This week, Blog is spotlighting five Brown and RISD student musicians, all of whom will be performing this Saturday night at the Bodega Beats live session at The Spot Underground. We’re publishing all interviews of one musician talking to another.
Earlier this week, we had the event’s two DJs, Michael Moyal (aka Mulga) and Raye Sosseh (aka Chartreux) interview each other. Jahi Abdur-Razzaq Brown ’17 also interviewed fellow rapper Sebastián Otero Oliveras Brown ’18. A few days ago, Dolapo Akinkugbe Brown ’16 (aka DAP the Contract) interviewed Jahi. Now, it’s DAP’s turn to be in the spotlight. You can check out DAP’s work on his SoundCloud.
Keep reading to find out about his working with Mark Ronson (yes, for real), the influence of his Nigerian roots on his music, and why his post grad plans might include law school.
Sebastián: So, DAP, you recently got back from Abbey Road Studios. Let’s just start with that.
Dolapo: Yeah, that’s a good place to start. That was this competition Converse does where they have artists apply. They have 84 artists go to 12 different studios around the world, and you’re given a mentor. Mark Ronson was my mentor, which was amazing. And he was mad cool, super laid-back, and made me feel comfortable. We made three songs together on a Friday, and then I worked on stuff with the horn section on a Saturday. So it was just like a perfect music weekend, really, in the best studio ever.
S: How did you feel when you entered Abbey Road?
D: I remember the first day, it was like a video when me and my sister walked in, and I was just silent. The best thing about the room was that when it’s silent–nothing sounds like that ever in life. It sounds perfectly silent but noisy at the same time.
You can hear anything in the room—it’s a big room—and you can hear every single detail in the room. It’s like the perfect noisy-silence, because you can hear a little hum, like you can hear the room breathe, but it’s perfectly quiet. That was the first thing I noticed. I didn’t even play any keyboards. We didn’t touch anything for the first ten minutes. We just sat there in silence, and it was just crazy.
S: Do you think that this is one of DAP’s greatest accomplishments?
D: For sure. That and performing at the Saatchi Gallery in London were the two biggest landmarks so far. Nothing comes close to that, really.
S: How do you feel after doing all these things? How did it start and then lead to all these accomplishments?
D: All my boys started rapping when I was fourteen in high school. I would only produce and I didn’t want to rap. I started rapping at eighteen. It’s been a long, gradual building, but even now I still feel like I haven’t started yet. I feel like having a long-term mentality is the most important thing, so I’m looking at when I’m thirty-five, that’s like halfway. I want to be able to be active until I’m, like, fifty, and then start to slow down.
I’m thinking: I haven’t gotten signed; I don’t have a deal; I don’t have a band I can play with any time I want onstage. If I have a show, I have to do a lot of promotion to even have a show. Not to say that everything that’s happened so far is premature, but I still have a lot to do to get there. It just happened to happen a little sooner.
But there’s a lot of groundwork that hasn’t been done to be in a place like Abbey Road or performing at the Saatchi Gallery. It’s weird, I feel like I’ve done so much, and I still haven’t done anything. Which is what it is, some people take ten years to blow up, fifteen years even, so I just keep my head in the work side of it.
S: Has DAP The Contract changed its sound or its image since you started until now? How did you see yourself six years ago and how do you see yourself now? Has there been a transformation?
D: There’s definitely been a transformation, but it’s been honing in on what was already there, just more specifically. So when I started off I would just take whatever I liked and I could recreate all of that. So it would be whatever genre, whatever instrumentation, whatever lyrical content, whatever subjects, topics I’m talking about, whatever it is. I got a new manager, and he just keeps sending me back home. Like, where are you from, what did you grow up on? You can rap and you can do hip hop, but what are your elements? So all my music has just progressively been getting more and more directly Nigeria-influenced.
And before some of the elements were there, some of the percussion was there, some of the rhythm, some of the melodies were there, but it was still very hip hop, very American. The funny thing is I used to not like the music I would hear in Nigeria about six years ago, like exactly six years ago. I used to just not feel it, and then it wasn’t until this past Christmas holiday that I had in Nigeria that I completely fell in love with Nigerian music. I listened to only Nigerian music the whole of January and February after Christmas holidays.
And then my manager came along and told me go home, what are your influences. That’s what people haven’t heard before. And then it all culminated right as I went to Abbey Road, and the songs I made at Abbey Road are very, very Nigerian. It was interesting. So my next project, that’s the focus right now: my elements, like being Nigerian and playing the piano and trying to bring those out as opposed to just making good music.
S: Before you started producing, you were a classical pianist. Did you also play Nigerian music?
D: No, unfortunately. I go to church every Sunday still when I’m home and my mom plays the organ in church. We always go to shows. There’s a lot of Nigerian music. Highlife and Afrobeat, those are two flavors of Nigerian music, there’s more but those are the two main ones. And I was always around all of that. I was always subconsciously influenced by it, but I never learned Nigerian songs on the piano, never played them. It was just strictly classical music, and then whatever I would hear, whatever would come to me in the car or on the radio, my siblings playing, my parents playing them. It was a weird situation living in Nigeria and not really interacting with Nigerian music a lot, as a musician.
S: Why did you choose hip hop? Because you are a really good singer, too.
D: Thank you, man. I still don’t look at myself as a singer. That’s an argument I always have with all the old-school people. My sister is our generation, but she’s an old soul, so between her and my parents and a lot of Nigerians, all the music you hear is eighties down backwards. So, I think it was partly just wanting to represent our generation.
