“The color symbolizes a lot. Hope. Optimism. It’s the brightest color on the spectrum. I’m from a dark place–it’s my way of sharing light.”
That was Dougie F’s response to Sway, when the veteran interviewer asked him, “Why a yellow durag?” in reference to the title of his forthcoming project.
For the Orange, New Jersey native, Yellow Durag, out tomorrow (September 15), is about bringing positive energy to listeners. “I play it on a rainy day like, ‘Let me see if this lift my mood’,” Dougie tells me over the phone. “I want this project to be people’s rose-colored glasses.”
In an era when countless hip-hop artists are choosing to not use their platform responsibly, Dougie F is a breath of fresh air. While many listeners are content separating the artist from their art, Dougie understands what it means to be popular in the internet age, and he doesn’t attempt to hide behind his music. "I don’t want to just affect people with music, but moreso, I want to affect people with my actions," he says.
With Yellow Durag, Dougie isn’t delivering any deep messages with his lyrics, but rather uplifting listeners through bright production and melodies. Shifting focus away from rapping can be tough for a surprisingly adept lyricist, which is one reason Dougie resisted listening to more lyrical rap while working on the album. “That’s what got me into rapping. I’m trying to avoid it,” he says, “because if I hear it, I might just want to bar it up nonstop, and that’s not the kind of music I want to make right now.”
A desire to uplift is also why, over the past nine months leading up to the release of Yellow Durag, Dougie has delivered his message by spending time visiting Boys & Girls Clubs "just making sure [the kids] have someone to talk to them.” He's accomplished a lot career-wise during this time period, from releasing a popular single ("Home Girl") and touring with KYLE to landing on several Spotify playlists and gaining traction with his Yellow Durag brand, but if you ask him, it's the time spent with the children at the Boys & Girls Clubs that stands as his biggest achievement of 2017.
With the album more-or-less finished since January, Dougie has spent the past eight-plus months, as he says, "building his character," in an effort to better spread the entire yellow vibe. There are physical changes, which include running and working out to stay in shape and help with long performance sets, and quitting smoking ("I still drink, you know"). Most important are the mental changes, though. "Mentally, I've been picking up books," he says. "It starts with mindset. I’ve started to change how I think, with the law of attraction and all that.” Proof of these changes can be seen on a vision board at his home, which he says allows him to wake up to a view of his short- and long-term goals and objectives every morning.
The long wait to release the project had other positive effects too. “By me waiting, the Yellow Durag brand is way bigger,” he says. “I got better mixes, and I strengthened all my relationships. Also, all of my past releases were in the fall, so this just worked out.”
While Dougie hasn't felt pressed to release a steady stream of music, patiently moving at his own pace and not letting other artists' success drive him off course, the decision does come with risk. In a hip-hop landscape that tends to reward quantity over quality and keeping the market flooded, Dougie decided to hit the brakes on his output after finding success with his last project, 2015's Block Party.
In the days leading up to the release of Block Party, Dougie and his friends spotted heavy smoke near his old block. After driving over to investigate, they discovered a burning house with two adults outside, and four children (two boys, two girls) trapped on the top floor. The people at the scene were yelling at the kids to jump to the overhang, but the two younger boys were frozen in fear. The older sister pushed them out, but instead of following suit, she went in search of her baby sister and disappeared back into the flames, never to re-emerge.
“People out here ain’t even making sacrifices for shit they love. She could have lived or she could have tried to save her sister. I always want to remind myself of that—take risks,” Dougie told me, showing me a picture of the burnt house that he keeps with him at all times to serve as a reminder.
Taking risks is certainly nothing new for the artist. Before he was known as Dougie F, the man born Douglas Ford withdrew from classes at Virginia Union University to avoid placing any more of a financial burden on his mother, who was saving for her wedding. Instead, he finished out his last semester in his dorm, spending his days freestyling and honing his skills over his roommate's beats. Always keen at building and maintaining relationships, Dougie finessed a spot as an opener at an SGA concert that featured Rick Ross, Jadakiss and more. Dougie F was born.
Back in New Jersey, Dougie performed every chance he could, eventually landing a brief songwriting deal with GRAMMY-winning producer and songwriter Rob Fusari. When that ended, it was time for another major risk. Needing to broaden his perspective, he moved out to Los Angeles, asking LA-based Bizzy—a Rutgers graduate, "move-maker," and mentee of Interscope Creative Director Sickamore—to be his manager.
Dougie lived in LA for six months, sharing a room with his producer Lurtz, sleeping on air mattresses and eating dollar-store groceries. More importantly, it was a chance to build his network, and the place he adopted STRAGG (Self Trained Respected Assertive Global Grinders)—Bizzy's brand through which Dougie releases music to this day. "When I was in LA, I was just straggin," Dougie says, the term describing someone who is working towards a goal.
Dougie has come a long way since then, from a deal with Mad Decent to touring with Travis Scott to a single with Pitbull that led to placement on NBA 2K17's soundtrack. It's been a long and slow journey, one that's included putting one project on indefinite hold to switch gears with Yellow Durag, focusing on the uplifting, pop-friendly sound that he's seen and heard his fans enjoy most.
Dougie F is still straggin, and these days he's working towards the goal of lifting moods to a more positive place. When I ask him if he's excited for the release of Yellow Durag, he smiles. "Hell yeah man! It's about time."