Hip-hop has often been associated with hypermasculinity, but rising star Darkoo has flipped that on its head. The London-raised, Nigeria-born artist started out as a driller, before discovering her love of singing. She's a gender-fluid, androgynous musician who has thrown off listeners and critics alike - and that's how Darkoo wants it. Speaking to Vogue, she explains, “My team are used to me always switching it up. People are definitely confused about it, but it just shows that I’m comfortable in myself, and anyone who wants to be can be comfortable in themselves.”
Darkoo's just released her new EP, 2 in 1, featuring UK stars such as Tion Wayne and Unknown T. It's a project that blends hip-hop, R&B and Afroswing, with the opening song, Oti Bere, opening with a hypnotic guitar riff, which isn't exactly in step with what you'd expect from someone who started out making drill music. However, Darkoo's got her sights set on global domination, and musical evolution goes hand-in-hand with ever-growing success.
Darkoo plays with the dichotomy of masculinity and femininity in both her music and her visuals, like in the video for Pick Up. The sultry, silky heartbreak anthem is presented on YouTube as "Darkoo ft. Darkoo", which turns out to be apt. She plays both sides of a relationship in the video wearing a tracksuit to play one character while wearing a long blonde wig for the other. It's a track about the pain of being ghosted, and it's as much a visual experience as it is an auditorial one.
Darkoo spoke to The FADER about the video for Pick Up and explained, “I decided to play myself and my love interest to show both sides of my personality, we all know how I like to switch it up. This video is quite personal to me because the track showcases a more vulnerable side of me, I explore my feelings and express how it feels when you ghost me and don’t pick up my calls.”
Darkoo's booming single, Gangsta, properly introduced her to the world, and it's a track that allowed her to explore the different facets of herself. The track received an all-female remix with Ms Banks and Br3yna, and a "mandem" edition featuring Davido, Tion Wayne and SL. Both the song and the video showcased Darkoo's different looks, and it was a precursor for 2 in 1. Why try and be anything other than yourself?
Speaking to The Face, she says that while this dichotomy exists in the remixes, it wasn't intentional - it's just who she is. "It’s not like I’m doing something crazy. I’m the same person, I just took off my wig and wore no makeup. I can wake up in the morning and be like, ‘Yo, I want new weave, new makeup, and then some mornings I wake up and I’m like, ‘Yeah, I want a trim.’ It depends on how I’m feeling, but I feel so comfortable doing whatever I want to do.”
It's hard to think of ways that Darkoo could have showcased her talents better than across the seven tracks on 2 in 1. Afroswing is the dominant genre, but the features show Darkoo hasn't forgotten her hip-hop roots, and there's elements of R&B blended throughout. Darkoo's voice has been compared to Wizkid, and there are certain elements shared between the two musicians. Her deep vocal timbre is undoubtedly distinctive, though - and it adds a sense of mystique and intrigue to each track. Darkoo sounds just as comfortable playing the "masculine" role in a song as she does the feminine equivalent, which gives her a dexterity that most musicians can only imagine possessing.
While 2 in 1 might feature a range of collaborators, each voice on the project fits around Darkoo, rather than the other way around. UK star Tion Wayne features on the project, after Darkoo featured on the all-conquering remix of Body, Tion Wayne's track with Russ Millions. Darkoo sounds right at home alongside Tion, who's sounding more relaxed than usual - which plays into the theme of Slow Down. Sometimes, we all have to step back and take a deep breath, and this track is a reminder that life is best enjoyed at a slower pace.
Check out 2 in 1 below. The project truly does contain two sides to Darkoo, and each song is a different twist. By the end, you'll get a better understanding of who Darkoo is as a person, as well as how their image is being presented to the world. It's an intimate, personal exploration of gender roles, but it also speaks to how musicians can tend to be boxed in once they experience success. Darkoo's noticed this and is going to great lengths to ensure that she's presenting the truest version of herself to the world. Success won't define her - only she's got that power.