Artist Spotlight: Darrell Cole [Video]


Darrell Cole is a star in the making. Itís as simple as that really. The currently London-based globetrotter is not only immensely gifted, he is also incredibly humble and thoughtful. 

His new project ĎReturn On Investmentí is a sprawling, eclectic batch of buttery excellence, that peers deep into your soul and ascends you into an uplifting warmth. The resonating themes of celebration, love and brotherhood are consistent throughout the body of work. We are blessed with an array of musical styles, with Darrell and his producer Samuel Kareem touching on afro, hip hop, R&B, jazz and more during the 44 minute run time. The synergy around the project is vastly appealing, with vibrant visuals and rousing marketing the perfect accompaniment for the rich, artful and fulfilling music.  

I caught up with Darrell to discuss the new project, turning pain into positivity, and how he achieves a sound so fluid in its use of genre. 

Howís it going Darrell?

Good! I just had a mixing issue with the project but itís all good now. Iím very hands on when it comes to my projects, Iím involved in almost every process of it, from marketing to creation, so I catch all the stresses from all the areas. 

I think thatís the way to be, a hands on approach. It just means the product is more authentically yourself. 

I feel like we put more work into after the studio, after the song is created. We really take our time to think about visuals and how to stand out. Iím really big on not doing whatís already been done. I feel like everything is sounding very repetitive. I know thereís a lot of artists that say this, but instead of complaining about it, I think about how I can be different. Visually and concept wise I make sure we think on every little detail. 

It comes off, especially visually. Thereís something about the ĎCelebrationí video, the colour grade, the richness. I really like that.

I appreciate that you pay attention to those things because we put a lot of time on those things. 

How has the pandemic been for you creatively?

The pandemic put me in a great spot mentally. I always try to focus on the good in a situation, and the good was that for a very long time it hadnít been that quiet. It gave me more space to develop my skill and to analyse what to do to improve my own craft. 

I know youíre a well travelled guy, youíve seen many cultures and experiences. How do you think that has helped shape your musical and personal outlook? 

Musically, it taught me not to put myself in the box, because I enjoy so much music. I enjoy the French rap scene, the Dutch scene, the American, UK, Spanish. For me to go in the studio and just make one genre is very difficult and that is due to me travelling so much. Musically it helps me stay versatile. Personally, the best thing about travelling was that I was able to pick up all these languages and cultures, and see how people live in different places. Usually you can hear about it and go on vacation to these places, but because I lived in those places, I picked up a lot more than I would on vacation. 

How many languages do you speak?

I speak five.

Blimey, what languages?

I speak Krio which is the native language in Sierra Leonne, I speak English, Dutch, French and Spanish. 

Thatís very impressive. As you were just saying about diversity of sound, when Iíve listened to you, Iíve found it difficult to pin your influences. How do you combine so many sounds with such coherency in your music? 

I think that if the story or message is the same, then the sound that it comes under does not matter. I think why it sounds like one, no matter the beat, is because the message is always the same. As soon as you know the message you want to give out, it doesnít really matter. You can work with any producer, as long as they stand what you stand for.

You are a prime example of a modern artist who is fluid with the concept of genre. Do you think genre is still relevant? 

They put genres in place to categorise. They use genre to make it easier for people to find music. I think in the modern day, the biggest artists are influenced by everything. The biggest hip hop artist is heavily R&B influenced, and the biggest pop artist listens to DaBaby. The lines are so blurred that, in theory, genre is fading away, but you still need it to make it easier for people. 

Talk me through the single ĎKnightsí.

ĎKnightsí is an ode to people who have travelled all over the place and seen different things. Coming back to the conversation on genre, that was a tune that we started off with house chords, but then we put the afro vibe to it. It was really just a vibe to how we were living in those cities, travelling a lot and recording here and there. That was the soundtrack of those trips. In LA for example, we were there for almost a month and that was what we were listening to in the car. The sound of it just fit with what we saw around us. I worked on it in Barcelona as well. Itís more of a vibe than a super big message. 

