For the past couple of years, Young Adz and Dirtbike LB, otherwise known as the rap outfit D-Block Europe, have been at the forefront of a sound they describe as “UK rap wave”, blending heavily Auto-Tuned melodies with unfiltered street tales and explicit, sexual lyrics with high shock value.
Whatever label you choose to give DBE’s music, their rise to superstardom was inevitable: their name—if you didn’t know—originates from an early connection with D-Block Records co-founder and hip-hop icon Jadakiss, who originally wanted a 15-year-old Young Adz to feature on a song, but then later offered him a record deal instead. DBE are now (successfully) independent, but remain as the European arm of the global rap faction that is D-Block.
The duo from Lewisham have had five singles spend nine weeks or more in the UK singles chart, while their last mixtape, Home Alone, peaked at No. 6 and still remains in the albums chart five months after its original release. In the space of two hours, they sold-out two shows at Alexandra Palace, which holds over 10,000 people, as part of their PTSD tour which is in celebration of their sophomore album of the same name. The highly-anticipated tour will see them visit 14 different cities, occupying venues that can hold thousands, as well as the two shows at Ally Pally. As far as UK rap tours go, D-Block Europe’s one for PTSD is one of the biggest we’ve seen thus far.
With collaborations with the likes of Lil Baby, Offset and Rich The Kid under their belt, Young Adz and Dirtbike LB’s presence is being felt far beyond the UK’s shores. Their relentless work ethic and genuine connection with their fans underpins their success, and their creativity will continue to drive their global ascent forward. Not ones to do many interviews, we were lucky enough to catch D-Block Europe at a recording studio in West London to discuss their come-up, charting, setting trends, PTSD and more.
“I think you’d be worse off not going to a therapist if you feel like you need some advice.”—Dirtbike LB
COMPLEX: Young Adz, you signed your first record deal when you were just 15. What was that experience like for you?
Young Adz: The whole state of music was different back then. This deal happened nine years ago. There wasn’t even a rap game nine years ago in the UK! Nowadays, if they don’t sign you and you’ve got a buzz, you’re gonna make money regardless. The state of the game back then, people were signing five-album deals and getting £10k for one album; you’re not even gonna take ten grand for one single now, in 2019. Even if you’re just a one-hit-wonder, you’re still gonna get, like, £50k, £70k for your single. So that’s why it’s different now. Way different.
How did the D-Block connection come about with Jadakiss?
Adz: One of the OG’s had lined up for me to do a feature with Kiss. Kiss heard it and said he wanted to sign it. Then, it just went from there—it was supposed to be a short deal, but I came back to England, got in trouble, couldn’t go back to America, so we’re over here and we’re still D-Block, Europe. That’s when me and [Dirtbike] LB came together and started rapping.
And how did you both come together musically?
Adz: This is my best friend! I’m with him every single day. If you’re not gonna rap with me, I’m not really on it.
When would you say that your sound really began to take off?
Dirtbike LB: “Traphouse” was the beginning of the wave… well, “3 Gutta” was the beginning of the wave if you understood it. People understood that they were gonna get some Auto-Tune, the flows and the street shit at the same time, but they didn’t think it would carry on. And then “Traphouse”, then “Large Amounts”, then “The Shard” and it just didn’t stop.
Adz: I think Home Alone was in the UK Top 40 for nine weeks, and it’s still in the charts now. We don’t write bars, so everything we do is gonna be current. We’re just magnets! Everywhere we go we just attract everything, and then we release it in the booth. So when you’re listening to us, it’s just different.
There’s a lyric on PTSD track “Number 29”, where Adz says “every rapper in the UK sounding like me, I might take my time.” Talk about DBE’s current influence on the British music scene.
Adz: What we do is ‘UK rap wave’ music. But what the scene does, is what the scene does. There’s other UK rap wave artists, to name the other bait two: M Huncho and Nafe Smallz. That’s another two bait wave artists. If you look at a song in 2019, what does it consist of? Even if it’s from a ‘rapper’, or an Afroswing artist or a grime MC or whatever—what does it consist of? Them singing on the chorus, their videos are a lot more animated, they look a lot more happy, they’re smiling more, they’re interacting more. That’s it! That’s what we’ve done. We’ve shifted the whole entire thing. Other rappers are talking about doing sexual acts they would never speak about before. They just talk about it now because they know it’s gonna bang.
