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Prolific UK grime/hip hop artist Donae'o

Best known for his song “Party Animal” and recent feature on Giggs’s “Lock Doh”, Donae’O has spent the past sixteen years establishing himself in the music industry. Just over a year ago, he finally signed to a major label, Island Records. He released his mixtape, Sixteen, in June to celebrate this shift in his career. Last week Rebecca Somer and Robbie James got to chat with him backstage at the O2 Academy Glasgow about his new project and growth as an artist.

Robbie James: “You’re supporting Dizzee Rascal on his Raskit Tour, which started last night in Liverpool. I had a few friends at the concert, so I saw it on Snapchat. It looked mad! How was the first night of the tour?”

Donae’O: “It was tremendous. It was a good start. I didn’t know what to expect. I had never really done concerts before. I’ve only done one, which was mine. Never really been on tour, and Dizzee Rascal, he’s one of, if not the, biggest in our scene. Sometimes you feel there’s a bit of pressure, but yeah, it was cool.”

Rebecca Somer: “How did Sixteen come about?”

Donae’O: “I signed to Island [Records] in December, put out 'Black' and 'Black' did well. I was like, ‘We need to put out a project now.’ They were like ‘No, we think you need to build the buzz’, and I was like ‘Ok, cool, let me just make a mixtape, and put it out, so I thought let me just do Sixteen.’ It’s a new experience. They let me hire out a studio, which I’m not really used to doing. I’m used to recording in my mum’s house, in my bedroom in the corner. I thought ‘let me just try something new’, so I made it in three months. Usually, I make my albums in a year or year and a half. This was compressed, but it was a good experience. Now, I’m ready. I can see now that when you’re making records, sometimes you have to be in the moment, and that’s what Sixteen taught me- that I can be in the moment and that I can make a project there and then.”

Robbie: “I've always wondered to what extent the songwriting process is a case of saying 'Right, this evening I'm gonna go write a song', versus a more natural process that comes about while travelling?”

Donae’O: “I think it’s a bit of both. I think you should be proactive in trying and then sometimes it may not come up unless you’ve tried. Sometimes when you have a hit, you need to just go and make the album. You need to constantly feed your fans. You know what I’m saying?”

Rebecca: “What was your favourite track on Sixteen?”

Donae’O: “I don’t really do the whole favourite track thing. All of my songs I like equally. That is why I’ve never ever had a favourite record. The only thing I will say is my favourite to do is when I’m performing, I like performing ‘Move to Da Gyal Dem’ most because people respond to that the most. People dance to it the most. It’s just a fun track to put on.”

Rebecca: “How do you hope for people to respond to your music?”

Donae’O: “I hope they enjoy it really. That’s it. I hope they enjoy it as much as I enjoy it.”

Rebecca: “Can you talk a little about how you’ve evolved as a musician from your early days when you dropped your first singles ‘Falling’ & ‘My Philosophy (Bounce)’ to today?”

Donae’O: “I think when I was coming in I didn’t really know what I was doing. And now, I know a bit more. I still don’t know what I’m doing, but I know a bit more than I did then. I know that I will always make my way through. I remember how I was feeling back then. When you put out your first record, you don’t know if you’re ever going to do it again. Whereas now I don’t feel like that. I always feel like I’ll eventually make something, so I have way more confidence in my abilities than I did then.”

Rebecca: “What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from being in the industry for so long?”

Donae’O: “Always be able to stand on your own two. You’re always going to need help, but it’s better to be an individual than a team, meaning you should be confident in your own skills because when you join a team, it’s your skills that you bring to the table, and you need to find a team that respects that and don’t want you to be everyone else. You have to find your own way.”

Robbie: “I read an interview of you in TRENCH recently, and it asked you to describe your career and journey through music with one word. You said ‘independence.’ Where does that independence and self-sufficiency stem from?”

Donae’O: “That was a necessity when I started because we didn’t have platforms, and I wanted to make music, so I had to work it out for myself. I had a massive need and passion to make music and no platform to express that passion, so I had to create my own platform.”

Rebecca: “What music or artists inspire you right now?”

Donae’O: “Lotto Boyzz, Kojo Funds, J Hus, Skepta, Don-E. I’m listening to a lot of Afro-wave. That’s what they call it now.”

Rebecca: “What should we look forward to in your upcoming studio album?”

Donae’O: “I don’t know yet. I’m still promoting Sixteen.”

Robbie: “You’ve recently released a new video for ‘Let Me’ featuring Young T, Bugsey and Belly Squad. How’s the reaction been for that? Have you been excited?”

Donae’O: “Yeah, it’s been really good to be honest. This is the third video we’ve done from that mixtape. The response has been tremendous, so I’m really happy about that.”

Robbie: “You have got a few exciting things coming up. I saw that you’ll be at BBC1 Radio Extra Live on the 11th of October in Manchester with J Hus, Bryson Tiller, Stefflon Don, etc. That’s pretty exciting, right?”

Donae’O: “Yes, very exciting. I’m looking forward to it. They always support my music. It’s great that I can give back.”

Robbie: “I must ask you one more thing before you go. Are you a fan of the video done by Big Shaq, the comedy creation of Michael Dapaah of ‘Man’s Not Hot’ on BBC Radio 1Xtra?”

Donae’O: “I’m a massive fan of what he does. I think it’s amazing how he created a T.V. series on Youtube off of these five characters, and Shaq was one of them, and like Shaq’s journey from being a criminal to going the righteous path. Again, 1Xtra supported him in that journey because he’s an actor, a comedy actor, but they supported it, and it’s helped him get that deal. I think people should look at how he created his own way and created something that was entertaining. He went all the way with it and done it to the best of his ability. The fact that 'Man’s Not Hot' is charting. I hope he takes it into movies, and he’s talented in that way. Clearly, he’s ambitious that way and very focused, so I wish the best for him.”

Listen to the full interview with Donae’O on Friday’s Music Team HUB Show at 3pm.