Get to Know deem spencer [Interview]

Ben Higgins
Photo Credit: Ramshah Kanwal

deem spencer has long been in his groove, but his album, adultSW!M, which drops tomorrow, has him ready to take the world by storm. The 27-year-old Jamaica, Queens native has been active in the alternative rap scene since 2016, steadily growing his name as an artist that moves to the beat of his own drum. With previous collaborations with MICHELLE and Okay Kaya, and a performance on the iconic “A COLORS SHOW,” deem's incredible catalog has had my attention for a while and it’s evident his rise is just beginning. Introspective and insightful, I had the pleasure to sit down with him and discuss his artistry and his new record. 

It’s great to meet you deem. How did you get started with music? 

Thank you man; I’m excited to be here. I’ve been making music since I was in high school. I’ve always just been trying to make something of myself in the world. They had an improv program at my high school and that got me into performing. I even did stand up comedy for a bit. But I had a friend who was rapping and that became the thing that I took seriously. I met a lot of rappers and figured out how to get my name out there. 

You’ve been consistent as an artist since you started your career, and you’ve seen your fans stay consistent with you throughout the process. What does it mean to you to see your audience staying true to you and what is it about your message that you think resonates with your fans? 

I think I’ve always maintained the intention in my work to represent myself very specifically. I read somewhere, I forget who’s quote it was but it was along the lines of “The more specific you tell your story the more universal your story is,” and I find that to be true. So in my work I always try to pay attention to detail and share the nuances of my story. I’m a young black man from Jamaica Queens, but there’s people from all walks of life that resonate with my very specific journey. So shoutout to my listeners for being able to receive the message wherever they are in their life. 

You bring a unique style to the genre that seems to evolve a bit with each album you’ve released. What was your journey in finding your sound? 

I started out like everybody; I started out as a fan. So when I first got into rapping I was trying to emulate the people I thought were the best. When I started, Lil Wayne and Eminem were the best to me, so I tried my best to be as witty and technically impressive as I could. But as I started putting stuff out like that I realized that’s not me. So just trial and error and I was realizing what works for me and what doesn’t. When Kendrick came up, he was someone that was just as talented as everyone I looked up to, but his good kid, m.A.A.d City story very much mirrored how I was growing up. So as more references came about I would keep trying. I would put out music and take it down. Then in 2016 I put out a project called Sunflower, and I think that’s when I started using my own voice. 

Your music is especially unique and refreshing to the New York hip-hop scene. Is it ever difficult for you to stray away from the trends that are popular in the city? 

I don’t really have an issue sticking to my taste because there will always be trends. But at the same time part of the creative process is trying to predict the trends. You have to see past what’s hot right now because you’re writing a project that’s coming out next year not tomorrow. So in a way it is difficult because you have to predict the future. But one creative guideline for myself is I don’t ever want to do any shit that I feel is corny or something that won’t age well. I’m sure I’ve done stuff that other people find corny but I feel like I know what I can get away with. 

Who are some New York artists that inspire you? 

AKAI SOLO & Cleo Reed. They come to mind first as I just saw them live. I love their music. I’ve known AKAI for a while and have always loved his performance style and writing style. Cleo is an amazing performer as well. I love her voice. They both have new albums out.

I’ll have to check them out. But you’ve got an album coming out that I was fortunate enough to listen to. In a nutshell, what would you say is the story of adultSW!M and tell me a little bit about the album’s creation process? 

The album was originally going to be called “My Wife and Kids,” but I discovered late in the creative process that the title implied something different than what I made. So we changed the title in the studio one night, and adultSW!M felt like it was perfect for what we created. Essentially the story of the album is me becoming a man, my journey to becoming an adult which really is a never ending journey. Like I’m 27. I’m a man, but there’s also a lot of things that really make someone a man; there’s levels to this shit. The album cover is me holding my baby in a flooded New York City, but it’s framed in a way where it looks like we’re just having a cute time at the beach. 

