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‘The music industry kills artists’: Damso, Belgium’s biggest rap star

‘The questions that I ask myself about death aren’t about dying, they’re about death in this life.” Damso doesn’t really do small talk. Engaging and magnetic even through a computer screen, the 28-year-old Congolese-Belgian rapper is sporting a flamboyant shirt and a considerable amount of jewellery as he ponders the nature of existence. “There are people who are alive, but live like they’re dead,” he says. “They don’t strive to go further. But I know life is really short because I’ve seen people die just like that, in the street. So this question speaks to me: how can we be absent from our own lives?”

This is Damso’s first interview for an English-speaking audience, but we barely mention any of the achievements his team send over to illustrate how successful he is. When his fourth album, QALF, dropped in September 2020 without a whisper of promotion, it generated 14m streams in 24 hours, making him the most streamed artist in the world that day. “The music won,” he says simply.

Damso makes hip-hop for grownups as well as their kids; each of his four albums is easy to listen to, but also melancholy, stimulating and experimental. In francophone countries he is seen as someone in his own lane, each release devoured by an audience hungry for substance beyond rap cliche. An anglophone listener might recognise standard rap terminology such as “drogue” or “sexe” in the lyrics, but each of his songs reflects deeply on love, life and death. “I’m an archaeologist of sound,” he says. “I like to research and go into extraordinary themes. There are people who don’t like that and will say, ‘He’s not OK in the head.’ But I’m an artist, and we are all a bit sick, I think.”

One song

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