By Rebecca Benoît
Name: Dolapo Akinkugbe a.k.a. D.A.P. a.k.a. DAP the contract
Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria
High School: Harrow School, London
College: Berklee College of Music, Brown University
Current City: New York, NY
To introduce recent Brown graduate and soon-to-be Columbia Law student Dolapo Akinkugbe is surprisingly hard. The challenge extends not only to his musical genre, but also to the simplest of introductory situations, such as “This is ___.” He was born Dolapo, but “everyone at home calls me D.A.P.”, and his tracks are credited to DAP the contract, or DAP, one syllable.
You may have come across one of his titles in Complex or Vice after his recording session at Abbey Road Studios. But most likely, you are one of many who missed what The Source branded as “the best mixtape of 2014”: Goodbye for Never.
The digital age facilitates blurred boundaries in genre and musical influence is no longer limited by one’s immediate social and cultural sphere—DAP’s work may be one of our best examples of this melding. He’s relocated many times and had a uniquely wide level of exposure; his music demands an open-ended definition that reflects an overall trend in the mixtape era of internet music. Audiences who were once distinct are now unified on one intra-exchanging platform, and DAP’s multifaceted sound is right on time.
Through cultural and geographical displacement from Lagos to London to Providence to New York, DAP’s passion and talent for music remained. But even this seemingly common thread was continually formed and reformed by environmental changes and the universal “coming of age” experience.
From the child pianist Dolapo, to the campus-famous DAP recording from his dorm room, to the newest addition to NYC’s exciting roster of up-and-coming artists, the question remains: who is this kid?
One would inevitably fail to accurately describe this enigmatic musical character without elaboration from the man himself. Luckily, Friends of Friends sat down with DAP to talk about the creation, struggles, and gift of a mixed cultural and musical identity.
So how do you answer ‘Where are you from’?
I’m from Nigeria. That’s where my family’s from and where I go for school breaks. But I identify fully with each different culture. The transition from high school in London to college in the States in particular was crazy because it was very conservative to very liberal. It was actually a lot more shocking than Nigeria to London. At Brown I became a lot more aware—college was very freeing.
How do these different cultural backgrounds play into your music?
I’ve always prided myself on being an artist that has no expectations. If I have new music coming out, you never know what you’re going to get. It’s a good and a bad thing. For example, if you listen to my most recent tape, Goodbye For Never, the first thing you hear is the ‘natural’ form of me: me on the piano. It’s kind of soulful, kind of jazzy—singing, rapping, overlapping together. But then, it quickly changes to very housey, hip-hop, U.K.-type hip-hop, then blues, then classical piano. So I like being able to throw people all over the place. Eventually, it comes to a point where you’re not going to love everything, which I like about my music, but the things you do like I hope you like a lot.
But sometimes, trying to stay versatile is a curse. In the industry, especially the hip-hop industry, you’re always expected to come in with a sound. A label will ask you, “What’s your sound?” as in, “who are you?”, and it’s hard for people to reconcile that different sounds are all still the same person.
What’s the story behind your musical origins?
I’m classically trained in piano and have played since I was four. My mum was a piano teacher, my sister’s a classically trained pianist as well, and a singer-songwriter and film scorer— she’s a musician, too. So it’s a real family, blood thing. Funny enough, when I went to boarding school in London all of my friends started falling in love with hip-hop. Somewhere around age 14, all of my friends started rapping, but I really didn’t care for it as deeply as they did. I was good at writing poetry in English class, but I wasn’t really that bothered about rapping.
Were they love poems?
Care to elaborate?
No, no, no. No comment. But my poetry was deep, man. It was cool… Anyway, I was happy to be behind-the-scenes. I loved being the ‘producer guy.’ Because even with no credit, I could feel how important my piece was to this whole thing.
How do your London friends react to what you’re doing with music here?
I think my friends back home see that I’m really a pianist, but I’m just using it in a different way. I want to stay in this country and kick-start my music here, because I feel my music speaks most to this demographic.
And how do people react to you when you show up andstart talking in this very British accent?
It actually gave me a little confidence boost freshman year of college. I was a fish out of water, but as soon as I started speaking, people at first were like “Your name is Dolapo, so you’re from Nigeria? Then why do you sound like the Queen?” So people are always confused, but I like that element of surprise. Like the music, they don’t really get the whole story, but they always seem to like that I have an accent. There are always the Harry Potter jokes.
Do you often feel people try to pick one part of your identity that will be most marketable?
In terms of being Nigerian, I suppose I don’t mind if my manager were to say that’s what we should focus on at the moment. Right now what’s hot are the ‘island vibes’ as I like to call them. I think particularly in hip-hop, so ‘Work’ by Rihanna and Drake, or ‘Hold Up’ by Beyoncé is very Jamaican-esque. Everything’s kind of moving towards Africa and the ‘black diaspora’ so to speak. But my music actually only just got there, right before that happened. I grew up in Nigeria, but because it was just natural to hear that kind of music, I never really took note of it. That is, until I turned 22 at Brown, so this was literally a year ago. I was home for Christmas and I just fell in love with the music. It got better, the quality improved, and I was already starting to push that part of myself to the forefront of my music. Right on time, Drake remixes a WizKid song. WizKid’s maybe the biggest artist in Nigeria right now, and Skepta in London is also Nigerian. All of a sudden, all of my three backgrounds just connected immediately. It was really strange, since I was already right with the energy that’s most potent right now.
