Article taken from The Face Volume 4 Issue 002. Order your copy here.
Post-traumatic stress disorder manifests itself in a variety of ways. Sure, we most commonly associate it with shell-shocked soldiers, victims of violent crime, survivors of terrorist attacks. But PTSD can have many other causes – even being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Slide open your phone and read about another stabbing in London. Knife crime in the UK has risen seven per cent in 2019 – to an all-time high – and the steady stream of violence seeping into the psyches of young people is something British musicians such as Dave and J Hus are increasingly addressing. In an interview with The Sunday Times in 2018, Stormzy discussed the normalising of violent crime in his community – he didn’t realise it was shocking that he had been stabbed three times in a knife attack.
South-east London duo D‑Block Europe (whose mixtape PTSD has hit a chord with teens, spending a month in the UK top 10) are also exploring the impact of growing up amongst crime and chaos. Their drug-soaked, vocoder-heavy tracks of wavy rap are full of both nihilistic angst and rebellious grandiloquence. As well as celebrating their prowess as former drug dealers, their success as lovers, and the many designer clothes that fill their mansions, Young Adz, 24, and Dirtbike LB, 23, go in on heavier themes.
“Hard to be focused and righteous when you feel like you’re living in hell/Just put a brick on the scales, wish me well”, LB rhymes on the Dave-featuring Playing for Keeps. Adz expands on this narrative on Da Beatfreakz-produced Thoughts, featuring British hip-hop duo Krept and Konan. “I was seven or eight year years in the bando, breathing in secondhand crack/I was watching Andy injecting heroin, I think that’s what made me tapped (haha)”.
The two first met at Catford’s Sedgehill School and figured out their older brothers knew each other. They describe Sedgehill in disparaging tones. The school has just dragged itself out from what one paper described as a “dismal” Ofsted report. When they were there a decade ago, it was still deemed “inadequate”.
“Boy, it was prison, like HMP youth offenders,” Adz laughs, when we meet in a Dalston studio. LB feels that it was school that prepared him for the streets. Adz agrees: “It’s block training, street training, gang training.” They talk of teachers fighting with students, kids out of control. At home, Adz could do what he liked. “I didn’t have no rules when I was younger. I’ve never been grounded in my life. I was really just with my older brother, who was out there, you know?” He smoked his first spliff with some older kids at nine years old, becoming a regular toker at 13.
Why does he think his parents weren’t able to be more present? “I think smoking, alcohol, drugs have been a part of my parents’ lives. It was a big part of my upbringing. It’s easier for you to do that when you see that. [LB’s] dad smokes as much weed as him, so that’s just normal to him.” Adz is a dad himself now: “Growing up, every woman in my life broke my heart, so Allah gave me a daughter to learn how to love women.”
They want people to know what they’ve come from for a good reason. “It’s important to let people understand that you can have nothing, have loads of different struggles – whether that’s being labelled with mental health, whatever you’re going through – and you can still get to the top,” says LB. Adz chips in a note
of cautious realism: “You’ve just got to overcome it, but you can’t get over it. I don’t think we have.”
Rap saved them. Their arsenal of tracks such as Trap House, The Shard, Love of My Life and Large Amounts have accumulated millions of views and streams. They’ve worked with everyone from Dave to Lil Baby, sold 50,000 tour tickets and had two top 10 mixtapes. At one point a quarter of the tracks in the UK singles chart – 25 out of 100 songs – were either by, or featured, DBE.
Adz was just seven when he first tried to rhyme, influenced by the music his brother played: Nas, Big L, Cormega and their bloody tales of the New York block. Dizzee Rascal’s seminal 2003 album hit the pair hard too. “Boy in Da Corner, that’s a serious album,” says LB. “I literally felt like a boy in the corner. Rap was our reality.”
Their biggest influence, though, is Lil Wayne. “If you follow our journey we’re just doing a little version of what he does,” says Adz. Like sipping lean? “Not even just the lean. He was the first to do rap with Auto-Tune. The first to be so explicit, on that wave, with women. We don’t write lyrics down either, and he was one of the first to do that. He just kept murdering the game.”
DBE have disregarded all of rap’s commandments, including when it comes to sex. As Dizzee said on I Luv U: “I ain’t a bocat, I don’t like the smell” (referring to the fact that he wouldn’t go down on a woman). DBE have turned that stereotype on its head.
Their approach to sex is about providing pleasure, rather than just taking it from women. “The way I eat that pussy, you’d think I’m starving”, muses LB on Darling, before dabbling with anal on Kitchen Kings. Standard sex-play for some, but for British rappers this is very much uncharted terrain. “Yeah, X‑rated stuff! That’s not how things really go in rap,” says Adz.
The album is littered with drug references: to Xanax, Percocet, weed, lean, pills. They laugh when I ask them about their drug use, insisting they’re in great shape. “We’ll never stop getting high, realistically, at least not for now. It’s just about applying some other things to it. Drink some water. Go to the gym.” He pauses. “Eat some food.”
The surprisingly unassuming duo (bar the £40,000 Rolexes tucked up their tracksuit sleeves) are preparing for two pre-Christmas Alexandra Palace dates in London. The 20,000 tickets sold out in four hours. LB announces that he might come on stage with a Santa sack, but rather than presents he’ll fill it with weed. LB loves weed. “We want to go into the marijuana business as soon as it’s legal here,” he says. “One day I’m gonna have a weed store with my face on it, I’m gonna be so proud. I love weed. I wake up, I eat weed for breakfast.”
The pair laugh at the idea of LB eating weed first thing in the morning. I wonder why he likes it so much. “I dunno,” he replies, suddenly turning serious. “It numbs the pain, realistically.”
As Niro Tha DJ cues up songs such as Nookie (6.1 million views and counting), Large Amounts (12.8 million views) and nASSty (9.8 million), the pair practise on their mics with Auto-Tune and bass buzzing around the tiny room. Their stratospheric rise hasn’t been immediate. “It’s just being ahead of your time, innit. Everyone’s gonna catch up eventually,” says LB.
Adz points out that for a long time, there was very little love for DBE. “No one really wanted to fuck with us. Ninety per cent of people in the game that we’ve got features with, we hit them two, three years before they weren’t even on it. But we don’t take stuff to heart in the rap game. It’s not the streets.”