ArrDee: fresh, fierce charisma from the UK’s next leading rap star

Each week in Next Noise, we go deep on the rising talent ready to become your new favourite artist. Brighton boy ArrDee has gone from unknown teen rapper to chart-dominating artist in under a year – and now, he tells Sophie Williams, he's aiming to build a legacy not just for himself, but for his hometown

ArrDee has done himself a mischief. As the 19-year-old rapper scoots around his label’s central London office, he cradles his head before gently collapsing into a large sofa. The night before our interview, he was out partying in his beloved hometown of Brighton – but he’ll only offer a conspiratorial smirk instead of sharing details about the previous evening’s antics with us. It’s a deliberately cheeky brush-off: as one of the UK’s most exciting new rap prospects, ArrDee understands that he’s got a fair amount of mystique to uphold.

But for this curious and charismatic young artist, talking about music is the perfect hangover cure to get through the afternoon. He even gets more animated at the prospect of this discussion than his much-needed Nando’s delivery, which he duly polishes off in front of NME. Mention any one of ArrDee’s five Top 20 hits from the past year – which include the Digga D collaboration ‘Wasted’ and ‘Oliver Twist’, a lively spectacle of bombast and drill beats – and he’ll fire off the chart stats like a paintball gun. “I’m making music for listeners on a global scale. There is a legacy being built here; I’ll still be recognised in 20 years’ time,” he says, with easy confidence.

ArrDee is celebrated for rapid-fire displays of his versatility and his frisky rhymes, which he deploys over enticing beats. On his debut mixtape ‘Pier Pressure’, he flips between various sounds that are defining UK rap right now: drill and grime, as well as dabbling with pop balladry with Lola Young on closer ‘Who Woulda Thought’. Earlier this month, he even appeared on stage with Afropop superstar Davido at The O2 in London – “I’ll be headlining that arena sooner than everyone thinks” – to perform his verse from the remix to Tion Wayne and Russ Millions’ chart-topping smash, ‘Body’.

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He insists that this approach to genre-hopping, which has undeniable crossover appeal, is just a matter of broad taste rather than a shot at mainstream ubiquity. “This mixtape is like an autobiography in that it shows so many different sides to me,” he explains. “The whole idea is to break boundaries and always level up: not just as an artist, but to push the definition of music itself.”

ArrDee was born Riley Davies and raised by his “badass” single mother, a black belt kickboxer whom he holds in the highest regard. Growing up, she taught him to believe in the power of witchcraft; he now wears a black sapphire ring, which he says has brought “grace and purpose” to his career. But throughout his teenage years, ArrDee struggled to settle at school and refused to attend counselling sessions – instead, escapism came from an urge to perform.

He found a release on the stages of local pubs in Brighton, where he honed his extremely nimble and dexterous flow. He soon began rapping with friends in parks, working largely with drill beats and a £1 microphone – which he used to record last July’s ‘Jiggy (Whiz)’, a Top 10 hit, in his bedroom – and making connections at studios across London whenever he wasn’t working at a warehouse.

In 2022, ArrDee’s popularity is testament to how thriving rap scenes beyond the capital are finally getting overdue mainstream attention. Similar to how Bad Boy Chiller Crew are flying the flag for northern bassline, or Aitch’s work with Northern Quarterz, a Manchester-based company looking to uplift local emerging rappers, ArrDee is uncompromisingly proud of where he grew up. He has also remained community-minded since his career kicked off with the ‘Cheeky Bars’ and ‘6AM In Brighton’ freestyles early last year. The latter even describes how growing up on an inclusive estate by the seaside is what has kept him grounded, and away from being “your average rapper thinking he’s the dog’s bollocks“.

“I wouldn’t have the head that I have on my shoulders without coming from Brighton,” he says. “The city has made me feel like I’m an outsider, but in a good way, as I don’t necessarily feel the desire to be accepted. I’ve got so much love for the UK scene and the people in it. But I feel like saying I’m part of [the scene] puts a limit on how far I’m going to develop. This is about international superstardom to the world.”

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He isn’t worried about losing sight of where he is from, even as his status and wealth continue to increase. For ArrDee, London is a “myth” where “people don’t fucking thank the bus drivers”, and working in the city has made him realise that he has no interest in adjusting his lifestyle: “I don’t want to act as though I’m a superstar. I’ll do anything to stay in Brighton. I’ll even buy my own land and build my own enormous mansion here. I’ll never, ever leave.”

Beyond the freedom that his upbringing afforded him, ArrDee’s unwillingness to play by the rules, he says, is also governed by a lifelong fascination with “real, history-defining rockstars”. His heroes include Freddie Mercury and Amy Winehouse, and members of Mötley Crüe and The Rolling Stones. “I feel like [as musicians], we’re here to leave a footprint, make noise and not necessarily comply with what’s normal for society,” he says, pointing to an XL-sized microphone tattoo on his forearm. Does ArrDee want to eventually be considered to be among the great rockstars? “Absolutely. I’d love to be able to pick up my guitar, and I’ve got loads of songs that have a rock-y feel to them. I definitely want to be considered a modern rockstar one day.”

Behind the not-so-quiet displays of confidence, however, ArrDee hints at having struggled to find his moment. On ‘Pier Pressure’, he is intentionally boastful and daring, inciting beef with his enemies on the sly-sounding Aitch team-up ‘War’ and flipping the bird at his doubters on towering opener ‘Locker’. “I feel like Rocky the moment he got up / This some champion shit,” he repeats over bass-heavy beats.

Some of this bravado comes from feeling like he still needs to prove himself, he explains: “I know that the links I am making [in the industry] are for business. Not everyone that shakes your hand is your friend. It’s been weird having to understand that people that I’ve looked up to – who are now maybe not doing so well [in their career] – need something from me. I don’t want to feel like I don’t trust anyone, but the more love and attention I get when I walk into any room, the more I find myself questioning things. In my head, it’s like, ‘Is money changing things, because people are looking at me differently?’”

A little defensively, he continues: “I’ve got a job, so I should get just as much respect as a doctor saving a life, or a lawyer, or other people that have also put in 10 years of graft into their work, like me, but in other areas.”

ArrDee won’t be pushed on specific names, though: there is clearly no conversation to be had about those who have tried to exploit him in the past. However, as our interview progresses, he becomes open to discussing where some other contention has come from. When NME asks why he chooses to paint himself controversially in his lyrics – from a questionable anti-condom punchline in the aforementioned ‘Body’, to the romanticisation of toxic love on the Destiny’s Child and Sweet Female Attitude-sampling ‘Flowers (Say My Name)’ – he affirms that he wants to better himself.

“I’m not disrespectful or misogynistic toward girls in any way, and everything you’re hearing in my music is completely honest,” he says. He goes on to explain that he didn’t start to spend time with his father until he was 9-years-old, which skewed his approach to relationships: “I’m always growing and finding new ways to express what I’m learning along the way.”

It all comes back to that feeling that ArrDee is still figuring stuff out, albeit while rapidly becoming an internationally recognised rapper. ‘Pier Pressure’ is underpinned by an unspoken acknowledgement that, as his shows (and hangovers) get louder and the collaborators become more famous, the city that he loves will always be there to bring him back down to Earth.

ArrDee’s debut mixtape ‘Pier Pressure’ is out now

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