A couple months ago, I was introduced to DIRTSA, a poet-turned-rapper who found music as the most authentic way to pay her respects and honor her loved ones. The Cameroon-born, France-raised rapper is creating her own space in hip-hop, building off of her multicultural background and unapologetic optimism.
After learning DIRTSA’s story and experiencing the complexity of her lyricism compounded by one of the most unique voices I’ve ever heard, I felt that it was only right to get her on our page to focus on who she is as both an artist and a human being. Last weekend, I got the chance to hop on a zoom call with her and we talked about everything from her childhood, to our shared fascination with Skepta, and even her forthcoming album. DIRTSA is one of my favorite underground acts right now and I’m thrilled to present this installment of Early Talks w/ DIRTSA.
Benjamin: First off, I want to thank you for hopping on with me today to share about your life and your music and everything in between. It’s crazy how small the world is. I first made the connection with your manager, Benicio, through my older brother. They were friends in college and, without that connection, I would have probably found your music months later dominating the US market. To kick it off, you have an incredible story. Can you walk me through your life from where you came from to where you’re at now?
DIRTSA: I was born in Cameroon. I was raised there until I turned six and a half, that’s when my father got a job opportunity in France so we all moved out here. It was a bit harsh at first to acclimate to another country and everything, but I think it helped a lot being so young. Everything regarding my childhood and my family was centered around school so I didn’t have any time to pursue music until I turned 20. At that time, in 2018, my grandmother passed away. That’s just how life is. And that’s the summer when I started writing and really getting into music because it helped me cope with everything going on in my life. I started recording songs and playing them to my friends. They were all really supportive of it. And I just kept on going. I kept on going and until I came out with “Underdog.” That single was dedicated to my uncle, who passed away in May, bless his soul. I started working on it with my big sister. She’s another one of the main reasons I do music because she had a pretty bad accident three years ago. And again, that’s life. You can’t be sad about things, you just have to get out there and try again. I think she’s my main strength when I approach my music really. She’s the person I always come to when I need advice, when I need to talk about things, when I need to play my music to someone and be annoying about it. I guess that’s where I come from, in terms of my music. It’s really about paying my respects and dues to my family, my ancestors, and all the people we lost along the way.
Benjamin: Growing up in Cameroon is a very unique experience from the perspective of the outsider looking in. You’re actually the first person I’ve met from Cameroon. Since your family moved to France, have you guys kept ties with your connections and roots in Cameroon?
DIRTSA: We went back about three or four years ago during Christmas time. I hadn’t been back in over 10 years and I was in shock. I did have some memories of Cameroon but when you’re a kid, it’s always much more beautiful in your head, the memories you keep from it. It felt really good being back at home, it reminded me of what I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget where I’m from, it’s so important to me, it’s so important for me to implement things from there into my music and give people the opportunity to discover my home country. Like like you said, I’m the first person from Cameroon you’ve met. There’s so many incredible cultures and customs native to this country and I think it’s just beautiful. I want to help highlight my country and our culture in any way that I can.
Benjamin: What was your first introduction into music? When did you start thinking that this is something that you’re truly passionate about?
DIRTSA: I got into music and writing pretty much on my own. I started writing poetry when I was in middle school. The funny thing is that I was apparently really bad at it. One of my French teachers in middle school used to say that I couldn’t write at all. So it’s funny to me now, because it’s everything I do, my writing. I was hella bad at it, but then I started to improve. At one point I started writing songs and it was no longer just writing to me. In a way, they’ll still be poems but the melody changes everything.
Benjamin: Who are your musical influences?
DIRTSA: Growing up I was into Aaliyah. So bad. I listened to a ton of her music. Then I think it was my sister who introduced me to Tupac. I absolutely loved it. And it’s actually at that period that music really came to me. I think I was 13-years-old at that point and that’s when I started writing poetry. Going through my teenage years, I got really into Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean, to me, is like one of the best artists of our generation. His music is everything. From there, I got heavily into Skepta’s music. That man is the goat. His music is something so reflective that gets you to a point where you want to do the work to get to know more about him and what he’s saying. To me, that’s the point where an artist becomes more than just an artist.
Benjamin: What is your ultimate goal that you want to achieve as a musician sharing your talents with the rest of the world. What are you trying to do with your music?
DIRTSA: I think the ultimate goal for me is to interact with people and just let them know that it’s okay to come from so far away. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean anything, really. The only thing that has to have a meaning is how far and how resilient you’re willing to go in order to achieve your purpose. To me, it’s really about purpose and spreading the idea that it’s okay to feel bad sometimes. On some days, we all feel bad. Society is pressuring us all so much. How is it that we can’t even express what we’re feeling in our minds when it’s so important and has such a large impact on our lives and on our futures? That, is my goal. If I one day manage to interact with people in a way that allows them to feel comfortable in their own skin, then I will feel accomplished.
Benjamin: So before we wrap this up, what’s next for Dirtsa? What should we expect from you in the coming weeks?
DIRTSA: We’ll see how everything goes in the end. Right now, I’m currently working on a full album complete with 14 songs on it. The first one we’re releasing is a single called “Meghan Markle.” This one really goes out to what it is to be a woman in the end. I wanted to emphasize how it feels to know your value and to know that you are important. We, as women, are important. And that’s a track I’ve been working on for months already. And really, I mean, every time I play the tracks, I’m amazed at just how far we’ve come. This thing, it’s going to be something for sure. I wanted to offer something that really sounds different, something that truly sits on its own.
Although this is just a snapshot of what we talked about over the course of an hour, I feel like this Q&A encapsulates who DIRTSA really is and the messages she is spreading through her music. As cliché as it may sound, I logged off of this call feeling inspired to do what I love and to think about the underlying reasons that drive me to follow my passions. If you haven’t heard “Underdog” or “Straight out of France” yet, you know what to do. Remember to keep your eyes peeled for “Meghan Markle” dropping October 22, and as always, enjoy!