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DC The Don Interview: New life starts with death at a ‘FUNERAL’

Photos by Sam Balaban / Courtesy of Audible Treats

Change is in the air for DC The Don.

Despite projects from Destroy Lonely, JELEEL!, Highway, Joony and more all arriving at midnight (May 5), it’s the last thing on the Milwaukee-bred artist’s mind. If anything, it thrills him. “It makes me more excited, because now there’s more competition,” he said on our scheduled Zoom call this week, bearing with me through 10-plus minutes of technical difficulties amid packing for tour with $NOT and Eem Triplin.

“Think about when XXXTENTACION dropped 17, Lil Uzi Vert shared Luv Is Rage 2 and A$AP Mob dropped Cozy Tapes,” he continued. “They all came out on the same day. But those were three completely different projects that people would consider to be in the same sphere… For me, out of all my albums, [FUNERAL] is the first one where I really feel like I’m ahead of the curve.”

At 16 tracks long, FUNERAL is not just another run-of-the-mill DC The Don tape. It isn’t a remnant of “Red Light,” “Poison” or even My Own Worst Enemy for that matter. It’s an elevation of sound and stature, breaking away from the confines — and boxes — people have placed him in for years. Online hate seems to span eons in Donny’s comments, but this only makes him stronger. Respect is what he’s after, not numbers nor notoriety. FUNERAL may be the death of Donny’s past self, but it’s the birth of something more sonically rich and “ageless.”

“A lot of shit in my life has been changing… From a personal standpoint, it’s a ‘FUNERAL’ and death to a lot of things that could be better [for me] moving forward. From a music standpoint, it’s like a death of everything that came before — and I’m not saying f**k all my other music because it’s what led up to this — but it’s kind of like a whole new chapter instead of just turning the page. [My catalog] is going to be like ‘before FUNERAL’ and ‘after FUNERAL,’ because the music is so much more mature, and honestly, ageless for people to be able to enjoy and understand.”

DC The Don on ‘FUNERAL’

There’s a level of awareness that the 24-year-old singer-rapper possesses that most of his peers don’t. He admits the “love-hate relationship” he has with his hometown of Milwaukee; He knows that the “closeted DC fans” praise him behind closed doors; He’s thankful for the level of admiration and support of the fanbase that fuels him. Reinventing himself is one thing, but crafting timeless music is everything for DC The Don moving forward.

Sharing his majorly nostalgic, pop-heavy LP on Friday (May 5) — filled with glossy synths, 8-bit beats, hard-hitting bars and blitzing hyperpop melodies that brim with candor — Donny’s gifting the world with the “feel-good music” it’s always needed. FUNERAL’s lead tracks in “Hate Being Lonely” and “12AM” were robust deviations of his rage aesthetic. Hell, “Hate Being Lonely” may very well be in the running for Song Of The Year, as its cinematic allure inherently ties the entire record together.

“[HBL and 12AM] kind of changed the narrative of my career, honestly,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, a lot of people started to take me more serious or hate me even more, which is a good thing… I actually made ‘LUV’ on accident. ‘FUNERAL’ was a whole different album at first. I had the ‘Poison’ record and more [music] in that lane, but it started off completely different.”

From “boot camps” with his producers to sleepless nights in the studio, Donny wears FUNERAL’s influences on his sleeve. The shimmering, carefree spirit of 2000s pop is littered all throughout the LP, as DC reveals that the era’s aura rubbed off on him during the album’s reboot. Known for his dynamic vocals and ability to tap-dance in between genres with ease, Donny’s creative pocket on FUNERAL is inimitably sound. Piquing the interest of die-hard fans and mainstream gatekeepers — a feat DC The Don has not yet captured, but so rightfully deserves — he sought out to make a pop album consisting of “all different types of pop.”

Tracks like “Hate The New You,” “Bankrupt :/”, “You Forgot About Me” and “Going Stuck” incite summertime fun that not only feels of-the-moment, but encapsulate the essence of an era. Yet, “Used 2 Be/Me” and “Working On Dyin” are callbacks to his roots in rage, as “Friends,” “Fight Or Flight” and “Intuition” display him in a rather vulnerable state-of-mind with a softer sound to match. Self-reflective, forward-looking and love-torn altogether, the guitar-driven slow jams depict Donny’s artistic reverence reaching new highs, amid the lows life present.

