At just 21, Desiigner, real name Sidney Royel Selby III, has made a mark in rap music.
The American rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer, music executive and actor rose to prominence in 2016 after the release of his debut single ‘Panda’, which reached Number One on the US Billboard Hot 100. He spoke to Karen Muriuki during his first-time trip to Africa last week
How do you like Kenya and Africa in general so far?
I’m liking it. Actually, I’m loving it. (Laughs). I literally kissed the ground as soon as I landed to embrace it all and feel the energy.
How has your perception about Africa changed since you landed?
It’s my first time in Africa but I’ve always believed it to be a beautiful place. I’m very big into history and culture and knowing that I’m African and that my family roots are here is amazing.
Africa is a place where many people dream to be in. Many people also question what is in Africa and, honestly, it’s more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
I’ll always be willing to come back here and I’d recommend a Kenyan visit to anybody.
Tell us about your hometown
I’m from Bed-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, New York: the same neighbourhood as The Notorious BIG, Aaliyah and Chris Rock. It’s known to locals simply as Bed-Stuy.
Where did the name Desiigner come from?
It’s a funny story. (Laughs). I was in Brooklyn with my brother and he said I had to design my name. I immediately thought of Designer.
I ran around with the name Designer Royel at first but thank God for my younger sister who told me not to make it too long, so I went with Designer but added the double ‘i’ for effect.
Is your family musical?
Yes. My grandfather, the first Sidney Selby, was actually named the Guitar Crusher. He performed with acts like The Drifters. I developed as a performer being part of the church choir and school plays.
In a previous interview, you said you were working on an album with Kanye West. What happened to that?
Oh, it’s still in the works. It’s coming soon, so stay tuned! (Laughs).
You said that your album Life of Desiigner, which you released in May, was not your debut album. When should we expect a debut album?
The album will actually be released sooner than you would imagine — next year. I’ve named it Sidney, just as my first name. It has really nice and creative sounds.
I went around the world, from Thailand to my hometown, and worked with really great producers from The Bronx in New York because, you know, that’s where hip-hop originated.
Life of Desiigner became an EP because a lot was going on in my personal life as I was making the album. The EP is just a warmup before I release Sidney.
Any collaborations on the album you can let us in on?
I can tell you a number, but I do not know how much I’m allowed to say. Just know that it’s great artistes — some may even be your favourites.
What is your popular track Timmy Turner about?
There was a time in my life where I wished for a lot of things. I did not have the smile that I carry around these days. Timmy Turner, the fictional character, wished for a burner to kill everyone walking, which is a sin as we all know.
I used this cartoon character’s story to clear my mind because at this point in time, just like Timmy Turner, I was also wishing for something bad.
How would you describe your rap style?
It’s a style that’s unique from Desiigner. As a child, I always loved speed and twisters. I loved to sing at the same time, so I decided to put the two together. I get to touch the soul areas with my singing melodies and also hit the energy points with my speed, repetition and flows.
Have you heard any Kenyan tracks?
Not really, but I will be in the studio all day (on the day of the interview) working with different local artistes. That’s something I am really looking forward to.
Are collaborations with a Kenyan artiste a part of your plans?
I would love that. It would definitely be a move for me. I have always seen myself going international and working with artists all over the world.