ArrDee: No Sleep Till Brighton

The 19-year-old rapper went from working in an Amazon warehouse to playing Wireless in just six months – but he's here to stay.

05 November 2021, 9:15am

It’s ArrDee’s 19th birthday and he’s taking a photo with a shopkeeper who previously banned him for stealing. “Don’t you remember me?” ArrDee asks, grinning. Apparently not. But it doesn’t matter, because he’s no longer Riley Davies, the kid who nicks sweets. He is, as the shopkeeper puts it, “the most famous rapper in Brighton!” He leaves with a bottle of Lucozade on the house.

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A group of girls in uniform loiter on the corner, giggling among themselves until one musters up the confidence to mortify her mate by screaming “SHE LOVES YOU!” A few lads pretending to be aloof watch intently from across the road. One kid sprints out of a car and runs up to ArrDee, claiming to live in his old gaff. Some old friends he refers to as his “naughty mates” are hanging about with skateboards nearby, waiting to link him later. His manager, meanwhile, is on the phone with someone wanting to know the whereabouts of a pair of trainers ArrDee wore on a video shoot recently. Apparently they are “the only pair in the world”. To which ArrDee replies: “The only pair in the world, my arse. There is no way they would have left a pair of trainers in my caravan that were the only pair in the world!”

Such is life for ArrDee, who finds himself navigating one of the most rapid ascents to fame in recent memory – one foot still planted on the estate where he grew up, the other in shoes so expensive they have their own wrangler. A week before we meet, he was playing the first full festival set of his career at Wireless, egging on a lively crowd to sing happy birthday to his mum. Today, he’s getting changed in the back of a car outside his local Post Office, kicking his legs out the door to pull on a pair of Stone Island trousers. “I like to keep life humble,” he summarises. 

Noisey Cover Story, November 2021: ArrDee. Photo: James North

We have, it seems, ended up visiting his hometown of Woodingdean – a rural suburb just outside Brighton – during rush hour on a Friday, and there isn’t a single person around here who doesn’t know him. If not personally, then as a rapper and songwriter who has spent the best part of 2021 dominating the UK Singles Charts. We’re here because ArrDee wanted to show us “the shops” – a small row of buildings on a housing estate which, in addition to the Post Office, consists of a pharmacy, a hairdressers and an off license. Instead, it’s turned into a mini-meet and greet, like Mickey Mouse returning to Disneyland after a holiday.

All things considered, “the most famous rapper in Brighton” is probably a bit of an understatement. ArrDee is currently one of the most recognisable people in the country – largely thanks to his verse on Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ Platinum-selling “Body (Remix)”, which made history in April of 2021 as the first drill song to reach number one in the UK. Despite going shoulder to shoulder with Bugzy Malone, Fivio Foreign, Darkoo, Buni, E1 and ZT, it was ArrDee’s verse that many people latched onto – partly due to his unique tone (somehow, the deep gravelly voice of a carton-a-day geezer emanates from the body of a teenager pushing 5’6”), and partly due to the irresistibly problematic opening line, which went viral on TikTok and now lives rent free in the heads of the nation: “Have you seen the state of her body? / If I beat it I ain’t wearing a johnny.”

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Since then, it’s been nothing but net for ArrDee. The sly-sounding strings on “Oliver Twist'', his first solo single after the success of “Body (Remix)”, could be heard blaring out of car windows from Essex to the Valleys all summer long. Then came the atmospherically evil turn-up anthem “Jiggy (Whizz)” – a Top 10 hit he recorded in his bedroom using a £1 mic – followed by features on Tion Wayne’s “Wid It” and Digga D’s “Wasted”, which propelled him to even greater heights, the latter earning him his thir​​d successive Top 10 in three months. His latest single, “Flowers (Say My Name)”, sees him flowing over a drill instrumental combining two mammoth club bangers, “Flowers” by Sweet Female Attitude and “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child.

Photo: ArrDee, by James North

The beginning of it all, though, was “Cheeky Bars” – a freestyle that established ArrDee as much more than the “chatty white boy raised up by the seaside” he describes himself as. The flow is dexterous, his bars an extension of his personality – each lyric dripping with the charisma of someone who spent most of his time in class flirting with the teachers. Follow-up “6AM in Brighton” hammered the point home further, documenting his come-up with a knack for storytelling and playful wordplay that’s all his own (“I seen things make you spew in a bucket, you prick, why you think when I drink I chug it?”). 

