Dips and Lo-Wu are the enigmatic duo distilling the South London experience with debut project 'Idle Hands'; over ten tracks they unravel the cross-pollination of sound system culture and the grimy, gritty underbelly of life in the ends.
As part of our digital #PLTFRM series spotlighting new and nascent talent breaking down barriers, CLASH spoke to Dips and Lo-Wu about their wide-ranging influences, their unique producer-rapper synergy, the potent power of generational wisdom and why 'Idle Hands' is both a party starter and a cautionary tale.
Let's go back to where it all began for you. Both of you were respective solo artists, how did you come together and decide to collaborate?
Dips: We came together at the end of 2017. It was a thing where Lo and I knew of each other from the ends, we knew of each other in the area and our schools were in close proximity, we had a lot of mutual friends as well. I remember in 2016, we worked on a song for my solo project 'Phases'. He sent me a demo called 'Do You' which had an Aaliyah sample and I jumped on it. From there, we knew each other more, we were moving in the same circles in terms of producers and rappers, going to the same shows. In 2018, it crystallized and it was like "let's work!" The solo project was done, but I was looking for a new challenge and new opportunity to get into something different. Lo hit me up, sent me a beat and then we had a session and made a song that was rubbish! A horrible tune but in that moment we realised we had a connection and could build something more...
Breakdown down your process. Does Dips have the tailor-made Lo-Wu beat ready when vocalising and rapping? Or is it much more involved and collaborative throughout?
Lo-Wu: It varies song to song, vibe to vibe. For example, with a song like 'Trip', I produced the beat and Dips had the lyrics, but we weren't happy with the song so I went home and reworked the production. The 'Trip' you hear on the project is the result of fine tuning and going back to the drawing board. Sometimes we make something from scratch in the studio together. Dips mostly writes in the studio but occasionally will go away and do his thing separately.
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'Idle Hands' is a richly-rewarding listen. It houses this confluence of genres - grime and garage put through an alternative jazz blender. Was it a case of your individual influences crossing over that led to a project like this?
Dips: Definitely. We have love for producers and rappers like Flying Lotus, Kendrick but also people like Pinty and Hak Baker. There's a wide range of artists and producers we're both into. Ross from Friends is another one! We share a lot of the same sentiments but also have our own individual tastes, built up from years of being influenced. My background is very much soul music and old school rap, Lo-Wu's background is being immersed in electronic music. It just comes together beautifully and makes a good marriage.
Lo-Wu: We have a love for UK music, like UK garage, grime. There's a lot of innovation in these genres. We use it as the foundation to bring everything else in.
Both of you are from South London. What's your backstory? How did your origins shape you personally and musically?
Dips: We're two young, Nigerian lads, first generation in this country. We were born and raised in the church, in family-oriented environments. There was a lot of gospel playing in the house, my Mum and Dad played a lot of afrobeat, a lot of Fela Kuti, Ron Kenoly, Sunny Adé, a lot of jazz from my Dad. As I got older I moved to hip-hop through my brother. In secondary school, because I wanted to chill with the bad yutes I started spitting to grime, to build a name of myself.
Lo-Wu: I had a similar musical upbringing; gospel, reggae and 80s disco. At school I fell in love with grime and I became immersed in that culture. I first started making beats because I wanted to make ringtones and sell them! As I got older, my palette expanded and I started listening to electronic music and my production slowed down. I was releasing beats on SoundCloud and came across the likes of Soulection, Sam Gellaitry, Lapalux and Flying Lotus. My palette became a bit more soulful and jazzier. I wanted to make music that people could dance to, there's something about UK garage and 130-140 BPM that is so natural to the UK, we just gravitate towards it.
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What's the symbolism behind the mixtape title 'Idle Hands'?
Lo-Wu: It comes from the quote "the devil makes work for idle hands" and it speaks to our experience growing up in the ends, in Southeast London, Lewisham, down in Catford. Being in an environment where boys our age were getting into trouble. A lot of it was being idle, with nothing to do, bored but trying to find something to do, trying to do something with your hands.
On the project we talk about ourselves and our experiences, we tell stories from the perspective of a spectator, observing "what's going on?" but relating it to our individual stories as well. Where do we fit into this environment surrounded by people with idle hands, where the devil is making work for these young men? What do we do with our idle hands? Do we find a way out or do we get lost as well? It's about duality, finding yourself, reconciling the good and the bad. It all ends with the song 'Concrete', which shows just how unforgiving the ends really is and what can happen when idle hands wins you over.
