Step Into the Multi-Dimensional Debut of Lex Lucent with “Incase You Forgot”

Following the release of her first project “Incase You Forgot,” rising VA rapper Lex Lucent gave Popscure member Cam a little more insight on the magic behind her hypnotic sound.

“Before this rapping shit, I been writing music since I was 13. I got my ass beat at the age of 13 for . . . a fucking rap on a piece of paper . . . and my mom found it, and she beat my ass. [S]he said, ‘This shit’s fire, but why are you cussing at the age of 13?’

The saying, “Watch out for the quiet ones,” is relevant in the case of Lex Lucent. And that’s not to say the Brooklyn-born, Virginia-raised rapper is short of bravado. Underneath her laidback delivery, Lucent is giving it to you straight. “I’m literally just me, and that’s really what I wanna be,” says Lucent, “[A] lot of my lyrics…it really just be how I be living my life . . . . So it’s just like in a cool way, I’m just gonna explain to y’all what kind of person I am, and it’s just like I hope y’all fuck with who I am.”

That message comes across loud and clear in Lucent’s unique style of delivery. She doesn’t have to put on a front to be the next “Cardi B” or “Rico Nasty” or “Flo Milli” with emphasized vocal execution or over-the-top trap beats. Lex Lucent can bring to the table her hypnotic style and still get the point across just the same.

Listeners got a taste of the VA rapper’s vibe in the 2020 Flip Phone+ compilation album, Phone Calls, with playful track, “B.D.E” (best known as Big Dick Energy). “…how this song came about? . . . I guess you can consider it a freestyle,” she explains, “[C]ause I be like, ‘Alright, what am I about to talk about? I want ya nigga ya feelin’ me / You told them don’t sleep wit the enemy / You cannot fuck wit my energy / You cannot fuck wit me period.’ And it’s like, you can’t fuck with my energy because I just be knowing. I have that intuition, so…you can’t fuck with my energy…you can’t fuck with me, period.” And quite frankly, that’s a testament to how Lucent carries herself throughout her short but impactful discography.

While somewhat new to the game, Lucent has been quickly making moves, recently landing a joint music video premiere under Pusha T’s Heir Wave Music Group for 2019 single, “Y.U.M” and “Incase You Forgot” opener, “PeriodT.”

Lucent goes on to explain how the anthemic track came to be, “I was just sitting at the computer, and I’m like, ‘What am I gonna do with this?’ Because I really liked the “PeriodT!” Like that part…”PeriodT!” And that’s kinda when like the City Girls was doing the whole like “periodt” shit. And I’m like, ‘Alright. What would make you say periodt?’ “A nigga gon do what I say so / Play wit a nigga like Play-doh / PeriodT!‘ You get what I”m saying?”

In the rest of “Incase You Forgot,” her signature cool and collected demeanor is harnessed and amplified with FAKE UZUMI‘s trance-like production, ultimately making the two a match made in heaven. Tracks like “Bomb$” and “Look @ Me” capitalize on Lucent’s chill flow with dreamy instrumentals that make you feel like you’re floating only to come back down with cutthroat lines like, “If I see you in the streets / Imma hit you with this heat,” or “I’m the only bitch in VA doing real rapping shit / A lot of you niggas be cappin’ shit.” Other songs find Lucent having fun with fellow Flip Phone+ artists MACK and WhoGotDaDutch in “W.T.A” and “Dingleberry,” both filled with clever metaphors, catchy melodies, and plenty of bravado—I told you.

But the standout track in “Incase You Forgot” has got to be “Blue Confetti + *69.” Described as “straight poetry” by Lucent herself, the joint track channels the vocalizations of legends like Erykah Badu and Jill Scot in the first half while seamlessly segueing into a Lil’ Kim-esque flow in the second half. The track showcases the musical agility and promise of the rising artist displayed throughout “Incase You Forgot,” serving as a reminder that behind the illusion of Lucent’s laidback style is the nitty-gritty realness of what Lucent is really saying—she is not the one to mess with…Incase You Forgot.

Artwork by MadStartt

“Incase You Forgot” is out now on all streaming platforms.


2020 – A Year in Reflection

As we wrap up one hell of a year, we thought it was only best that we took some time to reflect on some of the really goods things that have come out of this year, specifically with Popscure. Thank you all for making this year a special one—here’s to many more.

What was your favorite write-up from this year? Why?

Tyler W: It’s probably a tie between the Dawit N.M. interview conducted by Cam Murdoch and the Q+A I did with members of the Wild Bunch before the “Our Streets” exhibition, both of which focused on photography. Since practically everyone in the digital age can capture an image with ease, it’s really interesting to me to hear how photographers approach it as an art form.

Jasmine R: My favorite write-up probably has to be “Whose Streets? Our Streets!”— a Q+A written and conducted by Tyler. Documenting the (without a doubt) historical summer of activism and unity is so, so crucial to say the least.

Cam M: The Tyler Donavan piece, I just want that guy to win and have his story shared, so it was big for me to see the response he got from that.

Shannon J: From Overseas, Tyler did a great job poetically telling the story of Kevin Sery and made the piece just as atmospheric and grounded as his music. Otherwise, I was excited to have a couple pieces I wrote go out (“Treasure,” “Bubble Ball“). Since I started working full-time, I haven’t had much time to write for Popscure, so I’m glad I can contribute, and I’m excited to have some new writers on this year too (Allison, James and Noah).

Noah D: Oh jeez, I don’t know. I hate to self-plug but maybe the Why Bonnie interview. It was the first time I’d interviewed a bigger name band, and I just really enjoy the chances it gave me, and I was proud to see it get feedback. Other than that, I loved the recent article [“25 Local Places to Get Gifts in the 757”] focusing on shops in the 757. I think it gave some really solid media coverage to businesses that needed it, and I think it influenced a lot of peoples’ decisions in gift buying.

What was your favorite piece to have edited and published? Why?

Tyler W: I really liked how Jasmine’s interview with LEYA came together because I see that as a great example of how Popscure can create connections both online and IRL. We were able to create a relationship with both the band and their label through email correspondence and then reach new readers through social media shares by the band and label. At the same time, we were telling our local readership about this emerging band that was on tour coming to play in our town. And then we were able to go to the show, meet the band, network with local musicians, etc. I also just really like them and their album—their album was one of my favorites this year. 馃檪

Jasmine R: One of my favorite pieces that I helped put out was the Shaina Negr贸n feature by one of our writers, Darryan. It was a super cool look inside the conjoining of art and self-expression from Negr贸n. I’m also really proud of our Black Experience Collective that we put together as a response to the events of police brutality and blatant murder and injustice that occurred this year. The collective serves as a platform to amplify the black voices unheard in this country.

Shannon J: Jasmine took care of much of the editing, bless her soul, but one of the few I did was “Coronavirus and Why Your Fave Band Tee Is Important Right Now.” Documenting such a shift on the blog was crucial since so much of our content is dependent on live music and the musicians who play shows.

What was your favorite standout moment for Popscure this year?

Tyler W: One moment that stands out for me is posting the Fake Uzumi feature on our new WordPress site in February. Around that time we were leveling up, and I felt proud of the efforts from our newly-formed team. I knew the feature was going to get a lot of exposure, and I remember feeling like our operations were just starting to run smoothly; we had all been working hard getting ready for this new level of attention.

Jasmine R: One of my favorite moments from this year absolutely has to be the Valentine’s Day-themed party we did with Smartmouth Brewing Co. and Citrus City Records. This may sound cliche, but the energy was literally full of love that night. It was literally “nothin’ but love.”

Cam M: Nothin’ but love show with Smartmouth.