Even though you aren’t technically, what is it like being perceived as an African-American artist in the U.S.?
A part of what you asked is people trying to tell me I’m a rapper all the time, and I hate that. When I perform, I always say, “Hi, I go by the name D.A.P., I’m a producer first, and a rapper second.” If you really want to call me something, I’m a classical pianist, since that’s where it all started. But I think I prefer just ‘musician’, because I rap, I sing, I write, I compose, I orchestrate, I arrange, I produce, and everything you’re hearing is me. Being blessed enough to have traveled so much, I don’t really deal well with being boxed in. So, I don’t really worry if the first song someone hears is just me rapping over a ’90s beat, if that’ll ‘prove’ I’m a rapper, because that doesn’t change the next song I’ll put out. If it starts being, “Oh, the African kid who raps” I’ll just have to put out a classical piece next time.
How do you plan on transitioning Brown fame to NYC?
I haven’t really thought about transitioning, because I don’t really know how I would do it. Brown helped me master marketing, performing, presenting, and creating a brand. I knew how to get people to listen, and I knew what they wanted to listen to. I knew where to perform, where to plug things.
I left home when I was 11 to go to boarding school in London, so I’m used to resetting. I expected that when I left Brown, I’d have done about 1% of my career.… So, I’m just trying to make sure I get theright opportunities in the right place and time, and I know I’ll do the rest.
So what is the post-grad New York plan?
Brown was very important because I really found myself in the first two to three years, which allowed me to do everything musically that I did in my junior and senior years. I was studying Latin, Greek, and Music. I wasn’t about to graduate and get a perfect salary job, but that wasn’t the point. I deferred Columbia Law School for a year to concentrate on music. I have to get a job to stay in the country unfortunately, because of my international visa. That’s how you know I’m really Nigerian, I’ve got a green passport in my pocket right now. I need a job that’s related to my college studies in Music and Classics. The next few months will be focused on creating and getting out the music I have, the single, and I’m shooting a video, and then with that will come more roll-out plans, marketing plans, performance opportunities, etc.
Tell me about recording at Abbey Road Studios!
It was with a competition that Converse sponsors called Rubber Tracks. I think 3,000 people applied online. You just say your favorite artist, your musical background, and you put your music up. I put my mixtape up and this song I’ve got called Blue.
“I never had a favorite color until I made this song.”
They select 81 artists to go to 12 studios around the world. There’s one in Brooklyn, one in Toronto, one in Brazil, one in Iceland, one in Australia, all over the place, and I got accepted to the one in London. Everyone had a mentor as well, so I had Ken Scott who engineered the Beatles and Pink Floyd, and I had Mark Ronson as my mentor.
How do you feel about getting attention from something like that?
It’s great, obviously, but I tried to make sure I wasn’t intimidated by the fact that I was going to the world-famous Beatles’ home, because that just ruins the opportunity to make music there. At the end of the day, the music is more valuable than the fact that you are at Abbey Road or you are with Mark Ronson. And that’s all it really is for me. I’m glad that Mark Ronson was dope, and that he made me feel very relaxed, and all he cared about was the music too. At the same time, it could make me “that kid who blew up from that Mark Ronson thing he did at Abbey Road,” and they don’t even know my name, the name of the song, or even what the song sounds like. That’s the side that I don’t really like. I’d rather have it be something that I made in my bedroom that I put online than forever be attached to the documentary or to that recording session.
Abbey Road was amazing though. I’ve grown up on the Beatles. My mum’s favorite song of all time is the Long and Winding Road, and my dad knows every John Lennon song ever. Also, Kanye West is my favorite artist, and his live album Late Orchestration was recorded there.
And how was it being filmed for a documentary?
Filming the documentary was a bit weird. They came to Brown, and followed me around. At one point, they wanted to film me walking from my room to a show at the center of campus. So they’re driving beside me, with this huge camera hanging out the side of the van, and the door’s wide open. And I’m walking past friends who say “you’re going to the show, I’ll be there in 30 minutes,” and then they look over to the car and they’re like, “do you realize that there’s this car?” My roommates loved it ironically, they’re all superstars in their own right, but it was weird.
Any advice for other young artists trying to break into the music scene?
This is honestly always my favorite question. It all comes back to my mum, who’s the reason I’ve played the piano my whole life. I’m 23 and I can already say I’ve been doing something for two decades, which is pretty crazy. After my first mixtape, when I was 18, my dad got me this book called Outliers that talked about the 10,000 hours theory. The only thing that matters is that when those people are scouring for you on the internet, that your music is undeniable. To me, that’s your 10,000 hours. Don’t worry about how or when or where, worry about the music itself. So again, no matter how I come into the industry, no matter what the first single is, the question remains: is the music good? That’s all I care about. And that’s the advice I give anyone. Put in the 10,000 hours, and no one can stop you. No one around you should be working harder than you are. That’s it man, hard work pays off. Those little things your parents told you growing up, they really mean everything. People really are dying from cancer, eating your vegetables is a real thing, exercise is a real thing, all those little anecdotes that they would say, like, “Life is short,” “Treat your neighbors like you want to be treated,” all those little parables matter. Hard work really pays off—for real.
You can find more of DAP’s music on his soundcloud and official website.
Rebecca Benoît grew up in Washington, D.C. and Paris and is currently a student at Brown University.
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