Digga D: the UK drill pioneer who can’t be deterred
Renowned for his skill and his distinctive flow, the West London rapper is overcoming setbacks and striving for another taste of commercial success.
Before Digga D could legally buy a pint, he’d become a middle child of the transgressive genre that is UK drill. He’s 19-years-old, but he’s got the mindset and skill of a seasoned vet, having already pulled off a couple of comebacks in spite of jail spells and restrictions imposed on him by the authorities. “Lockdown ain’t nothing new to me,” he shrugs over Zoom.
In the mid-2010s, Digga D formed the Ladbroke Grove drill group 1011 along with his mates in a local youth club. “We were just messing around with music, 1011 started musically as a joke,” Digga remembers. Drill fans compare 1011 to South London pioneers Harlem Spartans and 67 – groups who breathed life into the genre when it was met with ardent censorship and outrage.
After gaining an underground buzz in 2016 with street anthems like Play For The Pagans, The Truth and No Hook in 2016, in 2017 the 1011 crew went viral with their Next Up? freestyle, which demonstrated Digga D’s distinctive flow and chest-puffing energy, heralding him as a standout MC in the increasingly crowded UK drill scene.
In June 2017, Digga D and four members of 1011 were arrested following a stop and search. Digga D was ordered to serve a year in jail and sentenced with a CBO (Criminal Behaviour Order) that prevented the group from releasing music without prior permission from the met, entering certain London postcodes and banning lyrical references to real-life incidents or people in their music. Now that 1011 is dissolved, their old music feels like a dust-covered time capsule hidden on the internet, once buried by the authorities and recovered by drill archeologists through anonymous YouTube re-uploads. In 2018, the MCs rebranded and came back stronger under the name CGM (Cherish God More).
Digga D returned from a prison spell in 2018 when the UK drill genre hit a commercial peak alongside increased attention from the mainstream media. No Diet, the lead single for his debut mixtape Double Tap Diaries peaked at No 20 in the UK singles charts and copped a co-sign from High School Musical star Zac Efron. But days after DTD was released in May 2019, Digga D confirmed the months-long rumours he was incarcerated when he asked fans to write to him in jail.
Digga D was released in May this year, and he’s quickly racked up over one and half million YouTube hits with new single Woi. A worthy successor to No Diet, it’s accompanied by a scorching summer video and hook that his fans will be roaring when they’re licked off Magnums at a block party. He reveals he’s working towards a sophomore tape, and even teases a collab with dancehall legend Vybz Kartel (“he’s gonna be on a drill beat,” Digga D smirks.)
“I’m just having fun with it, I don’t need to put on a gangsta act,” he says.“I want to be a millionaire with a couple of houses.” With his commercial ambitions crystal clear, from here Digga D will have to navigate the next chapter of his career carefully to avoid breaching his probation conditions. Last month, Digga D was the subject of media reports which speculated that – along with UK rappers Dutchavelli and Lavida Loca – he might be at risk of recall following Black Lives Matter protests in London. Before our interview, however, his lawyer informs us that he’s currently unable to discuss this.
Which other artists are inspiring you right now?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Caribbean music, been listening to Squash and Boy Boy.
What was it like growing up in Ladbroke Grove?
I moved around a lot, I always went to school in Grove. I lived in South Kilburn, Harrow Road and then Ladbroke Grove, it was a nice community and obviously, there were a few things… It was multicultural, loads of cultures living together.
Did you ever expect to blow up to the degree that you have now?
When I came out of prison in 2018, I saw a lot of people listening to my music. And after No Diet dropped, I thought “this is it, I’m doing the music ting forever.”
I saw those promo stickers all over London, even Zac Efron plugged it on his Instagram.
Yeah, yeah. That was crazy. I woke up to see a notification and I couldn’t take it in, it was unexpected. I don’t know how to explain it when my music blew up, I was happy.
How did it feel when No Diet was at No 20 in the charts last year?
That there felt crazy because I directed it myself, I wrote it myself, I directed myself in so it was a proud moment.
In terms of censorship, do you think you’re being treated unfairly?
Oh, of course, 100 per cent. They didn’t ban me from music [at first], only as it started hitting millions and [they] saw me prospering from it.
Your lyrics are often used as a strawman argument for drill aggravating knife and gun violence, and some of your releases have been heralded as staples of the UK drill genre. The lines get blurry as a result. Do you see drill as documentation, or just entertainment?
I think it’s half and half. It can’t make you do something. If you’re gonna go out and do something, you’re gonna go out and do something, you don’t listen to say, “I’m gonna do this.” So them putting a bad name on drill is like… it’s been happening since rock and punk. They’re singling out drill because they want to see us trapped here.
Has jail affected your worldview?
Feltham to me was a playground, you don’t really feel rehabilitated because they treat you like children so when you come out, you’re still gonna act like a child. But Belmarsh and these ACAT [Category A] Prisons… [After an altercation] the security shipped me over to Belmarsh and there are guys there doing life doing 20 – 30 years in life and that just made me see everything differently.
You were 17 when you got the CBO (Criminal Behaviour Order) followed by release on licence. How did it influence the way you’ve navigated your music career?
You have to comply with their rules because you don’t want to go back to jail. I can’t get into it because [of] the way the police are moving right now.
There’s also the pressure of drill fans sensationalising your life. You’re often the topic of gossip on UK drill social media platforms.
Some people are young, 12 – 13-year-olds are coming in and making it childish, all the access to social media, at home all day doing nothing, so they start up rumours – drawing people out. Everyone’s looking for fame.
When did you decide to make the switch from 1011 to CGM?
1011 was a music group, but it was linked to other things, but I switched my life around. The music ting became more serious as a group with CGM.
Do you think there are any other new artists who still encapsulate the same grittiness that you did with your earliest music?
M1llionz, he’s from Birmingham. Real, recognise real. There are a lot of lies out there, I just feel that he is not talking lies. Other artists, as well I would mention are CB and PR S.A.D, who are real.
You’ve experimented with songs in Double Tap Diaries like What’s Love? and Never Fear, are you going to pursue that sound any further?
Nah, I was having fun man, I don’t even like [What’s Love?]. I was just doing what I do, I don’t care what anyone thinks.
Where do you see drill going from here?
I am one of the pioneers. There are a lot of other artists out there who are also pioneers. There are different ways to do drill music and all of them contribute to the genre in their own way. It’s going off right now, we got the Americans copying us, so [drill] can go anywhere at this stage, anyone can fall off in a couple of years. There’s Afro-drill beats, bash-drill, what Headie One’s doing. There are many different types of drill. I respect it though, that’s what keeps it going.
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