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The 'Idle Hands' quote has clearly had a deep, profound impact on you both. Where did you first hear it?
Dips: It was something we were told by elders. It's funny because it came from teachers. I remember my English teacher saying it to me one time. I remember the elders in church saying it and even my Mum saying it at one point. I don't actually know where it originates but it's interesting that we heard it again and again growing up.
Throughout the project, this theme of the redemptive power of music pierces through. Can you pinpoint specific moments in your lives where music represented a transitional moment for you?
Dips: That's deep! Music has always allowed us to express ourselves in ways that we can't otherwise. It's always been that crutch for me no matter what's going on in my life. I can always express myself to a certain rhythm, beat or melody. It's very sacred in that respect. That's where a lot of us artists and producers really relate because there isn't really a window for us to vent. It's an ongoing outlet for expression. I think back to when I wrote my first eight bar and when I bought a bootleg Nelly album, it's always been there.
Lo-Wu: In the past I found it difficult to express with words how I was feeling. Creating something that captures what I'm feeling is the best feeling. In the past, music kept me out trouble because after school I would go home and just make beats. Recently, it's been more healing. Be it making music or discovering something new, there's no better feeling than it. It's definitely kept me sane. I remember back to when I had my walkman and proper headphones, thinking this is the best thing ever!
Themetically 'Idle Hands' feels like a coming-of-age experience where you're grappling with demons and trying to map out your identity when all these external forces are threatening to encroach...
Dips: Definitely. We explore coming up, adolescence, temptations in area codes, violence, trying to understand yourself as a young person, whims and desires when it comes to women...
Lo-Wu: Making money...
Lo-Wu: To add to that, you hear our Mothers on the project through skits. There's an African inflluence throughout and the right kind of wisdom that is passed down, the prayers and the love that kept us on the right path.
Dips: The warnings as well. To sum everything up, what sort of helped us get out the things we shouldn't be doing was the music. And that's where we found common ground as well. It saved us.
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Talk us through the collaborations with the likes of Lex Amor and Moses Day on 'Idle Hands', artists who have their own artistic identities...
Lo-Wu: They happened quite organically. With 'BSL', it's a garage track, a summer banger. We wanted a male singer to help push the male perspective in the song so we reached out to Mundu who has such a unique voice and it turned out brilliant.
Lex Amor is family, you know? We thought the acoustic sound on 'Active' would suit her. And Moses Day is actually Dips' older brother. He used to go by the name Oddboy TEN. Again, we thoughr his voice would sound great on the beat, it would compliment the overall sound. The Melman on 'Concrete' is a weird one though...
Dips: He's very elusive...
Lo-Wu: He's like Frank Ocean. 'Concrete' has a more abstract feel in terms of sound and storytelling and I thought The Melman's descriptive voice would fit the feel and it did.
What are you favourite tracks from the project and why?
Dips: 'Trip' because it's a punch-in-the-face of an intro. I like 'Active' also because of it's mellow vibes. It's easygoing compared to the rest of the tape.
Lo-Wu: I'd say 'Lost' because its quite different and it takes you on a bit of a journey; it has peaks and it transforms into something else by the end.
What world did you want to build with this mixtape? What's the core intention?
Lo-Wu: We wanted to let people experience London through our eyes and ears. The production is quite dark in places, like on 'Lost' you hear us in the Chicken shop, you hear street cars, the hustle and bustle. It's immersive and we wanted to reflect our environment. There are bright moments as well, skits from friends and family.
Dips: 'Active' is an example of the many conversations we had in the studio with the mandem, talking about girls and life. It's communal and it's relatable as well. This project basically says keep yourself busy and do what you love.
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Elaborate some more about striking that balance between light and dark, nihilism and the more playful elements, because to me that's what 'Idle Hands' does so well...
Dips: It's just the duality of life and how complex life can be at times. it's never straightforward or linear. We tried to break it down and show all the colours and shades.
Lo-Wu: We can appreciate the good times just as much as the life lessons derived from darker moments in life. This project is light and dark, because that's what life is. I think when people listen to it they'll realise it's a project you can dance to, listen to in the car or at a party but also by yourself, when you just want to be alone with your thoughts.