I love the album cover. When you dropped “To Have it All,” your first single with the cover I remember taking a second to really look at the cover and I was like “yeah he’s about to make something crazy.”

Thank you so much man.

But you took “To have it all” to another level with an amazing music video back in November. Why did you choose stealing a gum ball machine as the centerpiece of the video and what thematically would you say the gum balls represent? 

The gum balls represent the connection to childish things. Like at the end of the video, when we finally get to a safe space and we can bust this thing open, I took the gum ball machine because I’m focused on the gum balls but the girl I’m with was focused on the money within the machine. So it’s that duality of like “what do you really care about?” It’s the same way in the music business. I spend a lot of time in my career focused on the fun of it and doing it for the experience and the value. I’ve made very little money in my time making music, but it all depends on what you focus on. So that was the metaphor: I stole a gum ball machine full of money and I’m out here focused on the gum balls. 

Sonically, I think it’s your most ambitious work yet. There’s so much diversity from song to song but it’s filled with all of these incredible instrumental moments throughout that give the album so much character. What kind of role do you like to take on the production side and how important is it for you to have strong relationships with the producers you collaborate with? 

The producers have always been a very essential part of the creative process. For most of the projects, except for this one, the beats would come to me complete and I would just write to them and record. So for the most part, on the music that I’ve made the producers laid the foundation. But with adultSW!M I produced half of it, and then I would bring it to some very dope producer friends of mine who would take it further. I was very hands-on with the production this time around; the music is very important to me because I know that the foundation is about the music, probably even more than what I’m actually saying in the songs. 

You never shy away from tough subjects in your music, but adultSW!M feels particularly vulnerable. What goes into your songwriting and why is this project special to you? 

Honesty is important. That’s what I say short and short. I take my time writing my music just so that I know it’s worth saying. I always want to start with honesty so that I know that my story is real. And this album is special for me because it takes a different intention than past projects. I really made this one for the world to hear and when I made certain songs, I felt that they are bigger than me. I don’t know if this makes sense but a lot of the songs that I wrote in the past felt like inside jokes. Like I know what I’m talking about and it might sound cute to others but only I really know what I’m saying. With adultSW!M I think people can really feel me, I’m telling stories and you can actually hear me. People have been calling me lofi forever and I’m about to beat the lofi allegations. 

You worked with some incredible talent in adultSW!M such as DRAM, MAVI, Orion Sun, and you’ve given a platform to many rising artists like DaVionne, Eliza Moon, and KEYAH/BLU. How did those collaborations come about? 

They are all people I’m very impressed and genuinely inspired by. I’m really grateful that they all got back to me and that they were excited to be a part of this. That means a lot, and I hope to continue building on these relationships because I think we made some really cool music together. 

Who are some artists you’d like to work with in the future?

I really want to work with Willow Smith. That’s someone that’s been on the top of my list. Andre 3000 has to be mentioned too. I also love a lot of producers, no I.D. Monte Booker, The Alchemist, they would all be crazy to collab with. And Devin the Dude, if you’re reading this man… let’s work. 

You read it here, Devin, pop out man. What are some of your goals following the project's release? Are you planning to tour the record? 

I would absolutely love to tour this album. I’m really trying to perform more. I’d love to perform one of these songs on television with one of the Jimmy’s. But I don’t know what all that depends on since it’s still early. I really want people to receive this music well, and to the people that have known me for years but keep me in the back of their mind, I’m tryna get to the front of their mind. A lot of people have heard of deem spencer, but now I want them to vouch for real and stop playing with me. 

What do you want your legacy to be? 

I want my legacy to be that I’m someone who inspired a generation of people to wear their true selves and be decent people. It was hard growing up being a young man and trying to stay out of trouble man it was tough. I want the lessons I’ve learned to help people. If I can keep sharing my story and inspiring people like me to take creative outlets rather than destructive ones, then I’m good with that legacy. I want to be a shining example of someone who trusted himself, stayed in his lane, did that shit, and mastered it.

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