With first-time sets at Rolling Loud and Summer Smash slated for this year, it’s clear Donny has shedded his underground status for the better. I caught up with him hours before he left for tour, as we spoke about FUNERAL, the direction of his sound, his case as a 2023 XXL Freshman, haters and more in this exclusive OGM interview.

Check out our conversation below!

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Casket talk with Donny…

JB: How’s life been for you lately?

DC: “Doing good! I’ve just been working hard, and sleeping hardly. I don’t even know what I’m talking about right now, I’ve been working nonstop it feels like. I’ve been cooking a lot too, on my Gordon Ramsey shit.

JB: Wait what? That’s dope! What’s been your favorite dish to make?

DC: Japanese wagyu… I literally just sear it and it takes like 10 minutes to make. Obviously medium rare. I usually throw chips on the side or something with it, but that’s been my go-to. I know it sounds boujee, but I gotta keep it gangsta with the chips, you know?”

JB: I grew up in a restaurant working with my family, so we got the chef connection there. But I ask “how life’s been” because we’re here to talk about your ‘FUNERAL,’ in a sense. If life’s been so great, what’s the connection with death for the album? What’s the underlying meaning or concept of ‘FUNERAL’?

DC: “To be fully transparent, I just got out of a super, SUPER tough relationship. A lot of shit in my life has been changing, and from a personal standpoint, it’s a ‘FUNERAL’ and death to a lot of things in my life that could be better moving forward. From a music standpoint, it’s like a death of everything that came before — and I’m not saying f**k all my other music because it’s what led up to this — but it’s kind of like a whole new chapter instead of just turning the page. [My catalog] is going to be like ‘before FUNERAL’ and ‘after FUNERAL,’ because the music is so much more mature, and honestly, ageless for people to be able to enjoy and understand.”

JB: Obviously “Hate Being Lonely” and “12AM” were LONG-teased tracks, and fans went berserk when they finally released. What’s the reception been like for you after sharing these two lead singles?

DC: “It’s kind of changed the narrative of my career, honestly. From what I’ve seen, a lot of people started to take me more serious or hate me even more, which is a good thing. Let’s just talk from a hate perspective, a lot of people that hate on me, I think it’s because they’re like, ‘Alright, I’m gonna have to deal with this dude for a while.’ Because if they didn’t give a f**k, they wouldn’t say anything, which they didn’t for a while. But now, it’s to the point where my fan base is starting to spill over into pop a little bit. They’re starting to see it too much and the music’s getting better, so they’re kind of like: I need to pick a side. Eventually, they’ll end up f**king [with the new music], though.”

The other day, I said ‘shout out all the closeted DC fans’ because there’s a lot of them… But for the people that have always f**ked with me, it’s like the best thing that they’ve heard. At the end of the day, I just got to keep doing what I’m doing. This album, and honestly those two songs [‘Hate Being Lonely’ and ’12AM’] are not the best songs on the album, in my opinion.

Donny on ‘FUNERAL’s’ two lead tracks

JB: How would you describe your fans at this stage of the game compared to when you were first coming up?

DC: “A lot of my fans have made lifelong friends just from being a fan of me. These kids like that are like 18, 19 or 20 now are kind of at this point where they’re like ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ They’re here for the ride because at the end of the day, I’ve never disappointed them. I’ve kept feeding them, but I’ve never stayed stagnant or stuck in a certain sound like making another ‘Worst Day’ or another ‘Red Light.’ Since I’ve done that, the older fans are kind of locked in for the newer fans — they’re very defensive. Because they haven’t been here to go thought the trials that I’ve gone through, they’ve dealt with all the hate. But the music will always speak for itself.”

JB: Stemming from the singles and from what I’ve heard of the album, it’s more pop-leaning and cinematic than ever. “Going Stuck,” “HBL” “Hate The New You,” “LUV” and “You Forgot About Me”… you’re evolving right before our eyes. What was the intent behind ‘FUNERAL’? What do you hope to achieve with this record? 

