“My art is not a joke, it’s literally my legacy”: IAMDDB is completely independent and creatively unshackled
Ahead of her first album in three years, Mixmag speaks to the Angolan artist about her influences, the stagnation of modern-day music, and the creative possibilities of being her own boss
At the turn of the millennium, when IAMDDB (real name Diana De Brito) was just four years old and growing up in Lisbon, she’d always find herself drawn to one room in her childhood home. It was her father’s studio, a musician who was part of an Afro-jazz band, and where he would record music and listen to tracks from his bulging vinyl collection.
“That was my favourite room to be in. I just wanted to be around all the wires, guitars and instruments,” IAMDDB says. “I would look around and think: ‘I like this energy, this is giving a bit of me.’”
It’s where he would also share his favourite music with his young daughter. Spanning all manner of styles, genres and artists, her father would pick out records from the likes of Nat King Cole, Whitney Houston, Miles Davis, Mariah Carey and Boy George to even classical music, Afro soul, Afro jazz and her native “Angolan frequencies”.
“My dad really made sure that I listened to a lot of different kinds of sounds globally,” she says. “It helped me not only with my sound, but my message. The message behind music is so important at a time when music is so disposable, and it helped me build my foundation and connection to why I make music the way I do.”
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Now over two decades and five studio LPs later, with a sixth due to drop soon, IAMDDB has carved out a career path that is distinctively her own. Having signed to a record label in 2017 at just 21-years-old, she’s recently gone completely independent after “a really fucked up situation in terms of my mental state, and being surrounded by grown-ass men where instead of protecting they violated me – not only spiritually but mentally, physically, [and] emotionally”, she recently alleged to fans in a YouTube video.
Now she’s the CEO of her own company and record label, WAEV Entertainment, which has expanded the possibilities of what IAMDDB can do. She has released her own line of clothing, with cosmetic products due to drop soon. But it’s also given her complete control of her musical output, with Volume.6, titled ‘I Love To Make Boys Cry’, set to be her most ambitious yet. Spanning a huge variety of genres and influences – from the Afro jazz and soul she grew up on, to the drum ‘n’ bass of recently dropped single ‘Where Did The Love Go?’, via the trap she’s most commonly associated with – it’s an exploration of the depth of IAMDDB’s range.
To find out more about the upcoming album and chat about her journey so far, Mixmag caught up with IAMDDB, calling in fresh from releasing the first peek of the album with single ‘Where Did The Love Go?’
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What were your influences for ‘Where Did The Love Go?’
My whole intention behind it was to tap back into the old school DDB, back into that nostalgia, that feeling we had back in 2016, 2017. It was fresh vibes – I think along the way music has as a whole become stagnant and indifferent. Everything’s reflecting the same energy and I just wanted to go back to the roots of why I began this journey. So yeah, honouring drum ‘n’ bass – I love the vibe, we’ve got a little section of Jersey club in there for the TikTokers to go crazy.
Can you tell me a bit more about why you think music has got stagnant?
Yeah, the music industry in general is focusing more on being the trend, focusing on clout instead of being artistically creative. A lot of the things we’re seeing is for clickbait – it’s for fleshly earthbound things, and we need to vibrate higher than that if we are trying to make music that is really going to stand the test of time. I’m not trying to be here today, gone tomorrow. I’m trying to be here past my death – I want my music to live longer than I do and it takes a certain level of integrity to have towards your artistry to achieve that type of thing.
So for me my art is not a joke, it’s literally my legacy so I have to ensure that the authenticity of it remains. That’s why I feel like music right now is very microwaveable, it's very temporary and I don’t like that. I listen to greats like Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, Miles Davis, and it’s the authenticity – the honouring that they had towards their music – that made them so great.
Do you have a name for Volume.6 yet?
Yes! Volume 6 is called ‘I Love To Make Boys Cry’. But to contradict that, all the features on the project are male, so yeah I love to make boys cry but I also honour them – [it’s] balance.
And it’s going to be your first independent release right?
First fully independent release, that’s right. All my releases have been independent, just with the wrong label. I was miserable, I had terrible management so now it’s completely IAMDDB WAEV Entertainment – super happy.
Can you tell me a bit about the moment you decided to go completely independent?
It was the beginning of 2020, I had a real tower moment, everything was falling to shit. I was the one screaming “2020 is going to pull up and air” – and it pulled up and aired me. So I was going through a lot of warfare, a lot of realisations, a lot of destruction to rebuild. I’ve spent three years building this project and I think it’s finally ready to deliver a very well put together project. I personally feel like it’s my best piece of work – It’s wholesome, it’s refreshing vibes, it’s nostalgic – it’s the old school DDB but just a new and improved version in many genres.
How has that journey been? Has having complete control changed your music making process?
It’s definitely given me more freedom. It’s way less pressure, fewer opinions in your ear. I’ve always been a fluid type of person but right now just understanding every aspect of what I’m doing is really giving me a different level of confidence. And it’s not egotistical, it’s being sure of yourself because you’re actually aware of what you’re doing rather than being blind-sighted. My creative process is always very fluid – I’m a Pisces, I’m a water baby, I have to flow and let things just go with the energy. I’m a big vibe person so I like to flow, I like to give myself space to think and feel. I have to experience life before going back into the studio so I have things of substance to say. And big up all my producers too – they are such great people, such great talents and they always bring out the best in me.
