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10.1.14

Setting the Scene: DAP

Photo Credit: Ayanda Coolins, RI

Let's roll back the clocks to the fourth of December, 2013; the day I first posted about one of my favourite songs of 2013.

I remember mentioning in passing that Shane, DAP and the Creative Elevation guys had made it onto the list of people I just had to have on the blog. It's a fairly tough job getting on the list when your career is just taking off, but these talented chaps make it look easy. Following my interview with Shane, I can proudly say that this STS post is dedicated to yet another name on the list, twenty-year-old Nigerian rapper/producer, Dolapo Akinkugbe who goes by the stage name, DAP.

When we spoke, it was a couple days before he was due to perform at the DRB Concert in Lagos, so we had the interview over Skype. Cue my wi-fi's sudden I'm-working-oh-wait-no-I'm-not hissy fit, making it one of the funniest Skype calls I've ever had. It was basically yours truly, jumping from one surface to the other, holding my laptop up to the ceiling like it's Simba. That's not even the worst bit but thank God for Evernote.

Moving on.

Most times first encounters can be quite awkward, especially when it's done online but I found talking to DAP completely effortless. Intelligent, well-spoken and self-assured, he has this refined yet easy-going charm like he's already got everything figured out. And after reading his rather impressive bio on the Channels TV website, it really does seem like he has. So much so that I just couldn't resist drawing parallels. At age four, he started to play classical music on the piano. But when I was four, I mainly busied myself with growing my Barbie collection. And at seventeen, he was earning an ABRSM Performance diploma while I was having my first ever piano lesson (better late than never, I suppose, haha).

And now he's an equally talented rapper/producer with three mixtapes under his wing and a degree from a prestigious Ivy League university to look forward to. The word 'prodigy' comes to mind, doesn't it? He reminds me of a young J. Dash, only instead of having people do the Wop in their onesies (guilty), DAP's productions and rap style sees him make proper use of his musical prowess, giving his music a mature, polished edge that's pretty outstanding for an up-and-comer.

Hope you enjoy reading the transcript from the interview below, minus the numerous apologies for the poor internet connection.

*

You got into producing when you were fourteen/fifteen, what inspired that decision?

DAP: My friends had started rapping then, but I was the most 'musical' one in the group. I didn't know much about rap then so I figured if they were gonna rap, then I'd just make the beats. My brother had been doing it for a while and my sister's a singer-songwriter, so it just made sense to me. I started when I was fourteen and I've got about four hundred and something beats now.


Whoa, dude [laughs]. And Shane mentioned you only started rapping about two years ago?

DAP: Yeah, I basically just got bored of waiting on other people [laughs]. Whenever I made a beat, I'd ask people if they wanted to use it but they usually didn't for, like, a year. Then I'd rap on one of my beats and they'd be like, "Oh that beat is so hard. Can you send me some more?" So I'd say, "I can't keep sending you beats forever and just watch you just sit on them." That's literally why I started rapping. I knew how to write poetry so I thought, I might as well just do it myself. And when I started rapping, the beats got better. It really helped me see the bigger picture, where the beats needed to go and all that. And as I got better at it, people started coming to me for beats and bars which was cool.


[laughs] I can imagine. So you write poetry as well? Wow.

DAP: Umm, yeah [laughs]. My mum always reminds me that when I was ten, I used to cut out poems and keep them in this little book and I'd write short poems in it as well from English class. But I didn't think anything of it until about a year after I'd gotten into rap. I mean, I knew I'd always liked poetry. And rapping is basically poetry to music so I guess you could say that.


Yeeaah, I think I'll have to sort of disagree with you on that. I mean, technically speaking, yes, rap is basically poetry. But as much as I like rap music, poetry is just... God!

DAP: [laughs] You think they're completely different?



I just can't see them as the same thing [laughs]. But that's just me, I just don't get poetry. I think it might be because of all those hours of English Lit back in high school.

