Norwich, near the east coast of England, might not be the first place that springs to mind when considering rap or MCs, but 23 year old MC Darri T is determined to put his city on the map.
In December last year, the MC dropped his debut album, ‘1/7’. After a string of singles, he shared the project with the world, produced in full by his friend and collaborator, Bean. The album name is a nod to Darri’s siblings — he is one of seven — and it skips from trap to grime to smooth, shimmering R&B vibes, pulling from a mood-board of influences. It’s an impressive debut project, sounding refined beyond its years, and Darri tells us it’s “just the beginning”.
When DJ Mag meets with the MC, it’s at his day job working on the front desk of a tattoo shop in the city centre. He’s just ordered some records — Amy Winehouse LPs — and it’s the first real insight into the appreciation and affection Darri has for the craft he has learnt, loved and developed: songwriting. While he’s finishing up his shift, he dances to songs on the shop’s soundsystem, beatboxing, ad-libbing and body-popping in between the end-of-day wind-down tasks that come with working in a tattoo studio. When we leave, it’s dipped below freezing, but Darri is energetic and bright, and we walk across the city to another friend’s studio.
“It wasn’t always about rapping though, you know,” Darri says. “I started break dancing to hip-hop and stuff at school discos and shit, before I actually even got into the music. I had a teacher called Mr Q… he was just a don, that’s where it all started.” Mr Q gave Darri his first CD — coincidentally an album from A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip — and the rest was history.
Although Darri could always MC, and at 14 had started writing down his own bars with his friend Orlando, he studied dance at school, and college, where he learned ballet, contemporary and street styles. “It was quite a flex because I was the only boy,” he laughs, “and the guys would be like, ‘Yo, you’re with all the girls’, but for me I was just enjoying it, getting to dance. I just like rhythm.”
Dancing was where Darri also discovered his “no fucks given”attitude. “I’ve never cared what people thought since that; if you're willing to hate on people for doing what they love, then you’re a weirdo. Even when people would dig me out in school for dancing... I’m in a class with a load of beautiful girls, just dancing and having a great time — what are you doing, extra science?”
That attitude carries through into Darri’s music now. His tongue-in-cheek, nonchalant wordplay and confidence weaves through the album, on tracks like ‘Already Know’, where he spits bars about his own flow and shrugging off the haters. On the track ‘Vibes’, which features fellow Norwich rapper Cenzy, there’s much of the same, with the two rappers going back-to-back to spit about late-night, heated vibes with their respective partners.
Darri is an expert-level freestyler too, and although he finds it easier than writing bars — he and Bean mostly put together melodies before Darri starts writing — putting pe nto paper is his way of pushing his persona. “Lyrically, ‘Already Know’ is my favourite, ‘cause it’s cheeky,” he says. “Everyone who knows me says they can hear my smile on it. My personality is in that song, I’ve got some silly bars in there.”
"The genre of each track is relevant to the kind of message I’m trying to push. All the rappers I listen to look outside the box, and tell real stories, and none of them stick to one formula."
Although there are plenty of moments of bright, brazen fun on the album, both in instrumentals and through lyrics, there’s also deeper, darker parts to discover. The album closer, ‘Feel Alright’, taps into Darri’s fractured relationship with his parents, with an expert flow that tells a story and paints an unsettling, twisted scene from start to finish. “I don’t sell drugs, I don’t do all these mad things... I just can’t talk about stuff that I don’t do or hasn't happened to me,” Darri says.“I talk about my experiences with girls, and if it’s a darker track, then I focus on my upbringing and that side of my life. The genre of each track is relevant to the kind of message I’m trying to push. All the rappers I listen to look outside the box, and tell real stories, and none of them stick to one formula.”
Darri cites Camden rapper Ocean Wisdom as his biggest influence, and the UK’s alternative and “mainstream” rap scenes as the two where he finds constant inspiration. He’s inspired by the realness of lyricists, and storytellers who construct narratives. “Sam Wise, Knucks, Ghetts...” he says, reeling off scores of rappers and MCs. He’s also inspired by stateside artists like Washington rapper GoldLink, Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Brent Faiyaz, but the conversation nearly always circles back to the UK. “Giggs too you know, but just because of cadence and delivery. It’s donny as fuck, the way he just brings the energy.”
There’s one track on the album in particular that stands out, not just for its difference in sound, but to Darri too, who discovered a new path he wanted to explore in ‘Playing Games’ — a Kaytranada-esque, twinkling summer bop, featuring Leon Mallet and vocals from Bella Askew. It’s smooth and sultry, and showcases a softerside to Darri’s psyche. “It’s sexy music, and that’s what I want tomake next,” he says. “Like that first mixtape from The Weeknd [‘HouseOf Balloons’], he spoke about taking drugs and being around girls, and it was raw and real.
“I’m gonna go for that kind of vibe on a few singles now. Feel-good, summer vibes... I just really enjoy it — nice loops and dreamy drum patterns. Bean knows his shit, and we love working with samples, which is good for that kinda sound. We tweak them, pitch them, make them gully.”
As for what else is next, ‘1/7’ has jumpstarted Darri back into live performances and thinking about the future. He’s scheduled for gigs in Barcelona this summer, and is taking over Norwich venue Gonzo’s Two Room for an official album launch party after Covid delays. He has dreams and aspirations of stadium crowds and some amount of success, of course, but is determined to remain grounded and make music for the right reasons. “I’m doing this because I want to provide for my family,” Darri affirms. “I want this music to do that.
“We had a tough upbringing, and if I ever get to the level of success where I can, I just want to help the people around me. I wanna sing my lyrics to thousands of people. I know people can feel good with it, sad with it, connect with it, and I wanna act on that. It makes me feel good to make other people feel a certain type of way, and if I can be successful while doing it? That’s the dream.”