I feel like hip hop is probably the strongest, I think–maybe I’m biased because I listen to a lot of hip hop–but I feel like it’s a stronger youth genre, you know? Everyone wants to be involved with the culture. It’s not just the genre, it’s a wider-spreading culture I would say. So I guess it was like trying to live in 2015 but to bring all of the eighties, seventies, sixties forward to this time. And I feel like hip hop is the one that spoke to me the most and that’s why it is the most quickest-growing because it’s the most direct. You don’t need the melodies, you don’t need instrumentation, you can put a loop on a terrible beat and peo
ple will listen if you’re saying something important that catches them and they relate to it. The lyricism is so important, and that’s what spoke to me.
S: Something really interesting, too, is, with a few exceptions, hip hop is not that poetic. It’s very straightforward. It’s a genre that lends itself to that.
D: Yeah, there’s very direct hip hop. That’s what caught me at first is how direct it was. There’s no sugarcoating. It’s like this is what it is and that’s how it started is talking about reality, like what’s really happening. It’s like the news source, you know? But it can be made colorful and super-poetic and intricate and detailed.
But I also study classics, and in classics you learn the whole culture of ancient Greece and Latin language and Roman culture. The reason I do it is for the poetry. Not even the prose, specifically the poetry is so detailed. The position of a word matters, the vowels, the sound, the rhythm, the consonants, and every single tiny detail matters.
Growing up, I started learning Latin and Greek when I was twelve, at the same time I started liking hip hop. So that deciphering language and poetry all came together. As I was doing that, I started falling in love with classics at the same time. The music that had the most direct poetry in a song, the melody as the forefront as opposed to the lyrics, that’s what hooked me and it just never let me go.
S: I think this is a very smart combination, studying Classics and music. Because, for example, someone that wants to study cinema, he or she should definitely study literature. So I could see the parallelism with what you’re doing.
D: I agree, because people don’t pay attention to the methodology and they think it’s more about the content. If you’re a cinematographer you want to go learn the electronics of it and this and that, but really the element of cinematography is telling stories. How does music help that story be told? I didn’t discover that for a while, man. People used to say, you study classics and music? And I would look at them and think that is crazy, and I can’t explain it. But now, I look at people think about it for a second and it makes sense. I never realized what the parallel was, but now it makes sense that it’s all the same thing that I love in each.
S: What is DAP The Contract’s next project?
D: My next project is hopefully, I keep saying six or seven, but a between five and eight track EP. I want to say EP because it’s not my debut album, even though I already feel like I made debut albums because I produce all my own stuff and I’m so careful with every detail, but those are still mixtapes. I guess a shorter project than my last ones, all of them, and more where I am now mentally.
I’m very much at home, missing home, loving the music that’s coming out of home. Nigerian music is in a very tense space right now, in a good way, like it’s very bubbling to the surface on the cusp of something great. People are really looking out for that sound, those island energies, those beachy sounds, that’s the kind of energy Nigerian music has. A very happy, very positive music. That’s what it sounded like so far.
I also don’t want to throw away all the hip hop influences–the jazz, the soul, the house-y UK trap, everything. But there’s very much a honing in on being Nigerian. It’s dropping hopefully January or February. I have like three tracks from Abbey Road hopefully that’ll be in there and another six on top of that. Then it’s a matter of sacrificing your babies. That’s the worst part of making a project. You’re like, okay this track can’t be on here, but it’s your favorite song, but it just doesn’t fit the order, the vibe. I’m almost there, it’s a matter of choosing the right songs.
S: After you graduate, are you going to take a break to concentrate on music? Maybe tour a little bit?
D: That’s like the biggest conversation in my life right now. I’m having it with my whole family and my parents. I want to go to law school, but not necessarily now. My parents feel like, and they’re probably right, that if I don’t go now I’ll probably never go. If I take a year off to do music, I’m going to go so hard with my music, I’ll probably never go to law school. I was at Abbey Road Friday and Saturday 25th and 26th of September, and October 3rd, the week after, I took the LSAT, the law school application test. That week represents my whole life. I’m being pulled in both directions and I don’t know which one’s going to win.
I’ve stopped trying to choose one. I’m trying to work as hard as possible to get into the best law school, work as hard as possible in my music, and whichever one wins, I’ll have to accept. If it doesn’t seem worth it to go right into music as I graduate, I’ll go to law school. It’s not going to hurt me. Some people don’t even have the chance to go to high school. So the opportunity in the first place to be able to go to law school—this is what my dad tells me—is, like, music isn’t going to go away.
Whereas everyone in the music industry is telling me music has an expiry date. You’ve got to go when it’s time, time is important. But he’s like, you’re going to be 25 and be just as good, if not better, and wiser. To sustain a longer term career, not burn out after three years, and make better music. A law degree is invaluable, especially in the music industry where everyone is trying to screw you over left and right.
When you come out of Brown, you have a Classics degree that builds your intelligence and the way you think, but a law degree, that builds your intelligence that much more and it protects you. It just generally makes you a better thinker. It just depends. Wherever I end up is where I’m meant to be. If I take a year off and then do music forever, I’ll survive, I’ll be fine. If I go to law school, all the better.
It’s all going to boil down to March. I feel like everything’s going to come to a head in March. After I’ve applied to law schools, heard back from the law schools I applied to. After I’ve put out my EP and it’s had a month to circulate. That’s when the decisions are going to be tough. So we’ll see what happens. And that’s when I have my last shows at Brown. It’ll be a sad time, but it’ll be a happy time, too.
S: Any final words?
D: Final words, man. Hard work over everything. Ten thousand hours. Hours of hard work and nothing can stop you from doing what you want to do. That’s my mantra.
S: Bodega Beats live sessions.
D: Live sessions. Saturday. The Spot. Providence. Downtown. Be there.
Image via Bodega Beats.