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How d4vd Is Pushing Back on Genre and Encouraging Fans to Do the Same

today01/12/2024

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Recently, d4vd found himself feeling happy – as it turns out, maybe a little too happy.  

“Not that being happy is wrong,” clarifies the genre-blurring artist behind Hot 100 hits “Romantic Homicide” and “Here With Me” and who last year scored an opening gig on tour with SZA. But, he says, “I started going into these sessions making songs. I wasn’t making music. I’d go in and be like, ‘Let’s make the best song ever.’ But then I wasn’t being as introspective as I used to be, and I was making such surface-level music. It felt like it wasn’t even d4vd anymore.”  

This story is part of Billboard’s Genre Now package, highlighting the artists pushing their musical genres forward — and even creating their own new ones.

And that’s the irony of an artist like d4vd – when things feel too defined, he himself feels lost.  

The artist born David Burke is a bit of an anomaly. Born in Queens, New York and raised in Houston, Texas, d4vd grew up on a range of influences from Mozart to Chet Baker to eventually Lil Pump. After a classmate introduced him to Soundcloud, he quickly became a fan of then-underground and sonically diverse rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, XXXTentacion and Smokepurpp. (Even today, he says the platform’s algorithm fits his taste “to a T.”) All the while, his gaming obsession (with Fortnite in particular) led him to discover more indie-leaning rock, which he says predominantly shaped his own approach to making music – a venture that started at first as a means to avoid more copyright strikes on the gameplay montages he would post to YouTube. 

Having made his first two EPs (Petals to Thorns and The Lost Petals, both released on Darkroom/Interscope Records) in his sister’s closet using his iPhone and BandLab, d4vd’s music has a refreshingly stripped-back, DIY aesthetic – or, in his own words, an “ethereal nostalgia.” He believes identifying his music by a mood is more important than being defined by any one genre – a belief his managers and label supported from the jump. 

“There was a drive to keep things organic and not change the formula,” he says of his early communications with Darkroom. “To let the creativity flow from where it usually came from…and not subjecting myself to any of the boxes of genre.” 

Below, d4vd talks with Billboard about his own unusual relationship with genre and whether he thinks the concept will have much of a place in popular music’s future. 

You previously told Billboard it’s an honor to be a gateway for music fans, especially young Black music fans, into alternative music. Why is that role so important to you? 

I feel like the most important thing right now in the past five years of music has all been image. The driving force of marketing and promotion and everything has been [about] an artistic image.  

[At first] I didn’t show my face at all, because I knew the music that I was making wasn’t what Black kids usually would make when they go into music. I had so many friends I tried to get into music and they instantly went for the hip-hop sound or the alt-rap sound or whatever was going on at the time, underground. But then I started making the indie alternative stuff, and I was like, “What if people didn’t know what I look like?” And that was the most important thing for me, because I wanted the art to speak for itself.  

SZA spoke in her Billboard cover story about the “luxury” of trying something new and how it’s harder as a Black woman. When you were on tour with her, what did you learn from watching her blend so many influences into one seamless live show? 

We didn’t talk about music that much during our time together, but I can see the career trajectory she’s built. And now SZA has become this sound that everybody’s so used to, but it’s all new people finding out about SOS first, and then not contextualizing her past projects. So that’s the thing about music too, there’s so many new ears hearing you every day. And your work isn’t always fully appreciated because of where you started. And people always see where you are [now]. So it’s interesting to see an artist that prolific have such a passion for making everything. 

But then there’s a certain demographic that will only listen to one thing, so it’s kind of hard to kind of expand. I think Lil Yachty is doing that the best right now with his [Let’s Start Here] project, and always bringing in new fans to these sounds that have been around for a long time but aren’t fully appreciated because of the culture. 

Who do you think your fanbase is? 

I wouldn’t say for sure that I have a target audience yet. Although I’ve been making music for like, a year and a half, done a couple tours, we’ve seen the people that come to the shows… but I don’t have a certain group of people that I’m marketing to. So that allows me to kind of be free with the way I create. Right now, the people that listen to my music are people that are fans of certain sounds, not certain artists. So I don’t have to be compared to anybody else, because the fans like the sounds and not the person behind it. 

