Adeola Oni, best known as DEELA, is the epitome of the master of all trades, seamlessly balancing her dual identities as a chic Biomedical Science student and fiery rapper with heavy-hitting bars. Her unexpected combination of pursuits defies conventional expectations, highlighting her versatility and staggering devotion to excel in all fields. DEELA’s irresistible flow and fearless voice embody the essence of a true dark horse, inspiring others to pursue their passions fervently and unapologetically. Over the past few years, DEELA’s ‘if you can do it, I can do it better’ attitude and distinctive aesthetics have led to non-stop unanticipated collaborations with the likes of Flo Milli and Coco & Clair Clair in the early stages of her career. However, DEELA’s unfiltered ingenuity in her music and video production indicates her emergence in the scene as no surprise.
Posing in the Air Jordan 2’s, like DEELA, its uniqueness and sleek but standout nature remain a core attraction to the AJ2 brand. While it’s less mainstream than its predecessor, the Air Jordan 1, the Jordan 2’s remains a cult favourite among sneaker fanatics and loved for its elegant design and quality craftsmanship. The silhouette continues to be a canvas for impressive collaborations with fashion and lifestyle brands, noted as the “sophisticated underdog” with distinctive colourways and captivating partnerships, including the Off White x Air Jordan 2 Retro Lows in Chicago and Black/Blue. Though, 21-year-old British Nigerian rapper DEELA refuses to embrace the underdog label in the rap industry by utilising her limitless determination and eclectic sound to catapult to rising stardom.
Born in Lagos and raised in Lagos, rapper DEELA credits her friends and “church choir” upbringing for shaping her into the artist she is today. “I’ve been rapping for three years, just before I started university but it was kind of accidental.” Though she expresses that the idea of making music arrived as a shock to her: “A good friend of mine invited me to rap over one of her songs. I said I didn’t have a musical bone in my body”. DEELA’s “experimental” career has seen an exponential rise, opening for popular Nigerian Alte artist Cruel Santino and landing an NTS episode shortly after her debut album ‘DONE DEEL’ in 2021. After asking how her style came to be, DEELA’s sabi-girl character delivered an intriguing take, “I'm a STEM girl. I feel like how I approach music is kind of the same way I study. I have some scientific bars and sometimes I incorporate science terms into my music. I listen to beats, apply myself and analyse it, listen to it again and build upon it”. With DEELA’s style constantly adapting to the times, her ability to command a crowd with her presence alone demonstrates the strength of her performing capabilities. “When I go on stage, I look people in the eye and I just say, I don't know you but, I'm here to convince you that I'm good enough for you to put all your attention on me. I want you to go back and research and think, oh, who was that girl on the stage?” DEELA states. Rather than follow the crowd, DEELA presents herself as a relatable force, using “real life experiences” that get her “riled up” to evoke hard-hitting ‘bad b’ anthems like ‘Take It Up’. But the come-up hasn’t been all too easy as a woman in the rap industry, she details. “There’s this extra pressure. I feel like I have to be extra good for people to keep listening to me and for people to tap in. But that's just the way music is. At the same time, I feel like I'm trying to have more fun with it too”.
So, what is it like to be an upcoming independent artist in the age of social media? You can find out more about DEELA in the rest of the interview below:
YELLOWZINE: Have you faced any particular challenges or experiences as a woman in music and the rap industry? Do you think the industry is either responsive or receptive to change in the demographic of the rap scene?
DEELA: Yeah. There's a prejudice against women in the music industry and I feel like we allow a lot of “mid” male rappers to blow up more than the women that are putting in the work and the effort. And we don't even allow the space for women to make music, even if it's mid. Like, let people make the music they want to make. People are so quick to criticise and compare women and their music. Like, there are so many men in this industry with space for all of them but when it comes to women, I don't feel like the same thing is applied. I've noticed that every time I'm performing, I'm normally the only female rapper on the lineup. It worries me because I know I'm not the only female rapper in the UK. Why isn't there much visibility for us? I don't know if the industry isn’t investing enough. There are not enough opportunities right now. We need to give women the space to make what they want.