The videos, both filmed on Brighton Pier, put his whole approach into context. Against a grey seafront and a murky ocean, ArrDee looks perfectly in place but completely out of sync with the rest of UK rap. He oozes the confidence of a kid who knows his strengths and embraced them a long time ago, leaning into that “cheeky” persona in his physical performance as well as his lyrics and delivery. The camera sticks on him while he inhales darts, dances and winks down the lens, like he’s having a laugh with you, personally, through the screen somehow. Ultimately, though, it’s his chops as a rapper that gives him sticking power. Anyone can go viral, but not many rappers can say “don’t be silly” in a bar and make it sound hard as fuck.

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ArrDee began the pandemic too young to legally drink (“I’d never been to a festival, never gone clubbing, never done none of it”). Now, his diary is a whirlwind of festival appearances, Freshers Week shows and VIP sections. For a British teenager, it’s pretty much the dream. For ArrDee, who celebrated his previous birthday with a four-day bender that culminated in a battered local radio appearance, it’s life as usual – turned up to 100. He hasn’t slept in his own bed, alone, since April.

“I’ve never really had the chance to take in what’s happening,” he says, sitting on the wall outside the shops, for a minute looking like any aimless lad knocking about after school, wondering what to do with the evening. “I might wake up one morning next year and just cry, like, ‘Fucking hell, I’m actually famous.’ That’s when my manager gets onto me, because I do things like I’m a normal person. But at the end of the day we all shit, piss and bleed. As much as I do all this crazy rock star shit, we’re also all people. Six months ago I was nobody.”

***

In January, ArrDee was still working at an Amazon warehouse down the road. For 12 hours – ten o’clock at night until ten o’clock in the morning, with two 20-minute breaks in between – he’d stand on an assembly line scanning barcodes. No headphones, no phones, nothing. On one shift he got busted writing the lyrics for “Cheeky Bars” and was sent home. I note how auspicious it feels, that that’s the song he blew up off, muttering something to the effect of “fuck Jeff Bezos”. 

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“Don’t say that, he’s got too much power!” ArrDee snaps back, smirking. “Say his name three times and he might appear.”

When “Cheeky Bars” dropped not long after the long arm of the Bezos machine gave him a slap on the wrist, ArrDee was just 17 years old, but he’d already been trying to make it for a few years by that point. He started rapping when he was 12, achieving some level of notoriety locally before “Cheeky Bars” thrust him onto the national radar. As a performer, he’s been at it for much longer.

“I'm a massive attention seeker, have been for as long as I can remember,” he says. “My mum sent me a video recently, and I’m like, one-year-old. I shouldn't even know what a camera is. But I'm playing about, and as soon as I work out that there's a camera on me I start running up to it and playing with it and waving and everything. Literally, I couldn’t even talk.”

Photo: ArrDee, by James North

Photo: ArrDee, by James North

To this day, ArrDee’s mum remains his number one supporter (though some of the fans loitering around The Shops might give her a run for her money). She’s been a part of his rise every step of the way, joining him on stage at Wireless and wherever his wildness takes him. "I’m a proper mummy’s boy," he says. "I go out clubbing with my mum, drinking with my mum – my mum’s lit. She’s a cage fighter as well, she’s a black belt. She’ll punch man up if they try to mess with me!"

Growing up it was ArrDee, his mum and his older brother, who has autism. “It wasn’t that my mum gave him more, but he needed more time,” ArrDee reflects. “I think that’s why I’m quite mature for my age, because I had to be the older brother. We looked out for each other rather than him looking out for me, if you know what I mean. So I was out a lot, innit. He liked playing computer games, I just liked being out on the street, getting up to mischief.” 

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The word “mischief” covers a multitude of sins, but none of them mortal. The problem with living in a rural suburb is that there's fuck all to do outside. Woodingdean is a classic working class area – not particularly rough, but not calm either. Heavy drug use, but no shotters. The kind of bus-reliant community where you could be four miles outside of a city centre, but lightyears away from anything.

"It’s like a 40-minute bus to town, so there’s nothing for kids to do around here,” ArrDee explains. “They built that skate park on Bexhill Road – it was like a proper shithole road, yeah, and they tried to get all the kids to do something around there, so they built a skate park, but then the skate park just became a hub for fuckery! Everybody used to link up and do bullshit. Growing up, we’d do naughty things, but it was harmless. It weren’t like I was doing anything that was ruining the community or anything like that. It was mostly ASBO stuff, kicking down bins and wing mirrors.”

The doldrums of the suburbs usually makes for intense or imaginative music, as artists are forced to find more creative ways to escape the everyday. ArrDee’s rapid-fire lyrics almost burst at the seams of his instrumentals, as he packs in as many references to shagging birds and having it large as he can, like a beautiful dream he’s trying to finish before he wakes up. 

