No one saw it coming. Until the pre order links landed last week, only a small handful of people knew it even existed: DRS’s fourth album From The Deep.
His first full non-D&B body of work since his 2011 mixtape Grown Man Bizniz, From The Deep is a flip on everything you know about the Manchester MC. No hype tracks, no low pressure rising, no teeth grinding. This is DRS counting to 10 in a whole different way and telling himself what he needs to do to get out of some of the darkest chapters of his life.
Having lost two of his closest friends Salford John and Marcus Intalex, and dealt with all manner of personal issues, demons, an unhealthy penchant for total escapism and the standard challenges of being an artist in an unforgiving market, last year DRS battled the black dog and went back to his musical and lyrical roots. Working with producer Pitch 92, at first it began as a side project, a few cheeky tunes here and there, but the more it flowed, the more DRS realised a bigger picture among the messages. He also realised it was pushing him vocally more than anything else he’d ever done. In his own words, it needed to be an album, it had something to say.
The result does indeed speak for itself. The fusion of Pitch 92’s warm bulbous and classically trained hip-hop beats and DRS at his most lyrically vulnerable and vocally dextrous, From The Deep is a darkly honest and deeply funky piece of work. Here’s how it came about…
This is your first full hip hop bit since Grown Man Bizniz. But From The Deep is real grown man business…
Definitely. A lot has happened in between. Especially in the time the album was created, this the light at the end of the tunnel of one of the darkest times in my life. Dealing with a lot of loss, personal issues, relationships. Rather than hold it in, it helped me to get it off my chest and hopefully it might help anyone going through similar situations.
The blues behind the vibes
Yeah man. It’s the sound of someone with a painted on smile. Hiding behind it, hoping if you keep it up long enough the smile becomes real, but it doesn’t until you deal with it.
Was it more cathartic to do it as a hip-hop album, as opposed to D&B that more people know you for?
I wanted to give it more space. So you can hear what I’m saying. When it’s in drum & bass it gets caught on the vibe. And I love that vibe. But this wasn’t a place for that. The vibe would take away the meaning. This isn’t hype music or party music. I just want to give it space so I can say who I am.
The two most extreme contrasts of DRS I get are in the tracks Irreplaceable, which is acutely heavy and emotional. Then there’s Serial Escapist which is a lot more flippant and wry…
I got Bob Marley tattooed on my left arm and Richard Pryor on my right arm. That says it all. Life makes us react to different things in different ways; one half of me is an escapist who wants to block it all out and run away from it in any way I can. The other is the live music. The soul and blues. The album is the sound of that time. It was me telling myself what I needed to do. I had to record it so I wouldn’t forget or try and run away from it again.
I imagine this was written not long after Marcus passed away. When did it start?
I wrote Clipping My Wings 18 months ago, so around then yeah. Then there was a gap for a bit, but something happened and the tracks just started to tickle out and the flow became faster. Every time Pitch sent me a beat I was sending bars back to him in like an hour. Pitch was like ‘fuck!’ and got inspired and started sending them over quicker. I got to the point when I realised it was an album. It was very quick, his beats were the vessel for me to turn my tap on and let it all out.
You’re both in the same city but did all of this online, right?
Yeah all online. Mad innit. But that made the album. There’s a lot of different styles of singing that I’d never have tried in a studio with others around me. I had to squeeze my voice into so many shapes and sounds I needed to be alone to try all that shit out. I felt free trying things out like if I wanted a Bobby Womack vibe, I’d just try it. Like I did on Space Cowboy. I don’t think I’ve felt as free with my voice like that before. The album made me realised how far I can push myself as a singer. I just wanted to put as much of me out as I can and I’m giving you the space to hear it.
When did Pitch know it was an album? Or did you just keep asking for tunes and not mention the album idea because when you start calling something an album it puts more pressure on things…
Yeah it does. I think when we got to about track eight or nine and I was like ‘right man, this is an album now and all the beats have come from you so far so I want this to be me and you on this…’ He was also doing an album for High Focus at the time so there was a bit of sorting out to do. Serial Escapist was originally planned for his album but I wanted it for mine so we did a new one for his. But yeah I didn’t tell him it was an album for a while after I’d worked it out because I wanted to keep it natural. I knew it was an album when I started listening back to a few tracks and the getting the message of the overall vibe. It was blowing me away. Like I was listening to someone else. It was like ‘this needs to be an album, this has something to say…’
What was the hardest tune to write?
Quite a lot of them to be honest. Obviously Irreplaceable. That was impossible. The last track Still No Good was a tough pill to swallow, too. It’s me saying to my kids I’m trying my best but there’s no handbook. I can’t be more honest than I am. This is something for them forever. Whatever they hear abut me when I’m gone, this is the truth, this is what I’m trying to do.
We’ve spoken about that in a previous interview. That’s a constant theme through the highs and lows; you are always a father
Yeah and you know what? I do all this hustling and have worked so hard to save up a bit of money to take time off and spend it with them but now they’re older, they don’t necessarily want that. I’ve grafted away and it’s made me a kinda part time dad in some ways. I’ve missed so much stuff. It’s a very deep one and very painful. The realisation. It’s like having the rarest pair of Jordans in the world and you wait and wait and wait for the perfect day, the perfect party to wear them and that day comes and the sole’s crumbled off…
Fuck. That’s painful man
Yeah it’s a deep one.
Do you feel the album’s expelled some demons?
I’ll always be expelling them. But I did feel I got something off my chest and told myself something. That was the most important thing. I gave it some of my closest friends and family. Because I bare myself to the world I wanted them to know it before the world heard it. It’s like ‘listen to it so I don’t have to say it to you.’
What did they think about it?
There was some shock, some of the things I was addressing. If everyone else is happy it makes me feel good and I might look happy because of that. But deep down I’m not happy. They don’t know that because I’m good at hiding shit. Too good. But the worse things get, the more that disguise slips and things crumble. That’s why I needed to make this record.
And all this was written while you were putting out D&B tunes with Skeptical, Alibi, GLXY, LSB, L Side and of course Calibre who you’ve also launched Alchemy with during this time…
You know how I work mate. I can’t stop, it’s an ongoing process and I want to build up a legacy, something that goes beyond me and exists long after me. Even stuff that doesn’t come out, it’s there for my kids to use in some way. My legacy is my best asset, it’s all I can offer them.
What’s next to add to the legacy? Where’s the next Space Cadet coordinates? We’ve had a D&B EP, a hip-hop album, literally anything could come next…
It’s exciting innit. Let’s shake the wasp’s nest for a bit and see what comes out. We got plenty more trips, some local talent, some names you’ll know very well, more material from me too. You never know man, there’s been a lot of things happening… There always is.