I think what is really appealing to your music is the way you capture moods. For instance, the mood of ĎCelebrationí or ĎBruddhaí, thereís an unavoidable feel good energy to it. Why is it important for you to create that positive, uplifting mood in your music. 

Itís because I started off very negative. The songs that streamed the most before I started this cycle in the UK were all very sad songs. They were all songs that I wrote in a dark place. I just figured that every time I performed the songs, itíd take me back to the dark place. Even when I got the message of my friend dying, I was in the studio working on this project, and Sam started off making a song and I just knew where we were going, and I already knew where we were going and I said I donít want to do this, letís try something else. I really have to praise Samís genius because he totally gets it, we never said to make an Afro song but he just understands. So when he whipped that out, I knew it was exactly what I needed to speak over, not a sad beat.

Thatís quite a connection that you have with Sam then. How long have you been working together?

Weíve known each other 4 or 5 years, but weíve been working together for 2 years. 

Do you see yourself working together more in the future?

I think so. I define my sound with Sam. Before that I was rapping based on my idols. With Sam, it was the first time I worked with a producer who also took a year of his time to develop a sound with me. So 100%, I think thereís much more from us. 

I want to touch on the project, what deeper themes are there? 

The project in its totality is about giving thanks, from the artwork to the visuals to who I worked with. My sound engineer is the same guy I used 15 years ago. We havenít been working together throughout 15 years, but for this project Iím going back to the person I started with because Iím paying homage. Anyone you see involved in this project is involved because I owe it to them. 

From outside looking in, there seems to a mixture of emotion throughout the project. Do you see it as an accurate representation of your mindset at the moment?

100%. My rapping and singing are based on real facts. If Iím going through something bad, you are going to hear that in my music. In the studio Iím always trying to deliver my message. As far as bringing the project out and understanding the markets that Iím working in – yes, Iím very aware of those, but it doesnít take away the soul from the music. 

How do you get that richness, that buttery warmth, to the music? 

Sam is a perfectionist. He will work on a song for 100 days. The only time we argue is when we release a song. Those are the healthy arguments. Bottom line of the whole collaboration with Sam is that we care about being different. Heís very keen on not being a beat maker but a producer. Heíll say – okay I played the piano here but I know a guy that plays crazy so Iíll bring him in and weíll do it together. Itís about getting the best for the song. 

With you offering such a fusion of sound, where do you see yourself within the UK scene?

I really thought about it before I even came back home. Iíd think; if the UK scene is a pyramid, what stone of the pyramid am I? I think Iím here to break the cliches and step away from it. Iím a huge fan of the UK scene but I also understand the cliches that every scene has. I want to be the guy to break that. Yes Iím a rapper but Iíll make an afro song and itíll sound as good as the rap song. We strive to be the best. I hope that anytime people hear my music they think that Iím different from the rest. 

There are such specific boundaries within the most popular genres, if you do flirt with other sounds or sound different completely, some people just shun it. Iím of the mindset that everyone should be more open minded when it comes to music. 

The thing is, you canít shun it because Iíve from that. Iíve made songs of those styles, Iíve battled, Iíve rapped against the toughest. I also thought about that coming back, I sounded a little American when I first came back. Iím definitely going to carry on tradition, but Iím still making sure I sound different. Why do I have to just choose one?

I think what you sound like there is an innovator. Someone that makes from different things to make something better.

Thatís the goal. 

If you are introducing someone thatís never heard of you before to you as an artist, what song are you putting on?

Bruddha. I think itís going to be that for a very long time. That was the first song that I was able to do something that Iíd never heard. Iím always going to love it. When I hear Brudha now, there is a sense of pride, because I know my brothers up there looking down at me. It still makes me sad sometimes when I really think and listen to the song, itíll make me shed a tear. I was able to turn tragedy into triumph. 

Whatís next for you?

Iím not stopping. I donít want no more breaks. I want to work for the next 5/6 years and build a foundation for myself. Maybe after that I will dive into the film world. Writing. All of these storiesÖ why canít I do it. Why canít I put a story of my people on the big screen?

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