An honest conversation with Dutchavelli
On the eve of his debut mixtape Dutch from the 5th, the London rapper opens up about the hard man memes, mental health stigma and memories of his late manager Fox.
Dutchavelli could be one of the few people who can say that 2020 has been their best year.
The east London rapper released his first tune New Jack City back in 2016, but it was January’s Only if You Knew that really put Dutch on the map, reviving his music career after a two-year stint in prison.
Rocking a red trench coat, gold grills and standing at 6’ 6” like a Bond villain, the Only if You Knew video introduced millions of people to Dutch’s standout style and charisma. And then there was that unforgettable voice, which rumbles and cracks like thunder, while his hard-hitting bars strike tough UK drill beats like lightning.
With such an apparently intimidating aura, Dutch has been the subject of this year’s best meme, which you’ll find in the comments section of almost any post about him (“Death once had a near Dutchavelli experience”; “When Dutchavelli catched coronavirus, the virus had to self-isolate”; “When Dutchavelli’s phone rings in the cinema, they pause the movie”; and so on). And this year, he’s dented the top 20 of the UK Singles Chart three times: by going back-to-back with trapwave pioneer M Huncho Burning, joining DigDat and B Young on production duo Da Beatfreakz’ catchy trap banger 808 and spitting two gravelly verses between Tion Wayne and Stormzy on I Dunno, one of the year’s biggest UK rap anthems.
But despite Dutchavelli’s success, it’s been a bumpy road towards his debut mixtape, Dutch from the 5th. Covid put a stop to any touring plans this year, meaning he never got the chance to perform for his fast-growing fanbase. In June, Dutch’s close friend Fox, who was also a member of his management team, was killed in a drive-by shooting. And around the same time, Dutch made headlines after police allegedly threatened to recall him for expressing his desire to attend a Black Lives Matter protest.
Ahead of dropping his debut mixtape Dutch from the 5th, THE FACE called Dutch to discuss his journey so far, and why he’s taken this opportunity to show his more vulnerable side.
You were born in Birmingham, raised in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, then spent your teenage years growing up in east London. How has that shaped you as an artist?
I feel like, [unlike] the other kids I grew up with in Hackney, I’ve always had an understanding of different cultures and different ways of life. I feel like that made it easier for me to see past the hood more than other people who are trapped in the hood, because at one point I felt like I was trapped in the hood too. I’ve had my eyes open, but a lot of people I grew up with have never left London, let alone left the country, so I feel like I’ve had that advantage of seeing and understanding different cultures. That journey was like a school in itself, that’s why people go on gap years: to get an understanding of life and travel. You’ve got rich kids from suburban areas that literally go and live in another country with next to nothing budgets in, like, third world countries to experience life – that is literally an educational process.
On the Bandos Diaries remix you gave us a proper international lineup, featuring artists from Australia, Albania, France and India. Do you think your transnational upbringing made you appreciate foreign sounds more?
100 per cent. Because I grew up on it. So to the naked ear, it’s how you put it: a “foreign sound”. But to me, I’m used to the foreign sound. So, for instance, if you can just imagine British music like grime, that was foreign music to me when I moved over to the UK. I was so out of touch.
You open Dutch from the 5th with a message from your late manager Fox congratulating you for reaching one million views on a video. And the mixtape’s outro, Zero Zero, ends with a touching recording of Fox talking about how you got to finally spend Christmas with your family, instead of behind bars. What was your relationship with Fox like?
Ok, so rest in peace the homie Fox. He was part of the management team and he’s my guy. So me and Fox, it’s a mad story. That voice note you hear at the end of the tape, he’s just explaining that it’s mad that we are out cause we were literally in jail together, bro. Fox is an old school gangster legend; the streets were aware. But he turned his life around, as you can hear on the voice note, before he passed away. It’s very bittersweet to hear him speak because it really hits home. The achievement he talks about, going home for Christmas… Like we were on remand for two years, we didn’t know when we were coming home. So the fact we were home for Christmas, we were living our dream. It was crazy.
With the track I’ll Call You Back, you reveal a softer side to Dutchavelli. Did you feel like it was important to show more emotion on this project, especially since some fans may only think of you as a gritty, almost villainous character?
