Donna & Yoh In Conversation: Creative Spaces and Dreamville Sessions

Donna and Yoh tackle which matters more: the creative space or the collaborators?
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Where we create remains just as important as how we create. If there is any lesson to take away from the Dreamville sessions, it is that the environment in which artists find themselves will sometimes have the greatest impact on the final outcome of the music. 

Inspired, we asked senior writers Donna-Claire Chesman and Yoh to discuss the impact a particular creative space has an on the artist, along with how collaborators' touches can affect the final product. Oh, and they talked about Dreamville's #ROTD3 sessions, too. 

Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

donnacwrites [12:31 PM]

Afternoon, my friend.

yoh [12:31 PM]

Hi, Donna. Happy Monday to you. At least I think it's Monday. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong

donnacwrites [12:32 PM]

It sure is. I can't believe I'm speaking with Mr. Dreamville himself. What's been on your mind since the endless recording sessions?

yoh [12:39 PM]

Sleep, lol. Honestly, being able to be present for the sessions has expanded my thoughts on the spaces that artists are able to create in. What J. Cole and Dreamville are doing in Atlanta isn't new in the sense of gathering creatives to collaborate—the late Mac Miller's Los Angeles home is a perfect example of a space where artists gathered and the music made was impeccable—but what's been happening in Atlanta is new in the sense of placing countless friends and peers in an environment where they're thrown into the mix where beats are being played and rhymes are being written in almost every room. Obviously, this isn't how everyone operates, so watching how every artist intertwines with what the space demands has been fascinating.

donnacwrites [12:42 PM]

For all creatives, the space you're creating in is almost as important as who you're working with. The energy of the space informs your comfort level, which informs the quality of the music. For instance, I have to write in seclusion. The moment someone steps into the room, it becomes quite difficult to get into my flow state. So with rappers working in every room, I have to wonder, is that how everyone is used to working? When you're an artist at the caliber that Dreamville has their eye on you, can you adapt and work anywhere? And can a fan feel it in the music if the creative zone is or isn't right? Think of how Room 25 sounds so much more limber than Telefone because Noname made that in a happy space with her best friends.

yoh [12:51 PM]

This makes me wonder: can we tell the difference between an album recorded on the road while touring, versus an album recorded in a central location like the artist's home state? As you stated, Noname's Room 25 was created in an environment different than her previous project, Telefone. Frank Ocean wrote Channel Orange in two weeks, while Blonde was an album created throughout years of traveling and fighting writer's block. 

We didn't get to talk much, but the few times I ran into TDE emcee REASON, he mentioned how he believes everyone creating in these sessions will leave as better artists. The environment inspires and fuels something internal. I wish it was a way of documenting the changes occurring during the Dreamville sessions. The verses being written on the first day compared to what is made day five or six. Funnily enough, because everyone is coming in during different days, the dynamic is different for everyone.

donnacwrites [12:58 PM]

That's amazing. I like to think that the real magic of the Dreamville sessions will be that they can only happen in this exact place and time. Even if the artists came with pre-written verses, the energy of the room will inform their delivery. Everything is so unique to the space in which it's made. But also what cannot be made, because of that space. There are certain places where I fundamentally cannot write, and I can feel that block, but once I leave that space and get back to my space, I suddenly can flow out thousands of words. What about yourself? Does space inform how and when you can write? And how has writing been during the sessions?

yoh [1:09 PM]

I agree wholeheartedly. I watched specific verses being written that wouldn't be possible elsewhere. The food bought, the cars drove, the drinks poured, the conversations had—all of it influences what is said and how it is said. That's one of the biggest things I'm taking away from the experience. I truly don't know how anything is made. We never look over the chef's shoulder when we order food at a restaurant, we just trust how it's being created. 

For me, usually, I have to write in solitude. Too much noise tends to break my concentration. Writing is such a mental gymnastics for me, every word has to be processed in the silence of my skull so I know how loud it'll be on the page. But watching the Dreamville sessions reminds me of an old Rolling Stone article I recently read on novelist Ken Kesey. In 1989, he was given an experimental writing course at the University of Oregon. An opportunity to take a small class of students and have them write a novel together. What a lot of students end up learning is how leaving their creative comfort zone affected their writing in ways they couldn't imagine. Makes me want to try leaving my own personal comfort zone. Not to say I want to write in a room full of journalists, but I've been playing with the idea of traveling to different cities for the sake of writing in different environments outside my home to see if there's a difference in what words reach the page.

donnacwrites [1:14 PM]

The Dreamville sessions are clearly pushing everyone out of their comfort zone in an effort to create a new comfort zone. I have to ask, have any artists communicated something like that to you, or have you yourself felt that happening just as an observer across the days?

yoh [1:17 PM]

Hmm, I don't think so. There's a lot not being considered. Everyone appears to be in the moment, because this moment feels as if it may never happen again, at least in this way. It's hard to imagine what something becomes if you aren't aware of what it is. Funny how we never know what will be a flash in the pan and what will cause lightning to strike again and again.

donnacwrites [1:22 PM]

Which do you think is more important to the final product, the environment or the collaborators?

yoh [1:29 PM]

The question isn't which is more important, but how do the two coexist. Right collaborators wrong environment, wrong environment right collaborators will drastically change the end result every time. Every album tells a story about the artist. Who they were, who they were becoming, how they thought, and how those thoughts changed. Albums are time capsules in that sense. So when you bring others into the mix, they're bringing the state of their being into yours. When you're physically present, able to truly bring yourself into this person's world, the results can be far different than when separated by space.

donnacwrites [1:33 PM]

The album is the story of who you are, but also the story of where you've been and in many cases, the story of where you've yet to go. In so many ways, to me, the story of FREE 6LACK is the story of East Atlanta Love Letter, because he is so spurned on that album, we are getting the story of what he is not yet: at peace. Of course, per the title, the setting is pivotal to that album as well. So you're absolutely right, it's the way the two work in concert to tell the full range of stories an artist has to offer at that particular time in their life.

yoh [1:37 PM]

It's amazing to think that FREE 6LACK doesn't happen if 6LACK wasn't in a situation where he had to escape. Going from seeking freedom and transitioning into a state of peace isn't just embedded in the music, but the person. Earl once rapped, "I been living what I wrote." That is true for us all, in some capacity.

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