Imagine being a 16-year-old from Cape Town and you and get the chance to work with the likes of Kendrick Dean (Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, Usher), Lil Ronnie (Britney Spears, 2 Chainz, Usher, T Pain), K Fam (August Alsina, Destiny’s Child) and five times Grammy Award winner Kuk Harrell (Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Beyonce, Usher). And imagine this all purely happened by chance, as if written in the stars. Sound too good to be true? Not for singer/songwriter Desmond John (now 19), who just released his single, I Mean That. One can be forgiven for mistaking him as one of the megastars on this soon-to-be hit and timeless classic, as it certainly sounds like the latest release of a chart topper just ready to take the number one spot again.

However, Desmond John’s journey was not all sunshine and roses and he had to go through some dark times as well to form the artist he is today, hence the maturity that comes across in his music.

Every fairytale has a dark twist

It all started in 2014 when Desmond John (then 15) was in Johannesburg, recording some songs with a friend in a local studio, and “just delving into some music, never thinking it would become a career”. As luck would have it, a visiting American comedian who was on tour in SA happened to be in the studio, as he had forgotten his mobile charger, and overheard some of the youngster’s material when he went back to collect it. He was immediately impressed and this chance meeting set in motion the wheels that took Desmond John to America a few months later.

In December 2014 Desmond John and his dad visited Atlanta for the first, where they met his soon-to-be first manager Tip Green, who in turn introduced Desmond John to producer DJ Toomp – the man who discovered T.I. and produced for the likes of Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Jay Z, Rick Ross and many others. Toomp was impressed by the talent and Desmond John was taken under the wing of the prestigious team as part of a development deal, where he lived with Green for two years and was mentored by the best in the business.

Says Desmond John: “I’ll be eternally grateful to Tip for what he did for me and I wouldn’t exchange the experience for anything in the world.”

And then tragedy struck! Completely out of the blue, Green fell ill, but Desmond John was not aware of the severity of what was lying ahead. While he was back in South Africa visiting his parents, he received the news that Green had passed away.

“It was incredibly painful. I lost not only a manager but a best friend. It was a very dark period in my life. I devoted my soul into songwriting, which was definitely my saving grace and the best therapy possible. I devoted myself to my music and the songs just flowed. Through this process I grew as an artist and developed my own unique and authentic sound, representing exactly who I am as an artist, and released my first EP I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed,” states Desmond John.

What Desmond John means with I Mean That

After his first two singles, When I Saw You (which Desmond John co-wrote with five time Grammy Award winner, Kuk Harrell) and You Don’t Have To Worry (which he wrote and produced himself), the young star is now back with I Mean That (also self-written and produced). I Mean That is the first single off I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed that Desmond John is releasing to radio. However, his original music has already been streamed more than 125,000 times on Spotify alone, showcasing the huge following he already has.

The video for I Mean That can be viewed at

The release of I Mean That also follows Desmond John’s tour in the UK during January and February this year, where he performed at various venues across the country.

“Originally I Mean That started off with a single guitar riff, which I recorded as a voice note on my phone. I then went into the studio and started singing the first verse…I freestyled the first two lines and I liked the concept. It’s about someone that I had been seeing at the time, and this was the best way I could describe how I was feeling about it. It just grew from there,” explains Desmond John.

He says that all the songs on I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed are a bit cynical, sometimes sarcastic and definitely inspired by personal experiences about some of the darker things that life can throw at you. He says that he places value on relatable and creative songwriting.

Describing his style of music, Desmond John says it is a fusion of R&B, Jazz and Hip-Hop – which gives his songs the definitive Desmond John sound. He plays both guitar and piano, but usually composes on guitar. “I always write the melody first and then shape the lyrics around it. Reason is that people remember the melody before the words when they hear a song for the first time, so I do my utmost to make sure they won’t forget what they’ve heard when listening to my songs,” he adds.

His icons and musical influences mostly stem from old school artists, ranging from Al Green, Earth Wind & Fire, Curtis Mayfield, Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Elton John, The Beatles, Michael Jackson to newer artists who incorporate a similar style, such as Bruno Mars, Drake, Outcast, Majid Jordan, Joria Smith and newcomer, Daniel Caesar.

The rollercoaster ride of Desmond John’s life

Desmond John was born on 28 December 1998 in Frankfurt, Germany to a British father and South African mother. He was named after his two grandfathers – one of whom was a keen singer and one a teacher and poet. But they were not the only ones that Desmond John inherited his talents from, as his mom and uncle also sing and play instruments, although not professionally. Even his father at the age of 10 was part of a choir that performed for the queen of England, in which he had a solo.

At age four, Desmond John and his family relocated to South Africa; they then moved to Johannesburg when Desmond was 6, followed by a move to Cape Town when he was 13. At age 14, Desmond John was playing football and was scouted to go and play soccer for an academy in Munich, Germany, for a year. “I decided to come back for two reasons. Firstly, I was really homesick. And secondly, I realised that I didn’t want to pursue a football career,” he explains. A mere six months later, a chance meeting in a studio in Johannesburg led to Desmond John moving to Atlanta, Georgia in the USA.

As a middle child, Desmond John has an older sister Georgia (20), currently studying towards a PPE degree, and a younger sister Jemma (15), who is still at school.

Apart from speaking English and a bit of Afrikaans, Desmond John is also fluent in German.

Desmond John’s fans describe him as cheeky, ambitious, sarcastic and ultimately goofy. “My emotions and moods fluctuate. One week I’m very self confident, the next I’m riddled with self doubt,” he says.

And good news for the ladies out there – this heartthrob is currently single!

Desmond John is ready to seize his future

Desmond John says that apart from his music career, he is also passionate about fashion and design and would like to further explore these areas in the further too.

For Desmond John, music is what keeps him ticking. “I want to release music that is sustainable, timeless, honest and candid, which I can still perform in 20 or 30 years’ time. I’m in this for the long run, not 15 minutes of fame. I’m grateful for everything that life has thrown my way so far, including the bad times. If it weren’t for the dark periods, I wouldn’t be able to tap into those parts of me, which come through in my music, making me a better artist. I, however, don’t only write about myself – I put myself in others’ shoes and tell the stories about their lives as well.”

In his free time, he enjoys reading, examining the latest fashion, playing soccer and watching British TV comedies.

“All the traveling I did made me realise how much I love Cape Town and what a great city it is. It will always be my base and home,” he adds.

Connect with Desmond John and his music

Desmond John’s EP, I’m Not Angry, Just Disappointed (including I Mean That) is now available on most digital platforms, including iTunes and Google Play. He is planning on releasing his second EP during November this year, followed by his first full length album towards the end of 2019.

He concludes: “I am more passionate about this music than I’ve been about anything. My dream is to be able to tour the world, gain an international fanbase as one of SA’s biggest exports, and along the way win some SAMA and Grammy Awards. As I’ve found out, nothing is impossible.”

Join the conversation with Desmond John on social media – Facebook (IAmDesmondJohn), Twitter (@IAmDesmondJohn) and Instagram (@IAmDesmondJohn).