Aight, cool, you see this mean character people have made – like Dutch does this and that – it’s funny and whatever. However, we got to keep it real. Like man is a human being bro, you know what I mean? As an artist, I’ve got a job to express every emotion because that is what art is. I’m not going to restrict myself because the internet has this idea of me, I’m going to show every angle of my life. I just keep in one hundred innit, if you listen to my music, I talk about a lot of things. I know a lot of drill artists just say hyped stuff, but me I talk about genuine life experience. I might mix it up sometimes with some hype stuff, but I always go back to reality. With my mixtape, it’s less of trying to make a hit or a big song, it’s more about telling a story and that’s what I love doing.
On the track Darkest Moment, you rap about how the pain of being in prison when one of your friends was killed. Do you feel like music has allowed you to deal with trauma?
100 per cent. This is what I was trying to explain to you. All the shit I have gone through… who do I talk to about it? My life goes from one extreme to another all the time, it never stops. I need some way to let that out otherwise man will just pop. Growing up, we never spoke about our feelings in our household, I never said “mummy, I love you” or mum never said “Son I love you, give me a hug”, that’s not how we grew up. We didn’t grow up sitting around the table at dinner time, there was no such thing as dinner time, there was still food don’t get me wrong, but the way we grew was so tough emotions were never a thing, it was almost a taboo thing. I’m glad that I’ve got music, so when you ask ‘Yo Dutch how do you feel about showing emotion?’ I’m happy about that, like I’ve got so much different music. It is literally like therapy.
Do you think the stigma of speaking openly about mental health is an issue in the Black community, especially among Black men?
100 per cent. [Mental health problems are] a thing in the Black community, but it’s not limited to the Black community. I think it’s more of a thing in the Black community, because that’s where there’s the most poverty, and I feel like it is a poverty thing. It’s a stress thing bro, trust me. Stress, poverty, it all bubbles up. People living on top of each other, never having a moment to yourself to think, all these attributes add up to it and then there’s trauma. A lot of people need to be educated about these issues. Because me as a kid, I’ll be real with you, I never felt loved, do you know what I’m trying to say? But it’s a serious thing, because if I turned to my mum and told her I don’t feel loved, she probably would have broke down with the amount of love she’s got for me, but it’s literally just circumstances and life that I grew up like that. Even as a parent if my mum was educated it would be different, like stop and give your kid a hug, but she was a single mum that had seven kids, do you know what I’m saying?
Let’s talk a bit about the features on the tape. You have artists like Birmingham rapper M1llionz, singer Ray BLK, and Fire. How did each of those come about?
OK, so Fire is like one of my best friends. What it is with Fire, is he never really wanted to rap, but I’ve tried to convince him so hard to rap, so it was a proud moment when he came to me years later and said “yo, I’ve come up with some bars”. With Ray, I’ve been in love with Ray since she made the song My Hood with Stormzy a few years ago. I just fell in love with the rawness of her, she’s got the softness to her tone and writes her own music, so it’s all genuine.
And what about M1llionz?
I’m just a big fan of his work. I love the breath of fresh air he brings to drill, because drill I feel is a very small box, there’s not a lot of differentiation between many artists, which is why I think there are only a few artists standing out right now. So, like Headie One, Abra Cadabra, M1llionz, Kwengface, Bandokay… there’s a short list of people that actually stand out when it comes to drill. There’s literally ten people, only like three or two that are really successful, because drill is such a hard genre. People like Potter Payper, he’s bringing something fresh and he’s standing out, but everyone that wants to do rap and hip-hop are just looking at drill as the way, which makes it harder for every drill artist who want to blow, because what makes you different from these millions of kids talking about chinging, and cheffing, and rambo knives? M1llionz brings a different flavour, he’s able to break down situations so you can actually imagine what he’s going through. Headie One as well. Like he talks about making a birthday cake out of digestive biscuits. These are real, creative things and it actually makes you have a better understanding, it’s different.
I’ve seen you’ve been spending a lot of time with Aitch. You two recently did the adidas /Man United kit reveal. Have you also been cooking up in the studio?
Do you know what’s so mad? We literally just hang out. Like, he’ll come to my house for like a weekend or whatever but we literally haven’t been studio. He lives in Manchester, so it’s difficult. But last time, he came London we were hanging out and saying “yeah we gotta go to the studio,” but we were having so much fun that we didn’t end up going. He came back down again, but that time my voice was gone. Now, we’ve actually made a pact: the next time we meet has to be in the studio, or we’re not meeting up again.