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Despite being dead for a pre-teen, Brighton is the kind of city that offers more with age. For ArrDee, it’s the foundation that has enabled him to embrace himself so fully. “You know how people say you can go to Vegas and rebrand yourself? I feel like Brighton’s kind of like that,” he says. “No one judges no one, and I think that’s why I’m so comfortable in my own skin, you know. Because I grew up in a town where it was cool to be you. That was just normal to me.”

Photo: ArrDee, by James North

Because he came up so quickly – with his "Body (Remix)" verse essentially becoming a meme, finding its way into various contexts on TikTok – ArrDee feels compelled to disprove any doubts that his 15 minutes will be exactly that. Comparisons to Manchester rapper Aitch have followed him from the get-go, though he doesn't seem to care – mainly because they begin and end with the fact that they’re both white boys with a sense of humour and a fade. In fact, when Aitch brought out ArrDee at Reading Festival in August, the crowd were so loud they had to wheel the track back. When he exited the stage, Aitch said, "What the fuck am I supposed to do with them now?"

Still, ArrDee approaches every situation like a room full of people he needs to win over, whether that’s the case or not. "I’ll always have to prove myself, because I’m different. I stick out of the normal. I don’t do what everyone else does,” he says. “And even if that’s not true, I’ll always feel like I have to prove myself, and that’s good because it means I’ll always be elevating and working."

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Truth be told, ArrDee is an unusual artist. When you think of UK rap and drill, you don't really think of a cheeky white boy with a size 24 waist who spends his downtime reading The Secret. But while he’s made his name hopping on drill beats, he’s hesitant to call himself strictly a “rapper”. “Cheeky Bars” was his first time working with a drill beat – before that, his instrumentals were more along the lines of his “Daily Duppy”, which flawlessly heel-turns from a personal story of financial hardship and recreational drug use (“I was 14 with weed and a line”) to a dark, sobering narrative about a young woman struggling with addiction that recalls the best of N-Dubz.

“Brighton is the homeless capital of the UK, and think how small we are compared to London and Manchester. That’s mad. So there is the other side of it,” he says. “I have friends and family members who have gone that way, so I wanted to put that into perspective a bit. Everybody’s a person, innit. Nobody wakes up and thinks, ‘You know what, I’m gonna try crack,’ you get me?”

That versatility will be on display on his forthcoming mixtape, which he says will showcase all the different sides of his personality: the cheeky chappy (“obviously!”), the mad man who loves partying, the gally side (“because the girls love a bit of ArrDee”), and, perhaps unexpectedly, the spiritual side. His mum is big into witchcraft – but not in an “evil way”, he’s keen to stress – and that’s rubbed off on him. Like her, he believes in the power of manifestation, of energies, and the laws of attraction. He holds out his hand to show off a ring made of Black Sapphire and Obsidian, given to him by his mum. “She put a spell on it that’s meant to be grounding for me." 

Photo: ArrDee, by James North

Maybe that's one reason why, hanging around the shops in his hometown, pointing out the bushes with crack dens hidden inside them while fielding invites to various VIP events, he doesn't seem a bit rattled. As he poses for photos around the back of the Post Office, rap squatting in front of some garages, he holds, somewhere in his mind, a series of goals. Among them: breaking America, doing shows in Japan, going fully international. “Have you seen that footage where Michael Jackson is just standing on the stage and people are fainting and shit?” he says, excitedly. “That’s what I want. I want to be able to go ‘Ahh ahh, ArrDee, ArrDee!’ and everyone falls over.”

As far as life goals go, “be on par with the best selling solo artist who ever lived” is a pretty high bar. In ArrDee’s mind, though, it’s nothing a lot of hard work and manifestation won’t take care of. For now, he’s dealing with what’s in front of him. Today is his birthday, and he intends to spend it the way he spends every birthday: pissed, with his friends and family – while also making a concerted effort to "go bigger" than last year, obviously.

“My whole thing is I’m for the people, innit. I’m not here to stunt on anybody. I’m just like everyone else. I make the music, you listen to it, we’re all the same,” he says. “When I was broke, I’d say ‘I want this’ and ‘I want that’, but I’m not very materialistic. 'Now that I’ve got it and I can get it, I’m like, ‘What do I need that for?’ That’s why you don’t see me in no jewellery. I don’t have no chains. I don’t understand the point of it. Me buying a diamond earring makes no sense, I’d lose it.” 

When I point out the stud in his left ear, he bursts out laughing. 

“That’s forty quid, bruv, from Claire’s!”

@emmaggarland

All photography by James North.

Tagged:

Interviews, brighton, uk rap, ArrDee

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