January 13, 2022
Culture & Music
If you’ve heard her iconic verse on Odunsi (The Engine)’s Body Count, you’ll be as shocked as I was to hear that Deto Black was a shy child. Known for her bold lyrics and shock-factor sense of style, Deto has carved out her place within both the music and fashion industries which she continually redefines. The former social anthropology student and all-round creative dials in to our Zoom call on a Sunday afternoon to chat everything from self-doubt to self-actualisation.
Stella McCartney wool poncho & ribbed cotton trousers, Givenchy shoes
Maximilian dress & tights, Deto’s own bangle
KNWLS dress & gloves, GCDS boots & earring
Cordelia Speed: What I love about your music is that it is unapologetically feminine, sexual and liberated. I wondered, if there’s one message you’re trying to send through your work, what would that be?
Deto Black: I feel like there are loads of messages but if it was one, I would say that it’s okay for people to figure themselves out and be themselves – to embrace all aspects of themselves, the good and the bad.
CS: Your lyrics are refreshingly open and your confidence is contagious. When I listen to your music, it makes me feel powerful. I feel like I’m that bitch on the way to work.
DB: Haha, I love that!
CS: Who or what makes you feel empowered?
DB: My mum. She’s a lawyer. Her personality is very much ‘You can do it, you can do anything, you’re capable of everything, you deserve whatever you want’. She definitely inspires and empowers me a lot.
CS: I’ve read that you describe your parents as traditional and rather conservative – as an experimental and creative person, how did you find breaking away from expectations growing up?
DB: Yeah, it was actually quite difficult. I never wanted to disappoint my family so breaking away from the direction that they considered my life should take was kind of difficult, just mentally. They weren’t strict, but they had certain expectations of what my life should be like and what I should be doing. It was kind of a mental thing – I had to mentally decide for myself, ‘Okay, this is how I want my life to be’. I had to take that leap of faith and do it.
CS: Knowing all you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self?
DB: Trust your gut. I feel like as an individual you know yourself. I got to a stage in my life where I felt like I knew myself pretty well but instead of believing in myself I was kind of looking for external answers and direction for my life. I kind of wanted someone to tell me what to do. Obviously, at school they tell you what to do, they direct your life and it’s not supposed to be like, ‘You have to do this’, it’s more like a guide as in, ‘These are the things you can do, you should do what you feel works for you’. So, to my younger self I would say believe in yourself a bit more – trust your gut.
CS: You’ve spent time in Delaware, Lagos, London… you’re certainly well-travelled! I wondered what spending time in these different places has made you learn about yourself.
DB: I think for the most part it made me realise that there isn’t just one way of living. When you live in different countries you see how they do things in different places – the culture and everything. It just kind of opened my mind because we’re all human beings but we all have very distinctive, different ways of living and I think that’s so nice, meaning that because I’ve experienced all these cultures I can kind of form my own. It opened my mind! In Nigeria there is the challenge of sexism and there are certain things that women weren’t encouraged to do – I think now it’s getting better but when I was growing up there were certain things women weren’t encouraged to do but then you go to America and it’s like, “Of course you can do that!” It opened my mind – when I was growing up in primary school this was the age before the internet connected everyone and allowed us to see what was going on around the world. Seeing that from a young age made me realise, ‘Okay, I don’t have to do this because it’s not like this is the only way that human beings can live’.
Supriya Lele dress, Richard Quinn top & tights, GCDS bag, stylist’s own heels
CS: All these different experiences make your work as an artist so unique. Something that is truly unique is your absolutely iconic sense of style. How important is fashion to your sense of self?
DB: Aww, thank you! It’s so important – fashion was my first love. Obviously, I love music so much, but it wasn’t as accessible when I was younger, like I didn’t have a mic and recorder and I was also very, very shy. To me, you can be shy and still really well-dressed. It was my first creative outlet. Getting dressed up always made me feel empowered and strong. I felt shy but because my outfit was good I felt nice and it really helped me.
CS: I can’t ever imagine you being shy!
DB: I know, everyone says that! Literally, when I was younger, I couldn’t even speak in front of my friends – only my closest friends. When we went out to parties, I would be mute. I was so shy and didn’t want to embarrass myself – so yeah, I’ve come a long way with that. It was not until I was sixteen that I became less shy!
CS: How did you overcome it?
DB: I was really good at sports in high school and I think being good at sports along with being well-dressed kind of put me in the spotlight a bit. I had more friends and was invited to more parties. Obviously, I had really good friends like my friend Mowalola who I’ve been friends with since I was five. She was also kind of shy back in the day, but not as shy as me. So yeah, being around the right people and my sense of style helped and I realised, ‘Okay, I don’t have to be so quiet all the time!’
CS: Well for your style, I need to know – where are you copping your pieces?!
DB: Literally everywhere. I used to be really obsessed with vintage shopping and I go on Depop as well, I think Depop is the best. These days I try to accessorise with my hair – I see my hair as an accessory. I love jewellery and belts – yesterday I wore a chain bra and thong over my outfit which was really cute.
CS: More is more! I love that – minimalism is over.
DB: Right? Yeah, I had my minimalist phase but I’m so happy I’m out of that now.
CS: From collaborating with Sketpa and Nike to working on Off-White campaigns, you seem to be making your mark across the industry. What would be your dream collaboration, whether within the music or fashion sphere?
DB: There are so many artists that I admire and love and would like to work with! But right now, I’m just focused on creating my own world first. For now, I can’t say – if I chose now it would be random!
CS: Seems like you’re a spontaneous person.
DB: Yes, definitely. I definitely go with the flow and when things come up, I think, ‘Yeah, cool’.
CS: So, you’re a musical artist, a model, a style influencer and I’ve read that you also have a degree in social anthropology and a Master’s in global governance. I mean… is there anything she can’t do?!
DB: Haha! I can’t believe I got through that – those Uni days were crazy.
CS: I wondered how your studies have influenced your career in music and as a creative.
DB: Studying Social Anthropology really added to my confidence – it’s the study of human culture and it let me know that there isn’t really any right answer for life. I feel like for most of my life I was so scared of making the wrong decisions and turning out ‘wrong’. Studying social anthropology made me realise there is no right answer and everyone is just figuring everything out as they go.
CS: Last question, as someone who is engaged with every corner of the creative industry, the future is looking exciting. The last couple of years have shown us that for- ward-planning can sometimes be futile, but are you a planner? If so, what is on the horizon for you?
DB: I have no idea! If you asked me this before the pandemic, I would probably have had a laid-out answer but especially in music I feel like everything is very spontaneous and the honest answer is I have no clue! I’m just going to continue to do what I love, follow my gut and see where it takes me. I hope I’m happy and content – I’m trying to get towards self-actualisation, that’s what I hope for.
Maximilian dress & tights, Jacquemus heels, Deto’s own bangle
SHUSHU/TONG dress, vest & gloves
SHUSHU/TONG dress & gloves, GCDS boots