Shannon J: Stay Put Fest 2020 was amazing. It was such a fun challenge to translate the exhilaration, fun, and camaraderie of live music onto people’s phones. It was the first time I’d chatted with local showgoers and saw my friends play music in months. There were technical difficulties and a learning process for sure, but I think everyone appreciated it. FlyyScience’s COVID info takeover was super interesting too, and getting to know her and her work was awesome. We just really had to think outside of the box this year with events. No one stole our Instagram account either, which was a plus!

Noah D: I haven’t been on the team long enough to comment!

What do you most look forward to in the future of Popscure?

Tyler W: I look forward to us continuing to grow our team. By adding more contributors, Popscure will expand our investigation into the various aspects of culture and bring our findings to our community.

Jasmine R: Our growth!!!

Cam M: Breaking boundaries and bringing obscure talent to the masses.

Shannon J: Parties, hopefully we can do something fun in the summer!

Noah D: Writing more, editing, carving a voice for myself in the team, etc. etc.

Thank you all for the love and support you showed us this year! On to the next one…

Redefining the Framework of tyler donavan

Popscure’s Jasmine phoned in Virginia Beach rapper tyler donavan on a rainy, Sunday afternoon to talk about his predestined beginnings as a musician, his thoughts on Virginia’s future in music, and redefining who he is as a person and musician through his latest release, “inhale.”

鈥淲hat you see is getting framed.鈥 Tyler Wright鈥攂etter known as tyler donavan鈥攑rides himself on his 鈥渙pen book鈥 level of transparency. Our first conversation was scheduled for a late Friday afternoon/evening, a few hours into the start of the weekend. But a couple hours before the agreed time, tyler had asked to reschedule, citing a bad mental health day. This level of transparency shouldn鈥檛 come as a surprise to those that know, or are familiar with, tyler donavan鈥檚 work and personal testimony. Following major spinal surgery in 2018, tyler donavan has done nothing but stay true to his word. From documenting his first steps without a walker to expressing the ebb and flow of doubts that surround his psyche of who he is as an artist and a human being, tyler donavan continues to maintain that what you see is what you get鈥斺渨hat you see is getting framed.”

Although Georgia-born, the Virginia Beach, Virginia artist has always held that special, particular energy that is so unique to VA. Coming from a family of music, tyler donavan鈥檚 place in music always seemed like a given. His mom, an Airforce veteran, was a member of The Airmen of Note, a jazz band that would travel to different bases worldwide to perform as well as being a member of the touring group, Tops In Blue. It was there that tyler鈥檚 parents would eventually meet. But tyler didn鈥檛 delve fully into music until middle school. 鈥淚n middle school, I was bullied a lot. It was like 02-03, so 8 Mile had just come out, and everybody thought they could battle, you know鈥ypical like lunchroom, locker room stuff鈥︹ he says. 鈥淪o to get into creating music, it was just out of curiosity, but it was more so like鈥ell, I wouldn鈥檛 say curiosity鈥it] [was] more of a defense thing . . . I was just kinda there, you know? I wasn鈥檛 really participating.鈥 Despite his introverted nature, tyler got sucked in鈥攖he dormant energy was ready to erupt at the slightest hint of a trigger, and that trigger so happened to be Linkin Park.

鈥淟inkin Park had a song called 鈥H! Vltg3 [鈥淗igh Voltage鈥漖. It was a demo on Hybrid Theory? Or I think it was like a bonus track on Hybrid Theory, like in an international CD or something like that. But when they did Reanimations, there was a remix, and Mike鈥檚 [Shinoda] first verse鈥 can still quote that verse to this day. So I did that, and they were like, 鈥Oooooooh!鈥 cause they were like鈥e [Mike Shinoda] was rapping like big words talking about double helixes and stuff [laughs]. I was like 11; I don鈥檛 know what a double helix is?? Like?? [laughs]” From that point on, tyler began rap battling and eventually the bullying stopped, and in its wake came the shaping of his identity.

With this newfound discovery of rap [tyler wasn鈥檛 introduced to rap until around 10 or 11 years old], he would begin crafting his art鈥harpening the pen鈥efining the mind. Over time, the young artist would release works like debut album, Nimbus, in 2016, along with singles ovation and talkin 2017. tyler donavan [at the time tyler wrighteous] was beginning to find his identity as not only an artist but as a person. Then came 2018. As many can attest, life has a funny way of working out, and in the midst of figuring out who he was, that process was cut short鈥yler donavan had to start over. Who was he? Who was the person known as tyler wrighteous? As .donavan.? As tyler donavan? As Tyler Wright?

How did you take that first step into writing and rapping?

As far as writing my own stuff, I just started with random freestyles over beats that I liked. And I was just rapping and talking shit. It was just rapper talk鈥ust trying to sound cool in a way no one heard before. I think the first beat I ever wrote over was Dumb It Down by Lupe Fiasco, if I remember right鈥ause Lupe is my favorite rapper鈥攅ver. And so, I remember I had it on like this little MP3 player [laughs]. I went around to everybody that I knew with headphones, and I was like, 鈥楲isten to this! Listen to this! What do you think???鈥 Mix was horrible鈥 sounded super monotone鈥 wish I still had the verse, I鈥檇 send it to you. It was [big sigh]鈥ut you know, for the people that actually listened to it and weren鈥檛 annoyed by me, um鈥hey were like, 鈥極kay, you have something鈥ike the talent is there, but you鈥檙e not talking about anything.鈥

. . . The rest of high-school, I was just trying to get my pen right. I was just trying to sharpen the sword, studying, listening to a lot of Lupe鈥 lot of Jay-Z鈥 lot of [A] Tribe Called Quest鈥 lot of, just you know鈥tuff that I gravitated to. Then I got the Internet and you know, fairshare[music] and Limewire鈥o, you can get everything under the sun. So I just鈥 just kinda dove in and when I started realizing that I can actually write about myself, write about like鈥hat I鈥檓 feeling and not just how cool I am, or how much of a better rapper I am than you . . . it was Kanye鈥檚 second album, Late Registration. That album is a masterpiece to me. It covered so many topics, and he produced damn near everything. It鈥檚 just鈥t鈥檚 super influential. I wouldn鈥檛 be鈥 don鈥檛 think I would be the writer, or the producer, or the performer that I am if not for that particular album more than any other album. And it came out right before my birthday, so it was like, 鈥極kay cool. This is cool. I鈥檓 supposed to listen to this.鈥

For those that don鈥檛 know, you are from Stafford, VA, but moved to the 757 after college. What is so different about the 757 compared to the rest of Virginia?

I love the 757 so much鈥ust the energy here that like鈥rom when I first came down here for school, I just鈥 don鈥檛 know. Where I was from, especially on the creative side, there weren鈥檛 venues that hosted local artists. Like there was nothing. We had coffee shops鈥hat was it. So, to be able to see venues like 37th and Zen or the Iguana (or whatever the hell they鈥檙e calling themselves now) small venues like that, to the Norva and the amphitheater [Veterans United Home Loans Ampitheater] where local artists are performing鈥m, I don鈥檛 know. Like Work Release and Toast鈥ust all these different places, these in-the-wall type places where some of the best music can be heard鈥 love live music, that鈥檚 my thing. That鈥檚 my thing. That鈥檚 what gets me every time. 

