Life comes at you fast. For Diggy Simmons, fame started budding at the impressionable age of 10 years old. Growing up in a family of rap royalty, music is ingrained in his blood. Heavily influenced by his father and former member of Run DMC, Joseph Simmons, the ‘80s hip-hop culture that raised him remains in his fibers. After dabbling in the mixtape business at an extremely young age, Diggy Simmons was only 17 years old when he dropped his 2012 debut album, Unexpected Arrival while signed to Atlantic Records.
Officially branding Simmons as a man of the industry, Unexpected Arrival propelled the young rapper into a world he wasn’t exactly prepared for. A growing spectacle in the public eye, he was unable to escape the pressure. With little time to grow, Diggy took a much-needed break from music after releasing his Out Of This World EP in 2015.
Taking time to re-center his thoughts and focus on his fashion and acting career, Simmons has carved out a niche for himself in several facets including his role on Freeform’s Grown-ish and mark in the vintage fashion scene.
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LIGHTEN UP / ALBUM / NOVEMBER 9TH Forever thankful for your patience, love and support. There are many themes that I explore in this project. The most prominent one being “journey”. Our emotional connection to our journey, how we learn from our journey, moving past trauma’s in our journey, and the practice of championing ourselves, no matter where we are in our journey. “Lighten Up” is an affirmation and reminder to myself and anyone that needs it. We’re all trying to figure it out. Don’t be so hard on yourself in the process of it. Shifting the focus to what can be, and not what “should” be. I’m excited to give you all new music after all this time. I’m already working on more. Next week Friday / Lighten Up! Photo by @a_kid_named_trav
Now, at 23, he returns to the creative outlet that has allowed him to excel in every supplementary opportunity that has come his way: music. Excited to finally release a body of work that encompasses both who is he and who he wants to be, Simmons is gearing up for the Nov. 9 release of his sophomore album, Lighten Up.
Inspired by the melodic sounds of Sade and Anita Baker and the hard-hitting bars of Nas and JAY-Z, Simmons effortlessly blends the two sounds to make music that’s unapologetically him. “I’m always gonna be me,” he says. “I have my favorite guys that I like their style, but my focus is on doing what’s genuine to me.”
In between takes on the set of Grown-ish and his budding fashion career, Diggy sat down to discuss refocusing on music, the importance of mental health and the making of his latest album, Lighten Up.
VIBE: Your first full-length project in six years is coming out. How does that feel?
Diggy Simmons: It feels really good. I think just to be able to get these ideas out and to finally give them to people. It’s a very liberating feeling.
I know the album is called Lighten Up. Do you have a specific reason for using that title?
Definitely. It’s a reminder to myself. A positive affirmation to myself and to other people just to not take yourself too seriously. Of course, we take our journey seriously and we put in the work to get to where we want to get to, but I think a lot of the time we focus too much on the end result or getting to the finish line. I feel like in that process of us becoming better people and becoming better at our crafts, we have to lighten up and not be so hard on ourselves in the process of all of that.
I feel that. You talk a lot about how fear is the primary reason you withheld from releasing music for so long.
Exactly, and that’s also a part of the reason it’s called Lighten Up.
Would you say your fear manifested in a way that wouldn’t allow you to step into the booth? Or would you start to write and record and then hold onto the music for a while?
It would be more so that when I’d start to write, I would overthink the process. Too much thinking of whether it’s good enough as opposed to just having fun with it. I think that just comes from being under a microscope when it comes down to what I do creatively from fans, critics or whatever. Just wanting to be too perfect and yet again having to lighten up in that process and just allowing myself to enjoy what I love to do.
You’re 23 now, so when you released your debut album you were 17. Do you think being in the industry that young had to do with your decision to take a break?
Yeah, it’s definitely possible. I think for someone my age to be in it like that—you’re already figuring yourself out at that age. That’s such a transitional period in your life. I think the break was definitely needed and my age could have possibly been a reason for why I needed it.
On “It Is What It Is,” you talk about how your break can be seen as a demise, but as you said, you’re only 23. Things are fast-paced in the industry, but it’s important for us to sit back and realize that we’re not running out of time, we’re just getting started. Especially for you.
Exactly, exactly. That goes hand in hand with my talk of the process and not allowing ourselves to get too ahead of ourselves mentally.
Do you think like growing up in a family of rap royalty and celebrity in general influenced your creative process?
I think [it affected] what I decide to listen to and maybe some of the things that I grew up enjoying, whether it be music or not. My dad has shaped my taste in what I like and that basically shaped the way in which I make music.
On Unexpected Arrival, you were really inspired by Kanye and the 808s. Who would you say inspires you now or inspired this album?
That’s hard to say. Honestly, I think it’s a mesh of everything I grew up listening to. That helps this creative process, you know? I grew up listening to Kanye, JAY-Z, Nas and certain guys rapping-wise, but I also grew up listening to Sade and Anita Baker and there’s so much melody there.
I definitely hear the melodic and stripped down elements in the singles you’ve put out so far.
Yeah and there’s a lot of that on Unexpected Arrival as well. My voice is always credited to those people.
Would you say you have a specific artist you identify with?
I’m always gonna be me. I have my favorite guys that I like their style, but my focus is on doing what’s genuine to me.
“Perspective vs Reality,” the first episode of your docuseries was recently uploaded. Is this going to be an album-rollout type of thing?
It’s based around the time that my album came out or is coming out, but it’s gonna continue throughout so people can feel my process, what I do, and how I’m growing. I love to have that kind of relationship with my fans. I want to share what I go through and they can relate.
Do you have a date for the next one or do you know what it’s gonna be about?
Yeah we’re working on it right now and I can’t give too much away, but it’s really exciting. It’s definitely gonna be a good one.
Going back to the music, “It Is What It Is” seemed like a very necessary track for you personally. Is that the first song you made when you decided to do music again?
I’ve always made songs but that was the second song in the album process.
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When did the album process start for you?
January of this year. It all really turned around very quickly. I mean, the fact that we started recording in January and we’re putting it out in November is insane.
Was anything on this album an idea that you’ve been sitting on for a while?
Yeah, totally. Some are new, some things I [had] to go back into my voice notes because I’ve had so many ideas over time that I just didn’t put on records. So it’s a mix.
What new track would you say you’re most excited for your fans to hear?
A song called “Testimony.” I mean that digs deeper into the album title, it digs deeper into my mental health, how I really go about life and how I’m learning.
That’s a really important topic for you to be speaking on. How do you practice mental health?
I think everything has to be set aside. I have a therapist, I go to therapy. I feel like that’s one way that you get things out. I feel like music is a therapy, that is therapeutic in itself. Yeah, I just think that you have to make time for it if you wanna feel progression with it.
Would you say your writing process helps you stumble on emotions you didn’t even know you had?
Definitely. I think the way in which I’ll explain something, I’ll be like “oh I never really knew that I felt this deeply about something,” and it just makes me dig deeper when I think about my feelings and I’m trying to put them into words.
Aside from your music, you’re currently filming for Grown-ish and you’re really into fashion. What made you return to music? Would you say music is your priority?
Oh yeah, that’s number one, always. Everything that I’ve done creatively has derived from music, so that’s number one.
Last question. You’ve been sharing clips for “Text Me” on Twitter, can we expect a video for that soon?
Yes, the video is coming so soon and I’m really excited for it. I’m directing it, so I’m excited.
READ MORE: Interview: For Diggy Simmons, Jet-Setting Is Just A Way Of Life