I saw on your Instagram recently that a fan got a tattoo of your face on their arm. How did you react when you saw that?
I try not to call them fans, I call them supporters, but that was weird still. I was thinking “this guy is crazy”.
Did you ever get in contact with the person?
I didn’t, no. What it is yeah, I’ve been in contact with supporters before, but some people actually have an obsession. It’s a weird situation to be in. But imagine being in love with someone’s music and you meet them and they’re a prick. I’m so conscious of that so I actually try my best. Sometimes it gets a bit jarring but also these people support me, so I’m actually happy to see them at the same time.
We have to talk about the infamous Dutchavelli memes. “When Dutchavelli’s phone goes off in the cinema, they pause the movie” and all those jokes. What do you think of them?
Yeah, I saw that I think it is mad funny. I find all of them so funny.
Do you know what’s so crazy? You came up during lockdown.
[Bursts out laughing]
Have you even had a chance to perform live?
Nope. Not one show.
How are you feeling about performing?
I just got to wait bro. Listen, let me say something to you, a lot of people ask me how it feels and it’s like I feel like I’ve blown up in my house. I haven’t gone to the outside world, I mean I’ve gone outside, but the world’s been locked down. I haven’t had the chance to experience the world with the success I’m having, do you know what I mean?
If I was in your position, I would just be imagining the feeling of standing backstage, testing the mic, and walking out onto the stage. How are you even coping with the wait?
Bro, because it’s taking so long. I’ll be real with you, it’s making me feel all types of emotions about it: nervous, anxious, excited. I can’t wait, like, fucking hell, I need some rehearsals.
Tour next year?
Definitely. Listen let me tell you something G, I’m planning to break the law next year if they don’t stop this corona thing and don’t let me put on this tour.
There’s probably a meme somewhere saying Dutchavelli is the only one that can stop Covid.
Bro, I’m telling you, I’m actually going to call the Prime Minister, like “Yo we need to sort it out”.
Let’s talk about your record label, 2up2down. What does it mean to you?
2up2Down is about my work ethic. I work [as if] I won’t have food on my plate at night and I will go to bed starving, if I wake up and don’t go to work. But, there’s multiple meanings to [the name], like no matter how much money I get, I’ll never switch up. I was in a dark place when I came up with that idea, I felt like my life was in the hands of the court system, so it was a moment where it was like ‘Yo, just go and be successful.’ It was really an epiphany moment.
Are you looking to sign some artists to the label?
Yeah definitely. We’ve already got one artist at the moment. There’s a decent artist we’re in the process of signing, like he’s kind of out there I don’t want to say his name right now. I’m trying to make a label [that can] compete with all these other labels [out there] today. But there’s a time and a process, but I’m sure we’ll get there soon.
A Dutchavelli feature carries a lot of weight these days. What’s your mindset when approaching a feature?
I want to end their career when I jump on their song. No, I’m joking. but when I do a feature, I just approach it like all of my singles, I try not to waste any lines. And when it’s a feature, every line stands out when you’ve got an artist next to you that might take one or two lines and fill it with something. Not to take away anything from anyone but I mean, like take M1llionz for example. On his feature, he proper holds his weight, because I feel like he doesn’t waste any lines. I tell artists all the time: don’t put something there just because it rhymes or because you can’t think of nothing else, because if you were doing a test, like a theory test, that would be a fail. Don’t just say it because it sounds convenient basically.
Any other features on the way? I know Drake has been showing some love.
[Puts on Soulja Boy voice] Draaaake? Draaaaake? Nah, I’m joking. Yeah, Drake has been showing love but that’s about it, it doesn’t mean we’ve got a song.
2020 has been the resurgence of Dutchavelli. It’s almost 2021. What can we expect from Dutchavelli next year?
Bro, you know what the second mixtape is going to be elevation. You know what it is? I feel like the UK needs a global representation and I’m going to keep smashing these walls down, I’m not going to stop. Success with no excuses.
‘Dutch from the 5th’ is out 6th November via 2up2down
Photography assistant Ollie Trenchard. Styling assistants Daniel Richasrdson, Dog Velli