I could have never imagined my interests in Desi pubs and drill music might converge, but here I am: in a pub kitchen in Queensbury, northwest London, leaning against a freezer full of samosas and kulfi sticks, waiting for Digga D to finish recording a new and as-yet-unannounced music video. Wearing a yellow hoodie, a thin navy blue scarf wrapped around his head, and white latex gloves, the teen MC grabs a fire lighter and holds it to his eye, as if aiming a sniper rifle. As the song plays from a speaker, he spins around playfully.
“How many views is it on now?” he asks, peering over tin containers full of ground spices, asking about recent track "No Diet". The lighting assistant holds up a phone playing the song’s video; it’s on 1.6 million views, just five days after it was uploaded. At the time of writing it's at number 20 in the official UK singles charts. It's also received a shout-out from Stormzy, and even soundtracks a Zac Efron promotional Insta video from the Hollywood actor’s recent trip to London.
“I had so much fun,” Digga replies energetically, once he's finished shooting. We’ve taken a seat in the restaurant, empty apart from a small group of men watching Indian Premier League cricket. I'm interested to hear about the process of making "No Diet". “I went to the studio – I’m on tag so I’ve gotta fit all of this stuff in before 6PM, to make it home by 7PM – and it was the only song I’ve ever finished, lyrics, recording, everything, all in one go."
Few artists personify the relentless takeover of UK drill music more than Digga D. Still only 18 (“conceived in the 90s, born in the noughties” he spits on "No Diet"), he began making music when he “started doing naughty stuff on the roads and wanted to brag about it”. In 2017, having just turned 17, he released songs “Kill Confirmed”, “Play For The Pagans”, “No Hook” and “Next Up”, as part of the drill crew 1011. What happened next is unprecedented musical, and legal, history.
After amassing a total of well over ten million views, the original videos for these four tracks were removed last summer as part of YouTube and the Metropolitan police’s attempts to reduce the number of drill videos circulating online (they were immediately re-uploaded onto fan channels, where they remain). Months after the controversial but wildly popular underground genre piqued the discerning interest of British media outlets and law enforcement in April 2018, Digga was handed a CBO, or Criminal Behaviour Order', in court.
In practice, this means Digga was told he could no longer make music without having it screened by police first. Like the gang injunction banning Brixton drill pair Skengdo & AM from performing one of their songs, the message sent to Digga feels a part of a symbolic clampdown from conservative lawmakers on drill. As well as needing to pass on songs for approval, he's also forbidden from entering certain parts of London, or hanging out with particular individuals in public.
“They used [our music] against us. They played all of our videos in court. They had a police officer there, who literally calls himself the ‘drill expert’, and says he has been studying us for three years, translating what we are saying in our lyrics to the jury,” he says. I ask how the police screening works. “Any music I record I have to send to the police for them to approve it. They’re basically checking that I’m not talking about no areas, or saying any names, or ‘inciting violence,’” he explains. “After it first happened, I was in prison watching the news, and suddenly I’m looking at my face on the television! The news was saying that 1011 are the first people in England to get a CBO, banning us from making drill music. It was crazy,” he adds, shaking his head in disbelief.
Digga has been in and out of prison over the last two years, including for several alleged offences which were dismissed at trial, as well as after he and fellow members of 1011 were found guilty of conspiracy to commit a violent disorder in June 2018. He has therefore experienced many of his biggest career moments while incarcerated. I ask if his increasing fame impacted his experience in jail.
"It did," he replies. “When I first went in, I was just any guy. But it changed when the guvs [prison officers] started coming up to me and saying they knew who I was." He recalls hearing his own track, "Next Up" playing somewhere on the wing. "I was like, 'where is this music coming from?!' In [HMP] Feltham no one really has phones or anything to be playing songs, so it surprised me. Plus, this was the first time I’d actually heard the song, because I’d only recorded it and done the video a few days before. After that I went straight to jail without seeing the finished thing, you get what I’m saying? So the first time I heard my biggest song is when it’s blazing out on a prison wing!" He continues: "Everyone else was kicking their doors, everyone was feeling it. It felt good. Then the night guv comes to my door, opens the flap, and is like: 'Digga D, yeah?' That’s when I realised things were different.”
Aside from “No Diet” and his verse on “Gun Lean (remix)” by fellow charting driller Russ, the first three songs Digga has been involved in writing and recording since being given the CBO are “No Porkies”, “Mad About Bars” and “Who?”. Their lyrics have been screened by the Metropolitan police, yet they have still garnered millions of views, suggesting drill is managing to absorb the pressure being placed on it. “To be honest, it’s helped me,” Digga says, reflecting on how the response to his lyricism has impacted his writing. “The year that I done in jail, I wrote lyrics in a way where I don’t need to talk about anyone or any areas. I pulled it off. I don’t think the police were expecting that.”
Take "Who?", a haunting track made by top producer M1 On The Beat (responsible for a large slew of drill anthems, including Loski’s “Money And Beef” and Headie One’s “Of Course”). In its vaguely coded chorus, Digga spits: “I went jail and the shooting stopped, came back out and it started again / Let me ask you a question: Who you think's really blasting their skengs? / The popo think it's us, 'cause it sure as hell ain't them / And whenever the corn get buss, they kick up a fuss, and blame my friends." I ask him to give some insight into why he and rhyming partner Sav'O made the song.
“When I went to jail, we got blamed for stuff that we wasn’t even doing. Throughout my court cases, they were trying to give me a bad character, using my music videos, saying I’ve been arrested for this, for that, even though there may have been no further action," he says. He goes on, saying how he wanted to write a chorus that allowed him freedom to say what he wanted – "about the police, about our houses getting raided, about how they’re stopping my career when I’m trying to make something of my life."
Friday the 17th of May marked the release of Digga’s new mixtape, Double Tap Diaries. Though it's been kept so under-wraps I hadn't been allowed to listen to the tape pre-release, I ask him what he wants to achieve off the back of its release. The “chance to perform” his music, he says, though that may be difficult to achieve given the circumstances. “And I’m not gonna lie, I want it to go to America, ‘cause the Americans sleep on us.”
As the pub starts to fill up, I sense Digga is getting tired of being asked questions about his rollercoaster ride of a life. “I’m dealing with a lot right now,” he mentions calmly. So to finish, I ask if there is anything he’d like to say to readers that he feels is important: about him, his music, or drill generally. “I’m not a stubborn guy, so I admit music does make people do certain things. But the majority of people who do music, it helps them get out of their situation. It feels good to know that I can sit down and write something on my phone, and a few days later I can sell it. Me being in the studio, it leads to me writing a song, to doing a video, to me promoting myself. It leads to me doing interviews like this, and making a better life for myself. Without music, my life would be crazy.”
I notice the youthful sparkle in his eye disappear for the first time since we sat down. His voice lowers, and becomes punchy, like when he raps. “If there wasn’t such thing as music, the crime rate would be higher. People in London are bored_._ If you’re on the roads and you’re not doing music, then what else are you doing? Me, if I’m not going to the studio, I’ve got nothing positive to do in my life." He continues: "Picture every London drill artist right now. If there was no music, what would we all be doing? Think about it. There is nothing else for us to do. Nobody helps us through nothing. We try to help ourselves through music, and then they try to take it away from us."
Digga D's 'Double Tap Diaries' mixtape is out now in all the usual places.