- Words Josh Clubbe
- Photography Jack Orton
DeBe flies the flag high and proud for Northampton. In a chat with Notion, DeBe reveals his musical journey, the story behind his moniker, new mixtape and more.
Northampton may not be the first town on the lips of music fans in the UK, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find this wonderful bubbling pot of talent within. Currently flying the flag high and proud for the East Midlands town is DeBe, the unapologetically authentic and punchy individual crafting a new type of sound. When I say a new type of sound, I’m not meaning as one of those cliché phrases, it’s genuinely something new and refreshing – a bit more leftfield than conventional rap we’ve become accustomed to listening to in the UK.
With the release of his latest mixtape ‘The Last Breath’, momentum is well and truly building for DeBe. The work rate is continuous. It’s a Saturday as I write this piece and it was also a Saturday that I decided to get it done in the first place – there’s only so much sitting and listening or walking and stomping to his tunes that I feel one can do before wanting to know more. It was time he tell me something. I wanted to have a discussion.
I had to prise him away from the ‘Water’ video shoot to conduct this. In typical 2021 fashion, we had to hit up our good friend Zoom. Just before we are due to convene, his manager quickly hops in and says we’ll be ready by 19:15, “he’s currently got a snake on his face”. So, when I say he’s busy, he’s literally finding time between scene changeovers to speak to me. That’s commitment. I appreciate it.
You’re a busy guy, what’ve you been up to recently?
Literally been working and working on everything for the tape. I’ve built a studio at home, well I built it about 6 months ago – turned my garage into a room, boarded it all out and insulated it and what not. Actually, I’ve just got some new equipment, a new keyboard and speakers. My home set-up now means I’m ready for any lockdown. With this lockdown bullshit, I’ve just been locked away in my garage. Recently, I’ve been making new stuff as well, loads of new stuff, man. I’ve got a little saying “Break the box”, I’m always trying to ‘break the box’ in a sense. Whenever I’m trying to make something new, it’s something f**king new – I’ve been experimenting more for sure.
For the readers who haven’t yet listened, tell them a bit about your story and why you became interested in music…
It’s a bit of a mad story. Ever since I was six years old, I was writing my own lyrics… even then. When growing up, I used to tag along with my Dad who used to get up to all sorts. Being young, I was unknowingly taking it all in. My parents split up around this time and I lived with my Mum, to get by she was hustling too. Whenever my Mum was doing stuff around the house, like cleaning, she would play grime, hip-hop or baseline bare loud. We moved to Milton Keynes for a bit, trying to seek a better life and well, my mum was still hustling and ended up going to prison. Then I moved in with my nan, which meant my uncle was around a lot and he showed me a really old MC called MC Vapor, and he had a song about the Simpsons. These times were when I found my interest in music, to be honest.
So why are you called DeBe?
I’ll tell you it as literal as I can. I was in maths class, back in year 9, not paying attention and I used to draw in my book. Graffiti was something I started from very young and one day I got caught by the police for a petty tag. They couldn’t prove it was me, but they knew it was me and I wasn’t denying it. At this point I was like “I need to change my name” and at the time I loved dubstep. When I was drawing from then on, I was writing the word ‘dubstep’ – I just loved the letter ‘D’ and the letter ‘B’. It’s a very visual thing and for ages I was just writing those letters. Then I thought, I can’t just write two letters. It became ‘D e B e’. When painting in Northampton, it was soon known that the tag was me and it just stuck. At this point, I wasn’t putting music out, but when we were out on the road painting or at a friend’s house, I’d always spit if someone put on a beat. After a while, people were like “You need to make music” or “You’ve got to put this stuff out” – I did make music, but it was just at home for myself or for my friends.
You’ve got this punk energy in your music and it’s almost outlaw to stretch it out a bit. I became familiar with the rest of your catalogue shortly after the 2020 ‘Farmland’ release. That track has comical undertones which I find is a subtle theme throughout a lot of your records. Is this something you try to bring, or do you think it’s because you’re straight talking and don’t dance around what you want to say?