So, there was just more opportunity for that down here, not just as a performer but as a fan鈥o someone who just loved listening to music鈥ome of my favorite concerts were here. I saw Mac Miller, Pac Div, and Casey Veggies at the Norva鈥hat was one of the best shows I鈥檝e ever been to. I saw Portugal. The Man at the Norva and that was one of the best nights of my freakin鈥 life. Like, that night was incredible. I have a love for the Norva. I鈥檝e put it in a song where I was like, 鈥業 don鈥檛 know if I鈥檒l ever do the Norva,鈥 but that鈥檚鈥 was supposed to do the Norva, but things happened, and I couldn鈥檛 do the show. But I don鈥檛 know鈥here鈥檚 just something down here. I personally don鈥檛 know if I can tailor it to a certain person that chartered that energy, but I will give credit to RBLE [Rebel-E]. [From] the RBLE team to like Gabe Niles to Artel Carter鈥hey were a part of it in some way, shape, or form. Whether they were on the bill or Gabe鈥檚 DJ鈥檌ng鈥omehow, someway RBLE was a part of it. Just seeing those different opportunities . . . seeing the different genres鈥ike, you can really be yourself here. There鈥檚 a platform for it. There鈥檚 a place for it. There鈥檚 an audience for it. People accept you for it.

To go off that, the 757鈥here鈥檚 so much diversity beyond people, music, all of the niches that you can think of鈥hy do you think Virginia is not included in the conversation of other music hubs like New York, LA, Nashville? Do you have a theory behind that?

I was just talking to somebody about this. [Long pause] I have鈥 don鈥檛 know if it would necessarily be a theory because it鈥檚 based [on] observation鈥nd I don鈥檛 wanna鈥 wanna make sure that this doesn鈥檛 sound like I鈥檓 complaining, or from a space of entitlement because that鈥檚 not it at all. But the first that make it out of here, 9 times out of 10, don鈥檛 mention us. They don鈥檛 mention what鈥檚 going on back home, or if they do, it鈥檚 in passing. Or, up until recently with you know, Pharrell doing Something In The Water鈥攚hich is incredible鈥攁nd now, with Pusha T starting Heir Wave Music Group鈥攚hich is also incredible鈥攂ut, we鈥檝e recently had big artists come out of here. And again, they don鈥檛 owe that to us. You know? There are certain artists from here that, I guess, hold a grudge or something because the spotlight isn鈥檛 being shown on us based off of what someone else has already done. And you can see that desperation, for lack of a better word, in their work. Artists are trying really, really hard to put on for Virginia and make it like an Atlanta, or a Chicago, or鈥 truly believe that Virginia can be one of those mid-tier scenes. The top three scenes right now will always be LA, New York, and Atlanta. And Nashville. Those are the top four; I could be missing one. But like, a lot of regions are having incredible runs. Chicago had an incredible run from like 2010 to I鈥檇 say鈥ell even to now! Philadelphia had a good run with artists鈥lorida鈥ven like Louisville, Kentucky鈥ortland鈥eattle鈥ustin. So, Virginia can be in that conversation. 

And I think鈥sigh] I鈥檓 trying to find the right way to word it, but I think there鈥檚 just a sense of entitlement that we expect these bigger artists to come back when they never may have said they were going to come back. When Pusha announced the record label, the first thing I saw was them hating on the first person that he signed. And it鈥檚 like, 鈥榊o, what do we want?? Like is it just cause it鈥檚 not us??鈥 Like Pusha T may never hear my music ever in life. I鈥檓 not gonna be mad that he doesn鈥檛 pick me for his label just because I feel like I make the best music in the world and I鈥檓 from here? People don鈥檛 want to put on for Virginia like they say they do, they just want to be the face of it. And when they鈥檙e not the face of it, whoever is the face of it is a hater, or they don鈥檛 put on for home . . . And I just never subscribed to that sort of鈥攁gain, for lack of a better word鈥攙ictim mentality.

It鈥檚 almost like a double-edged sword, right? Like the Virginia pride of鈥ike you said, putting on for Virginia, but then at the same time are you really putting on for Virginia?

Right. And I have that pride, and I wasn鈥檛 even born here鈥 was born in Georgia. I moved here when I was five, so I pretty much grew up here. And I love it here. And there鈥檚 so much history here. We always go to the Pharrell conversation鈥攍et me say The Neptunes conversation, I鈥檓 not gonna forget Chad Hugo鈥攕o, we had The Neptunes conversation and the whole Star Trak empire. We had Clipse who was rapping about nothing but drugs鈥nd making it work! Then you have Pharrell rapping, then you have N.E.R.D., you have freakin鈥 Kenna, all in that鈥elis鈥攕he isn鈥檛 from here鈥攂ut all in that same camp鈥nd it was based out of Virginia. Like that was incredible. And then you have Timb [Timbaland], and you have Missy [Elliott] who were genre-bending since they kinda started. 鈥Get Your Freak On鈥 could come out today, and it still sounds like, 鈥極h, this sounds like this was made 10 years in the future!鈥 So, the history is there.

And we鈥檝e had our second wave鈥攆or lack of better words鈥攐f you know, some of the biggest records that have come out of here. DRAM owned two summers with two records like 鈥Cha Cha鈥 and 鈥Broccoli.鈥 He owned the summer. And you know, Masego鈥e鈥檚 like part of this new wave where like jazz is coming back to the forefront, and I think that he played a major part in that. So it鈥檚 like鈥e鈥檙e here, but I think that the reason we鈥檙e not in the conversation is because we either aren鈥檛 getting the look, or we are getting the look and dropping the ball. And so, I鈥檓 grateful that artists are focusing more on being the best artist that [they] can be instead of trying to put on for something. Because if you focus on just making the best art, and multiple people are doing that at the same time鈥攁t a high level鈥攖he conversations will come. 

But right now, it鈥檚 just been kinda like one after the other. One person pops from here, or six months later, somebody else pops from here鈥nstead of creating like a real hub and working with venue owners and working with local brands and really creating the network here as opposed to everyone kinda doing their own thing. I think that鈥檚 where we can start getting into the conversation. But who knows? Unfortunately, I can鈥檛 just get everybody on the same page, at the same time鈥nd it鈥檚 not my job to. I just wanna make the music I wanna make. I wanna connect with as many people as I can because there is a lot of fucking talent here, and it deserves the light.

So basically, we are missing that unity, collective aspect?

Yes, and that鈥檚 what makes Richmond so dope. Because Richmond has that. The Richmond hip-hop scene鈥here is a unity there. And that鈥檚 why you have legends like Nickelus FMichael Millionsthe Radio B. And then you have people like the Mutant AcademyFly Anakin, who I鈥檝e known since around 2012. We did shows together鈥 think we did songs together. And now he鈥檚 working with fucking Madlib, and it鈥檚 like, 鈥榊oooo!鈥 Like there鈥檚 definitely more of a unity there. You can see it in events, and you can see it when people drop projects, they鈥檙e actually supporting and pushing it and local radio playing the records and like鈥here鈥檚 definitely a sense of unity. And I鈥檇 love to see that more in other regions of the state. 

Since we are speaking about Virginia, I noticed you were included in the Commonwealth Sounds, 鈥淲elcome to Virginia,鈥 playlist. How does it feel to be included amongst obviously some very big names in Virginia music?

