Life & Culture

Denzel Himself: the Straight-Edge Punk of Rap

Another Man meets the disruptive rapper, producer and director, who opens up about matters of the heart and the power of recognition

Denzel Himself isn’t about to let rationality, or what’s socially acceptable corrupt his art. The uncompromising rapper, producer and director is a straight-edge polymath punk. And a frighteningly complete creative package: he started shooting videos when he started writing tracks to start spitting lyrics on. Himmy is a one-man band – the clue’s in the name.

As expressive as he comes across in person, the south London-based artist lets his output do the heavy lifting when it comes to explaining his practice. If the work feels unsettling, that’s because it’s meant to. On his latest double A-side, BE THERE / HIGHER, he coughs scratchy vocals through gritted gold teeth over lagged and distorted rap, while the sinister video to accompany HIGHER is shot through with the DIY rawness that’s become his signature.

This hardcore energy carries through to his live performances, sharing both the stage and mosh pit with extended family from his label, Set Count Worldwide. It’s a visceral descent into chaos that supercharges even his most reflective, slowed down sounds. “So far my stylistic approach has been quite private and earphoney,” he says. “But going forward I’m way more into immediacy and adrenaline-inducing music.” As if his shows weren’t incendiary enough already.

Here, he explains the power of recognition, and why inspiring people is like charging his own personal battery.

Have you ever had your heart broken?

Denzel Himself: For sure, I’ve had my heart broken. I feel as though coming of age, being a musician, being a young man, I’ve been disenfranchised many a time. Being from the ends that I’m from, and growing up around delinquent youth culture in London, that has an effect. So, to that extent I’ve definitely had my heart broken. But I’m not like sorrowful or anything because I like growth.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for love?

Denzel Himself: Art is the biggest thing I’m in love with above anything else, so I feel as though when I said to myself this is what I’m going to be, and what I’m going to do, that could be seen as a crazy thing because I put everything on the line, and sacrificed a lot.

Do you have a secret passion?

Denzel Himself: I’m into etymology but that’s not really a secret. I’ve always been into English and drawn to words from a young age. 

What are you obsessed with?

Denzel Himself: I’m obsessed with having a really loud voice when it comes to the conversation around the arts. Within my lifetime I want to become an important mind, and to be recognised as having existed. That’s something I’m driven by and have been since I started.

Do you have an urge to explore other disciplines?

Denzel Himself: I’d like to go into advertising – directing adverts, and directing for other artists. I want to produce music for other artists as well.

What sparks your imagination?

Denzel Himself: It’s not just music, it can be musicians, or it could be Japanese cinema, cult leaders, anything. I just feel like I try to exemplify anything that I connect with on any level to any capacity. If something resonates with me then I will try and allow that to be apparent somehow within what I do. I act as a vessel for the conscious, and the subconscious.

Where does your desire to create come from?

Denzel Himself: I just want to inspire people if I’m honest. That’s the most important thing for me. Being able to inspire people, and feel inspired myself, that’s that the best feeling. That’s like charging your own personal battery.

What collaborative relationships are you pursuing?

Denzel Himself: I’m definitely not super into collaborating in general, but the people who I do wish to collaborate with I’m very enchanted by. Set Count Worldwide is my network, and within that network is KEYAH/BLU, she was on my EP and I did a Berlin show with her. Also Modest, he’s an auteur within Set Count. 

Have you ever fallen for a city or its people?

Denzel Himself: I fuck with Berlin! That’s some shit I love, talking about romance. I went to Berlin and after two hours I was ready to move there. I’ve never been affected that much by a city. I fuck with the people. Everyone seemed chill. I could feel that they appreciated me. Even the architecture and the graffiti, you could tell that art holds more of a place in society there than in London, which is sick. I could see myself out there. Certified.

A version of this article appeared in the A/W18 ‘Romance and Ritual’ issue of Another Man.