recalls losing friends to knife crime, while Glory details his mother facing imprisonment.
Now, BERWYN’s dropped the new single 100,000,000, which should appear on a forthcoming mixtape. The video features a car he once slept in while he was homeless, which eventually becomes crowded with multiple BERWYNs, smoking joints and laughing, to provide different snapshots of his personality. “I put the P into depression,” BERWYN sings on the track, presenting dark themes with a cheeky touch of humour. “I have a lot of morbid stories, but I’m not a morbid guy,” he laughs, speaking to me over Zoom from his East London home.
BERWYN was born in Trinidad. His dad, who he raps about trying to contact from overseas in 100,000,000, was a DJ who sparked his passion for music by showing him how to play the steel pan. BERWYN moved to England with his mum when he was nine, and he credits a music teacher who “saw something special in him,” during his GCSEs for identifying his talent and encouraging him to pursue it. “My teacher’s name was Di Russell, I have to shout her out,” BERWYN tells me. “I wasn’t so sure about my talent. But she noticed things like my tone of voice, my ear for music – those kinds of things.”
But after he finished his A‑Levels, BERWYN couldn’t land a job or apply for university due to his immigration status, which led to a period of homelessness. DEMOTAPE/VEGA was his high-stakes attempt at getting his music career off the ground, written and recorded during a two-week stint in a bedsit in Romford.
Despite his career breakthrough, his immigration status has been a persistent source of anxiety – it’s only in the week of our interview that he’s finally set to receive a letter of approval for indefinite leave to remain. “It’s been a problem for me and I’ve missed out on so many amazing opportunities because of it,” he reveals. “I couldn’t apply for the BRITS last year, I haven’t been able to arrange music licensing – it’s all monkey business. But I try not to dwell on it because what the fuck’s that worth, especially when you’re worth something now?”
Right at the beginning of 2021, BERWYN reached the number three spot on BBC Sound of… shortlist, capping off a successful year which saw him feature on the second album by Everything is Recorded, the project of XL Recordings owner Richard Russell, and collaborate with Headie One and Fred again.. for their GANG mixtape. “As it stands, I don’t have to worry about anything day-to-day, and neither does anybody around me,” he says of the relief of being more financially stable. “That’s a huge part of all I’ve ever wanted.” To keep up the momentum, BERWYN’s been working “like a madman” for most of the pandemic, and he claims he’s sitting on around “400 songs”.
“Tell ‘em I want a Grammy spray-painted in black,” BERWYN raps on 100,000,000, defacing a trophy while grinning in the video. Despite enduring so many hardships which could have sapped his spirit, that confident, rebellious streak he had as a 15-year-old remains. “I want to be the best that ever fucking did it,” he declares. “I don’t exactly know what that looks like; maybe a Grammy. I’d even like to be Prime Minister of Trinidad when it’s time.”