So remember when I said that I like鈥hen I first moved down here my first introduction was RBLE? It was RBLE and Commonwealth. Those were the first two things that I saw where I was like, 鈥極kay. This is what鈥檚 cool. This is culture (even though that word is played out). This is the鈥hese are the top dogs that are creating and making dope stuff.鈥 I wasn鈥檛 expecting it at all. I think鈥ho sent it to me? Fake UzumiShaded Zu! He sent that to me. He just sent me the playlist and was like, 鈥榊O! You鈥檙e on this!鈥 and I was like, 鈥楤ruh, stop playing with me!鈥 I didn鈥檛 think that anyone at Commonwealth knew who I was. I love them. I love how they present themselves. Their branding is incredible. I think the history they have is incredible. I will always love Commonwealth. So, to be included in that playlist, and to see so many people that I knew included鈥t was really dope cause it gave me that hope that, 鈥極h! Okay鈥aybe the seeds are being planted for that unity that we were talking about.鈥 And to have that platform鈥reakin鈥 Commonwealth! To have that platform shine a light鈥t鈥檚 incredible. There are different tiers where it鈥檚 like the top tier right now, for me, as far as recognition is playing Something In The Water. And then Heir Wave Music Group is right under that, and then I think Commonwealth is probably on the same level just because of their longevity. I don鈥檛 know much about streetwear brands and stuff like that, but I view Commonwealth as having almost that same respect as like a Supreme. Commonwealth is like Supreme, where it鈥檚 like high-level quality, totally respected鈥hey just make dope shit. So the fact that they included that song [鈥淭he Lamb鈥漖 is incredible鈥 big honor.

I know we touched on this a little bit. Do you think there is a new movement stirring in Virginia music?

Yeah, I do, because I think people鈥檚 mentalities are starting to change. I think that people are just focusing on the art. Some of the best music in Virginia right now is coming out of Suffolk. And no one ever talks about Suffolk! There鈥檚 a group, IllDaze, that鈥檚 incre鈥攍ike from music to how they present their music to visuals鈥hey鈥檙e unbelievable. BreezePark is another great collective. And then what鈥檚 dope is that all of the members in those collectives do their own individual stuff, and they鈥檙e top-notch in that. Not just music but production鈥hotography鈥ike oh my God! And it鈥檚 just incredible, and they never get brought up. But they鈥檙e doing numbers! They鈥檙e doing better numbers than us by far. So it just goes back to if you just focus on the quality of the work, then that movement will come. Yeah, I think鈥ive it about five years. If we can have just five solid years of work and connecting and building something, I think that we can be in that conversation for sure. And not just like a 鈥渇lash in the pan鈥 either. I want us to have a run. And I think that we will鈥 think that we will. Whether I鈥檓 a part of it or not, I think we will.

Take us back to the early days of your career. You had a couple of name changes – tyler wrighteous and .donavan. What inspired your artist name to what it is now?

I got tired of changing it, and I just wanted to use my regular name. I was originally wrighteous鈥ust wrighteous. I got that from鈥onestly, from Finding Nemo. I was sitting with my friends in Stafford, and we were happily watching Finding Nemo. I think one of my friends鈥 nephews was actually watching, and the scene with Crush, 鈥楻ighteous! Righteous!鈥 [laughs] came up, and we were laughing, and I think it was my best friend Jeff, who was jokingly like, 鈥楬ey, that should be your rap name.鈥 And then like a week later, I like sent him a song and the artist title was 鈥渨righteous.鈥 And then I added 鈥渢yler鈥 to it because 鈥渨righteous鈥 sounded too general, and I wanted it to be a little more personal with me. And then the name 鈥渨righteous鈥 itself got kinda corny because I kept getting the assumption that I was like a gospel rapper鈥nd I鈥檓 not. And that is interesting all in of itself because I have definitely gotten closer in my faith and it鈥檚 grown back鈥nd it feels awesome now, but back then it wasn鈥檛 there, and I didn鈥檛 want to give out that assumption that it was. 

So then I switched to 鈥.donavan.鈥 cause that was my middle name, and I share that with my father. And I wanted to honor him because he鈥檚 been fighting brain cancer for the past few years, and鈥 don鈥檛 know. We didn鈥檛 have the best relationship growing up just because he was always working, and he was strict鈥nd I鈥檓 very sensitive so that usually doesn鈥檛 mix [laughs]. But the older that I got, a lot of the things that he was trying to tell me and get into my head鈥t made more sense the older that I got. It was kinda a two-way thing where it鈥檚 like, 鈥極kay鈥 feel more connected to my dad now more than anything,鈥 and when I write I鈥檓鈥 try to鈥鈥檓 usually very inspirational and try to be motivational and uplifting and positive. I kinda got that from him in a way cause it was like, 鈥楬ey, life is gonna suck sometimes, but we gotta keep pushing. And we gotta keep moving. And we gotta keep going,鈥 and that energy I got from him. So, I changed my name to 鈥.donavan.鈥 And then I added the dots just cause I was having an identity crisis鈥nd then people kept spelling my dag-on name wrong throughout the whole time! Like 鈥渨righteous鈥 they would spell wrong. 鈥渢yler wrighteous鈥 they would spell wrong. My biggest show to date鈥擨 opened for IDK in D.C., and the guy who did the poster knows me鈥e did my first freakin鈥 album cover, and he still spelled my name wrong! And I鈥檓 just like, 鈥楿ghhhh! Like how can you like?鈥 Even now, with it being 鈥渢yler donavan,鈥 they still spell it wrong. They spell it 鈥渄ono-,鈥 that鈥檚 how my dad spells his name鈥ine is 鈥渄ona-.鈥 And there is a Tyler Donovan that鈥檚 spelled 鈥渄ono-,鈥 and he鈥檚 like a kid from Hawaii that plays like acoustic stuff鈥攈e鈥檚 not bad!

Yeah, I鈥檝e come across him! [laughs]

Yeah, you know what I mean!? He鈥檚 not bad [laughs]. We should do a song together! Yeah, to get to 鈥渢yler donavan鈥 and to kinda stick with it鈥鈥檓 not gonna lie and say that Kendrick [Lamar] wasn鈥檛 a major inspiration in that. Where it鈥檚 like your first and middle name. It鈥檚 more of a personal thing, it鈥檚 more, 鈥榊ou鈥檙e gonna feel what I鈥檓 saying. I want you to really feel and relate to what I鈥檓 saying.鈥 That definitely played a factor in it, and I don鈥檛 know鈥 like it. I like it better. I think it鈥檚 a good representation of where I鈥檓 at. I鈥檓 not changing it again, I鈥檓 kind of stuck with it [laughs].

I like it too.

Yeah, it鈥檚 definitely my favorite out of the four different things that I鈥檝e had. 

Yeah, it鈥檚 kinda like 鈥渨hat you see is what you get.鈥

What you see is getting framed. Yeah, that鈥檚 a line that I have off of the 鈥breathe鈥 EP I put out last year. What you see is getting framed. I鈥檓 never gonna be here selling this image to you. I am not selling a gimmick. I am a typical鈥ike I am your 鈥渆veryday rapper.鈥 I鈥檓 not trying to be a superstar. I鈥檓 not trying to act like a superstar. That鈥檚 just not me, and it鈥檚 never really been me. I鈥檓 just a regular guy that has feelings just like you; this is how I get them out. I鈥檓 blessed that even one person connects with it in any way鈥he fact that there are more than that is just a blessing on top of it. I figured why have a fancy name? I can have the name my mama gave me, and it鈥檒l be good enough. If it鈥檚 good enough for my mama, it鈥檚 good enough for me.

You had a, and correct me if I鈥檓 wrong, debut album in 2016 titled gasping for air. Is that correct?

Um, Nimbus. gasping for air is the album I鈥檓 working on now. But yes, I had an album in 2016. It was pretty鈥ixing aside, it was a pretty solid album. I produced every song. It had Sunny Moonshine on it, and Masego played sax on it. Yeah, that came out four years ago.

In what ways do you think your music has evolved?