I three years in the music industry can feel like an eternity, did you feel pressured to be releasing or touring?
Yeah, I think as a consumer three years is a very long time. There were times where it was like: “Is this bitch dead?” But I wasn’t dead, I just had to reschedule my tour a couple of times. We actually did a 26-date tour while it was COVID, which was mental, I don’t even know how we pulled it off but we did. I was still doing shows, I was still being creative behind the scenes and took real time to perfect the craft. Instead of being [trying to be] seen, which I think is a real disease right now – everyone wants to be seen rather than perfecting the craft and then presenting it. So I did the reverse, instead of wanting to be seen for three years I went away into my cocoon and really worked on myself, my art, my sound, my mind, my energy, and now that I’m back it’s going to be a refined version.
Can you tell me a bit about pulling off a tour during COVID?
We did a tour through Europe and the UK. It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work, a lot of money – because obviously I’m an independent artist so everything was self-funded. But we made profit, we had fun, we reconnected with all the true fans. They got to hear the project before it dropped, and the reception was so positive that I know that they are going to eat Volume.6 up.
What was your most memorable moment when you were making Volume.6?
When I came to the decision of what the tracklist would be, that’s when the penny dropped for me. It’s so crazy how you can make songs so wide apart, like one now, one in six months, one in two years that they’ll all somehow mesh together into a project that is just a true reflection of who you are and what you’ve been through. It’s always a very strange moment to see different moments of life come together as one.
And what is the thought process of building a tracklist like? I can imagine it’s not as simple as it may seem.
It definitely isn’t, because you have to consider your consumer. What I’ve learned is that consumers don’t like sudden change, you have to guide them and coach them through the change. You’re introducing them, so I’ve really focused on making Volume 6 a non-skip project so there’s really something to cater to everyone, whether that’s an OG DDB fan, a new DDB fan, someone that might just like trap, someone that might just want a bit of crazy rage, or someone that might just want some jazz. I think it’s going to explain to people that I’m really a multi-dimensional artist and I just like to explore – it’s just freedom of creativity.
What is your relationship with genre descriptors? Do you ever find them limiting?
You know what, in the past I’ve been really against it. [I was] like: “Don’t box me in,” but now I really don’t care. If you want to box me in that’s fine, but just know that I’m going to be in every box, so get ready for that. I really made sure that I’m multifaceted because true artistry for me is an artist who can be in different pockets, in different genres and still be authentic to who they are. So I’m able to do alternative, jazz, hip hop, trap, drum ‘n’ bass and afrobeats and it doesn’t feel corny. Like even pop, I said that I would never do a pop song but I made the best pop song ever and I just know my fans are going to be like: “What is going on with this? This shit is snapping.” But the time will come and they can judge for themselves.
You’ve spoken about constantly evolving and not letting your old music define you, but do you think it’s harder in an age of streaming, when all of your music is in the same place just a single click away?
100%. My personal experience with my fans is that they become so attached to certain moments that the music helped them through, that they have defined DDB as that song. And it’s like: “I hear you and I love you for that, but look – I am so much more than that and I’ve grown so much personally.” And that is going to reflect in the music. I love a challenge, I never want to be comfortable in what I do. Yes, I want it to resonate, but I always want to challenge myself, whether it’s through my lyricism, my delivery, my tones, the choice of beats because it’s evolution – I don’t want to remain the same, I want to keep getting better and I want my fans to keep getting better. So I can only motivate them to do that if I’m also pushing myself to that level.
And what about beyond the music, are there new different ways you’ve found to express yourself?
Yes! I’ve recently got into boxing – I fucking love it. Such a great outlet for fitness, health and just remaining calm and getting rid of the rage a little bit. I’m also working on some bougie ass skincare, which I’ve been working on for the last two years and I’m finally ready to launch. I’m so excited to be launching this year – I know it’s going to really connect with people that love handmade products and love products that are straight from Mother Earth. I’ve also got a clothing line coming this year, so a lot of exciting things. I’m just very grateful, I’ve got a big [grin] on my face because everything is manifesting so divinely.
You’ve also hosted a yoga and self-healing session, how important is self-care for you?
I know a lot of people talk about it and do podcasts on it to profit off of the movement, but it’s deeper than just the movement for me. It’s really a lifestyle, it’s a way of life and I implement it in everything I do. It’s important in a world that is always in a rush – no girl, sit down and take care of thyself.
What does ‘Volume 6: I Love To Make Boys Cry’ mean to you personally?
It’s a true reflection of a spectrum of emotions, both good and bad. It’s a spectrum of feelings, a project of honouring those feelings and dissecting them in a divine, authentic way. It’s a true reflection of a balanced feminine and masculine energy. And it’s showing you that to love yourself you have to go to war, and to experience war is really a form of love, because you’re learning to fight for what you love.
Isaac Muk is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow him on Twitter