Driven: The Dru Blu Interview
STRAIGHT OUTTA LEWISHAM: DRU BLU IS FIGHTING HIS WAY INTO THE MAINSTREAM. HIS WEAPONS: HARD-EDGED RHYMES AND MODEL-BOY LOOKS. PIPPA BROOKS FINDS OUT WHAT DRIVES HIM AND WHERE HE'S HEADING NEXT...
"The only thing I'm quittin' is givin' a fuck!" snarls Dru Blu on the opening track of his album This Is Don Strapzy(2012).
The album marked a turning point for the Lewisham rapper. He'd been known as Don Strapzy since he started rapping at school and on into his late teens, freestyling in MC contests around South London. But because of the negative associations of the name, especially with the word Strapzy (straps being slang for guns) the artist took the name Dru Blu, a shortening of his real name Andrew. Dru Blu is like Strapzy's more fly, mainstream-friendly self, and it was Dru who was play-listed on Radio 1 at the end of 2012 with the track, Check (featuring Stylo G) and who, he hopes will help give him a shot at the next level of success.
"It's political. I didn't want to change my name at first, but I had to. Even the Don part of the name was too harsh, because of its associations. It's weird because in America you've got artists like Machine Gun Kelly or Ghostface Killah and they don't have to change it. But then you don't see rap songs in the charts here like you do in America. I don't like compromise, which can be a bit of a problem, but now it's good because I've got a whole new following associated with the name Dru Blu."
Spending an hour in the company of Dru Blu, his desire to succeed is palpable. As raw and angry as the lyrical content of his work is, the fact is that in person he charms with his honesty. If your Chipmunks or your Professor Greens had had more challenging names, I wonder if they would have been as successful? In the UK we don't like our celebrities threatening: we'll take a Rascal over a Killah every time!
Dru Blu's delivery - theemotional rawness of it - owes something to Eminem. Even the name-changing has echoes of Eminem's decision to release the Marshall Mathers LP in a bid to remove himself from the negativity surrounding his hugely successful creation, Slim Shady. What white rapper post-Eminem can deny his influence?
"He made it in a very black-orientated scene. But take away the skin colour - he's an excellent artist. Before Eminem people might not believe you, or they'd be arrogant of the fact that everyone can struggle no matter what colour their skin is. I'd love to do a collaboration with him."
Eminem also saw music as a way out of poverty. Dru's background, though rich in love - has been a huge struggle financially.
"I would never complain about having a bad childhood, I had a great childhood. Financially we had our ups and downs. We were evicted from our house...I used to share a bed with three of my sisters when I was in secondary school. But it's made us really close. Because we stuck together and we're so close I think is why I'm able to be doing what I'm doing today. I think I'm the only one out of all my friends who hasn't been to jail. That's all due to the close relationship I have with my mother and father."
His lyrics are full of references to "getting Mummy out of da hood". When he spits, "Ain't you seen Mummy try enough? Ain't you seen Mummy cry enough?" it's very hard not to love him! His primary drive really does seem to be to help his family unit and those he loves. And being able to make a living from what he loves : "If I'm living off music in five years time, that's the ultimate. I'm 22 years old and I see people around me making money, good money. It's a test for me. I want to go on holiday and do things but I need to stick to what I'm doing. It can be frustrating but it inspires me and it humbles me. If I had it easy I wouldn't appreciate what I'm getting. We're making good music, working hard. Even if I was a 9 to 5 I would work, work, work, I'm that kind of person, that's how I do it."
For all the references to family, Dru's lyrics are also full of the harsh realities of his life; of"slums and guns" and "babies having babies". He feels very strongly about bringing his culture to the scene, rapping about his friends, "black kids, white kids, asians, latinos, we're London's forgotten race. Fuck the politicians, we're their greatest fear." It's very raw and very British, especially in the collaboration 'United Kingdom' with Scottish rapper Madhat McGore and Irish Rob Kelly. British rappers have had a hard time being believed internationally, especially in America, home of hip hop. Mike Skinner of The Streets observed over a decade ago that breaking the perception that rappers should have an American accent is hard. That seems to be changing gradually; Tinie Tempah has toured in the US and Dizzee Rascal has even released a single with Shakira! Also, in a weird twist you've got Ludacris and Flo Rida rapping all over mainstream British pop records…
As much as the fame game is about the name game, it also helps if you're easy on the eye. Lucky that Dru's a bit of a babe! His Instagram and Twitter feeds are full of girls pronouncing him "stupidly perfect…sexy…cute". You get the idea. During the Wylde shoot Dru is easy, but not cocky, in front of the camera, he manages to charm photographer, stylist and anyone else in his orbit, there isn't a dud shot. As much as he disses the 'fame and the fashion' and other rappers 'enjoying photo shoots a little too much,' (on Where's the Rapping Gone?), he's a natural at it.
When I ask him about his Rizzle Pricks (sic) vendetta (Rizzle Kicks have felt the wrath of his sharp tongue on record more than once) Dru laughs - and blames Don Strapzy! It's handy having an alter-ego - "Don Strapzy's a bastard! Seriously, I see them labelled as UK rappers, but I don't look on that as rap. They're more pop. I'm a rapper and I say what's on my mind. Musically we cross paths in a way. But you know, I respect their hustle…music's entertainment and they're making their living from music and you can't hate on that."
As much as the Don Strapzy persona has allowed him to vent and say what he wants in the past, with a taste of radio play, Dru Blu has got his eyes firmly set on the charts. "I don't listen to proper cringey pop like One Direction or Westlife but I like Adele, Labrinth, Rihanna. I like Plan B, I think he's proper. He's intelligent, that's a good look." When I ask if he thought Plan B's hook up with Bulmer's cider was a sell-out, he's adamant: "You have to make money and feed your family. It's not a sell-out, it's making money."
Dru Blu's tattoos Struggle and Succeed could be a portent of the future for the artist - he's paid his dues as far as the Struggle goes…now for Succeed.
The Wylde Questionnaire:
When or where are you happiest?
At home with my family.
Do you have a hero?
Do you have any siblings?
Four sisters and two brothers.
What's your favourite TV show?
Football, so Sky Sports and music channels and I like South Park and Family Guy.
What makes you angry?
Seeing people suffer...and when Man United lose!
What's the first thing you do in the morning?
I look at my phone to see if I've got any BB pingbacks.
Would you strip down to your underwear for Calvin Klein?
Yeah...I'd have to go to the gym for a bit first!
Would you rap on a Beiber track?
Yes! I'd be lying if I said no. My niece loves his music. At the end of the day he's a great artist.
Are you religious?
Yes, I'm a Catholic.
Would you act in a movie if you were asked?
Would you like to have kids?
Who outside of your family do you consider family?
I'm a very loyal person, my friends and my management I consider my family.
What's your favourite mainstream movie?
300, Gladiator, American Gangster...
What drives you?
I'm so passionate about my music, my drive is just to succeed and to help people around me that I love.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Jennifer Lopez...maybe not just for musical reasons! I'd love to work with Eminem...Jay-Z.