That鈥檚 a good question. I think that the biggest difference is鈥 would say the level of transparency. I鈥檝e always been an 鈥渙pen book,鈥 especially when it comes to writing, but if I listen to Nimbus front to back, and if I listen to the songs I have for gasping for air front to back鈥 think there is a level of maturity I didn鈥檛 have before. Nimbus was like high school to me, if I had to put it in a maturity standpoint鈥hich is kinda weird since I made it when I was like 25. But it felt like high school to me, and I think that with the songs I鈥檓 working on now . . . more life has been lived. You know? There鈥檚 just been more experienced, and I鈥檝e grown up and鈥 think it鈥檚 displayed鈥攏ot in just the music, but in the writing and production. I鈥檓 a little more seasoned now. 

When it comes to writing music, are you more of a 鈥渢hinker鈥 relying on music theory more, or are you more of a 鈥渇eeler,鈥 what feels right?

Definitely more of what feels right. I have a basic understanding of music theory, and in certain instances, it does make sense, [so] I do utilize it. But for me, it鈥檚 just what feels right. One of the biggest challenges I had initially [pause] I didn鈥檛 have a鈥ike a sound. I didn鈥檛 have a signature sound. We talked earlier about how Kanye had the sped-up sample鈥harrell had the almost like video game [sound] like if he鈥檚 just producing by himself, it鈥檚 almost like a video game type of sound, and Chad is more super chord heavy, almost jazz-based. Everybody has a sound, and I didn鈥檛 have that. I still don鈥檛 think I do. On the flip side, it鈥檚 so freeing because now, more than ever, genres are kinda out the window. And you can do whatever you wanna make, and I鈥檓 influenced by sooo many different sounds that like [pause] I was told that I was hindering myself by not allowing  it [the process of creating without a genre in mind] to happen. 

I know we are focusing on the EP right now, but the main focus that I hope you hear from the album [gasping for air] and the two EPs [鈥渋nhale鈥 and 鈥渆xhale鈥漖, production wise, is like the energy of a mixtape. One of my favorite things about rap mixtapes was鈥eople were just getting on whatever beat they liked. They didn鈥檛 care. There was no cohesion behind it; there was no structure behind it. Like, 鈥業 like that beat. I鈥檓 gonna rap on it. This is what I鈥檓 gonna say. Alright, let鈥檚 go.鈥 I love the range of that. One of my favorite mixtapes ever is [laughs] by this guy out of Canada named Colin Munroe. He had a mixtape in 2009, called 鈥Colin Munroe – Unsung Hero.鈥 And he had like indie-pop songs, indie rock songs on there鈥ike cloud rap type beats on there, he [even] had a song with Drake on there. And then he had a whole song where he was just singing over a Dilla beat. I鈥檇 never heard singing like that over a Dilla beat. Like the only singing I鈥檇 ever heard over J Dilla was Erykah Badu. This may not be the best comparison, but it was like if you took the singer from Death Cab for Cutie and put them over a Dilla beat. It鈥檚 the dopest thing in the world! I love the experiment of, 鈥楬ey, you鈥檙e not supposed to sound鈥eople would expect you to be over this.鈥 At first, I was like, 鈥楢w, I don鈥檛 have a signature sound,鈥 but now it鈥檚 like I don鈥檛 care! I wanna have songs where I鈥檓 just singing. I wanna have songs where I just rap my ass off. Because I know that I can do both at least somewhat well, enough that I enjoy. So, it鈥檚 just what feels right, and it鈥檚 always been that way. I鈥檓 really grateful for that cause when I start thinking, it feels too processed. Music is like time capsules to me. I鈥檓 not gonna force something if I don鈥檛 feel it.

You have a very unique way of vocal delivery that keeps the listener hanging on to every word you say鈥ven what hasn鈥檛 been said. Was that always something that came naturally to you, or did you deliberately hone that skill? Or were you even aware?

That is definitely something that has always been stated. I don鈥檛 know where it came from, to be honest with you. I think it was just natural. But I do have to give credit to being in choir and doing theatre in high school, where voice inflection is really important. You can say the same sentence three different ways, and each way can have a completely different meaning depending on how you present it. I always try to keep that in mind. I listen to a lot of Outkast, where they flip their voices in different ways. That Colin Munroe mixtape I mentioned before, he used pitch bending and manipulation鈥endrick does the same thing, and Mac [Miller] did it a little bit as well. I like the idea of trying to make something that you鈥檝e never heard before.

You鈥檝e been very transparent about your major spinal surgery in 2018. Since then, you鈥檝e released your mini-mixtape, 鈥.Respiration.鈥 and EP, 鈥渂reathe.鈥 How much of that transparency and writing has been therapeutic for you?

I mean [pause] I鈥檒l put it this way. I went to therapy, and I wrote music鈥 got more out of writing music than going to therapy. I鈥檓 not saying not go to therapy. I need to go back! There are certain things that I have to talk about that I can鈥檛 do in a song. So, I need to go back to therapy, but at that particular time, I was getting more out of writing than talking to somebody for an hour. I felt more relieved, especially with..and I鈥檓 glad you brought up 鈥.Respiration.鈥 cause no one has talked to me about it. Those were the first things that I wrote after getting out of the surgery. Honestly, there wasn鈥檛 a lot besides the 鈥淚 Got Up鈥 remix over the Nickelus F beat. The other two songs on that project were really just me checking to make sure if like, 鈥極kay, does the pen still work?鈥 When I saw that it did, I was like, 鈥極kay. We can get back to work.鈥 That gave me the energy to make 鈥渂reathe,鈥 and then the whole idea of gasping for air came up, and it all lined up from there. Those remixes were really important because it allowed me to kinda shake off the rust and get back in and see where I鈥檓 at. It let me know that I didn鈥檛 fall off, and that was my biggest fear. I thought that I was going to fall off as a writer and, if anything, I got better. I鈥檓 really grateful for that project.

It鈥檚 interesting that you say that because when I listened to 鈥.Respiration.鈥 I noticed that there was a darker, almost rougher sound compared to 鈥渂reathe.鈥 How much of that juxtaposition reflected your feelings about 2018 and your surgery?

Hmm鈥ark is a good word. To be honest with you, I haven鈥檛 been the biggest fan of myself for the past five to seven years. Music was the only thing that I kinda had that I was like, 鈥極kay. I鈥檓 good at this. This is something that doesn鈥檛 define me, but like鈥ou know, it鈥檚 something that I鈥檓 good at, and it鈥檚 something that I love to do.鈥 And [pause] a major part of that was performing and being in front of people and being honest with myself and being honest with people. I got a lot out of that. When the surgery happened, I honestly didn鈥檛 know if I would be able to perform again. I was always going to make music. If my voice worked, I was always going to make music. But to be able to perform that music鈥 didn鈥檛 know if I was going to be able to do that again. So, I kinda had a chip on my shoulder鈥nd I always rapped with a chip on my shoulder cause I always felt like the odd one out. And I still do鈥nd that鈥檚 okay. 

Writing for 鈥.Respiration.,鈥 compared to 鈥渂reathe,鈥 鈥渋nhale,鈥 the next EP 鈥渆xhale,鈥 and gasping for air鈥ll of those projects are to inspire, to encourage, to motivate, and it鈥檚 just a testimony, right? With 鈥.Respiration.鈥 I just wanted to rap. I just wanted to get my shit off and get rid of that chip on my shoulder to prove that, 鈥榊eah鈥 broke my back, but don鈥檛 get it twisted for one second. I鈥檓 still nice with this. And I鈥檝e been nice with this for a minute.鈥 Do I feel I get that recognition? I don鈥檛鈥t least not vocally. 

