Snowfall Star Damson Idris uses hip-hop as the soundtrack of his life.
Interview: Bianca Torres
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2021 issue of XXL Magazine, coming soon.
Damson Idris’ adoration of hip-hop helped him in his role as Franklin Saint, his character in the hit FX series Snowfall. Born and raised in Peckham, UK, Damson, 29, was first introduced to old school hip-hop by his older brother and later to more current hip-hop by his friends. The actor was a big fan of 50 cents, but also took to other American artists such as Jay Z, Tupac Shakur and The notorious BIG with British artists like Giggs and Ghetts.
Here, Damson talks about listening to classic West Coast hip-hop on set, his love for Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent, his work with WC, and how hip-hop is his soundtrack for life.
XXL: How was the hip-hop scene in London when you were growing up?
Damson Idris: All of my friends and I loved 50 Cent. Especially when Get rich or die trying came out of. Me and my close friend, we actually wore the G-Unit sneakers. Yeah, we were die-hard fans, man. I loved this entire album. It was mostly gangsta rap when I was growing up. But on the British side, my brother Giggs. This is the music that I loved.
What made you a fan of hip-hop?
What made me a hip-hop fan was definitely Blackness. Hip-hop was just itself. It was shameless hip-hop. Whatever this artist was feeling at the time, this artist was going to say. It complemented the roles I play, how I play them, and the stories I want to tell. The stories I want to tell are unapologetic stories that talk about the experience of black people and show us our truth. Show us in our positive and negative light, but above all, show us in general.
Snowfall takes place in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Do you listen to hip-hop from that era to prepare for the show?
I listen to a lot of Ice Cube. His voice … when you put Ice Cube on it’s like you instantly step into your character, man. I used to listen to Snoop a lot [Dogg]too, man. He’s my big brother right now. To listen to him to get into the character, now he’s my friend? He’s texting me. It’s a crazy full circle moment. His “Gin and juice“And” 187 [Deep Cover]”and”[Who Am I] (What’s my name?) “All of that stuff really helped me. YG, The Game … Everyone on the West Coast had a role in Franklin Saint.
You’ve worked with rappers on the Franklin Saint character, haven’t you? Wasn’t WC your accent coach?
Yeah so Bianca Torres John Singleton introduced WC early. Not so much for the dialect because I already knew how to make the accent. That’s why they wanted to give me the role. It was more than stories, soul, culture. There were stories and conversations that I and WC had had that you would never know unless you were a part of that time.
If you’re from South Central, LA and got the role of Franklin, you’d still be like, Let me see … that’s how grounded and genuine this man is. If you weren’t that age then, you would never understand. You will always have unanswered questions. So that’s why I needed a toilet in the first season. And then I was like, “Look, I need you here forever. You’re not going anywhere. Because when I see WC on the set, I feel more secure. We all feel more secure. I said, “I get it, but every actor who comes here is not from here. The same way you taught me to walk, I want you to do this for them too.
Are there any rappers you would like to meet someday that you don’t already have?
I feel like I’ve met all the rappers from top to bottom. And, if I didn’t meet them in person, they hit me on the DM to show their love. It’s a pop culture show. I’ll be spending time with Tyler, the creator of Diddy for [A$AP] Rocky, whoever it is. To YG, to [Drake] and OVO. Everyone really supports my journey.
Is there a rap album that you can’t live without?
Kendrick Lamar Pimp a butterfly“The Blacker the Berry” is my favorite Kendrick Lamar song.
It’s safe to say that hip-hop is your playlist for the ride.
Spot on, yeah! When I’m ready to flex.
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