Yeah! That’s how I treat life. It’s sick you’re saying that’s how my music comes across. I’ve been through some stuff and I know everyone’s been through some shit. But when I’ve gone through my own stuff, I always say “shit happens”, well I never used to. In the last eight years of my life, my whole house could fall down, and I’d be like “oh f**k it” or “look how funny this is”. I’m a bit weird like that, I’ll laugh. When I’m in a situation or a bad financial position, I will always look for the positive and see the light in every situation. Being rejected in terms of trying to do this, this and that, it can be comical. I take life with a pinch of salt, man.
With ‘The Last Breath’, what has made me be able to digest it again and again is the duration of the tape isn’t too long. Do you think being a lyric-focused rapper like you are, keeping the attention of the listener is just as important as the art itself?
Definitely. When I make a song, I like to listen to it myself, and from a third person point of view, too. I want to feel like I could listen to it repeatedly. The short tracks give it that replay value – it’s a quality over quantity thing. I only need a minute or two to really give a good number of bars. I’ve taken my writing a lot more seriously in the last two years and have made it a bit more intricate.
Do you find shorter records like ‘Water’ create more impact, because you’re not having to stretch the idea?
Sometimes that is the case, man. Especially in the last ten years, music has generally become a lot shorter. In 2002, a four-minute song was normal. Whereas you do a four-minute song now, you best be shooting a little movie for it. With social media as well, people’s attention span is a lot shorter nowadays. I really like the short tracks, especially if there’s no hook and it’s just lyrics start to finish – I enjoy making them – those that build up and up and crash, the end. That vibe is for me.
That’s a bit like ‘Water’, right? I definitely experienced that. Must say that the instrumental is bang on the money too, has this watery feel.
That’s Nick French on the production, he’s a sick guy. Honestly though, you’ll love this video we’ve been shooting for it today.
For me, the flow of the tape is seamless, each track weaves into each and nothing appears random. Was this a factor when finalising the tape?
Yeah! Originally there was twenty tracks. I’d set them aside as potential records for the tape. The idea was that there was going to be thirteen songs, but in the end ten just fit a lot better. In terms of your typical mixtape, this is a short and sweet one. I feel like there’s a lot crammed into it. Every song is completely different. There’s a couple that are a bit grimey, like ‘Water’ and ‘Drama’. They have got a similar vibe, but still, they’re completely different. Then ‘Gutter’ is on another end of the spectrum, it was purposely done in a way to fit the narrative of the tape.
There’s a lot of political themes in your music and content. Is your music geared towards a new generation that doesn’t bow down to the hierarchy of the country?
Yeah man, I’m very anti-establishment. It’s so genuine as well. I’m disgusted, as I’m sure everyone is, with how this country is ran. If we got into it, and started talking about certain subjects, you’d hear the passion in me. It’s two fingers up, one of those ones.
If we’re to bring it back to your hometown Northampton, do you think the music coming out of it has a specific sound?
Not necessarily a sound, but I would say an energy or a stance. Not Normal Records have got their club and house vibes. There’s quite a lot of rappers doing their thing. We’ve also got a lot of indie bands that are f**king sick as well. Everyone’s got a similar approach to the message that they are trying to put across. Everyone’s got that drive. We’re in little Northampton, trying to make it big.
The next track from the tape to come out is ‘Water’, how do you want this one to land with listeners?
I’m very, how can I put it? Take it or leave it kind of vibes. I just like people to enjoy it and relate to things. If they can’t, then at least have the empathy to understand it. How do I want it to land? I don’t really think too much like that. It’s quite selfish, but I really do this for me. Making music is really for my own mental health. That’s why I never take long to release music, because I’m genuinely making music to express myself, free emotions and let it all out. You know when people say, if you’re feeling angry towards someone, write it down and you’ll feel better? I feel angry and sad and happy about loads of things, then I make music about it.
Are you hoping with the growing popularity of your music, you can help create a pathway for other Northampton artists?
That is the main end goal for me on this journey, to be able to open doors for people who deserve it. I would love to be able to present opportunities. Take Sammy and Hobe from Not Normal Records for example, I would absolutely love to be in a position to be able to bring them through. Everything I do, obviously I work with a lot of producers from London and America, but I always incorporate Northampton people into whatever I can. My usual photographer Alex Potton, Northampton. My video people, they’re all Northampton. All my friends that are creatives as well, are just trying to get the doors open for others.