With the exception of Pusha T, the best rapper in Virginia, to me, is Nickelus F. Pusha T and Nickelus F are the two鈥nd Fly Anakin. Those are the top three best rappers in Virginia, in my opinion. Pusha doesn鈥檛 know who I am, that鈥檚 cool. I鈥檝e known Anakin for years, that鈥檚 cool. Nickelus F is my hero鈥ike he鈥檚 one of my heroes when it comes to rap. Bar for bar, I鈥檇 put him up against anybody. After I did 鈥.Respiration.,鈥 I did a show in Richmond鈥nd Anakin was actually on the bill now that I remember! And Nick was there! I didn鈥檛 expect him to be there, but he was there. And I was doing that remix to open the set. He had already heard it, and he had shown love to me before, which was crazy in itself. He walked up to me and was like, 鈥榊o, I heard the remix. You killed that.鈥 I was like, 鈥極h. My. God.鈥 I was still on a walker鈥 was still using the walker. And I was like, 鈥榊o, thank you!鈥 After the set and show, following when 鈥.Respiration.鈥 came out, [he] came up to me again and said, and I quote, 鈥榊o. You can rap your ass off.鈥 That is all the validation that I needed. I stopped caring about trying to be the best rapper. Do I still have that ego? Of course I do! Do I still think that I鈥檓 top 10 in the state? Yes! And I鈥檓 NOT 10. And I鈥檓 NOT 9. I truly believe that when I have a pen in my hand, and I鈥檓 focused, I am one of the best rappers that this state has to offer. I truly believe that. And I will continue to believe that until the day that I die.

Photo Credit: @kliftxn

So, 鈥.Respiration.,鈥 I just had that chip on my shoulder like, 鈥楧on鈥檛 forget for one second鈥鈥檓 gonna focus on songwriting, and I鈥檓 gonna focus on trying to evoke emotion鈥ut don鈥檛 get it twisted for one second. I鈥檓 still really good at this.鈥 And the fuel I had for that was to get people to leave me alone and respect me. I wanted that respect, and I still want that respect鈥ut it鈥檚 not as much the fuel anymore. I鈥檓 not worried about respect from rappers that I may never meet anymore. Again, one of my favorite rappers gave me props鈥ore than once. I鈥檓 good. So, I guess the perspective changed from that. And who knows? I may do another one day. I鈥檒l probably do another 鈥.Respiration.鈥 that may become a mixtape series where I鈥檓 like, 鈥業 wanna rap for 15 minutes. Alright, cool.

The first installment of your upcoming series, 鈥渋nhale,鈥 is coming out soon. What, if any, of the songs do you feel tested your songwriting ability, or became a song you were surprised to write?

Oh the last song for sure, 鈥渢ake the lead.鈥 That was a completely different song. Like production wise, it was a completely different song before the version that you heard. You actually heard the original one cause you were at the Charlie鈥檚 show!

Oh, forreal??

Yeah, you were at the Charlie鈥檚 show, and during the set there was a song where I just didn鈥檛 perform, and I just played it. That was the original version of 鈥渢ake the lead.鈥 That was definitely the most challenging one because鈥 mean if there鈥檚 gonna be any song that I have so far, that鈥檚 been released, or that鈥檚 gonna be released, that I think could be like on radio or be mainstream鈥t鈥檚 that one for sure! From the structure and from the outside looking in, it kinda reminds me of 鈥3005.鈥 It reminds me of that sort of energy where the production feels really good, but if you really look at the lyrics, it鈥檚 talking about this heavy stuff. That whole song is about a toxic relationship that I was in. That was definitely the most challenging structure wise, and then writing because it was about something really personal. 

Where does 2020鈥檚 鈥渋nhale鈥 find you mentally compared to 2019鈥檚 鈥渂reathe?鈥

With 鈥渂reathe,鈥 I was living in it while I was writing and recording it. It was very in the moment like, 鈥楾his is just where I鈥檓 at right now鈥 lot of shit has happened鈥his is where I鈥檓 at.鈥 But the series that I鈥檓 doing now, it鈥檚鈥efore it was gasping for air, I called it a testimony. And I鈥檓 just viewing the smaller EPs as chapters of that. So, it鈥檚 more of a reflection now with these projects as opposed to 鈥渂reathe鈥 where I was actually still in it. The focus behind the first chapter, 鈥渋nhale,鈥 is living in the good. That鈥檚 why the songs are kinda more chill, more laidback鈥xcept for 鈥渢ake the lead.鈥 It鈥檚 more relaxed and more of a good vibe, right? And that鈥檚 kinda where the story starts. The next project will probably get a little deeper鈥 little darker. Then the full album will be like the full piece鈥he final piece of it. I like trilogies. I鈥檓 weird. My favorite number is nine鈥hrees and nines. I rock with trilogies, they鈥檙e dope.

I feel that! I love a good concept. 

Me too! And I鈥檒l be honest with you, I was worried about doing it this way, and I was worried about this release strategy because I haven鈥檛 seen a rapper do it. But when I saw鈥t was originally inspired by John Mayer because he did it with鈥ot his last album, but the album before. But more directly, what Hayley did鈥hat Hayley Williams did!

Oh, Petals For Armor!

Exactly! I think, from a business standpoint, it was freakin鈥 smart. Cause it鈥檚 like鈥ayley Williams is probably鈥 would say one of the best live voices I鈥檝e ever鈥ne of the best voices period, that I鈥檝e ever heard. And I think she鈥檚鈥ike I鈥檓 not the biggest into rock cause I鈥檓 just not there and there鈥檚 so much, but from鈥鈥檒l put it this way鈥efore he passed, Chester Bennington was the greatest living frontman in my opinion. Obviously, we had Freddie Mercury, but like鈥hat was living at that point, Chester was the guy. That was the voice for me. When he passed, there was this time where I just started to listening to Paramore more, and I was like, 鈥楪oodness gracious鈥his girl is like鈥t鈥檚 insane!鈥 To see her do that鈥 love Petals For Armor, I love that album. 

Oh yeah, that album has been on repeat. 

It鈥檚 so good. It鈥檚 so good, and I鈥檓 so happy for her because like鈥henever an artist goes solo, it鈥檚 like, 鈥極kay. It鈥檚 either gonna be really good or eh鈥︹ and she killed it. I was really inspired by that and with how she broke it down. Like I said, I wanted it to be like a mixtape, production wise, and like an album, lyrically. I wanted to break it up because I鈥檓 still trying to reach a new audience and get new ears. If I see somebody that I haven鈥檛 heard of before or in a long time, I鈥檓 more inclined to listen to a four-track EP than a nine or twelve-track album. I focus more on making small, cohesive pieces so that if you rock with those pieces, and you come along with the story, then I know you鈥檙e gonna love the album. That would be the approach. So where 鈥渋nhale鈥 finds me now is鈥鈥檓 at a point where I can look back instead of being in it. It鈥檚 a different energy, but it鈥檚 still me鈥鈥檓 still in the energy of some of those songs. You know what I mean? On a spiritual level, the EP is the chapter that is focused on the flesh. The whole album, in general, is a tug of war between faith and fear. When you get tired of fighting that, and when you get tired of being in that tug of war, you just wanna live in the moment. You just wanna do whatever it is you wanna do鈥ou wanna hangout鈥ou wanna get fucked up鈥ou wanna鈥ou know what I mean? 鈥渋nhale鈥 is like a soundtrack for that basically. It starts off really chill like you鈥檙e talking with your friends or whatever. 鈥渇orecast鈥 is kinda the same way. 鈥渙ptions,鈥 which is more commercial sounding, is more like the pregame, turn up song, or whatever. 

