Snowfall star Damson Idris uses hip-hop as a soundtrack for 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 for hip-hop has helped him with his role as Franklin Saint, his character on the hit FX series Snowfall. Born and raised in Peckham, U.K., Damson, 29, was first introduced to old school hip-hop by his older brother then later on to more current hip-hop by his friends. The actor was a huge fan of 50 Cent, but also took to other U.S. artists such as Jay-Z, Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. along with U.K. artists like Giggs and Ghetts.
Here, Damson discusses listening to classic West Coast hip-hop on set, his love for Kendrick Lamar and 50 Cent, working with WC and how hip-hop is his soundtrack for life.
XXL: What was the hip-hop scene like in London when you were growing up?
Damson Idris: Me and all my friends loved 50 Cent. Especially, when Get Rich or Die Tryin’ came out. Me and my close friend, we actually used to wear the G-Unit sneakers. Yeah, we were die-hard fans, man. I loved that whole album. It was mostly gangsta rap when I was growing up. But, on the U.K. side, my brother Giggs. That’s the music I loved.
What was it about hip-hop that made you a fan?
The thing that made me a fan of hip-hop was it’s unapologetically Blackness. Hip-hop was just itself. It was unapologetically hip-hop. Whatever that artist was feeling in that moment, that artist was going to say. That has complemented the roles I play, how I play them and the stories I wanna tell. The stories I wanna tell are unapologetic stories that talk about the Black experience and show us in our truth. Show us in our positive light and negative light, but above all things, show us in general.
Snowfall takes place in Los Angeles during 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 go into character, man. I was listening to a lot of Snoop [Dogg], too, man. That’s my big bro right now. To be listening to him to get into character, now he’s my friend? He texts me. That’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 out in the West Coast had a part in Franklin Saint.
You’ve worked with rappers on the Franklin Saint character, right? Wasn’t WC your accent coach?
Yeah, so [creator] John Singleton brought in WC in the beginning. Not so much for dialect because I already knew how to do the accent. That’s why they wanted to give me the part. It was more so just stories, the soul, the culture. There were stories and conversations that me and WC had that you’d never know unless you were from that time.
If you’re from South Central, L.A. and you’ve got the part of Franklin, you would still be like, Let me see… That’s how rooted and authentic this man is. If you weren’t that age from that time, you’ll never understand. You’ll always have unanswered questions. So, that’s what I needed WC for 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 set, I just feel safer. We all feel safer. I said, “I got this, but every single actor who comes in here isn’t from here. The same way you taught me to walk the walk, I want you to do that for them, too.”
Are there any rappers that you’d like to meet one day that you haven’t already?
I feel like I’ve met every rapper from the top to the bottom. And, if I haven’t met them in person, they’ve hit me on the DM to show love. It’s such a pop culture show. I’ll be hanging out with Tyler, The Creator to Diddy to [A$AP] Rocky, to whoever. To YG, to [Drake] and OVO. Everyone’s really supportive of my journey.
Is there a rap album that you can’t live without?
Kendrick Lamar’s To 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 turn up.
Spot on, yeah! When I’m ready to flex.
Check out more from XXL’s Spring 2021 issue including Cardi B’s cover story, how rappers are legally making money from the cannabis boom and the social justice that comes with it and more.
See Cardi B’s Photo Shoot in XXL Magazine’s Spring 2021 Issue