Interview with ArrDee: “You Can’t Pretend to be Someone for Too Long”

Five top tens, viral verses and Gold plaques; that’s all come in the span of eight months for Brighton’s ArrDee, calculated in his moves ever since breaking onto the scene overnight. He’s 19 years old with a debut mixtape just landing as he speaks to Mic Cheque in a room surrounded by Nike shoe boxes.

The first impression I took of ArrDee is that he’s more than meets the eye. Referencing the likes of 50 Cent, Eminem and Meridian Dan, he is talking like a student of the game, having rapped since the age of 13 who’s navigated through his local scene. “Brighton is a hip-hop cultured town with boom-bap, 90 BPM kind of music,” he notes while name-checking Lil Wayne’s 2011 album Tha Carter IV, one of the first albums he heard. According to ArrDee, it is that Brighton factor that sparked his ascent: “Everybody you need to meet in the industry is from London. But once I made that break-in, it was an advantage because I’ve come from somewhere different, I’m rapping different, the visual are different, and how I came across was different.”

When rappers are introverted, the listeners usually make their own preconceptions on their demeanour. Referencing his Smiley Riley nickname, ArrDee’s always found to be grinning or be light-hearted in his lyrics, a natural demeanour he is conscious of. Though it’s not meant to appear as happy-go-lucky. “There might be a misconception that I’ve just got here out of nowhere when there’s a lot of work behind the scenes. I may have come across unintelligent as well, but there is intellect behind what I do.”

“Eminem was the rapper I listened to the most growing up. He rapped about a lot of things I could relate to. Being able to rap with an ability that everybody can appreciate and at the same time making people laugh and having those comical lines that’ll inflict the strongest emotions.”

At the moment, ArrDee is closely classified as a drill rapper. His verse on Tion Wayne’s “Body” remix set the internet alight, a sound he continued with singles such as “Wid It”, “War” and “Flowers (Say My Name)”. However, his content varies significantly to traditional drill, sparking debates about whether his approach is ‘real drill’. “I have to make sure that the vibe is right; that’s how I gauge writing drill songs. It has to be right with everyone in the room, then I’ll know that the song is a hit and the lyrics are certified. If the reaction isn’t solid then I won’t write it down.”

Drill is currently the most popular genre in UK rap, and ArrDee is very much aware of it. “Once there’s a sound that’s popping in the UK, everyone swings to that sound because we’re not as big as the US market. I think that’s one of the blessings of the US market is that you can jump on your own original sound, tempo, beat style and still build that fanbase. But as the UK is smaller, you have to kind of adhere to what people are used to hearing.”

From the material he’s put out so far, it’s easy to put ArrDee in a box. But his Daily Duppy showcased a different style, one focused on stringent bars and internal rhyming. I was curious whether we would find more moments like these on his mixtape Pier Pressure. “There’s definitely a few of those. “Who Would’ve Thought” and “Pandemic” are two you’ll like off the mixtape if you like the Daily Duppy.” ArrDee’s previously mentioned the misconception that he can’t rap, but now he’s looking to turn that on its head.

“Rapping is a passion. I’ll continue to prove I can rap time and time again.”

When it comes to negative reception, ArrDee states he’s looking towards the end goal. “No one ever understands greatness until it’s already happened and it’s a bandwagon they can jump on. When you’re an artist starting out, no one can see your full potential. You have to see that there are gonna be people out there that like you. Right now you might be listening too much to the people that don’t like you, but if you stay being yourself you’ll build that organic fanbase and it’ll be bigger than the person who has the fanbase but they’re pretending to be like every other rapper. That will die out. You can’t pretend to be someone for too long.”

“The media tried to spin a narrative that me and Aitch were clashing. But he showed me love from the beginning.”

ArrDee begins to break down the creative process behind Pier Pressure, his first full-length release. “It all fell into place. There were double the songs to go through, filter out and pick the best ones. The biggest challenge was trying to keep it as versatile as possible while baring in mind what the UK is used to hearing.”

At one point, viral success wasn’t on ArrDee’s mind. Once the viral moments came, the temptation to maintain the spotlight naturally affects his creative process: ”Music is more than just a number. There’s passion and magic that music does to people. But with me being in the limelight, certain songs have to pop off for me to stay in people’s heads.”

“I want to pick up my guitar again and play my own riffs in my music.”

Granted, ArrDee has owned his personality and where he’s grown up. But he is focused on expanding. “The idea is to go global; America, Europe, Asia. It would be sick to do a tour in a place like Japan – even if you’re not understanding the words it’s about bringing people together.”

By the end of the conversation there’s still that motivation to deliver beyond mere viral hits. “The tape is more personal than people will expect. This will introduce me as a full artist that’ll unveil more layers to me and how my mind works. I want the wider audience to get to know me a bit more. And the UK fans love that real rap and that’s engraved in me so you’ll find some proper lyricism in there as well.”

“This tape says ‘this is me and I’m here to stay’.”

Pier Pressure is out now on all streaming platforms via Island Records.