Suit Vivienne Westwood, T-shirt Dsquared2, Dress Valentino

Lyrical gangsta: Darkoo

Volume 4 Issue 003: The London rapper is riding music’s global collaboration wave and fucking with gender in her own easy way.

Arti­cle tak­en from The Face Vol­ume 4 Issue 003. Order your copy here.

Don’t let the picture fool you – boxes are just about the only thing Darkoo doesn’t do. 

The Nigeria-born, south London-raised ­singer-rapper may be artfully packed and dolled-up today, but the 18-year-old has made a success of being difficult to define, citing Burna Boy’s international wave” as inspiration for the genre-blurring, global approach to her sound (if anything, you could call it an Afrobeats/​Afrobashment hybrid).

International is where my heart is at, man,” she says, smiling as we talk in south London on her first major photoshoot. That’s why I mix the African, the UK, the American – so everyone can relate to it.” It has already gained her a solid fanbase in the country of her birth: last year saw her performing at Nigerian music festival Nativeland, partying with Davido-protégé Mayorkun and donating Christmas gifts to an orphanage in Lagos alongside rapper Tion Wayne (“the best thing I’ve ever done”). 

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The trip made for a triumphant contrast with the last time she visited the country. I hadn’t been for years, because last time my parents tried to leave me behind for being naughty,” she laughs. So I said, I’m not going to Nigeria until I’m 18!’”

While the past few months have been fast-paced, signing to Virgin EMI almost instantly after her hook-filled 2019 breakout Gangsta, Darkoo doesn’t consider herself an overnight sensation. If Gangsta was just the first song, I feel like I’d be moving a bit loose,” she says. But I had my little fanbase – obviously it was not as big as it is now, but it’s been gradual.”

Dress Valentino, Suit Vivienne Westwood, T-shirt Dsquared2

Growing up, Darkoo dreamed of being a professional footballer, only dabbling with singing in a Year 6 talent show, where she performed Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj’s Beauty and a Beat (she came a respectable third). It was lit, man,” she grins. Once in secondary school she started honing her skills during lunchtime battle raps, then in 2017, aged 16, she released her debut track, the sultry and melodic Gas Station.

But it was Gangsta, featuring One Acen, that generated the buzz when it charted in the UK Top 40 in its first week of release last November. Its don’t‑be-shy lyrics – Look at the face that’s beauty/​Baby your waist is cutie” – have dominated Instagram selfie captions and thirst traps ever since. 

The video caused a stir, too: Darkoo effortlessly flits between masculine and feminine and looks so staggeringly different that many people mistook her for her own lip-syncing male love interest. That shape-and-­gender-shifting presentation perplexed many of the clip’s 11 million viewers, with Darkoo pairing a tracksuit and trim in some scenes, then rocking a 20-inch weave and birthday-girl makeup in the next. Her deep, distinctive singing voice – vaguely reminiscent of Afrobeats juggernaut Wizkid – only added to the intrigue. 

It’s something she does frequently: she appears high-glam in the all-women remix of Gangsta featuring Ms Banks and Br3nya, then as one of the lads in the mandem” iteration with Davido, Tion Wayne and SL. It’s seen as a statement of sorts, but it’s not one that Darkoo is making knowingly. It’s not like I’m doing something crazy,” she insists. I’m the same person, I just took off my wig and wore no makeup. I can wake up in the morning and be like, Yo, I want new weave, new makeup, and then some mornings I wake up and I’m like, Yeah, I want a trim.’ It depends on how I’m feeling, but I feel so comfortable doing whatever I want to do.”

In an industry where women are still – still! – constricted by pressures of appearance, Darkoo offers a swaggering middle finger. And the support she’s garnered as a black woman (a dark-skinned, gender non-conforming one at that) is not something she takes for granted. This, she notes, is particularly important in an Afrobashment scene with very few female stars. In this music thing, there are so many guys. There aren’t many females pushing a wave. So I didn’t expect the love at all.”

She offers an example. Do you follow The Shade Borough?” she asks of the UK urban” gossip account, which is usually only mentioned by artists when they have an axe to grind about its controversial Instagram posts. In contrast, a caption they wrote about Darkoo read: Get you a girl who can do both”, showing their appreciation for the way she flips gender presentation.

With all the fanfare surrounding the new decade, where does she hope to be 10 years from now? A Grammy nominee!” she shoots back without pause. And on top of that? You know how Wizkid does the Starboy Fest?” she says of his African music tour. I want to start something like that. I want to start a business. I want my music to be everywhere.”

Hair Erin Green, Makeup Isaac Poleon, Manicurist Sylvie MacMillan at Management Artists, Set design Lydia Chan, Lighting Thomas Pigeon, Photography assistance Evie Shandilya, Styling assistance Lucy Johansson, Set design assistance Evekying Tsang, Studio manager Florance Ayomi Toyo.


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