LB: It’s getting to the point where I’m not even sure they’ve done what they’re saying they’ve done.
What was the thinking behind the name ‘PTSD’ for this new project?
Adz: The first mixtape is called Home Alone. A lot of people think that was a spin off the actual movie. It wasn’t. If you’re home alone and that’s how the whole thing is set to you, then PTSD is gonna spin around from that.
LB: The two people you hear speaking at the start of the tape are therapists. We both have therapists and we were trying to show the point that we both have to sit there and listen to the therapist.
For some people, mental health is still something of a taboo subject. Did you feel any hesitation when talking about how you both visit a therapist?
LB: Hell no! I think you’d be worse off not going to a therapist if you feel like you need some advice. You’re not a specialist; you can’t know everything! Knowledge is power, bro.
“Because everyone’s too busy trying to copy us, they’re forgetting to do them, and that’s just gonna work in our favour.”—Young Adz
“Home Pussy” was a big success. Over five million YouTube views and the track has spent twelve weeks in the singles chart. At this point, does it feel normal for you to put up these kind of numbers so regularly?
Adz: It’s normal. It’s just gonna become easier and more normal, because we’re taking control of the whole game. Because everyone is too busy trying to copy us, they’re forgetting to do them, and that’s just gonna work in our favour.
Rapman directed the video for “Playing For Keeps”, which also features Dave. How did those collaborations come about?
LB: Dave’s been in the cut, back and forth. He came to the studio, laid the verse and then from there, we all agreed that we should make it into a movie. We felt the vibe of the song before we thought about the poker thing. Then Dave was like, “Let’s hit Rapman.” We hit Rapman, then Rapman patterned up. And it was all in 24 hours. He did a super-good job—shout out Rapman.
Adz: Yeah, shout out Rapman, and love and respect to Dave—I fully rate what he’s doing. He’s definitely a GOAT.
You’ve got some big names on PTSD, too: Lil Baby, Krept & Konan, AJ Tracey, Chip. How did you decide on the features for the project?
LB: Not a lot of it was sat-down and planned. You know what it is, bro? We take a lot of energies from the universe. Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time, and then you just get working. Like, the Lil Baby thing, we just bumped into him at Wireless; he brought us out. We got convos going and he realised that we’re real niggas. We realised he’s actually a real nigga... We don’t care who you are; we don’t actually care who you are, bro—if you aint real, it’s not gonna work.
Adz: Lil Baby is just genuinely himself, innit. You can just tell; like, Lil Baby was a name before Lil Baby in music. Whereas a lot of rappers, they’ve never had an identity outside of the microphone. They’ve never been important. They’ve never been able to get girls. They’ve never had any say! They’ve got no sort of money. They’ve never done anything. Their whole ego and pride and build-up comes from songs, views and followers. The models are more realistic.
LB: They’re like robots.
Adz: But Lil Baby is genuinely real. He did the song and video for us, and he brought us out at Wireless. We’re the only people he brought out at his show, and our relationship will keep growing. We genuinely fuck with him, and there’s no money involved in that. You hear him on our mixtape, there’s no nothing involved in that—just a genuine link-up, and he’s our age as well.
Is it easy to get carried away as a rapper talking about a life you don’t live?
Adz: I think it’s definitely normal for people to do that, yeah, but if they’re gonna do that, if you’re gonna just play WWE, then only keep that energy on that song and in front of that character. Then when you do meet other people, don’t act; you can’t still be in Big Show mode or Undertaker mode—you gotta be in real mode.
LB: Some of them just got a high because they know they can’t front-line what they actually are. So they’re more mysterious than they actually are. I don’t like that stuff, man.
D-Block Europe are pulling off feats that labels would be proud of—but you haven’t got a label behind you. What’s it like being independent?
LB: Put it this way, yeah: it sounds good. People are trying to wave from ages ago, so they’re probably going to want to ride the formula soon and think ‘I might just be independent like them.’ But, lemme tell you bro…
Adz: You gotta sign!
So you’d recommend someone signing a deal instead of remaining independent?
LB: We’d recommend them to sign because I’d know they won’t have what it takes to do more than what the labels would do for you, independently. Bro, it’s gonna take a lot! Like, we don’t sleep. We never stop recording! We don’t party like these rappers either. These rappers party, but we don’t really do that stuff. It’s just work. Everywhere we go is work. Everyday you’re thinking of a new plan, a new strategy—it’s not easy.
