25 Magazine catches up with Von Pea and Donwill of rap trio Tanya Morgan on the heels of their LP, Brooklynati.
Words by Natelege Whaley | Additional reporting by Nicole Brinson
Music has met its match, the internet, and over the past decade they’ve built a strong alliance and revolutionized music discovery and distribution. Many artists have benefited from the joining of the two mediums. Some notable offspring include Soulja Boy Tell’em, who has over 400 million views on YouTube; The Cool Kids, who formed after finding each other’s music on Myspace in 2005; and Asher Roth who was signed by Atlanta based manager Scooter Braun through Myspace in 2006. But long before these artists used the internet to network and share music, rap trio Tanya Morgan had already been there and done that.
Rapper Von Pea credits the internet for Tanya Morgan’s formation. Its connecting power brought Von Pea from Brooklyn, and Donwill and Ilyas from Cincinnati together. Back in 2000, Donwill was working with Ilyas in a group called Ilwill, and first heard Von Pea’s music on okayplayer.com. By 2003, the three emcees formed Tanya Morgan and released their first mixtape Sunlighting online in 2005, as well the EP Sunset later that year. In 2006, they dropped their debut album Moonlighting and took their career on the road. During the mid-2000s, Tanya Morgan made their presence in the indie Hip Hop circuit performing in Toronto’s NXNE Festival with Noveau Riche and performing in the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival with Consequence and Ghostface Killah. Just last week they headlined with Torae & Marco Polo at Southpaw in Brooklyn.
In the past six years, Tanya Morgan has received nods from rap notables De La Soul and Black Thought from The Roots for their affinity for both lyrical complexity and content. The trio has pumped a steady flow of music into the blogosphere over the past few years, releasing their mixtape Tanya Morgan Is A Rap Group and The Bridge EP in 2008, and their LP Brooklynati in June. Although Tanya Morgan has not hit the mainstream Hip Hop scene, their focus is not on commercial cross over. They understand true success, and rather than define themselves through records sold and Myspace hits, they’d rather focus on making the best “intelligent car music” possible.
Donwill: Pretty much the name was designed for a one-off project. It was to throw people off with the album so they discover that it’s rap. It’s kind of like a weird inside joke and the name stuck. We’ve adopted several meanings to the name but it’s to expect the unexpected.
Von Pea: Donwill and Ilyas met in college. They went to college together in North Carolina and they’re both from Cincinnati. I’m from Brooklyn. They hooked up and became homeboys in college. I was just starting to try to get my demo together. I was working with DJ Brainchild and Phonte back when Phonte was a solo artist. Donwill was one of the first people to hear my music when I first started in 2000, I guess through internet music sites like okayplayer.com and mp3.com. From there we started working with each other, but as far as being a group, me and Don became a group and he and Ilyas were already working together. From there, I just started working with both of them. We decided to do what was supposed to be a one-off project and we got stuck together.
Donwill: I would say our music is a mix of the east coast boom-bap and the mid-west stump. We make intelligent car music. It sounds good in your truck bunk and sounds good when you think about what we’re actually saying. In short, we make smart car music.
Donwill: I think if people have ever heard anything that we’ve done it’s just a progression of the things we’ve done. It’s just everything is on a more professional, better version of what we’ve done. More thought out. We just did our own production this time around.
Von Pea: It would be interesting to see that, because we would have never become a group if not for the internet. I wouldn’t have any way to meet them, [Donwill and Ilyas]. I would have to go to Cincinnati. I don’t have friends or family in Cincinnati. They’re like my family in Cincinnati now but before them I had no reason to go to Cincinnati. We wouldn’t even be a group.
Donwill: We were actually, since our first album, signed with a subsidiary label called Loud Minority and that label got dissolved into Interdependent Media, as opposed to switching up the whole team that was part of the creative line up. A lot of our ideas are unconventional, and we wouldn’t be able to receive that sort of creative control from other vessels. So we just chose to rock with what we’ve been rocking with, and try to see what we can do together on a slightly larger scale.
Von Pea: I feel like the music that we make is influenced from our life, and is the music that we gravitated to and listened to growing up. As far as hip hop, it’s more of the same. It hasn’t really changed. It’s more of a financial or monetizing thing. You see less intelligent music and more commercial, mainstream music. It’s harder to find, but if you go into Fat Beats, I guarantee it is all there. I think hip hop is okay. I think the rap game is in crutch right now because we don’t have record stores. We have Fat Beats and your local mom and pops. You go in there to look around and they carry our products and many of our friends. Hip hop is alive and well. It’s not really dead, it’s just harder to find.
Donwill: Still waters run deep. Nothing is overnight. Even if it looks overnight, it was probably 10 years in the making. You can’t really name an artist that was just concocted and rose to this meteoric success, without understating the 10 years or 20 years of work they put in until they get to that point of even having a meteoric rise. Name any artist, and there’s at least 10 years worth of grind and hustle. They just don’t talk about it because it’s behind them; it’s the past. It may work to be slow and steady, but 10 years from now after all is said and done and we have our cult following-I’m not in it for the fast run. The quicker you get in the quicker you leave.
Von Pea: I think every time we meet artists that we grew up on, they always seem to know us and show us love. Just to see emcees we grew up on and we’ve learned so much from have respect for us, gets me every time. It’s been De La Soul, Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest, and Black Thought from The Roots, the whole Hieroglyphics [artist roster], and DJ Jazzy Jeff. It’s been so many people that you would think pay you no mind at all, and then they go, “Oh yeah! We know you! We like what y’all do! Y’all are dope!” They understand that you’re the next generation of what they do. They still have the torch and they’re still running, but if they say, “If I stop today, the torch will be handed to y’all,” that’s special to me. That’s defining to me. That’s how we know we’re doing the right thing.