Artist Spotlight: Donwill
Donwill (one third of critically acclaimed rap crew Tanya Morgan) is quietly carving his own niche within the often murky waters of independent hip-hop. Penning honest and heartfelt odes to love and everything that comes with it, the Brooklyn-based lyricist is steadily challenging “underground rapper” stereotypes.
Donwill brilliantly built anticipation to his just-released solo debut, Don Cusack In High Fidelity, by kicking things off with the smooth album precursor, Laura’s Tape. And as the new album’s title suggests, the music is based on High Fidelity, Donwill’s favorite movie, especially its characters’ nuances.
We caught up with Donwill to speak on the high points of his new album, his ongoing work with some of our biggest brands, his refreshing honesty towards romance and more.
You just released your debut solo album, Don Cusack In High Fidelity. Was the concept a long time in the making?
“The album only took a year to complete start to finish, but the idea had been floating around in my head for a few years. I was looking for something unique to do and while film-inspired LP’s had been done before, I couldn’t think of any that tried to follow the movie in a timeline sort of way. That’s why I call it an adaptation of a film and not simply an album.”
You say the album is based on “being in a perpetual pre mid-life crisis.” How are you dealing with that nowadays?
“It was pretty cathartic! It allowed me to put it out there for myself and be able to look at it. It’s like emptying the contents of your wallet onto a table and then looking like, ‘okay, what don’t I need? What credit cards are about to expire?’ I’d say it helped immensely, being that I’ve lived a pretty extreme few years full of transition and change.”
Leading up to the album’s release you teamed with two of DrJays.com’s hottest brands, Rocksmith Tokyo and FluD Watches, to release Laura’s Tape. How did that collaboration come about?
“Me and the guys at Rocksmith have a great relationship in general. They have always been supportive of my work with the group and I felt like putting that relationship on a more visible level. It just made sense to align with them simply because I think we share the same progressive/fresh take on our respective art forms. The relationship with FluD is newly developing and the guys over there are great also; I look forward to working with again in the future.”
Speaking of brands, both Rocksmith and FluD have strong streetwear roots. Would you describe your personal style as being more on the streetwear side?
“With me it depends on the day. I think I’m very streetwear with an emphasis on simplicity in style. I like clean lines and simple color blocking. Not overly accessorized, but definitely containing elements that play off of one another. I am also into pattern as opposed to color; for me, pattern is the new color. I dress kinda emotionally, meaning if it feels good I wear it but on a ‘just throw anything on’ level I dress more like a skater or some shit, haha. I definitely put energy into my look.”
Your pre-album mixtape, Laura’s Tape, showed a more mellow, romantic side to you as a rapper. What are the advantages of being an MC who doesn’t shy away from showing emotion?
“You know underground hip-hop is often generalized as being a sausage fest and that description—while based on countless experiences to warrant it—is not always correct. My albums are for women who love hip-hop and men who love them. I’m definitely a guy who plays more R&B than rap, but I’m all over the place with my tastes. I think the reason for that is I’ve always envied singers and wished I could sing instead of rap.
“The immediate advantage though is that you put yourself in a space where women appreciate what you do and that’s kinda awesome as a guy who loves women. It also creates an environment where you aren’t confined to being simply [about] braggadocio or swagger.”
You’ve been with Tanya Morgan since 2003 and all three members are pursuing solo efforts this year. How are things with the group?
“The group’s doing just fine actually. I just got an early copy of Von Pea’s solo album and mixtape and it’s sounding really good. It has more of that classic ‘Tanya Morgan’ sound, whereas mine was more of a departure. We are talking to Ilyas about his direction right now but he has so much music to pick from it’s gonna be difficult to pin down exactly what he puts out this early.
“As far as the group project we’re in the early stages of putting the material together. Just picking beats and deciding the appropriate mood of the body of work, but we put a rough estimate date of Spring 2011 on it.”
For those who are yet to check out a Tanya Morgan or Donwill release, the last question is simple. Why should they?
“We make lifestyle music. The same way people who rock Nike‘s only—our fans are diligent and know what to expect when they see that red cassette or the Tanya Morgan name and that’s quality. Everything from our rhymes to beats to presentation to stage show is well-crafted and thought out. We want to make loving music an experience again, and if a person is interested in having a connection to their music they should come over to the ‘Brooklynati’ side.”
Download Donwill’s Laura’s Tape mixtape: http://donwill.bandcamp.com/album/lauras-tape-mixed-by-dj-kingmost
Check out Donwill performing his single “Laura’s Song” at this year’s SXSW Festival:
Upcoming Tanya Morgan show dates:
First Book Charity Concert: 7;30pm Friday April 30 @ Crash Mansion, New York City. Tickets are $12, with all proceeds going to First Book.
Bamboozle Music Festival: 1:45pm (B-Boy Stage) Saturday, May 1 @ the Meadowlands Arena, New Jersey. Performing alongside Paramore, Ke$ha, and Drake.