I’m out here alone, UK rapper and producer Blue Daisy groans despondently on “Alone.” It's one of the stand-out tracks on his new album, Darker Than Blue, and ironically the only one on which he has company (he’s joined by rising London vocalist Connie Constance). On paper, it looks like one of the gloomier moments of the record. But upon listening, its silky cello line and handclaps suggest dreamier territory—it's more like the internal monologue of someone who’s comfortable rolling solo with their tumbling thoughts than any cry for help.
It’s a contrast that rings true of the whole of Darker Than Blue, which is Kwesi Darko’s second album as Blue Daisy—his first came out in 2011 and earned him comparisons to Flying Lotus and Burial in the press for his moody, atmospheric beat-making—and his first for UK label R&S (home of James Blake and Untold). Due out September 25th, the record finds Darko taking to the mic more confidently than ever, reaching inside himself and unflinchingly addressing his upbringing, relationships, and religion, covering everything from uncertainty in love to the certainty of death. Sonically, it's just as broad, blending psychedelic, jazzy compositions with a raw punk aesthetic and spoken word segments that slice right through to the bone.
When we chat over the phone on a Friday afternoon in early August, he’s taking a short break from producing a track for a U.S. hip-hop artist (he declines to name which). These kinds of projects are a welcome respite, he says, from working on his own stuff, which “gets quite intense.” Throughout our conversation, there’s plenty of tension-easing laughter, and a momentary, exhaling pause as the interview turns into two strangers tackling issues of death, demons, and identity.
This album emphasizes darkness, and has all of these grisly images and distorted sounds—and yet I feel like you’ve made yourself really vulnerable on it. It’s very intimate.
BLUE DAISY: That’s one of the things that gets me a bit nervous when I think about the album being released. Because of how I put myself out there with it. A lot of people who know me as an artist know me as someone who makes beats. I’ve always just put emotions or thoughts into sounds. Whereas this album is more—I’d reached a point where I felt like I wanted to speak. With me, life is about coming face to face with things, challenging them, and overcoming that obstacle or that hurdle.The next step to take is for me to actually speak to the masses, and get shit off my chest. Shit that I will sit behind my doors and think about. This is how I want to present myself to the world—as me.
Is that why you’ve only got one other voice featured on the album?
Yeah. When I first started making it, I had all these high ambitions and expectations of people I wanted to get on the album. On “Daydreaming,” initially I wanted to get Chance the Rapper. It’s so funny, because if you hear the demo version, I rapped in a way I wanted Chance to rap it. We got in touch with his manager, but it was long—that was one of the points where I realized, you know what, I’m not going to ask for any more features on this album. I’m just going to do it all myself. I wanted that challenge, the challenge of doing it all on my own.
“I don’t see death as a bad thing, I see it as the kind of thing that should be embraced.”—Blue Daisy
How did you get to that point where you felt like you could trust in your own voice?
After my first album, I didn’t know what to do next. I was doing a lot of gigs. I started doing this project called Dahlia Black, which was like really really dark rap. I dropped “Fuck a Rap Song,” which came out two years ago, and that went mad. It was funny, because it wasn’t meant to be a serious tune. There was some kind of irony to it. But that was my biggest song to date. After that, it was just like, alright, cool, I’m gonna start messing around with this rap thing. So for a while, I was manipulating my voice, not using my actual voice. But once, I did a demo of a track, and my manager just said, “Why don’t you actually just start using your voice? Because this is who you are.” It opened my eyes to just being like, yeah—I’m not trying to put a veil over what’s real.
There’s definitely no veiling the truth on this album; there’s a lot of talk about how we’re all going to die.
You know what, that tune ["We're All Gonna Die"] came from an argument that I had with my girlfriend. I came back to the studio and made that song. It’s just that thing, where you realise: nothing really matters. We don’t really matter. I’m saying, my girl’s saying that smoking’s going to kill me/ but I don’t give a fuck, because we’re all gonna die. Why not just live this life and enjoy what I’m doing now, and when I’m gone, I’m gone? Also, I just wanted people to accept that, to stop looking at it as a bad thing. [Death is] another adventure...My family are quite religious. They don’t want to hear about death. Because for them, death is the end. Not even that it’s the end, but it’s either heaven or hell, so death is kind of like rolling the dice. For me, I don’t see it like that. What happens afterwards, we have no control over. I don’t see it as a bad thing, I see it as the kind of thing that should be embraced, the same way the birth of a child is celebrated and embraced. Don’t get me wrong, there’s tragic ways to die. But when you get to that point where you accept death, no matter how tragic it is, you realize, we’ll all reach the same place in the end anyway.
There’s a weird silence around death; we don’t really know how to deal with grief in our culture.
Yeah, and there’s too many people who live in denial. I played this song to one of my good friends, who, when he heard “We’re All Gonna Die,” he said, “You’re going to say that on the album?” I said, “Why?” He said, “It’s a bit too in your face, isn’t it?” But that’s the truth though, isn’t it? He was like “Yeah, but you should cover it up a little bit.” I was like, nah. That’s the reason why I made this album. I’m not out here trying to sugarcoat anything. Whether you like it or whether you want to hear about it or not, we are all going to die. At one point I was going to call [the album] We’re All Gonna Die. Then I thought, I don’t know whether I should do that. Darker Than Blue just came naturally.
How did you arrive at that name?
Everything I’m talking about, it’s me, but it’s my demons. The Darker Than Blue thing came from that, and also the fact that I’m a black individual in this world. I am darker than blue. This is the label that they put on me. I’m black. Not only am I out here fighting my demons personally, confronting them face to face, I’m also out here fighting a society or a world that still, as much as we try not to look at it that way, still perceives people of my race as lower—in the Western world, they still perceive people of my race in their own boundary. Even though I had the track made, I didn’t know what to call the album for ages. I was listening to it and it came to my mind—Darker Than Blue, that’s it. It explains everything.