If you tried visiting Desiigner‘s Instagram page last month, chances are, you came across a vacant profile that’s home to more than 1.8 million followers. No profile picture, no photos posted. Zilch. You would think someone who previously reached the apex of mainstream music with his Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping single “Panda” in 2016 would be posting hundreds of pictures on the regular. Last week, on Wednesday, the then-20-year-old dashed inside Billboard‘s New York City offices, beaming with jubilation. Why you ask? He was ready to surprise his fans with his long-awaited seven-track EP, Life of Desiigner.
With a wingspan that would make NBA scouts gush with excitement, Desiigner, born Sidney Royel Selby III, quickly jolts out of his seat and introduces himself to me. Towering over his reps, he breaks into a feverish chatter, alluding to his 21st birthday — which is the following day — and then, ruminates about his creative process for L.O.D. “I started thinking about my vowels, learning how to put letters together and formulate and measure how long my flows go, bars and cadence. I learned a lot,” he says.
With a plethora of talented acts pinned to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music roster, being able to release a project is a blessing for the now 21-year-old. After unleashing a slew of bangers including his “Tiimmy Turner,” his Gucci Mane-assisted record “Liife,” “Outlet” and more, Desiigner has finally wiggled his way out of the sticky walls of entrapment and has a new project to show for it.
“‘Don’t let anyone just call you a rapper,'” Desiigner bellows when referencing his conversation with Kanye West during his early stages in music. “‘You are bigger than that. You are our speakers. You are the voice of the world.’ That’s what really made me want to sign to G.O.O.D. Music.” Stitching together euphonious hooks and icy melodies with surgical precision on L.O.D., Desiigner is hoping his latest release will serve simply as an appetizer to his main dish, Sidney — his debut album, which currently doesn’t have a release date.
Desiigner spoke with Billboard about his new EP, turning 21, his matching tattoos with Steve Aoki, the state of Kanye West, and what fans can expect from his debut album.
Since you brought up Steve Aoki before the interview, tell me how the tattoo that you both got together came about. Whose idea was that?
We were in Texas and I said, “Yo, bro, we gotta get tattoos.” He said, “Yo, it’s lit! It’s lit!” We was in Texas and everybody’s going crazy — we just mobbed there. After our show, we just had everybody in there going crazy.
You’re thinking about getting another tattoo?
Oh, heck yeah. We starting a trend with that. Artists ain’t doing that with they collabs.
With the BTS collab, did that whole thing first happen at the Billboard Awards?
Yeah, it was on the red carpet and me and Diddy was on the carpet. Their manager came up to me and was like, “Yo, I love your energy.” He introduced me to them. I was like, “Aight, bet. We need to get up in the city and we gonna work.” We made that record in probably 10-15 minutes, man. That energy.
It’s been a long time coming, but Life of Desiigner is finally here. How does it feel that it’s finally out, man?
It feels dope, man. I feel very good. I feel very excited and I feel like there’s so much more coming after this. To see the difference from New English for all my day one fans, now to see LOD, I’m definitely gonna give them more. And there’s so much more to come.
It’s an EP now, but it was supposed to be an album before, right?
What had happened was, Desiigner was going crazy, putting everything together. I was having trips to Hawaii because I did a lot of this album in Hawaii and a lot of different thoughts, a lot of different ways. It was coming from emotions, family, sicknesses, breakups and relationship problems, it was just all that building up, and between that, I was building the album. At first, I was. Then, I was like, “Nah, we’re gonna warm them up with this.” That’s when I’ll come with the big album.
With the big album, do you have a concept or title in mind?
The album’s name is going to be Sidney. Sidney, that’s my first name. Heck yeah. The Life of Desiigner is going to show you the trips of that and the energy.
So, Life of Desiigner, has seven tracks and you recorded all of them in Hawaii?
I recorded two of your favorite tracks [“After Party” and “Destination”] in right there. It was a beautiful realm. “Destination” and all that came from the same room where Kanye West recorded 808’s And Heartbreak. Same engineer, same everything. It’s that type of room with that presence, I feel like I grew way bigger. At that moment, I feel like I evolved. I started thinking about my vowels, learning how to put letters together and formulate and measure how long my flows go, bars and cadence. I learned a lot.
Your ability as a songwriter has improved over time. “Timmy Turner” went platinum and “Panda” is multi-platinum. Since then, how would you say you polished your skill-set as a songwriter? I hear the growth and evolution.
It’s being in the studio 24/7. I’m always locked in. Like I said with the vowels, there’s really a method through the vowels. I’ll explain it to you. It’s A, E, I, O, and U. Sometimes Y. We respond to words with vowels. The only reason why we respond to words is because we hear a vowel that stands out of the word. You know why “Panda” and “Gucci Gang” are hits? Because of the A vowel. It stands out and that’s the thing that catches our ear the most. So when I say, “Ay ay ay ay,” if gives you that good feeling. Things like that and knowing how to formulate it with the trends and your storyline, you know how to always make the hit. It’s a science to it.
Do you think it was gift and a curse that “Panda” was so successful? People were like, “Alright, you got a multi-platinum record. You got a No. 1 record on the Billboard Hot 100.” But then there’s the pressure of trying to top that record.
