Dennis Junior Odunwo, also known as Tion wayne, it’s a hard man to pin down. After a short chase from our planned rendezvous point, we met at a friend’s house in Lower Edmonton, London, where Odunwo just finished getting a haircut, to talk about his debut album, Green With Envy. Odunwo’s often menacing manner on the microphone contradicts his behavior in person; he is polite and friendly, almost shy. He admits that he is still grappling with the vulnerable nature of interviews. “I haven’t gotten there yet. I really don’t like giving away everything of myself. ”
Green With Envy is his first album, although the 28-year-old has long been a rising star on the UK rap scene, first appearing on YouTube in 2010 and gaining more popularity with his Wayne’s World trilogy of mixtapes. . His use of melody sets him apart, with punchy staccato rhythms and a delivery of sung songs that blend perfectly with the hi-hat of the drill. He has had a string of Top 10 hits, including I Dunno, featuring guest stars Stormzy and Dutchavelli, and two catchy and sassy tracks featuring Russ Millions: 2019’s Keisha & Becky and 2021’s Body. Each was further enhanced with poses on remixes, with the latter becoming the first No. 1 of the piercing genre in May (and it earned him two gongs at this week’s Rated awards). Disbelief still tickles him. “I expected it to take off, but not like this, no,” he laughs. “I don’t think anyone can anticipate that.”
Odunwo has been framed as a piercing star ready to cross into the mainstream, but it would be a mistake to pigeonhole him within that particular style. Their cross-genre appeal is evident on their solid album, where tracks like Loyal are laced with languid rhythms and Afro-swing, while Road to Riches stands out for detailing struggles in the rap industry. His chart success stems from upbeat, club-friendly singles, with witty catchphrases designed, he says, “to be controversial” and make your ears prick. The body says “do you want to smoke, cigarette?” it is brilliantly inexpensive, both a distaste and a threat to an adversary; “I have blonde girls who come to my shows / Even though their father is a racist,” he raps on his latest Top 10 hit, Wid It.
“I was thinking: is this going to trigger someone? And I thought: the only people this can unleash are racist people, ”he laughs. “I’m not one of those rappers that every second puts on this person [that] they are a bad boy. Like when I’m with the mandem and they lick us [drunk], we are all dancing. When I’m in a studio, I can put that vibe in my music. “
Being a bad boy, of course, is still part of his image that he has to deal with. Odunwo is the middle son of three. Although his parents were music fans, and his mother was a gospel lover, he was pushed into accounting, banking, and business. He summarizes his relationship with his parents: “Conflict. It has gone from conflict to understanding. “
That friction is detailed on Green With Envy with topics like Homecoming, where he talks about his strict Nigerian family and getting in trouble with the police in his youth. As a child he had been musically gifted and inclined to tell stories, writing and emulating the streams of artists like 2Pac that he saw on television; his mother took him to concerts (he vaguely remembers seeing Michael Jackson). But he had his first arrest at age 15, and the stints in prison ended his musical ambitions. It is only now that Odunwo is beginning to re-experience live music; a legacy of the police who banned it from events like the Notting Hill Carnival when he was in his late teens. “I was kicked out of my house very few times when I was young,” he says. “Obviously, the vision [my parents] he had for me, I wasn’t really following him. I went out every day, I didn’t come home and then I caught up doing what I was doing. “
Was he hotheaded growing up? “Yeah, I was a little excited,” he says slowly, toying with his answer. “But only when I thought that my people or I would be at risk. I wouldn’t break for no reason. “It was the norm in Edmonton, he says, an underprivileged part of North London with few opportunities.” Everybody is in some survival mode. People judge you by the person you are forced to be and that’s not the type i always wanted to be. More people who grew up around here have just become who they had to be. “
In 2017, he was charged with a scuffle after being involved in a fight outside a Bristol nightclub. He was filmed on CCTV kicking the victim in the head and received a 16-month sentence. “I went from being someone to nobody. The Bristol moment reminded me that I can’t be doing that kind of thing, ”he says. “In the past, I might have thought it was cool, but now that I’ve grown up, it’s dead, it’s not worth it. It was a reminder: I don’t want to be a nobody. But I just hope they never put me in a position that can get me out.
“People can look at me and think, ‘This guy is a bad guy,’ but they haven’t been in the positions I’ve been in,” he continues. “Do you know when you are cornered in a corner? It is like people who are at war. He’s going to bring out a side of them that isn’t really them. “And in the case of Bristol? Odunwo is sorry, but feels his sentence is part of a larger problem, where the paths out of a dangerous lifestyle They’re blocked. “I feel like they made an example of me. I had like 14 co-defendants and I’m the only one who left. [to] jail, because I was the incumbent, “he says.
“[Police] they don’t want us to win, they want us to go to jail ”, he continues, referring to people around him. “That’s why they love the rapper so much; we’re the platform for people who don’t like them. “Fellow rappers J Hus, Headie One, and Digga D have been arrested and convicted after a first outbreak of fame, and he argues that” you can bring down an entire community “if his rapper mask is silenced, and that his friends” would be in jail “if he had not been able to employ them in his musical career. “There are people who have been making music with me and have had no problems since then. Take down a rapper, take down 10 people. The police are making it happen, they are trying to eliminate gender. “
His passion emphasizes an element of British rap that is often overlooked: its nature as a community endeavor for people around him. “It’s not for me anymore, it’s for my people,” he says. “I feel like God sent me to be that guy. Because I’ve had so many messes on my way here, people have never really delved [realised] what I am capable of. This is my first chance to show it in the public eye. “
His eyes are also on stardom. Odunwo wants to work with people like Ed Sheeran again – he helped keep Sheeran’s recent single Bad Habits at No. 1 by creating a remix of exercises – and serve as an entry point for British listeners unfamiliar with it. homegrown rap. “When rappers blow [up] in America they go straight into the mainstream, but I feel like there’s a huge gap between the UK mainstream and the streets. Our country is whiter. It is more difficult to explode in this country as a black artist because there are not many of us, you need all the communities to listen to you. I’m trying to bring the UK rap scene to a place where we are immediately recognized as mainstream music, not ‘urban’. ” A catalytic force that knows what it’s like to make a change, recognizes that that change could already be happening.
Green With Envy is now available on Atlantic Records
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism