Deem Spencer’s music carries weight, so much so that it is difficult to believe that the artist is only 21 years old. His raps are searingly honest introspections, intensely personal to the point that listening in can almost feel perverse. Raised in Jamaica, Queens, Deem tells stories from the perspective of an old soul dealing with the turmoil that accompanies coming of age in New York City.
At a time when most hip hop is either cartoonishly braggadocious or phonily conscious, Deem’s music feels strikingly genuine. In September of 2016 he quietly released a six track EP titled Sunflower, which went largely unnoticed. A few months later he posted a visual for “soap,” a track off of the project. The video shows two shots laid over each other, one of Deem standing over a small box and the other of the interior of the box where he moves a miniature version of himself around a model room. “Y’all niggas told me I’m a king, then you told me I’m a slave, then you told me imma win, then you told me I’m afraid, then you told me I’m a phony I’m a lame,” he raps as he throws himself around the room. The simple but powerful video caught the attention of a handful of publications and furthered Deem’s reach in the local scene in New York, leading to performances at SOB’s, Muchmore’s, and Silent Barn.
Deem is influenced by New York’s past, evidenced most in his production which features elements taken from hip hop’s golden era such as sped up soul vocals and jazz samples, but the music never feels weighed down by nostalgia. Having grown up in the city, New York is an inseparable part of Deem’s identity and an integral part of his story, but the young artist’s relationship with the city is not romantic. New York is a never-halting machine, and trying to survive while dealing with the transition from child to adulthood is unforgiving. Themes of insecurity, depression, and heartbreak are prevalent in Deem’s raps, but there is also a constant underlying sense of hope, a flickering light that is the real energy propelling Deem’s music forward.
The past year has been a slow and organic build of momentum, leaving both fans and critics in anticipation of Deem’s next project. If his recent output is any indication, Deem’s vision will only continue to grow and solidify as the young rapper proceeds to figure both himself and his art out; a process that we are all privileged to witness.