“For the past 700 days, I have been writing, re-writing, making ideas, scrapping ideas, singing, recording, and finding myself.” These are the words that appear in newcomer Debbie’s Spotify profile, and all of it is a testament to her character. The young, gifted British-Nigerian-Ghanaian artist speaks highly on the value of songwriting, sharing vulnerability, and being someone who is always growing as a woman. Rising from South London, Debbie began her career performing at open-mic nights and taking part in music competitions, using every opportunity that came her way to showcase her God-given talent, which she unearthed in church as a child.
Whether it’s her raw, layered melodies or her musings on love and life, it’s clear that Debbie’s here to make her mark in the world. Her official debut single, “Is This Real Love?”, gained traction on social media earlier this year, not only due to her gripping vocal performance but also her clever interpolation of J Hus’ classic, “Did You See”. It also trended on TikTok, which led to wholesome challenges of people—of all ages—celebrating the growth of their romantic relationships. “I’m a big fan of J Hus and I think his music is sick,” she says. “There was this one year where every song I was listening to was by J Hus, but ‘Is This Real Love?’ was actually written without those lyrics. At first, I just wrote it in my bedroom and then I went into the studio with PRGRSHN and Wretch  to tweak it. The J Hus lyric just popped up and we switched the track up. I wrote it in passion and anger. I was expressing how I think everyone’s perception of love on social media is just really fantasised. Like, how can a picture make people say things like ‘couple goals’ or ‘I’m trying to be like them’?”
Speaking to us via Zoom live and direct from her bedroom, which is decorated with hand-written notes and paintings she’s done throughout the years, we get to know the First Lady of 0207 Def Jam up close and personal.
“I might not be the same in a month’s time and that inspires me because I just keep getting better, blossoming, and becoming more of the woman that God intended me to be.”
COMPLEX: Hey, Debbie! I’ve been loving your output so far, so it’s great to be speaking with you today. How would you describe yourself to the people reading this interview?
Debbie: I think I’m quite a bubbly person, but I’m also very deep and I like to see things beneath the surface. I would say I tend to not be a part of the crowd, and I’m usually that one oddball [laughs]. Yeah, that’s how I would describe myself.
You come across as someone who studied music at college or university—would I be right in thinking that?
I actually studied finance in university, but in sixth form, I did a music technology course. I feel like I’ve always been a singer; I’ve always been really passionate about music, but studying music technology made it feel tangible or possible for me to pursue it. And then, in university, when I started finance, I missed that musical aspect so I just found myself chasing the creative itch. I found myself going for anything to do with music, like auditions and open-mic nights. My mum used to say that I was singing from the womb.
Has your upbringing influenced your music in any way?
The types of music that I create probably stem from my childhood, especially since I was surrounded by gospel music. When I go into a studio and I’m singing a harmony, it probably comes from something I learned at church because that’s just what I do instinctively.
So, how did your music career actually begin? Talk us through the beginning stages.
Sure. So, as I mentioned before, I started out by performing at open-mic nights. I’d say I got recognised at those showcases. Out of all the open-mic events I’ve performed at, I would say ILUVLIVE was my favourite platform—it felt more official than an ordinary open-mic night, and I’ve been to a lot of open-mic nights. ILUVLIVE is a platform for artists at the beginning of their career—I remember going down every Monday to watch artists perform—and it’s also one of the most put-together open-mic nights out there. There was this 60-second challenge where, if you won, you could have your own official performance slot. I remember winning and having my own little showcase after, which was really nice. That’s how I kind of began my journey in music.
How did you come across your manager once you began attracting attention and support?
Well, after the ILUVLIVE showcase, I spoke with the presenter and asked her some questions and she told me to follow this platform called Girl Gang, which was like ILUVLIVE but just for girls. I followed them on Instagram and saw this competition for a girl band which asked for singers to audition. I didn’t want to be in a girl band, but I wanted to throw myself in anything music related. So I auditioned for a spot on the girl band and ended up meeting my manager because he was one of the judges holding the auditions for the girl band. When I performed, he said he no longer wanted the girl band.
You got signed to 0207 Def Jam last year, which is really impressive when you consider the roster that includes Stormzy and Potter Payper. What was it about that label that made you sign on the dotted line?
I wasn’t looking to get signed, initially. I feel like there’s this culture to stay independent and not sell your soul to a label, so I was like, “I’m just going to do this on my own.” But I never really found the right people to work with and, to me, it’s all about the right people. I don’t care about the name. There’s just something about the Def Jam team that’s really genuine; everything feels very upfront.
Your official debut single, “Is This Real Love?”, gives a really clever nod to J Hus’ “Did You See?”, which was a really nice touch for an R&B song. How did that track come about and what does it mean to you?
I’m a big fan of J Hus and I think his music is sick! There was this one year where every song I was listening to was by J Hus, but “Is This Real Love?” was actually written without those lyrics. At first, I just wrote it in my bedroom and then I went into the studio with PRGRSHN and Wretch  to tweak it. The J Hus lyric just popped up and we switched the track up. I wrote it in passion and anger. I was basically expressing how I think everyone’s perception of love on social media is just really fantasised. Like, how can a picture make people say things like ‘couple goals’ or ‘I’m trying to be like them’? Especially when you don’t know those people. I started looking into different philosophers and what their definitions of love were and whether love is enough to sustain a relationship. I got really into that when making this song.
“I feel like in order to write, I need to experience life—which is why balance is so important. I constantly make sure that I’m living life and doing things that inspire me day-to-day.”
Your Spotify bio says, ‘For the past 700 days, I’ve been writing, rewriting, making ideas.’ So, from that, I’d love to know what your recording process is like. Do you have any habits or rituals before you begin making music?
I usually get my voice recorder and just start humming away. I always begin by making some weird noises, and then I turn those noises into lyrics—and boom! I just made a song. The melodies come first and lyrics, later. Most of my songs start acapella, then I tell the producer to just start jamming and do their own thing.
Which artists would you love to collaborate with?
There’s a couple of people that I would like to work with: Ed Sheeran, Lauryn Hill and Kanye come to mind straight away. That’d be mad! Imagine a Debbie and Kanye West song…
Epic! What inspires you?
Life, really. I feel like in order to write, I need to experience life—which is why balance is so important. I constantly make sure that I’m living life and doing things that inspire me day-to-day. I guess I inspire myself, even though that sounds really conceited… I mean being able to learn from your past mistakes is inspirational. I might not be the same in a month’s time and that inspires me because I just keep getting better, blossoming, and becoming more of the woman that God intended me to be. The journey inspires me.
What are some of your interests outside of music?
I guess you could say I’m interested in holistic food and treatment. I’m very interested in the body and how it works. Normally, I read holistic books about superfoods and lots of other interesting things; I’m very into all of that. I love trying new restaurants too—Casa do Frango in London Bridge is a favourite. It’s a bit like a fancy Nando’s [laughs]. I also love art; my sister’s an artist and when she’s not looking, I just take all her expensive acrylics and start drawing and painting nonsense.
What does the rest of the year look like for Debbie?
I’d like to release my next couple of singles, and towards the end of the year, I really want to start working on my debut album, or at least putting plans together for my album. Maybe some cool collabs as well. Yeah, this is the prophecy. It’s going to be an exciting second half of the year—I’m speaking it into existence.