Do you think that’s a specific trait of Gen-Z and how they consume and even discover music today? 

I mean, completely. There’s no more artist development now. It’s like, people are marketing songs before artists, and it works sometimes. But the rest of the time it’s like, I’m hearing a song 50 times a day and I still don’t know who made it. And it’s in my playlist too. And I couldn’t care less about the artist. We’re in a weird spot right now, but I think more people are figuring out how to break through. And it’s just interesting to see internet kids take over the music industry.  

Do you think in the next few years that we will still be defining music by genre? 

Oh, absolutely. I feel like there’ll be even new genres. We’ve created so many subgenres that subgenres are becoming main genres. So I can’t imagine like, years down the line, how music is even categorized.  

Have you ever with your team or friends made up a subgenre that could apply to d4vd?   

You know what? No, I haven’t done that yet. I should, to be honest. It’d be like, hyper-alternative indiecore. I don’t know. [Laughs.] We can hashtag that. 

How do you describe your music to people who may be unfamiliar? 

I like to make old sounds new, I did it best with “Romantic Homicide” and “Here With Me.” It’s kind of like the old Morrissey from The Smiths, kind of Thom Yorke Radiohead rawness and passion that was lost due to over-technologized music. Now everything is layered with like, 50 vocal stacks and 50 harmonies and this, that and the third.  

And kids’ brains are getting oversaturated with so much stuff. When they hear raw [music], it’s refreshing now – when it shouldn’t be refreshing, it should be how music is. I feel like I’m just taking advantage of the fact that kids are not hearing this kind of stuff around anymore. I feel like Steve Lacey is doing it the best right now, too. Dominic Fike, he’s doing crazy right now too. 

And that’s the thing too, with genre. It’s like, we got to bring back the weird people making music. I don’t think I’d ever see Thom Yorke come on Tik Tok like, “Did I just make the song of the summer?”  

Do you think some of that weirdness is lost because of social media? Are people too concerned now with how they come across?  

Yeah, cause people are too worried about what works. Back in the day nothing worked.  Nothing was working. So many things are working right now. Even the way people approach different genres in the same way. I don’t like seeing techno and EDM being promoted the same way an acoustic song is on TikTok…it’s like, I’m dancing to this and I’m crying to that, but they’re being marketed the same way and I’m confused.  

Is there an artist or band that you would want to work with that you think would shock people who have listened to you before? 

Deftones. I want to work with Chino [Moreno, Deftones frontman] so bad. So bad.  

This story is part of Billboard’s Genre Now package, highlighting the artists pushing their musical genres forward — and even creating their own new ones.

Are there any producers that you’ve come across that you would want to work with? 

Coming up, it was all YouTube beats, ‘cause I had no connections to anybody in the industry. So I’d go on YouTube and search up this type of beat and that type of beat. And that’s another thing, I wouldn’t go and search up: “indie type beat.” It was like a certain sound or feeling instead of a genre. 

Like, if I get [the top spot] on New Music Friday and a bunch of new people are hearing this for the first time, I’d rather them ask, “Why is this on top of New Music Friday?” than have them be like, “Oh yeah, I understand why it is.” I like my music to make people think about why it’s in the position it is. And “Romantic Homicide” and “Here With Me” did that, and I loved it so much because people didn’t know why [they were taking off]. I want you to not be able to figure it out.  

For artists who are just starting out, is identifying with one genre helpful or hurtful? 

It can be both. I feel like whatever makes you confident in your music and your sound, go for it. But I feel like there’s more freedom in not associating yourself with anything. And I feel like most people that start doing music forget that there’s freedom and are going off based on what they see around them. I see the benefits of being like, “Yeah,  I just made this song so now I’m gonna make a hundred more like that and see if people like it.”  

Whatever makes you confident in your music and your sound and helps you stick to it and not lose the passion for the music…You can lock yourself in a box and also break out of that box later if you want to. So just do whatever you want. 

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