Guestlist met up with Donae'o, one of UK’s undoubtable kings of the underground scene

Other | Tuesday 7th July 2015 | Jelena

Ever since breaking onto the scene at the age of 16 when he made his debut with ‘My Philosophy (Bounce)’ in 2001, Donae'o has been producing classic bangers such as ‘I’m Fly’, ‘Party Hard’, ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’, and ‘African Warrior’! 

How are you? Life treating you good?
Good man! It’s summer time so I am happy.

Where are you from?
I was born in London. My mother is from Ghana in West Africa and my dad is from Guyana, South America.

Do you get inspiration for your music from your family heritage?
Yeah! Definitely some afrobeat and Caribbean influences in my music!

How did you get into music?
When I was 6 years old, my dad played me a rap tape that featured Kool Moe Dee and KRS One. I just heard the music and thought that I want to do this!

Who has been your musical influences?
Growing up it was 2 Pac, Biggie, and D’Angelo. Biggie and D’Angelo were quite big influences as well as Boyz II Men. Right now I'm listening to a lot of Young Thug, and Future as well as afrobeats and trap.

Do you have any song at the moment that you play on repeat?
Oh yeah Future’s ‘Commas’!

How would you describe yourselves as an artist?
I would describe myself as a collective artist. I sing, produce and rap. I try to do as much I can.

Do you prefer doing something on your own or collaborations?
I am used to doing solo things, but I am trying to do more collaborations. I feel that sometimes working in a team can actually bring out the best in everyone because everyone is pushing for the same goal. It's almost like you are not only responsible for yourself. So right now I am enjoying collaborating more.

What would be your dream collaboration with any rapper/singer or producer?
Jay-Z! He is my idol man! My whole career business wise has been based on Jay-Z and how he has done his scenario with Roc-A-Fella etc. That’s what I am on.

How do you separate yourself from other artists?
I don’t really try to separate myself. I just do what feels right and that always happens to be unique. Everybody has something unique about them. If you are just comfortable by being yourself you will always end up making a unique style of music.

Has your instinct helped you music wise in your career?
Yeah! You also have to find the right people to listen to. Someone might have a different aspect on what you are doing, and it might be a better opinion than what you had, you know? Sometimes it is good to have people around you as long as you can trust their opinion. But initially, yeah my instincts have been quite strong.  

What was the inspiration for the song 'Devil In A Blue Dress'?
When I was younger I got bullied quite badly so I never really started to have a social life until I was 18. But then I went to college and the Donae’o thing kind of blew up. But then again I didn't quite have a social life as the fame became a bit too much for me. When I was around 21, 22 , I decided to get a job and just live a normal life. And that’s when I started to become confident with women. The ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’ was a story about that moment. I kind of blossomed late.

How important is the video making process behind your music?
It wasn't that important because I was quite happy being underground. I was not really comfortable with the attention. But the videos put all of the pieces together. 'African Warrior’, ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’, ‘Party Hard’, they all have different aspects to them.  So I can see why people would think that it’s from different artists. The video actually puts it all together into one thing.

What is your favourite video?
My favourite one would be the record ‘You Don’t Know About Me’ that Morgan Kees produced.

What song of yours captures the true essence of “Donae'o”? 
The true essence of me!? My new one ‘Mami No Like’. You kind of see me grow up with the song ‘Devil In A Blue Dress’. And then ‘African Warrior’ is another realisation of who I am. And then ‘Party Hard’ was a story about me and my friends going to the Hills every Friday. I kind of had to grow up in a short period of time because everyone else was a bit more socially experienced then I was. But now ‘Mami No Like’ is about my experience with a girlfriend and how I see things. I am quite a serious person but I'm also quite fun! And I think that song is a perfect mixture of that. The music in itself is bubbly and you can dance to it, it's fun. But the topic is quite serious. So I would say that the new one is a true representation of who I am as a person.

Are your songs personal based or influenced by other people’s experiences?  
My new songs are definitely more personal based! Even for my liking, but I am trying a lot of new things at the moment. And I see a different response with the music that I make now. People are listening more and relating more to the songs, which means that they have a stronger attachment to the songs. I don’t want to be too serious but at the same time why can’t a dance song have topics that people can relate to on a serious level whilst still being fun? Why can you not have both?

What’s your message behind your music?
Every song is different. The main thing with ‘Mami No Like’ is that I want you to dance, but also involve emotions. I'm not really a person that’s comfortable with love. I don’t really like to give myself over easily. So that song was quite a sad song because it was a song about struggle and opening yourself up to someone else. So every song has a different meaning but I always end up putting myself into songs. Right now am just kind of open.

What has been the biggest struggle in your life?
Getting used to being sociable because I was bullied from primary school to secondary school. And then I blew up at 17 as Donae’o but I still went back into my shell even though I was a bit more sociable. Then I got over the bullying thing, but became more aggressive. The biggest struggle was to grow up in the spotlight and become sociable while dealing with my ADHD at the same time. Just handling all of this while trying to live a normal life has been the biggest struggle.

What advice would you give young people that are getting bullied?
It's hard you know. Considering my scenario, because I had ADHD I was quite hyperactive as a kid, so I was different in a way. But sometimes you could just be hanging out with the wrong kids. I am quite a nerdy kid at heart. I got along with the kids that liked Star Trek and school work but wanted to hang out with the cool kids. If I had a son, I would probably ask him "why are you hanging with kids that don’t like you?" That is the main thing. I was a big kid so nobody physically hurt me. I got rushed once or twice but it took like 20 kids to beat me up. My dad was an army guy so he didn't want to teach me how to fight. I didn't learn how to fight properly until I was 20 years old. I think if my dad just said "just punch them up", because I was not into violence back then neither, I would have fought back and it would have been different. I would not advise violence! But speaking from my scenario, if I would have fought back physically I could have ended a lot of scenarios quicker. When I got older, I realised that you will always have people attacking you, you just have to stand up for yourself. If I have kids I wouldn't want them to be bullies or bullied. But unfortunately it is a part of life. You just have to learn how to stand up for yourself. Sometimes you can put things on the right track for yourself; hang out with people that love you! These kids might be cool but the kids that you are hanging out with can be cool in somebody else’s eyes. Be around your own people.

How does America compare to England music wise?
In America there is loads of music but it all seems to build up into one thing. But over here, there is just a melting pot of everything! Everyone is influenced by each other! I think that’s one of the biggest differences.

Who would you party hard with? 2 Pac, Biggie or Snoop Dogg?
Snoop! I'd smoke weed with him for a bit, but not as much as he smokes though! But would definitely like to party with him.

A private jet is waiting outside to take you to any destination, where would you go?
I love England man to be honest with you! I was born in London, and a lot of my music originates from here. My friends and family are here, I just love it. You will never ever have a country that has such a mix and variety of music like England.

What does the future hold for Donae'o?
I am going back to making funky house because that’s my love. ‘Mami No Like’ is my first bit on that, so I will be pushing that as well as the song for a long time. I will be working on making an album as well! 

Check out the video for 'Mami No Like' right here!