Trumpeter Nico Segal, when not adding a strong jazz influence to the group, was often cheering on the other members of the group and rapping the words alongside Mensa. Segal’s natural energy and emotion made him seem like a fan who had wondered on stage with his favorite group, which in turn, made me feel all the more connected with the group.
--Lucas G. "Kids These Days Rock D.C. Like Veterans" 12/12/12
Two years and a million concerts later, this image of Nico Segal is as vivid for me as as when it happened.
Like Marvin Berry in Back To The Future, I knew what I was hearing was special, except I didn't have a famous cousin to call, so I simply kept watching. I watched as he hopped around on stage possessed. I watched as Kids These Days faded as quickly as they rose; my wounds still haven't quite healed. I watched as Nico left his trumpet-prints all over projects like Acid Rap, 10 Day, Innanet Tape, and Champagne Waters, not to mention a few loosies of his choosing. I watched how, despite being placed next to some pretty great artists who, you know, actually use thier voice, Donnie always sang the loudest. He evoked so much emotion without uttering a single word. I didn't know when, I didn't know how, but I knew what I saw and heard was special and that one day it would turn into something big.
Two years later, that memory and the passion that surged from it like an overstuffed outlet haven't changed one bit, but the same can't be said about Nico. He is now known as Donnie Trumpet. He went from one of the smallest venues in D.C. to touring the globe with Frank Ocean. He went from being a piece of a tremendously colorful puzzle known as Kids These Days to leading the Social Experiment, both in name and direction. His buzz went from Whispers to screams. After all the waiting and watching, I thought it was all going to culminate on January 29.
Normally, when alerted to a pending release, the pageviews cross my mind first. There ain't nothing like a surprise release from huge artist to get that count up. This was different though. More than views, analytics and Google SEO, I was genuinely excited that in ten minutes I might have that same feeling I did at the show more than two years ago.
I waited... and refreshed...and waited... until finally...
Don't get me wrong, it is a truly phenomenal piece, but when you think you are getting a new album, an article about the album you thought you were getting leaves you a tad unfulfilled. As the kids say, the thirst was real. So what do you do when you are fiending for something new? Binge on the old stuff and hope it gets you high.
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What better place to start than his last project, The Donnie Trumpet EP?
More than any one song or solo, it's the mood of this EP that gets me. I'll take a Donnie-directed Vic Mensa all day, but sometimes projects become more important as a whole than any single sixteen. Now, when this dropped, my (then) girlfriend was in the hospital. Not for anything too serious, just your average infected cat bite, but it was enough for me to have to make multiple trips a day through unrelenting beltway traffic and the oppressive summer heat to bring food and comforts all while balancing work and forced interactions with relatives who definitely didn't like me.
As all of this was going on Donnie dropped his EP. If it weren't for the chewy feel of Pasadena, the last minute-twenty of "Don't Leave," and how "New Bisnesss" seemed to bounce out of my speakers, I'm might have checked myself in to the psych ward of that hospital. A great project can render even chaotic moments serene and though it's only six tracks, this my friends is a great project. There's an attitude, a charm, on this EP and the result is a fun, soothing listen that doesn't sacrifice musicality for personality.
Still, to truly understand just who Donnie is and what he is all about, I think you have to go back even further.
Now, I have no evidence to back this up, no insider information, no days spent with Chance and Donnie on Venice Beach, but I have a hunch and I trust my hunches. I truly believe that Illasoul: Shades of Blue is the blueprint, the scaffolding for Social Experiment's upcoming album Surf. Although his experimental style is brand new to us, Illasoul proves that the sounds we've heard off Surf has been in the works a long long time. You don't walk into a studio the first day and say, "Let's make an Arthur cover followed by an almost spoken word song about things we hate." To drape meandering, seemingly disparate lines so eloquently atop a smooth trumpet line you need practice. That practice is Illasoul and that practice is perfect. Some songs feature a little bit of Outkast with a lot of Thelonious Monk, some songs are based off that very same Monk (and that very same Outkast), and some songs aren't even songs at all, but eloquent, jarring reflections that will shake any music lover to their core ("Music Found Me"). Some albums are great for the gym. Some are great for a party. This is great for your soul; you feel like being a better, smarter person after listening.
For me, the social part of Sox is the Donnie Trumpet EP; it's fun and easy-going with a ton of heart. The Social Experiment's experimenting is deeply rooted in Illasoul. That album is about music for music's sake, trying something not because it will sell or is "hot" but became it stems from a genuine curiosity and love for music. The same way chemists mix two things without knowing the result, Donnie asks, "What happens if I recite a poem over an Outkast beat?" Given the nature, the essence, of Donnie and The Social Experiment, Surf will be a unique, brand new listening experience, but I wouldn't be shocked nor saddened if there are shades of Shades of Blue on the album.
But Donnie is just one variable of the equation. You still have Nate, Peter, Greg and of course Chance, all incredible musicians playing their part so all my theories on what Surf will sound like and where it will go may be completely wrong. When you have a group of incredible musicians like this, all willing to put aside egos, paychecks and followers for the sake of fearless curiosity the possibilities are endless. It may lead them to more songs with J.Cole or it might lead them to the next Def Jam Poetry slam, maybe both, but that's what makes this an experiment worth trying.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]