Dennis Junior Odunwo, AKA Tion Wayne, is a onerous guy to pin down. After a brief wild-goose chase from our supposed assembly level, we meet at a pal’s space in Decrease Edmonton, London, the place Odunwo has simply completed getting his hair minimize, to speak about his debut album, Inexperienced With Envy. Odunwo’s steadily menacing supply at the mic contradicts his in-person manner; he’s well mannered and pleasant, virtually bashful. He’s nonetheless coming to grips with the susceptible nature of interviews, he admits. “I’m no longer all of the approach there but. I don’t in point of fact like gifting away all of myself.”
Inexperienced With Envy is his first album, even supposing the 28-year-old has lengthy been an emergent celebrity in the United Kingdom rap scene, first cropping up on YouTube in 2010 and gaining additional hype along with his Wayne’s Global mixtape trilogy. His use of melody marks him out, with punchy staccato rhythms and sing-song supply meshing completely with the hi-hats of drill. He has had a string of Most sensible 10 hits together with I Dunno – that includes visitor stars Stormzy and Dutchavelli – and two catchy, cheeky tracks with Russ Thousands and thousands: 2019’s Keisha & Becky and 2021’s Frame. Each and every was once additional enhanced with posses on remixes, and the latter turned into the drill style’s first Number one in Might (and gained him two gongs at this week’s Rated awards). The disbelief nonetheless tickles him. “I used to be anticipating it to take off, however no longer like that, no,” he laughs. “I don’t suppose somebody may await that.”
Odunwo has been framed as a drill celebrity able to move into the mainstream, however it could be mistaken to pigeonhole him inside of that exact taste. His cross-genre enchantment is clear on his sturdy album, the place tracks corresponding to Unswerving are laced with languid, Afro-swing rhythms, whilst Street to Riches excels at detailing struggles within the rap trade. His chart luck comes from purposefully club-friendly and lighthearted singles, that includes one-liners designed, he says, “to be arguable” and get ears pricking. Frame’s “you wanna get smoked, cigarette?” is brilliantly economical, each a diss and risk to an adversary; “I were given blond ladies coming to my presentations / Even if their dad is a racist,” he raps on his newest Most sensible 10 hit, Wid It.
“I used to be pondering: is that this going to cause somebody? And I assumed: the one folks this may cause is racist folks,” he laughs. “I’m no longer one among them rappers that each and every 2nd places in this character [that] they’re some unhealthy boy. Like, after I’m with the mandem and we’re licked [drunk], we’re all simply dancing round. After I’m in a studio, I will be able to put that vibe into my track.”
Being a foul boy, in fact, remains to be part of his symbol he’s having to cope with. Odunwo is the center kid of 3. Despite the fact that his oldsters have been track lovers, along with his mom a lover of gospel, he was once driven against accounting, banking and trade. He summarises his dating along with his oldsters: “War. It’s long past from war to working out.”
That friction is detailed on Inexperienced With Envy with tracks corresponding to Homecoming, the place he talks of his strict Nigerian family and coming into bother with the police in his more youthful years. He were musically proficient and susceptible to storytelling as a kid, writing and emulating the flows of artists corresponding to 2Pac that he would see on TV; his mom would take him to concert events (he vaguely recollects seeing Michael Jackson). However he had his first arrest at 15, and stints in jail culled his musical ambitions. It’s handiest now that Odunwo is beginning to re-experience reside track; a legacy of the police banning him from occasions corresponding to Notting Hill carnival when he was once in his early teenagers. “I were given kicked out of my space naked instances when I used to be younger,” he notes. “Clearly, the imaginative and prescient [my parents] had for me, I weren’t in point of fact following it. I used to be out each day, wasn’t coming house after which I were given stuck up doing what I used to be doing.”
Used to be he a hothead rising up? “Yeah, I used to be a little bit of a hothead,” he says slowly, toying along with his solution. “However handiest after I concept me or my folks can be in peril. I wouldn’t simply snap for no explanation why.” It was once the norm in Edmonton, he says, a disadvantaged a part of north London with few alternatives. “Everybody’s simply on some survival mode ting. Other people pass judgement on you off the individual you’re compelled to be and that’s no longer the man I’ve ever sought after to be. Extra those that grew up spherical right here, they’ve simply been turned into somebody that they needed to be.”
In 2017, he was once charged with affray after being excited by a brawl outdoor a Bristol nightclub. He was once filmed on CCTV kicking the sufferer within the head, and given a 16-month sentence. “I went from being somebody to nobody. The Bristol second jogged my memory that I will be able to’t be doing them varieties of issues,” he says. “Again within the day I would possibly have concept it was once cool however now as I’ve grown up, it’s simply useless – it’s no longer price it. It was once a reminder: I don’t wish to be a no person. However I’m simply hoping that I’m no longer ever put able that may draw me out.
“Other people would possibly have a look at me and suppose: ‘This man’s a foul man,’ however they ain’t been within the positions I’ve been in,” he continues. “You recognize whilst you’re subsidized right into a nook? It’s like people who find themselves in a warfare. It’s gonna convey out an aspect of them that’s no longer in point of fact them.” And within the Bristol case? Odunwo is regretful, however feels as regardless that his sentencing is a part of a much broader factor, the place pathways out of a perilous way of life are blocked. “I believe like they made an instance of me. I had like 14 co-defendants and I’m the one one who went [to] prison, as a result of I used to be the headline,” he says.
“[Police] don’t need us to win, they would like us to visit prison,” he continues, that means folks from his background. “That’s why they would like the rapper such a lot; we’re the platform to the folk they don’t like.” Fellow rappers J Hus, Headie One and Digga D have all been arrested and convicted after a primary flush of status, and he argues that “it will probably tear down a complete neighborhood” if its figurehead rapper is silenced, and that his pals “can be in prison” if he hadn’t been in a position to make use of them in his track occupation. “There’s folks which were with me doing track and so they haven’t been in bother since. Take down a rapper, it takes down like 10 folks. The police are making it a factor – they’re seeking to take out the style.”
His hobby emphasises an steadily lost sight of component of British rap: its nature as a neighborhood endeavor for folks from his background. “It’s no longer for me to any extent further, it’s for my folks,” he says. “I believe like God despatched me to be that man. As a result of I’ve had such a lot of messes-up on my approach right here, folks have by no means in fact deeped [realised] what I’m in a position to. That is my first likelihood to turn that within the eyes of the general public.”
His eyes also are on superstardom. Odunwo desires to paintings once more with the likes of Ed Sheeran – he helped stay Sheeran’s contemporary unmarried Unhealthy Conduct at Number one by way of making a drill remix – and to function an access level for British listeners who aren’t aware of homegrown rap. “When rappers blow [up] in The united states they cross instantly into the mainstream, however I believe like there’s a large hole between the United Kingdom mainstream and the streets. Our nation is extra white. It’s tougher to blow on this nation as a black artist as a result of there’s no longer a large number of us, you wish to have all communities to pay attention. I’m seeking to push the United Kingdom rap scene into a spot the place we’re recognised as mainstream track immediately, no longer ‘city’.” A catalysing power who is aware of what it’s to make alternate, he recognizes that shift could be taking place already.
Inexperienced With Envy is out now on Atlantic Data