Among a new class of artists evolving emo-rap in the 2020s, DC The Don towers over his contemporaries with an elastic sound and deep reverence for art itself. The Milwaukee-born rapper began making music at eight years old, and cites the ability to express himself in abstract ways on the mic as nothing short of natural—he prefers it to any other form of communication.
“When I speak, I speak in an abstract manner—if that makes sense,” DC explains. “Music is the only place you’re allowed to do that, and it’s considered cool. When I’m trying to explain something, I’m using similes and hella metaphors, and people look at me crazy. Music just makes sense to a normal person, so when I put it in the song, they feel it more.”
Signed to indie rap powerhouse Rostrum Records, DC debuted in 2020 with Come As You Are, a project packed with emotion and ballads—and absolute bangers—that signaled DC’s arrival and grew him a cult following. Ever the perfectionist, DC looks back on that debut and sees a handful of things he would’ve done differently, but, as a believer in divine timing, attests he wouldn’t go back and change a thing.
“If I got people’s ears, I don’t want to be feeding them bullshit,” DC says as we dig into his perfectionism. “If I could go back and change something, I wouldn’t. I feel like everything belongs as is in time and history. That album captures a moment in my career and the moment in a bunch of people’s lives. It was right for that time. I can’t be mad at that.”
In February, DC released his sophomore album My Own Worst Enemy, which brought to light two personas: Donny and Rag3 Kidd. The war between the table-smashing riots that score the opening of the album (“Live From The Gutta!”) and the heartfelt closers (“MANIAC”) creates a vivid concept album from an artist who really does just let the beat guide him. Mixing freestyles with written songs, DC The Don’s meticulous approach is smoothed out by his ability to give himself over to whatever the beat is asking of him. His fluid process translates to music packed with potent images and emotions.
What is the DC The Don origin story?
I feel like I’ve always had something to say, and music’s always been the easiest way for me to fully explain it. I was never the best public speaker—I don’t have the best way of explaining myself. But when it comes to music, it’s natural for me. I started writing music when I was eight years old, so it’s a second nature type of thing.
What’s the creative process like in the studio? Off top, written, or a mix?
I usually just freestyle my shit, but it depends. The outro song, I wrote the majority of it. It depends on my mood, and I call them written freestyles. I’ll freestyle a full song, then go back and write it. And then I come back and put tape over it. It depends on what vibe we’re going for with each song—some songs you can say too much, and then it’ll ruin the vibe.
How do you balance the vibe with the message?
You really don’t. I let the beat speak for me; whatever the beat’s telling me to do, I go for it. I don’t consciously think, “Oh, I wanna talk about some shit.” [On] “MANIAC,” I was like, “Bet, I wanna talk about something.” But it’s what the beat was telling me to do.
What’s the hardest part of balancing the Donny and Rag3 Kidd personas on My Own Worst Enemy?
Making sure the album never felt stale. I need to make sure shit is in the right place. If I put “Live From The Gutta!” and “Diamonds & Rubies” at tracks six and seven, the album might’ve felt way too long. I try to make sure there’s a nice flow to everything.
Do you feel like you’re a perfectionist?
For sure, and it’s exhausting. But there’s nothing I can do about it. If I’m gonna put something out, I gotta put everything into it. I gotta look back at all of this shit—this is my legacy. If I’m stuck with some shit I felt like wasn’t good enough? I don’t think I can handle that.
It’s like, “Will I be proud of this in 10 years?”
And if you ask anybody else, to them it’s just, “Oh, you’re just writing something.” Any creative knows it’s not just that. I’ve been thinking about dropping hella projects, bro, and most people are like, “Just put it out, fuck it! Future dropped 60 projects.” I’m like, n***a, that’s cool for Future, but not for me. I need my shit to be right.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your 2020 debut, Come As You Are?
Definitely take time with your shit. There’s a lot of people who say my first album is their favorite album. For me, I feel like that shit could’ve been a lot better if I would’ve taken more time to perfect it a little more. There’s certain things on there I wish came out differently. But it’s the past, but at the same time, that shit definitely taught me to be on my Ps and Qs.
What do you want your message to be five, 10 years from now?
I just want kids to feel like they can do whatever they want, and be themselves. Whatever you wanna do, you can do it being you. That’ll be the coolest thing about it. I want kids to feel like being themselves is cooler than putting on a persona.