Adz: Bro, we don’t see our families. I’ve got a daughter, bro—I’ve got a baby mum. I could’ve worked on my relationship and took six months out of music and this and that. That’s what I’m saying. That’s what 99% of people would’ve done. This ting comes with serious sacrifices.
But it’s paying off! You guys sold out Alexandra Palace—which holds 10,000 people—twice, in the space of a few hours. That’s crazy! If there was an article listing the top 10 moments from the scene in 2019, selling out Ally Pally twice in one day would be way up there.
Adz: I think that’s top 10 moments in the scene, period! Nobody in street music that’s independent has put on the tour that we just put on.
Did you expect the tickets to sell that quickly?
Adz: Yeah! Bro, we are going to be superstars, so none of this surprises us. We’re grateful and we’re thankful, but we’re not content. And we just keep pushing. We wanna do arenas—Wembley stadium, that’s what we need to be doing.
“I just wanna tell the fans that we’re mad grateful. Super, super grateful. Because, without them, we wouldn’t be here.”—Dirtbike LB
The tour was originally nine dates, now it’s in 14 different cities. All big venues, a few thousand capacity each time…
LB: Wait! Before we come off that, to all the fans that are reading this—because we’ve done a lot of interviews and I ain’t said nothing about this—I just wanna tell the fans that we’re mad grateful. Super, super grateful. Because, without them, we wouldn’t be here. And there’s some real day-one fans out there, some crazy fans, and I’ve seen them change their whole lifestyle because of us. Even Lil Harry, I don’t know if you know him, we’ve been bringing him out to shows and stuff. He suffers from a spinal disease and very few people in the world have his actual disease. Not many people in this country have it. He can’t grow. He’s like 19 and he’s like the size of an eight-year-old, but he’s real smart. He’s been blessed with a brain. He was saying he can’t believe what we’re doing for him and shit and I just want the fans to know that there’s space for a lot more of them.
That sort of leads onto what I was saying: D-Block Europe have a lot of loyal fans. How did you build up such a connection with your fanbase?
Adz: To 99% of the world, not even just rappers, we come across crazy or mad opinionated or weird because we ain’t got no cap with it. We’re just unapologetically us, so it’s gonna show in that song. It’s gonna show in this song and it’s gonna show in that song. Then you’ve heard three songs, three completely moods and three extremely different things that we’ve said. And I think we play on a lot of people’s subconscious before their conscious kicks in. We give the fans what they want.
Adz, you tweeted something about D-Block Europe having around 200 unreleased songs. That’s a lot of songs!
Adz: We’ve got about 700 now.
How do you decide which songs to release?
LB: Energies! We both build a playlist and send it to each other and then match up.
Adz: People think we’ve got a lot of songs because, in England, there’s a low standard. Someone like Young Thug has got 15,000 songs!
LB: If you wanna run it out there, you’re gonna have to release, right?
How is your music perceived over in America?
Adz: When we dropped “Nookie”, they didn’t understand it at first. Obviously, the real DBE fans understood it—they’ll understand anything we do—but if you look at when Lil Baby shouted the song out, how many American fans we got from that and how many American people commented on how sick it was, they gradually understood what we’re about. But there’s still people over here that still don’t get it. I think the public need to not be so negative and on the attack all the time. Everything’s such a big thing straight away, like “we don’t need the Americans” and this and that… Bro, relax! We need the world. Not just the Americans. There’s some superstars over here and we need the whole planet to get behind us. And that’s all it is.
Do you see your music taking off in America similar to how it’s taken off in the UK?
Adz: To do it on a major scale? Yeah, man. To make the disbelievers believe us, yeah.
LB: There’s the sound, then also you’re forgetting the image—it’s not American. We don’t look or dress American, bro. We dress European. We don’t dress American at all.
Adz: Dressing American is wearing those big XXXXL t-shirts and big, baggy jeans.
LB: That’s not how we dress. The sauce comes from Europe! That alone gravitates them to us, because they know that. They know that when they fly over to Paris and that, they see the shops are better than somewhere else. And the culture... You walk down the streets in Paris and you’ll see someone dripping, and that’s just casual. Even Amsterdam, they’ll just be dripping, casually.
Adz: We’re here for the long run! We’re not in a race; we’re pushing something, building something. No one ain’t passing us the bricks to build this house because we’re doing it, brick by brick.