It’s just the learnings now and how things could go and understanding my craft. How I could build things. I knew you were going to love “After Party” because of the A. It’s the first letter and the first way I’m starting it. I already knew certain things like that after “Panda.” I’m only 21. I made a song like that at 18. I’m 21 right now, and I’m going to get better. Imagine when im 25. How much I want to just be more influenced and be in the studio and asking for more tips from everybody.
I remember at the The Life of Pablo listening at Madison Square Garden two years ago, when “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 2” came on, some people thought it was Future at first. When you were in the studio crafting L.O.D., was switching your sound on your mind during the recording process?
Yeah, of course. That’s always on my mind. I don’t think of trying to overblow him or any type of way like that. The way people came at me at first, they said I sound like him but they didn’t try to learn anything about me. I just wanted to give this thing where it’s like, Desiigner does his thing and Future does his thing. I’m way different. I’m in your stage, I’m in your face, I’m jumping in the crowd. I’m just doing my thing and showing the ways I’m different.
You’ve worked with a lot of dope producers. You’ve had Kanye, Mike Dean, Steve Aoki. What’s the best advice that each of them gave you?
Kanye told me, the first time just being there in the room with him, he said. “We’re all artists.” I remember he was getting down on his team and just barkin’ at his team like, “We are all artists!” He was like, “Don’t let anyone ever take that away from you. Don’t let anyone just call you a rapper. You are bigger than that. You are our speakers. You are the voice of the world.” That’s what really made me want to sign to G.O.O.D. Music.
It’s really a vibe with Mike Dean. It’s an experience being around Mike Dean, man. He’s a legend. Anytime you want to kick it an learn something from back in the day when ‘Ye and them were on the tour bus, he’s going to tell you the story. Just the brotherly love with me and Mike Dean.
Steve Aoki, that’s my brother. When my pops had this cancer scare, he really held me down. Steve Aoki told me about his father and he had dealt when his father passed away. He was like, “Bro, just stay focused. Stay focused. Your destination is right here. Don’t let anything get in front of it. Keep going.”
You just turned 21. What has been your biggest moment so far in life and your biggest regret?
Biggest moment is me wanting to do music. After I got shot when I was 14, I wanted to change my life. That was my biggest moment. I just wanted to stay focused. I was like, “I gotta do what I gotta do because I got this talent!” It was just staying focused right now. Now, when I got that success on top of that big moment? That became a bigger moment. What would I take away? I wouldn’t take away anything. All 21 years of my life, I love everything that happened. Me building and me growing up, even down to me getting shot. It gave me a wake up call. It gave me a rush of wanting to make it so bad. I just had to. Even the bad things, it makes you a better person.
I know you had the issue with the cops a few years back, but you got through it.
We was in the city, bro. Long story short, we’re in a two-lane street, going down 42nd Street. The dude pulls over, swerves us and almost hits us and goes into oncoming traffic. Now, we’re dodging cars coming back. Of course, I’m aggravated. I pull the window down and put my finger up like, “You stupid mother fucker! You almost got us killed.” I didn’t get out the car or anything. Homeboy wanted to say I had a gun in my hand. It was crazy.
TMZ and everybody was out there. Kids were out there. Cops weren’t showing me respect. They had me in a cage. People were calling me “Panda” in a cage and recording me and taking pictures while I’m asleep. It was nightmare. It was all that for no reason. I had to go through that hoping my career wouldn’t go to shame and I never wanted anybody to think I had a gun on me and all that. I know I didn’t have a gun.
How have you tried to avoid situations like that from repeating themselves?
Man, I ain’t rolling down the window anymore [laughs]. Knowing when I’m a Taurus and sometimes I have a little rush. I gotta be chill. If they ain’t take my life and I’m still breathing, I can smile off that.
Your father had a cancer scare. How is the family coping?
Everybody’s doing good. Pops just had the surgery and they removed the tumor out of his back. He’s good and he’s getting back in shape. He’s having a great time and I just want him to enjoy his life right now. He’s older. He’s 62. He wants to see me be successful. He was an alcoholic and everything and he’s tired of it. He was like, “Son, I’m here for you.” It’s a beautiful thing.
The “Liife” record was a banger. What made you decide to keep it off the EP?
Definitely just the timing. I had my grandfather from Germany and my grandmother out here and we recorded the record and it was beautiful. He said it should be on the album. But it was just the timing, man.
If you could pick one word to title this chapter of your life, what would it be and why?
This is only the beginning. This is the ending of Chapter 1. I’m about to step into Chapter 2. I’m doing this, I’m dropping the EP then the big album. Every album is going to be a chapter for me.
What song or album would be the soundtrack of your life right now?
“Diplomatic Immunity” that Don Q just did. He said, “Learnin’ ’bout my ancestors, they was pickin’ cotton/ I was in Neiman’s pickin’ cotton, Damier texture.” He was buggin’! I love his energy. He has the bars, the cadence.
We did an interview with Don Q and he shouted you out and said you are incredibly underrated as a lyricist. He said you can turn it on whenever you want and go crazy.
I just got a lot to prove. I got a lot to do and work that needs to be done. I made hits but I think people just need to pay more attention to me and stay in tune. I got so much more coming.
I have to ask, but what are your thoughts on your Kanye’s current mind-set?
‘Ye is really influential. He could make a decision and change a lot of things. He’s just got to be wise right now. Pray for him and I’m focusing on me. I got L.O.D. and I’m just going to pray for him and hope he picks the right thing.