DC: “My main goal is for this to be ageless. Like, I played ‘Hate Being Lonely’ in the session with my label, and I’m talking about like 40-plus year olds bobbing their head and tapping their foot more than they normally would. They were dancing, they were smiling. At first, we were thinking ‘LUV’ would be the first single, but seeing the effect of ‘HBL’ told me everything I needed to know. I had a homie tell me once, ‘if they move they feet, you eat.’ You can’t beat that. If people can dance to it and feel good to it… this whole album is us taking what we had going on to a whole other level.”

“Honestly, I feel like music needs to be more feel-good, in general. I’ve been going back to a lot of early 2000s music — and you know the 20-year rule with nostalgia, that’s when things start to recycle. So we’ve been listening to a ton of 2000s R&B, like Jesse McCartney records.”

DC The Don on nostalgic, feel-good music

JB: “Hate Being Lonely” is truly one of the best songs to drop this year in my opinion. It does feel nostalgic in a way, the song and the album as a whole. Was nostalgia a main thing you focused on during the creative process of the record? If not, what was?

DC: Yeah, for sure. I mean, I actually made ‘LUV’ on accident. ‘FUNERAL’ was a whole different album at first. I had the ‘Poison’ record and more in that lane, but it started off completely different. I’ve done boot camps with my producers where we would just study for hours and hours listening to music before we even make anything. We kept going back to early 2000s stuff, because even when it came out, it felt nostalgic. It wasn’t just because it was older, it felt overwhelmingly nostalgic, carefree, feel-good and cinematic. So we took that blueprint and just ran with it.”

JB: Aside from the more poppy tracks, the electro-rage, hyperpop cuts like “Used 2 Be/Me and “WORKING ON DYIN” just reassert your presence as a trendsetter. Was versatility the most important thing to you when creating the record? If not, what was?

DC: “We wanted to make it a pop album, but we wanted to do every form of a pop. We got pop-punk influence on ‘Going Stuck’ and I’m on my rock shit there, but it felt stale before. I felt like I brought new life to it on these records, so that it won’t be stale the next time I tap back into it. We didn’t want anything to feel dated.

JB: The term “new wave” is so broad and covers so many different types of sounds for this generation of stars, especially for artists that came up around the same time as you did. What does this term mean to you as you continue to deviate from being a so-called “underground rapper”?

DC: “Honestly, I don’t like the definition people give new wave. What ‘new wave’ means to me now, is shit that is new, not how people are using it as. It’s not some shit that’s emulated or f**king repackaged. For me, out of all my albums, this is the first one where I really feel like I’m ahead of the curve. Music is going back there, we talked about the 20-year rule, and it’s been showing glimmers and instances of it — like people tapping back into drum-and-bass and pop more than before. But now, we’re really on the way back, and I want to be one of the ones to lead it there. The way we took it, we just nose-dived straight into it… This is THE one [album] in particular for me.”

JB: You said everything you dropped prior to ‘FUNERAL’ has led up to this moment… Do you feel like people box you into a specific sound because of this? And do you think ‘FUNERAL’ supports your case in reaching total genre fluidity?

DC: “Absolutely. I definitely think I’ve been boxed in, and ‘FUNERAL’ takes me out of a lot of different boxes I’ve been put in. Like you said, those records like ‘Working on Dyin’ and ‘Used 2 Be/Me’ kind of show you where I came from, but it’s an elevated version of that. At the same time, I feel like this record will definitely make people feel like they can publically f**k with me because you can’t compare it to anything else. People compare me to Destroy Lonely and Yeat and all these other people, but we don’t make the same music. It’s all love to them, but it’s just situational. That’s the only reason why they compare. I think it’s important for people to be open-minded, because in most cases, it’s a herd mentality — people will follow the herd. They’re going to follow what everyone else is doing.”

JB: It’s interesting you bring up Lone and Yeat, especially when half the guys we’re talking about, who’ve come up alongside you, are all dropping on the same day as ‘FUNERAL.’ Does that deter you in any way? What other thoughts do you have?

