D.Ni.L. is a 33 year old hip hop artist, musician, producer and emcee hailing from Yorkshire. Having played with bands growing up in York, he developed the ability to compose in his head and play by ear. He has battled alcohol and drug addiction since the age of twelve, and spent four years living in hostels and sleeping rough.
These tough life experiences give his music an edge and intensity, and his record label Musication specifically uses music as a tool for recovery for people who face issues like homelessness and addiction. This has led to collaborations with Buttercream 87 and Wasabi Fire Alarm, as part of the band). As a solo artist he released two albums in 2017, This In’t A Party and the more guitar-influenced Suicide In Sips.
Earlier in 2018, he released the album Boy Inside, which received a stellar review from me. Hot on its heels is this new album, Do You Know Who I Am? Both thematically and musically, it feels like a continuation of Boy Inside although there is noticeably less rapping on this one and an emphasis on musically expansive song structures.
D.Ni.L. has formed an entirely new sound unique to him, which fuses aspects of progressive rock/metal (Deftones, Muse) with the emotive and well-crafted songwriting style of the Manic Street Preachers, also fused with the brutal lyrical honesty and aggression of hip hop. The complex sonic structures that D.Ni.L. constructs require multiple listens to be truly appreciated, but the emotional directness of his music resonates the first time you hear it.
Opening track Analogue Bath is a good example of this. Musically, it is built around brooding, swirling low-end guitar riffs and basslines, with meaty yet intricate drums. This provides the soundscape for D.Ni.L. to lay down a brutally honest lyric that sounds at first like he’s addressing a person he’s in a relationship with.
As the song progresses, it transpires that he is addressing his struggle and continual battle with drug addiction: “I didn’t know better when you flowed into my life at eleven and saturated me, you infatuated me when in fact you hated me, groomed and then dated me…”. The rapped verses are counter-pointed by vocal sections that provide an effective contrast, especially the haunting falsetto section towards the end.
This lead vocal style is more prominent on the following Buried, and you can hear the influence of James Dean Bradfield as well as several American hard rock/metal band vocalists. This track epitomizes D.Ni.L’s ability to fuse disparate elements together seamlessly, so it starts out as angular and aggressive with a syncopated rhythm before breaking down halfway into a beautiful extended passage. This features some fine vocal harmonies and usage of guitars in a much more delicate, nuanced and melodic way.
The overall transcendent effect brought to mind the blissed-out modern prog rock of Radiohead’s Pyramid Song. Again, lyrically it’s about battling the demons of his addiction: “So many problems traceable back to you, infected from the start…fed by your roots I’m maladjusted, malnourished right to the heart“.
Third track Feelings is musically more upbeat, driven by a catchy guitar riff and bouncy bassline, offset by a clever, off-kilter syncopated beat. This is alternated by sections of straight 4/4 that again works as a contrast. The second verse shows his mastery of rhythm as he continually displaces the accent, so that the listener feels the music shift underneath their feet. Lyrically, it’s another confession of his inner self as he explores how addiction and hedonism stunted him as a person: “I thought that sex was love, that love was belonging, belonging to me and no-one else, that was jealousy and do-wronging….”.
Forever is one of the more slow-paced epics, with a long and languid vocal melody. Musically, its a chance to express his more melodic side with some gorgeous strings towards the end. There’s a poignancy and double meaning to lines like, “Someday I’ll find another thorn to put in your side….”. Here, he is singing in the first person personifying addiction itself, and its hold on him.
Fifth track Let The Side Down is one of the album’s most instant tracks, with its anthemic title hook and compelling, addictive rhythms. Musically, it gradually builds in intensity until it climaxes with an electrifying rap section: “You were cheap but I was cheaper, as I fell deeper your price tag got steeper….”. Most importantly, it depicts how he is winning the war against his addiction with lines like, “No longer stuck to me, bringing bad luck to me, I’ve written you out of this story….”.
Melt is one of the album’s darkest tracks with a strong metal influence on certain sections which are cleverly alternated with complex, cathartic verses and another passage of great melodic beauty in the middle. It’s one of the most tormented tracks lyrically, as he portrays the seductive and all encompassing nature of addiction with harrowing imagery: “I chased you from brown to black, then you fizzled into nothing… now you’re long gone, even from the tips of my hair…..”.
Nod begins with a solemn string introduction before bursting into one of the visceral riffs that form part of his signature sound. It develops into another fully realized fusion of rock, metal and progressive genres, juxtaposing memorably anthemic sections with sparse and unrelentingly intense verses, brimming with restless rhythmic invention. Lyrically, it feels like it touches on the album’s main theme of gaining self-knowledge: “I didn’t even know myself, spent my life living in my head, no perspective, one dimension, I shut myself out….”.
Running starts by showcasing the flipside of his main sound, with a dreamy and delicately performed lengthy introduction that shows his musical craftsmanship as well as his more sensitive side. This is alternated with a more typically heavy section, yet the sensitivity is maintained with a soaring falsetto performance. Lyrically, its perhaps the most opaque thing here but conveys huge emotive power through lines such as, “I knew that we had an opportunity, now running, running away home and running out of oil soon….”.
Ninth song Sweet Man and the following Top and Bottom Of It feel like a potent diffusion of all the elements of his sound and style that he displays complete command of across the duration of the album. The former features some killer opening lines (“Could be the swig that takes you out of the game, could be the dig that adds deceased to your name…”) while the latter is one of the effective arrangements, building enormous cathartic tension through gradually developing themes and dynamics.
Under My Wing is one of the lighter, more immediately accessible songs here, with a seductive title hook and vocal melody, sung over equally infectious, pulsing low-end guitar. This more laid back style continues into the album’s final track, which takes the template of the slow burning epic to its ultimate conclusion.
Clocking in at nearly nine minutes, Way Back Down spends its first five minutes building up a brick wall of unbearable tension before it explodes into a brief section full of deep-seated rage. It then returns to the haunting, disturbing refrain of, “Under your breath, you swear that you’ll take me down….”, leaving the listener wondering if the addiction battle is ever truly won.
Overall, this album is a compelling musical journey that depicts the struggles of drug addiction with unflinching honesty and raw emotional expression. D.Ni.L is artistically fearless, taking the listener to some dark places but also unafraid to express sensitivity and vulnerability. The result is a work of enormous cathartic power that offers the hope of recovery and redemption throughout, making it the perfect follow up and companion piece to his previous masterpiece Boy Inside.
VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10
Listen to the whole album HERE