When I think of 鈥渙ptions,鈥 I picture myself in like a really nice car, windows down, got a blunt, shades on, bad chick is in shotgun, and I just feel like the coolest dude in the world driving down the oceanfront at three o鈥檆lock in the morning. And, I鈥檓 not that person. So, it鈥檚 fun to kinda step into that world and live in that for like two鈥wo and a half minutes [laughs] before I come back to reality, and that鈥檚 what makes the transition from 鈥渙ptions鈥 to 鈥渢ake the lead鈥 so cool. There鈥檚 a sample at the end from 500 Days of Summer cause it鈥檚 literally like that breakdown of expectations and reality. That鈥檚 really what those two songs are. I wanted to just make it an enjoyable listen for 10 minutes. I didn鈥檛 want to make anything forgettable; I wanted to set the tone of, 鈥極kay, this is the first part of the story. If you like it, we鈥檒l keep going.鈥

Yeah, I was gonna say鈥 like to listen to new music in a quiet space where no one is going to bother me. When I listened to 鈥渋nhale,鈥 I felt that story鈥 went through that journey. And that last song鈥an鈥

Yes! That鈥檚 what I wanted! I鈥檓 so happy that I didn鈥檛 scrap that song because I was going to. I liked the original version, but it wasn鈥檛 there yet, production wise. Compared to the other songs, it sounded bland. I had like a super, awesome guitar solo at the end that isn鈥檛 on the actual version, which I鈥檓 a little bummed about鈥ut it鈥檚 okay. It was a last minute thing where I sent it to my friend, Nu$e [Musik], out in LA. He added some keys to it, and when he sent it back, it was like the battery was recharged. I went back, and I just changed everything with the beat. The way it transitioned from the bachata drums and stuff like鈥t鈥檚 my favorite part鈥t鈥檚 my favorite part of the whole EP. 

I was gonna say, that song鈥hat song is the one. 

I appreciate that. To date, that is probably the most complete song I have. And I鈥檓 really proud of it, and I鈥檓 really grateful. I gotta thank Nu$e again because he鈥檚 one of the most talented musicians that I鈥檝e ever met. I call it the Hey Arnold keys. He put the Hey Arnold keys on there and gave it a different energy.

I鈥檓 really excited for this to come out. It will be out next month on the ninth, correct?

That is the plan. We are shooting a lot of dope visual stuff at the end of the month, so more stuff will come out after the EP comes out. The idea with 鈥渋nhale鈥 and 鈥渆xhale鈥 is to treat them like mixtapes. I鈥檝e always viewed mixtapes as trying to get as much local attention as you can while trying to build up that local fanbase. That鈥檚 why I鈥檓 upset with COVID, one because it鈥檚 a super health thing, but two鈥 was planning on hitting every open mic that I could just to try and get into other people鈥檚 faces. You know鈥 haven鈥檛 really been out there like that with my surgery and just with mental stuff. I鈥檝e gone out once in a while, but I鈥檓 not really out here. 

I鈥檓 just grateful that certain people in the music scene here know me and remember me and have been really supportive. There are so many ears out here that haven鈥檛 heard me, and I can鈥檛 expect people that already know I鈥檓 great, or know that I make music, to always [spread the word] about me. I have two legs. I have a voice. I can go out. The exciting part about it is that I do think this is my best project to date, so I think that it鈥檚 going to get the fans that I already have back because I know that I鈥檝e been really inconsistent with releases. But I also believe this will be the first project that I can stand on, and I think people will actually want to share鈥攏ot just because they鈥檙e my friends, or saw me at a show鈥攂ut because the music is actually really good from start to finish. I think this is the first time word of mouth will really鈥he product will back it up. I may have fallen short of that in the past, or I didn鈥檛 fall through more than I needed to. I don鈥檛 know if I鈥檓 gonna make another full album again. I want to. I absolutely want to, but I can鈥檛 do it if I don鈥檛 live anything. This may be the only one that I do, and if it is, then I just wanna invest into it, and I want to do it however the hell I wanna do it, so I have no regrets. I鈥檓 excited. I鈥檓 nervous as hell. I really think this is gonna鈥t may not get me in the door, but it will definitely be a solid knock at the door鈥ou鈥檒l hear鈥nd you鈥檒l pay attention. 

inhale” – tyler donavan (artwork: @bigbadlone)

Featured image by: @leansvision

“inhale” is out NOW on all music streaming platforms! A big thank you to tyler donavan and 9th Nimbus for the chance to conduct this interview. And most importantly…don’t forget to breathe.

Gettin Real With Fake

Popscure writer Jerome Spencer sat down with Fake Uzumi to hear how it all came to be.

The Fake Uzumi Story, like any good success story, starts with Lil Bow Wow.

鈥淭hat was the coolest shit ever,鈥 Uzumi tells me about Bow Wow, 鈥淛ust seeing a kid who was rapping about kid stuff that blew up. I was like 鈥榤an, I wish i had a Mickey Mouse chain鈥. So my first motivation was鈥 yeah, probably Lil Bow Wow.鈥

Alright, that鈥檚 less weird when you know that Uzumi started rapping at the age of 11. Which is what got him into production. As a matter of fact, it seems like Uzumi does a lot of what he does out of necessity.

鈥淚 do a multitude of things,鈥 he says, 鈥淚 DJ, I鈥檓 an artist, I produce, I curate. Basically, I only started making beats because i wanted to rap at like 11 or 12 and I couldn’t afford beats at the time so i was like 鈥榟ey, I鈥檓 gonna do it myself鈥. I started making beats and all of them were really garbage so I gave it up for a couple of years then I tried it again. I started getting really good at it so I stuck with it. I started graphic designing because I couldn’t find anyone who could make cover art for me. I kinda became like a DIY type of person. I started going to parties around here and I didnt like a lot of the DJs. There were a certain few that i liked and one of them was Gabe Niles. And he introduced me to DJing and put me on my first stage. That’s how I got started with DJing and everything. That鈥檚 the gist of it.鈥

So that鈥檚 the gist of it. And my job as a journalist would be so much easier if there weren鈥檛 any more to it than that. Fake Uzumi, however, didn鈥檛 come out of nowhere. Sure, we鈥檙e so used to him DJing almost every party worth attending and producing some of the most adventurous projects in Virginia that it seems like he鈥檚 always been around, but he had to start somewhere, right? And that鈥檚 where Lil Bow Wow comes in.

Photo by Malik Emmanuel | @forevasuave

Now, honesty, I didn鈥檛 know about Fake Uzumi鈥檚 alter-ego, Shaded Zu, until pretty recently (鈥淔ake Uzumi doesn鈥檛 do any talking so Shaded Zu in the mouthpiece,鈥 he explains, 鈥淏ut they work simultaneously.鈥) and that鈥檚 because rapping took a backseat to production and DJing for a while. 

鈥淚 stopped rapping because I wanted to focus more on the production side of things,鈥 Uzumi admits, 鈥淚 produced a lot for Opal. At first, I was just trying to stay in Opal鈥檚 creative energy and feed her what I could offer and then I just decided that I wanted to work with EVERYBODY. I can鈥檛 limit myself to staying with one person so I started working with as many people as I could.

鈥淚鈥檓 just really trying to take the Neptunes strategy,鈥 he continues, 鈥淚 can make my own stuff but I really want to reach out and work with the people in the area and give them a piece of my sound. I get a lot of people out of their comfort zone and  a lot of the time it works. They鈥檙e kind of timid at first, but once it drops they get that good reaction.鈥

When pressed about his 鈥渟ound鈥, Uzumi is reluctant to put himself into a box or declare himself a torch-bearer of the Virginia style, though.

