Photo by Michelle Mentu
The night of the Great Escape’s First Fifty showcase was bitter and chilly, but the excitement kept me warm. As darkness descended on East London, my head counted down to Deema’s set. This ‘young boy from the southeast’ (‘CAN I?’) is an up-and-coming rapper taking the scene by storm, backed up by his close friend and fellow musician Dom Valentino.
With his debut EP Chew Your Food, the South-East London rapper broke through the scene. The EP features the head bopper ‘Hash Brown’ with its bass as deep as the Earth’s core, and shows his flexibility on tracks like the socially-conscious ‘Rat Race,’ which gives us the narrative of living in a rat race, where everyone wears a mask to climb to the top. The beats in his discography are free-flowing and hard, his earthquake bass a hallmark of his sound.
Live performances paint a vivid moving picture of the artist. They have the power to impact the audience way after the experience, and this was definitely a show to remember. His presence dominated the stage, his energy radiated in the space. The neon green and red lights on the stage illuminated his silhouette, while his liveliness transcended past the stage set-up. It was about the connection. The way he affected his audience. Everyone had their undivided attention on Deema as he bopped across the stage. He captivated the room, but even more so, his connection with Valentino was heart-warming to see. There was a synergy in that room, and what truly made it a one-of-a-kind experience was its intimacy.
His performance of ‘Can I?’ was a special one. Prefacing his verse, he says, ‘Hold tight Dom Valentino, that’s my bredrin’ and you already know that by now though.’ Deema, dressed in stripes, was backed by Valentino on the decks. Also from South London, Valentino has worked with Deema as a long-term collaborator and produced Chew Your Food as well as his 2021 EP Rainbow. ‘Can I?,’ featured on his EP Rainbow, centres on the incessant and excessive asks of favours following an artist’s rising success. With its addictive beat stamped with a melodic piano, his performance guaranteed necks bobbing back-and-forth over the 90s-esque beat. The audience edged closer as Deema came down to their level, both synchronised in reciting his lyrics.
Deema demonstrated the incredible versatility of his sound with his performance of ‘Mamma, Don’t Judge.’ Also produced by Valentino, the beat is carried by a pleasant harp intertwined with drums. The marriage of Deema’s signature head-bopping sound and this instrumental addition created an otherworldly atmosphere, making for a poignant and emotive experience. The lyrics are raw, with Deema speaking about his dreams and the direction he wishes to go in. It’s a universal experience: explaining to his parents that he wanted to pursue an unconventional career. His performance definitely touched me, reminding me of my own conversations with family, and I’m sure everyone in that room felt the same. The song, packaged as a lyrical letter to his mother, felt warm and straight from the heart. It was even more heart-warming when he told the audience that his mother was watching from the back.
The set was punctuated with the performances of ‘Through It All,’ especially significant considering recent events with Covid-19 and the universal struggle through it, and ‘Maddie,’ which I feel is Deema’s most fascinating song. Its performance made perfect use of the venue’s sound system. The speakers, tall and wide, emanated with luxuriously layered tones on a wavey, boom-bap beat. It sounded like old-school hip-hop, tailored to send the speaker cabs into the stratosphere with every kick. The song uses Carlo Savina’s theatrical ‘This is It?’ with the woodwind making for a smooth and easy listen. Deema talks of his journey with romance, expressing the confusion that comes with it. The performance certainly conveyed this—his shoulders were shrugging, gestures flowing with the song’s laid-back and mellow sound. The song ended with a collective ‘Bun Maddie!’ shouted from the audience, meaning to forget in London slang. I don’t even know who Maddie is, but you’d think she personally scarred me the way I screamed with my whole chest. Maddie, if you’re reading this, I most definitely do not apologise.
All in all, the set felt like a conversation, with its intimate talks about love, the future, dreams, confusion, determination, and perseverance. The connection with the listener was already there in the studio versions of these songs, but the performance felt even more natural. There was no distance between Deema and the audience; it didn’t feel like I was lost in the sea of people. The songs made me feel as if I was talking about life with a friend I’ve known for ages, and when an artist makes you feel like that, you know they’re going to go far.
You can catch Deema next at the three-day Great Escape Festival, which runs in Brighton from the 11th to the 14th of May.
Photos by Michelle Mentu
Edited by Talia Andrea, Deputy Music Editor, and Josh Aberman, Music Editor