YELLOWZINE: Speaking of the Take it Up Remix and the music video, how has it been working towards that?
DEELA: With TikTok, I still struggle with the type of content to put out because it’s so oversaturated from every artist trying to blow. It got to the point where I was putting a video out every day using the ‘Take It Up’ sound but wasn't receiving the traction I wanted it to attract. I was getting frustrated and then I stopped because I realised it wasn’t getting traction because I was following other people's recipes on how to get viral rather than being myself. So I started posting more authentic content and went to bed one day. It was during exam season as well. I was scrolling through TikTok and saw someone's comment saying, “No way Flo Milli just commented”. I thought there was no way, like don't cap right now. I see her comment, saying “tough” with three fire emojis. I couldn't believe it. I put it on my Instagram story. Less than five minutes later, she swipes up and sends me a DM saying, “I want to do the remix”. I couldn’t believe it. Even after she sent her verse, I was still in denial. All Glory to God. Honestly.
YELLOWZINE: What do you see for yourself in terms of remixes in the future and expanding on the type of artists that you work with?
DEELA: I’m just networking. When I came to Manchester, I wanted to get into the music scene because there's a big music scene in Manchester like in London but, I didn't know how to navigate it in Manchester. I was lucky because this duo called Space Afrika makes ambient music. They liked my stuff and somehow gave me an NTS episode. I feel like that was the coolest thing ever. It was very much an ‘I like their vibe, they like my vibe’. So I want to keep working with artists in the [Manchester] scene. I finished this artist development program where I networked with loads of photographers, filmmakers, and producers and met some cool people like Renz Niro, who is now a good friend of mine. Manchester has a very different sound to what London has to offer. Through them, I've made tracks with drill beats and grime beats. I never saw myself going on a grime beat or any experimental stuff before – that broadened my beat selection. It also showed me that even if a producer doesn't necessarily suit my sound, I should always go for it anyway because I'm going to learn something about myself or end up writing something I didn't know I could write. The collaboration with Coco & Clair Clair happened because they found me off a playlist on Spotify. That was crazy. It made me further believe in my craft and my journey because sometimes you can get impostor syndrome or think, what am I doing? The fact that they reached out to me to be on their album affirmed that I'm putting out good music and connecting with people without them even seeing my face.
YELLOWZINE: The music industry is tough. How have you managed to stay resilient and confident in your artistic path?
DEELA: While navigating this music industry, I’m getting closer to God. I feel like that keeps me grounded. Especially with new music coming, I’m being catapulted into a different world. Sometimes I need to take a long walk to clear my mind and have a moment with my thoughts or pray. I speak to my parents about my issues so they keep me grounded. I'm lucky to have a support system to remind me that life is not that serious. I'm here for a reason. Things are happening for a reason. It didn't happen by chance. I just have to live in the moment instead of worrying about things I don't know will happen. Things are always going to be out of my control.
YELLOWZINE: How have you managed to overcome doubt and navigate the pressures or scepticism from others who expected you to pursue a career in Biomedical Sciences after graduating instead of exploring music?
DEELA: Ooh, yeah, I faced scepticism, even from my parents. My parents are very methodological though, if you present a plan to them, they will sit down, listen and take it in. They understood that I had a plan and knew what I was doing. With scepticism, it's always best to block it out. You're always going to get doubts from people. When I started making music, there were tweets from people saying, oh, the girls are rapping now. And tweets like that are just weird because you guys have been rapping for years. Where's your career going? No shade but facts. I'm just happy I kept going because now I have a collab with one of my favourite female rappers, Flo Milli. I'm happy with my journey and glad I didn't listen to the people who had something to say about what I was doing.
Credits Production and creative direction: @yellowzine Graphics: @yellowzine Photography: @karisbeaumont Photography assistant: @seunomis Styling: @taylaggordon Styling Assistant: @alimalisa Interview: @lizziebarek Model: @Deelagram