鈥淚 think our sound isn’t like a genre; it’s just dope shit,鈥 he offers, 鈥淎s far as me carrying on that torch, i just make what I like and what I like is influenced by what these people made 10 or 15 years ago. I鈥檓 just making stuff that feels good. It feels good to me and a lot of times it feels good to other people from Virginia because they can feel that influence, too.鈥

鈥淚t鈥檚 really what comes out of me and what I’m feeling at that moment. A lot of the soundscapes or choices that I’m influenced by come from my parents鈥 choice in music; hearing a lot of neo-soul, 80s and 70s soul and even 60s music.. When i was living with my grandma she would listen to Al Green and Marvin Gaye and I started learning more about chords. Or at least things that could make me feel a certain way; what chords could transport me to a certain place. That鈥檚 really where my inspiration comes from with that chill bounce.鈥

Photo by Malik Emmanuel | @forevasuave

鈥淐hill Bounce鈥 really is an apt way to describe Fake Uzumi鈥檚 sound. He brings the Saturday night vibes without too much expectation and just kinda lets the party come to him. This is why DJing seemed like a natural progression for the producer.

鈥淚 told Gabe (Niles) I wanted to start DJing and asked him to help me,鈥 Uzumi explains, 鈥淗e was like 鈥榖ro, bring your laptop, get on stage and do it鈥 and I said 鈥榦k, bet鈥. So I went up there (The Parlor on Granby) and I didn鈥檛 know how to DJ from shit. I would just play one song, abruptly stop it and go to the next song and the people really didn鈥檛 care, they just loved what I was playing.鈥

(I love this story because it posits that passion and drive are all you really need and fancy equipment and/or proper training are just icing on the cake. And it gets even better, but I鈥檒l let him tell it…)

鈥淭hen I went to an afterparty at Alchemy and the guy who owned Work Release, Charles Rasputin, was playing from his Pandora. I asked if I could plug my phone in and play some stuff from Soundcloud. Everybody started having a good time and he was like 鈥淚鈥檓 opening a spot in a month and I want you to be a resident DJ鈥. I was like i don’t really know how to DJ and he was like 鈥榠t doesn’t matter, you know how to get people moving鈥. I learned how to DJ on stage. I was using other people鈥檚 equipment and I would learn on the fly. Then I got my own equipment and kinda got a lot better.鈥

Isn’t that some beautiful shit? My man just wanted to DJ parties so he did and he became a resident DJ at Norfolk鈥檚 dopest spot (RIP, Work Release) on his first night. And we all know how that worked out for him; Fake Uzumi is a busy man and he鈥檚 guaranteed to rock a party every time. And when things are going well, naturally, you keep the creativity flowing. And, if you’re Uzumi, that means rapping.

鈥淪omewhere along the way, probably around 2017 or 2018,鈥 he says,鈥滻 got really inspired again and started recording like a madman and i’ve just been on it ever since. I stopped rapping because I wasn’t inspired, or moreso, out of fear; I didn’t know how it would translate or how I should start my songs or what my songs should even be about. Should I stick to having fun or should my songs be more conscious? Then I just thought forget all that, I’m just going to make things that I like.鈥
The cumulative result of things that Uzumi liked came in the form of 2019鈥檚 Xtra-Large, Shaded Zu鈥檚 most ambitious offering to date.

鈥淚t was a year in the making,鈥 Uzumi explains (or maybe Shaded Zu is talking now; I never asked), 鈥淭here鈥檚 two sides to the story. One side is that I just felt like people weren’t being as collaborative as I think we could be. In Virginia we have so many talented people but I felt like everybody was out for self. I just wanted to create something really dope but include all the people that I鈥檓 really fans of that might not normally do something on this type of beat or might not perform this way. I wanted to get everybody out of their comfort zone, but we鈥檇 still meet in the middle. And the second half is that, as a kid, I always thought I would be in The 27 Club, like narcissistically. I was 27 during the making of the project so I needed to make something that, if I were to die within that year – I believe in reincarnation so wanted to make something powerful enough that my next life or next being would love it. I focused really hard on making something really great just to feed that, I guess it鈥檚 ego.鈥

Shaded Zu “Xtra-Large” is available to stream everywhere, get on it!

Xtra-Large really is a collaborative effort. With at least one feature on eight of it鈥檚 ten songs, it showcases much more talent than just Uzumi鈥檚 distinct production style (that Chill Bounce, in case you forgot).

鈥淎 lot of those collaborations kinda happened by accident,鈥 Uzumi says, 鈥淭he one with Sunny (Moonshine) – I sampled her voice from a song we did back in 2013 that we never released. But I didn鈥檛 wanna put it out without her consent. So I sent it to her to get her feedback and she literally sent it back the next day with her verse on the end of it. It was perfect. I didn’t wanna ask for a verse and put her on the spot, but she just did it off top and made it perfect.鈥

And Xtra-Large feels as spontaneously perfect as Sunny鈥檚 bars. No offense to Fake Uzumi, though; I鈥檓 sure he had to grind meticulously on the production end to make this project feel so free and uninhibited. It鈥檚 the kind of record you can listen to over and over again and still peep something new. (鈥淔uck it, we about to sell-out Toast鈥 snuck up on me.) And Uzumi鈥檚 passionate work ethic will definitely keep you checking for what鈥檚 next.

鈥淚鈥檓 not dropping another full length album until 2021, but I got a couple of tricks up my sleeve for the rest of this year,鈥 Uzumi tells me, 鈥淚 got a couple of songs coming out, I got some videos in the works, I got a compilation coming out soon. It’s gonna be me and two of my buddies, SplashOfGold and Whogotdadutch. We鈥檝e been working together for a long time. They were on my last project and we鈥檙e doing a project that鈥檚 coming out really soon with all three of us. I produced all the songs on that too. I got a lot of stuff coming out, it’s just the rollout that I’m focusing on.鈥

PhoneCalls is out now, streaming everywhere

Well, if you can鈥檛 wait, I鈥檝e got good news for you; Fake Uzumi鈥檚 collaboration with SplashOfGold and Whogotdadutch, PhoneCalls, drops on all streaming platforms on February 18th and there鈥檚 a listening party at Utopia Feni on February 16th. If you haven鈥檛 already been put onto Fake Uzumi by now, this is as good a time as any.

Oh yeah, about that name:

鈥淔ake wasn鈥檛 necessarily supposed to be a part of it,鈥 he explains, 鈥淚t was a joke on Twitter; like how people put 鈥渞eal鈥 in their name. I鈥檓 thinking it would be funny because nobody’s trying to have a fake page of you. So I just put Fake Uzumi.鈥

So when my man gets that blue checkmark, he鈥檚 gonna be The Real Fake Uzumi.

Monthly Mix: FAKE UZUMI


Benji Uzumi has already been noticed by bigger outlets for his remixes and edits, but is still down to give our humble blog a taste of his unique, seamless blend. He’s already worked with pretty major artists like Opal as a producer, but still finds time to spin around town. He’s at GameWorks every Wednesday to soundtrack free adults-only arcading, and can be seen around town any given weekend.  

This mix celebrates his hard work and could be considered an ode to other Virginian artists who work just as hard but still stay humble. Along with VA artists featured like Masego and N.E.R.D, Uzumi proves 757 stands against top hip hop and house music real well.


N.E.R.D. – Everybody Nose (Remix)
KP & ENVI – Shorty Swing My Way
Erykah Badu – On & On (Remix)
Yaeji – drink I鈥檓 sippin on
Barbara Tucker – Everybody Dance
Yaeji – Raingurl
Masego – Girls That Dance
Azealia Banks – Licorice
Les Sins – Bother
Aaliyah – One in a Million (Remix)
Nightcrawlers – Push the Feeling
Azealia Banks – Van Vogue
Nightcrawlers – Fall in Love
Lakim – The World is Yours
Theophilus London – TNT
Goldlink – Meditation
Duckwrth- I鈥檓 Dead
The internet – You Know
Kaytranada – I Can Love You
Chynna – Switch It Up