DAP: [laughs] Yeah, no I think they're pretty similar. Like, if Tupac was still alive, I think he'd be the poet of our time. Hip-hop is at the stage now where it's so worldwide, so universal; there's no target colour or culture anymore. And yeah, some people can argue that Tupac isn't a poet because his music's got too much swearing in it or whatever. But at the end of the day, it's art. I mean, you can find some pretty disgusting poems from the greatest poets of all time as well.


Yeah, OK I guess I get that. And in his Earmilk interview, Shane mentioned that you wrote Holiday in a matter of hours. How did that happen?

DAP: Well, after he rapped Where I'm From to me, we had the conversation about how it was too dark to be released during the summer and we decided we needed a contrast to juxtapose it. I got out of school in May and I was bored as hell, so I was making beats literally every single day. So when he came to me, I got the idea about where I wanted to go with it pretty quickly. I was listening to a lot of Chance the Rapper at the time and I was really into that Chicagoan jazzy type of sound, kind of like in J. Cole's Power Trip. I knew I wanted the bars to be pretty simple and then I thought, since Where I'm From focused on the realities of the situation in Nigeria, then let's show people what a holiday's like for us. When we're on holiday, we just make music, kick back and just chill, so the lyrics came pretty easily after that.


Ah, I see. And you released your third mixtape, Unconscious II quite recently?

DAP: Yeah, in September.


Right, how long did it take you to work on that?

DAP: From start to finish, I'd say it took about a year and six months. The majority of the work was done over the three months in the summer. I've had the opening track, Limitless Silence since my nineteenth birthday and just before I left Berklee, I made the mixtape called Goodbye For Now because I just had this wave of inspiration, and that took the whole year. I did six of the Unconscious II tracks over the summer, but the others were spread out over the school year.


Oh, OK and what inspired the Latin extension of the title, Esse Quam Videre? [translation: to be rather than to seem (to be)]

DAP: That's the motto for Berklee. I found it on the cover of a book in the library, so I looked it up and it just complemented the 'unconscious' idea so I went with it.


Oh OK, that makes sense. And from the titles - like Angel's PurgatoryBlack Holes, the Limitless Silence you mentioned - to the production, the mixtape has a really dark, ominous feel to it with a few religious undertones. What were your thoughts exactly when you were working on it?

DAP: Ah, that's an interesting question [laughs]. I don't know if it was intentionally supposed to be dark from the get-go. For some of the songs, the beats were inspired by the topics. For others, the topics followed the beats. Either way, they came from the same place so it does kind of make sense that they lyrics and the production are both quite dark. In terms of what I was actually thinking, it started with the first mixtape, Unconscious which came out two years ago. Sometimes I'd make a beat at night and then I'd go to bed and forget about it. Then after a while, I'd remember what it sounded like and start playing it like I'd made it the day before and all the emotions would just come back to me. I won't say the writing came easily, but it was kind of like muscle memory. It just felt so natural. Like, I was making all these beats unconsciously. That's where the idea came from.

But I wouldn't say I intentionally made the mixtape dark. With Black Holes though, if you remember when Whitney Houston died, BET organized a kind of tribute for her at one of their awards shows. And when MJ (Michael Jackson) died and Amy Winehouse as well, shows like the VMAs and so on paid tributes to them. They were some of the people who really inspired me so that was kind of my tribute to them. Also there's the saying that people always die in three's. That's basically where the concept of Black Holes came from. And Angel's Purgatory was about how the media, and drugs and alcohol kill celebrities. That was kind of the smoker's song on the mixtape, the effects and all that stuff.

And yeah, you also mentioned Limitless Silence. That was inspired by my last piano concert at Harrow. It was just me, an English dude and a few of my Chinese friends, and it was sort of like a competition with like first, second and third place. My mum even flew all the way from Nigeria to watch me.


Awwwww!

