Bulgarian-born and Berlin-based wunderkind Denitza Todorova, better known as DENA, wields her signature blend of coy, clever rap hip-pop like a pro on her debut album, Flash. It's a polished, sanguine record, celebrating the richness of hip hop while acknowledging its more ridiculous facets on tracks such as 'Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools', with its thick, thumping pulse and clichéd aspirations. When we meet in Dalston she is relaxed, funny and engaging as she reflects on her earlier days providing vocals on two albums by The Whitest Boy Alive, her love of jazz and favourite pair of sneakers. Stream Flash and read our interview below.
DD: Why did you call the album Flash?
DENA: The album is all about this crazy reflective material – here, check my scrunchie. (demonstrates how the material lights up when a cameraphone is flashed in the darkness) Flash is basically about waking the invisible things in life, and bringing them to life. If people take pictures of me with their flash, my clothes will light up. The important message is to have your flash on. I got introduced to this material, I went and researched it, and that's how I did the artwork for the album.
DD: How would you describe the mix of sounds on Flash?
DENA: It's a mixture of mellow songs, and then about half of it is a sound that's inspired by certain hip hop. I love hip hop but I’m not a rapper in that sense; I just write words, and sometimes I speak quickly.
DD: What inspired the monochrome aesthetic in the 'Bad Timing' video?
DENA: The song's influenced by the impossibility of certain situations, like love and desire, and in general it's probably about love and communication. The video basically reflects the most honest perspective. I used to pass this football field a lot and when I was listening to the demos, I just felt that this football field was already a part of the song. It needed to be dark; there's something really lonely and beautiful about people playing football in the night.
DD: It's quite different to your debut single, 'Cash, Diamond Rings, Swimming Pools'...
DENA: Kind of. ‘Diamonds Rings’ was the most un-reflective performance ever, it was the most natural thing to do, even the stuff that I'm wearing. I was like, 'What's the most crazy piece of clothing I have?', and it was this pink sweater that I got long ago from the flea market in London. It was a super spontaneous thing, the whole concept.
DD: What were you listening to while making the new album?
DENA: I listened to different stuff depending whether I was in the studio or not. I just heard Disclosure the other day – their record is really amazing. So many interesting artists working on it. I love house music, and it is a huge inspiration for songs like that. I've been listening to a lot of Destiny's Child –I was so inspired by how they'd squeeze so many words in a melody. They had a totally legendary way of singing, and they told very big, elaborate stories. And people don't really do that any more. Today people want songs on the radio that they know all the words to, but back then you’d hear something and think, ‘What?’ Even on ‘Survivor’ you can't tell exactly what they are saying.
DD: What did you think of the recent Beyoncé record?
DENA: I bought it immediately, of course. It's interesting because it's an incredible amount of work, it takes you like, a weekend or something to process, and there's so many producers on it. I have three or four favourites that I play on repeat, but her most life-changing record for me was B'Day – 'Freakum Dress'! The moment I heard it I was like, ‘The fuckkkk?’ – I’d heard stuff from Dangerously In Love but this record changed my life. Although when you have songs like ‘***Flawless’, nothing else matters. It's so epic.
Flash is out on March 10. Pre-order here.
DENA plays Birthdays, London, on April 15; Soup Kitchen, Manchester, on April 16; and Bungalows & Bears, Sheffield, on April 17