Derrick Branch uncovers the dark consequences of the hip-hop lifestyle

Derrick Branch

Derrick Branch @scooterboi

Sunlight does not become Derrick Branch.

As the Sunday morning rays penetrate the front of Anelace Coffee in northeast Minneapolis, Branch sits in his leather jacket, a marled gray T-shirt stretched across the birdcage of his ribs. His hair, typically an anime-esque fan that sweeps across his eyes and forehead, is bundled under a scarf as he moves hastily through the shafts of daylight.

Branch’s milieu is the dark and the reprehensible. His new album, Deadvibes, out April 30, navigates the internal turmoil that bubbles up between consciousness and unconsciousness, weaving together stories of late-night hustling, Xanax, and betrayal. It’s an album best played when you’re trying to suppress the creeping feeling that you hate yourself.

Deadvibes is the way I feel about everything,” Branch says, explaining his inspiration for the album’s dour tone. “There’s a culture where, if I said to you, ‘I feel sad, and I feel like I wanna do some crazy stuff to myself,’ a regular person would say, ‘No, don’t do that, be positive.’ In that culture, they’d be like, ‘Me too bro, tell me what you wanna do to yourself.’”

Branch admits that much of the gunslinging and drug running in his lyrics is the work of a persona, but Deadvibes adds a crucial aspect to the popular narrative of hip-hop. The singular pursuit of cash and popularity. The endless weed and lean. The emotion-eschewing machismo. When high begins to fade, the emptiness of the lifestyle creeps in. It’s from this darkness that Branch’s music springs.

“[My songs] aren’t really made to listen to,” Branch says. “You put them on, and they create this mood. When you’re in a room, and you hear it, it just changes the mood in the room. That’s what I envisioned.”

Branch comes from a background of metal and hard rock, and he uses that experience to formulate his dark answer to hip-hop. On “Dead Gang,” he screams a reference to 2014 Slipknot opus “Duality” to describe his love for Xans. On Deadvibes opening track “Bodies Hit the Floor,” he combines elements from Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck WU” and Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” to articulate just how savage he’s ready to get in pursuit of rap stardom.

Rap is relatively new to Branch. When he was studying music production, he was listening to more Linkin Park and Fall Out Boy. “I didn’t even listen to that much rap back then, and I didn’t know much about it,” Branch says. “I didn’t care for it. It didn’t sound like it had any meaning behind it.”

But his work put him in the studio with a lot of local rappers, and he started to learn the culture. He set a goal to write 15 16-bar verses a day until he internalized the genre’s mechanics and gestures. He studied Drake and Lil Wayne to learn how to create dense internal rhymes as well as nonsensical punchlines, and he came out the other side with the tools to add his twisted interpretation.

The money, sex, and substances that permeate so many hip-hop verses are all distractions from the depressing emptiness of life; when any one of those three runs out, there must be a reckoning. In recent years, R&B has grown to reflect this, battling with hip-hop’s existential fallout, and it’s here that Branch finds an unexpected point of resonance.

The quasi-title-track “Deadvibeslofi” sounds like it was written under the tutelage of the Weeknd, the soul-searching “Skrrt Away” an intense confessional. Branch’s balance between trap, metalcore, and R&B is precarious, but it captures a fullness of despair that no one genre conveys on its own.

As the sun nudges further up the sky, Branch’s anxiety resurges. He gulps down his mocha—which had gone untouched the previous half hour—in two loud slurps. He hardly makes it through an answer without rerouting. When asked how he defines a “dead vibe,” Branch launches into a garbled mission statement that makes it clear that the paranoia and determinism on the record is no act.

“People can’t come to me and tell me, ‘This is how you’re supposed to look, this is how you’re supposed to be, this is how you’re supposed to talk,’” Branch says. “If I don’t wanna do it, it’s not part of my reality. My fans, I call them Dead Gang. We’re not gonna hear what people have to say about our differences. We’re not gonna let someone effect our emotions. That shit is dead.”

Branch almost never performs live. He’s averse to networking with other local rappers. His domain is his home studio, where he toils excessively. He might not be pointing laser-guided pistols at his enemies like he claims on “Sad Boy,” but it’s easy to imagine those enemies when you’re so embroiled in your own work you never leave the house. It can make you feel like there’s no escape other than imagination and archetypes. And when even those fail, you have no choice but to reject everything living and shun the daylight.