DAP: [laughs] Yeah, but to be honest, we weren't really bothered because it was our last show. So I did my piece and then that was that. But then the judicator got to my name and it turned out I won the competition. I honestly did not expect to happen, because my piece wasn't as difficult technically as some of the others'. I think I played a Schubert piece which was about the sound of the music rather than the technical stuff. But the judicator said that when I was playing, I used silence to my advantage and that musicians often forget that silence is the most powerful tool, that it's our loudest sound. Like, you really get people to listen when it's so quiet they can hear a pin drop. And when I played the piece I did leave a pause to let people just take it in before I moved on to the next section. So that's where the idea of Limitless Silence came from. Like, the past two years has really seen the rise of alternative music. Everything's just super-fast singles with the 808s, and just really loud so I wanted to juxtapose all of that with Limitless Silence. I mean the beat switches up halfway through - just standard turn-up stuff - but yeah, that's basically what I was thinking when I wrote that one.


That's really interesting... And for your mixtapes and your career in general, you've worked with Bez [Idakula], DRB Las Gidi, Aifé, Shane, a lot of people you know personally. Who else would like to share a mic with and/or produce for?

DAP: Um, I haven't produced a song for Bez before so I'd really like to do that. Um... is this, like, realistically speaking or just in general?


Realistically speaking.

DAP: Oh OK, then, yeah Bez... Efyah as well. Tiwa Savage. In America, I would love to produce for Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. Uh... I think that's about as far as I could reach right now... I definitely think it's a lot easier with people in our generation. Tyler the Creator, I would love to make a song with him... There are a lot of people, but that's as far as I'd go for now.


Ah well it's a pretty good list so far. And are you working on anything at the moment, any new projects we can look forward?

DAP: Well, I'm working on a fourth EP, Goodbye for Never which is the sequel to Goodbye for Now. I'm really trying to go back to that jazzy sound. I'm also helping Shane out with Chubbziano and Aifé with his Lost EP. I'm only producing one track for that but we'll probably end up making more than we need [laughs]. Then I've got some stuff lined up with Teezee, Efyah and yeah, then I'll just keep making beats.


Cool, cool and where do you see your career in five years?

DAP: Aha... [chuckles] Well we're sort of in a limbo stage right now. Like, we're sort of just poking that... bubble; we're just about to blow up. I mean, after the DRB concert on Monday, I guess I'll know where I stand in Nigeria. I don't really have a big audience in any one place, it's all kind of spread out. But in five years, I'd like to be well-known in Nigeria. I'd like to be able to pull a crowd, in Lagos especially. I'd like to at least be able to perform in the cities where I've been to school in America, even if it is just a few small shows. In terms of material, I'd like to be about four more tapes in, like, a tape a year without sacrificing quality.


OK, now this question is a bit random but I'm curious; why did you decide to move from the UK to the USA after Harrow?

DAP: Well, I applied to Oxford twice and I didn't get in... twice [laughs]. That's probably the best thing that could ever have happened to me though. The first time I applied, I took the SATs and applied to the US as well. I mean, I wanted to study Classics so, you know, if I couldn't go to Oxford, I wasn't going to be stuck in the UK and settle for somewhere like Bristol - no offence to Bristol or anything [laughs]. My sister was studying at Berklee at the time, so when I didn't get in to Oxford, I decided to take a year out at Berklee and then reapply to Oxford. Again, I didn't get in, but Brown [University] said they had an opening so I just went with that, and I've been there for two years now. And I would definitely do it all again exactly the same way, for sure [laughs].

*

We spoke a little bit about Holiday after that and our current favourite rappers. And after the concert, he told me how his performance went - his excitement was electric. It was the sixth time he'd been on stage, third time in front of a Nigerian crowd, and they knew all the words... People were getting pretty excited about it on Twitter as well, which was how I ended up "watching" the concert. One can only hope there'll be another one this year, one that I hopefully won't miss.

Anyway, you can keep up with DAP's music on Sound Cloud and Hulkshare.

Below you'll find Unconscious II: Esse Quam Videre via Sound Cloud for your listening pleasure. I really can't praise it enough. Each track is available for free download on Sound Cloud and Hulkshare as well. I'm currently obsessed with The Pledge and Left Right.

Don't forget to keep your eyes peeled for Goodbye For Never.

Happy listening!

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