A performance poet with years of experience on the open mic circuit and a history with Akala’s groundbreaking Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company, Deacon has this year begun to turn his skills to music. With a debut EP in the works and already making waves online, he kindly sat down for a chat with Quench before his show supporting Akala at The Globe.
So how is touring going?
Yeah tour is incredible man! I’ve been doing shows for many years. I started doing open mic sorta shows in the noughties, late noughties then I started going out to more open mics in 2011 where I met Akala, who invited me on to the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company. (HSC)
So was he just mingling in the crowd that night?
He was hosting it! I was unaware at the time but I got to the venue and he’s just there, and I’m like ‘oh shit’, this is one of my favourite MCs what the hell am I gonna do!? But yeah it was cool! So he hosted and gave me details afterwards and said lets do some work with HSC and the rest is history.
So how did you and Akala’s relationship change through HSC?
Well that’s where it begun. So we started at, I think, Much Ado About Nothing at the Barbican theatre and we’ve just done loads of other stuff, rewrote Richard II and a few different bits. We toured that one a few years ago and I’ve kinda grown as an artist through that.
Does it feel different now to be touring music?
Absolutely! I think music is just a different experience man, people like to experience things holistically and, not to by any means undermine poetry, but you get a full experience when you’re listening to music when there’s a performance. You get the beat you get the DJ or the live instruments depending on what you’re using and that’s totally different. That’s a totally different vibe man.
And as an artist on stage you feel that in your chest, to be able to give them the spoken word, with the musicianship behind it, and one of the things I love the most about it is the collaboration between minds. When you sit down and have a proper collaboration with the producer or the musician or whatever, the music is saying as much as the words, if not more. I love it man, altogether I absolutely love it.
So your new EP is being hailed as your debut, is it your first time working on music?
No! I’ve been doing my own stuff for a few years now, I had a few bits I put online or whatever, but nothing as grandiose as it is now. This is the first time I’ve sat down and said ‘Let’s make an EP’ with my producer Freemonk, we sat down and the pulled the pieces together and it’s the first time we’ve made a body of work.
So how did you meet your producer?
Freemonk! So I used to intern at Fifth Element studios and we had a load of different producers coming in and out, Cassell the Beatmaker who I’ve worked with very closely was doing writing sessions with people, and Freemonk was there. I started off doing one of his projects and we just followed it on from there, I can’t remember if I mentioned it or he did but we just started working from there and it cultivated into what it is now! A whole heap of work.
So the debut single ‘No Evil’ you have these voices of slaves appearing, what’s the message you wanted to get across with that?
That’s Laura Smalley, she was very young during the time when she was enslaved, and it’s important to say enslaved rather than ‘slaves’, to bring out the humanity in it, when we think of people as ‘slaves’ it rids of a lot of their humanity. So in the beginning of No Evil, the bit that you don’t hear, slightly before her sample, she’s asked if she remembers any of the songs that they sang and she says there’s this one ‘No Evil’ “I been saved all day, no evil have I done” and that was just really haunting when I heard that. I don’t know it’s just hopeful, it’s terrified, it’s terrifying, it’s a lot of things so I listened to that and thought about all the events she must be recounting and it really brought me to the current situations we see now on social media of black men being killed by the police and without any reason, it’s just evil, it’s an evil. And that’s obviously not to suggest all police are that, or that the policing institute organises itself to do that however, that’s not the point and it doesn’t even need to be said, the point is that people are being killed and that’s need addressing.
So is this the theme of the whole EP?
The EP is inspired by the parallels between then and now, it’s inspired by the progression we have and truly haven’t made and I think it’s important to have that discussion. The reason I feel so passionately about it, more so even after release, is that it’s sparked a lot of discussion, especially with the lyric video where people can see plainly what is being said, a lot of people, people close to me as well have said ‘ wow do you really think that?. And it opens up the door for a conversation and by the end of it we’re both wiser.
So what brought you to the decision to go and make a full project?
Well ‘No Evil’ did come out first, it was one of the first ones we wrote, and we just had this account, in the Library of Congress there’s documents, there’s like 4 hours worth of these interviews so we listened through to pick out these bits and that just became a thread which tied together the body work.
Does the new focus on music mean you’re going to dial the poetry and performance back?
Well I’m an artist, I’m musician. There’s so many things you can do off the back of being a writer and being a performer, so it’s not to say I won’t ever do acting or even new things in the world of entertainment but primarily, I’m an artist, so that’s what my focus will be.
So you’ve been writing poetry a long time, how did working with the Hip Hop Shakespeare Company evolve your writing?
Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt! One of the most profound things I picked up in that process was when we were rewriting Richard the II and Akala had pulled out and excerpt titled ‘The Prison Speech’ and it is about Richard who is on his death bed who says “I’ve been studying how I may compare this prison I live in to the world” bla bla bla. And what he does with that is he uses the metaphor of the prison that he is in, as his mind. So each describes each other he feels like his mind is a prison and, sorry this is such a longwinded answer (laughs), because it’s only him in the cell, he personifies the different aspects of the cell to populate his own mind, and it goes on and on and on. my point being, he uses the same metaphor and expands and expands and expands for about four minutes, and it’s really powerful, and before this I’d never explored metaphors like that, never explored a single point like that, I’ve always had my point, said it, and moved to the next one. Shakespeare is a genius man. There’s a reason he’s one of the most celebrated writers in history.
Away from Shakespeare, I was looking through your Soundcloud a moment ago and there’s a lot of different styles on there! Will you be expanding out into those anytime?
I just like music man, the stuff I repost is just the stuff I slap all the time you know! I’ve got a playlist called slaps and it sounds nothing like what you’ve heard but, as an artist I’ll try and venture into all those places so yeah, I’ll probably do some stuff like that!
Interview by Rowan Lees