The beauty of rap music in its current state is the range of musical styles artists are willing to experiment with. Artists like B L A C K I E channel a punk-like aggression while Young Thug takes auto tune-era Wayne and creates a near-tribal element to his music. The bounds are looking limitless and the walls of the old guard are being torn down (don’t let Troy Ave tell you any different!). Philly’ native, DonChristian, brings his own style to the table as well. Cloudy, weighted and melodic, his rap falls into introspective and romantic states almost exclusively. He shouts out Drake for his honesty and likens himself to Odysseus in his latest project, Renzo Piano. It’s named after the world-famous architect whose vision has brought the New York Times building and the Whitney Museum of American Art to life, among a host of other works. To find out how Piano has inspired Christian to name a rap release after him and how he manages to make romantic rap not sound cheesy, I got to chat with Don recently. Check it:
True Laurels: Your recent project, Renzo Piano, is named after the renowned architect of the same name. Aside from you liking how his name sounds, were there any specific works of his that you feel correlate with yours?
DonChristian: Yeah his structures are really wild in the way that they exist in the sites and I really admire his work because it’s so site-specific. Work that’s curated and built for a space is something that’s always fascinated me. One in particular is his workshop in Genova. It’s this mountain-side office space that he built into a cliff. It’s so ill. I always dream of working in a space that’s built for your craft. His work is just so suited for light, movement and programming.
A lot of creatives who wear different hats often struggle with overexerting themselves and how to be equally committed to multiple mediums. Being a painter and musical artist, how do you manage? Or are you struggling as well?
DC: That’s mad poignant to my life right now. I’m thinking about it more than ever. I think I’ve always been trying to balance but my end goal is to be able to think of it all as just art-making and have it be less specific to the individual mediums. I won’t have to say I’m a painter, singer, rapper and a performer. I’d rather just be an artist.
Your delivery is distinct in its ambiguity and flow. Did you develop that intentionally?
DC: It’s mostly the way I translate rap. I listen to a lot of shit and I’m open to letting it rub off on me. Flows are the most exciting thing about rap because of the diversity of delivery and cadence. When I hear Young Thug, I get mad inspired. I’m always trying to do something different the next time.
How would you say being surrounded by artists like Le1f and others in your circle help you to churn out material and develop your own identity as an artist?
DC: It all tends to work because of the fact that we’re friends. I don’t feel like I have to uphold some standard of something; it’s all organic and I make work that my friends would fuck with because, above all else, I respect them most. If they can’t rock with it I know I’m doing something wrong. I just really try to be sincere and honest about what I say.
On Renzo Piano, you liken yourself to a pastor, priest and a clerk. What’s the common thread with those three that you see in yourself or your artistry?
DC: Being a pastor, you’re in charge of a congregation and you have the platform to convey a message. A priest has a more reflective denotation to it and more introspective stance. A clerk is about business and being efficient. I try to be all those things.
You give a shout to Drake on “Designed II Work” when you say “It takes a real dude to say what he means.” Why do you think vulnerability is such a rarity for people?
DC: I think there are systems in place be it religion, education or whatever that are hindrances to vulnerability and honesty. They’re supposedly founded on all these values, they’re really not. We’re taught and fed the opposite of what we need to thrive. It’s hard to be vulnerable and let yourself make mistakes and have flaws.
Is it easy for you?
DC: I’ve always been a very sensitive dude but I’ve only been cognizant of how sensitive I really am since I started making art and showing it to people. Making songs and letting people hear them made me realize it’s levels to this shit (laughs). I’m more aware and more vocal about what I think. You still have to find a balance though and it’s hard because you don’t wanna hurt people’s feelings or step on their toes.
Your music is melodic, lush and romantic. Is that an extension of your everyday personality or is that something that writing brings out of you?
DC: I’m definitely a romantic person and that probably comes off. And when I’ve recently began to sing, it’s all starting to come out. Especially when I’m performing, I get really into it like I wouldn’t expect.
What artists—musical, visual, or otherwise—have had the biggest impact on you as a person?
DC: Musically, Erykah Badu has always been mother to me. She’s the first person that made me immediately aware of vulnerability when it comes to performance. Barkley Hendricks is another guy who’s a painter from Philly. He did portraiture of people he met on the street in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and was kind of like a predecessor to Kehinde Wiley. He captured emotion and style in such a great way. He inspired me to paint. And my aunt Karen, yo. She’s a dancer in Philly who danced and taught at this school called Philadanco. If anyone instilled some performative bug in me it was her, just from watching.
I read that you didn’t start recording until you got done with school and moved to NYC. What effect did the city have on you that led you to start making and pursuing music?
DC: If you don’t work, it’s not gonna happen for you here. Everybody is trying to do the same thing. So I got here, got my apartment, got a computer and it was just a matter of doing it. I went really hard for a year and I’m still going hard. I’ve worked like six jobs since I’ve been here. I’m a freelance painter so there are times where I have a week off and I can really sit down and work on my music shit and outside art. You gotta make your rent and your dreams happen at the same time here.
Are you happy with the sound you’ve began to carve out or do you want to start exploring different textures and energy levels with your music?
DC: To be honest, I’m happy because I know I’m making the music I wanna make. Now I definitely wanna do new shit. I realized that I wanna keep singing and I’m working on a summer EP that’ll be more high tempo.
Describe your most rewarding performance.
DC: It was recent. Me and Jungle Pussy opened up for Le1f at Music Hall of Williamsburg. It was surreal. We packed the house and it was flooded with people that came to see Le1f. He makes me so proud; to see all these people moving in sync and mouthing every single word of his music...it was remarkable. To be in that vibe was so cool. We gave it our all and we’re all friends. It was really familial.
Follow DonChristian on Twitter- @don_jones