DC: “It makes me more excited, because now it’s more competition. REGARDLESS of the numbers, it’s like, ‘if these people are considered to be in the same lane, how will they compare?’ In my opinion, it’ll show, it will just make [my] gap a lot further away. Think about when XXXTENTACION dropped ’17,’ Lil Uzi Vert shared ‘Luv Is Rage 2’ and A$AP Mob dropped ‘Cozy Tapes.’ It was all on the same day too, but those were three completely different projects that people would consider to be in the same sphere. Honestly, it’s good for music. But I never trip on the numbers, it’s more so the idea of me being compared to these people and separating myself fully.”

JB: What would you say to the haters that still doubt you amid all this?

DC: “I would say thank you because they’re making my fans stronger every day. They’re conditioning my fans… and it might deter people from coming in and wanting to be a fan, but at the same time, they can never take that away from me or offend anything that we built. It’s beautiful to see. Hip-hop is built off competition, and I’ll always have that edge to my shit — and it’s never spiteful. Like JELEEL! is a close friend and his album is coming out on Friday too. I’m happy for bro! But, it’s still competition.”

JB: You recently performed in your hometown of Milwaukee, any plans on heading back soon? How has your hometown impacted you at this stage of your career — reaching the heights that you are?

DC: “Milwaukee is like… I’m like that cousin that you’re proud of but you don’t tell your homies about. It’s a whole lot of love, but at the same time, the sound that I make isn’t from our city. They’ll make a ‘top artists from Milwaukee’ list, and I won’t be on that list because they’re like ‘What is DC?’ DC is obviously bigger and better, and I’m not saying this negatively, but they don’t include me. It’s a love-hate thing. It’s hard to describe. I love my city, and they always show you out when I pull up. But I’m not doing this for Milwaukee, I’m doing this for the world. I’m zoomed out.”

JB: You’re up for the 13th spot as a XXL Freshman, if you had to state your case to be chosen, what would it be?

DC: “Do you want to be on the right side or wrong side of history? If they still did those video reel teasers, I would so say that.”

JB: You’re performing at your first Rolling Loud and Summer Smash this year… Congrats man, this is HUGE! Describe how important these are to you? How would 14-year-old Donny react to this?

DC: “If I could go back and tell myself this when I was down bad and depressed, I would’ve looked at myself and laughed, like ‘hmmm, you funny, bro.’ But honestly, I’ve always believed. When we used to talk about this, Brandon my manager and Frosty, we were like ‘yo, when we get a million dollars, when we get to Rolling Loud.’ It was always ‘when,’ never ‘if’ or ‘maybe.’ But the fact that it’s happening now is still surreal and I don’t think it’ll ever feel real.”

JB: I know we’re nearing the two-year anniversary of Sad Frosty’s passing, what do you think he’d think about everything you got everything going on right now? What do you carry on from him as you enter this next era of your career?

DC: “It would feel more real than surreal, if you get me. He would probably be punching the shit out of me right now. Like anytime we got good news for anything, he would be the first one to get hype. Me and Bran, we’re more silent, we’d be shocked and super excited but we wouldn’t be vocalizing it. Frosty would be like ‘BRO, YOU TRIPPIN.’ He’d be screaming and jumping around, hyping me up. He was such a bright individual. The death of my friend gave me more faith in God. I feel his presence. I’ve never thought of afterlife spirits in my life, but once it happens, I don’t feel like I have to worry because I know Frosty knows… I know he knows.”

JB: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years from now? How do you want to be remembered?

DC: “That’s unfathomable to me, 5-10 years down the road. But I want to be remembered as someone who never folded, broke or bended for anything or anybody. I will never sell out. There’s a lot of things I could’ve done in my career to elevate it, but I never took any shortcuts. I want people to look at it like ‘he can do whatever he wants by being himself.”

JB: What’s your message for Our Generation?

DC: “Treat every day like it’s your last. You never know when the end credits are going to roll. Don’t leave anything off the table. Be you and be unapologetic about it. Also, don’t skip anything on the album. Run it straight through and then form an opinion… This is one you don’t want miss.”

Listen to FUNERAL below!