The inability to reflect upon the harsh realities and euphoric moments of the past often keeps many people from truly enjoying the journey of life and everything that comes with it. While it may be difficult at times, diving into yesteryear can open up a treasure chest of emotions that turn into wisdom that can be carried into the future or beautiful art that can be shared with others. Rising, multi-hyphenate talent DWY manages to do both.
Released in 2021, DWY’s breakout project, 8-Bit Memories, allowed the California transplant to delve into his past in a way that is both inviting and emotive. Coupled with a short film, the project explored the ups and downs of love, the difficulties of being Black in America, and the unwelcomed realities of adulthood. Through it all, he manages to keep a sense of optimism that allows him to keep moving forward in life and in music.
This September, DWY is back with another capsule of stories and lessons from his life over the years. It’s called Self-Contained. Before its release, he chopped it up with our Culture Editor, Ryan Shepard, about what life’s been like for him as of late, where he’d like to live next and everything in between.
Ryan Shepard: So, I was getting ready for the interview and I started going through your music, interviews, etc. Through that process, I found your Twitter and I immediately knew how I wanted to start this interview. I’m going to read a tweet and I just want to know if there’s a backstory behind it. About two weeks ago, you tweeted, “Remember Karmaloop!” With that tweet in mind, I was wondering what is one purchase, clothing or otherwise, that makes you look back and regret it?
DWY: Oh, God. When I got my first good, decent music check, I spent like $450 on some f*cking Common Projects. I got them in a terrible color too. I was like, “I need to look like a musician now.” When the check hit, I ordered them online at like 7 a.m. and I got a call from my bank immediately. They thought someone was making a suspicious purchase and I was like, “No, I just got some money. It’s me.” I only wore those shoes four times and they were so uncomfortable. I just gave them away. I think I dropped them off at Goodwill. It was an awful purchase.
Wow, I did something similar. My first full-time job was at ABC News down in Washington, D.C. Right before I got my first check, I knew that I was going to be at an event that my ex-girlfriend was at and we had just broken up. So, I tried to get this whole new outfit to make myself look good. I got this designer pink jacket and these custom Jordan 1s. As I was going up the escalator and out of the train station, some kind of black oil or substance got on my shoes and left a huge stain on one of my sneakers. Throughout the whole event, I was just so mad. Making matters worse, she didn’t even show up until like the very end.
Oh, no. I would’ve gone home.
So, I definitely understand where you’re coming from with the shoes. Another tweet I wanted to ask you about was from earlier this month as well. You wrote, “If you mix tequila with a McDonald’s sprite, n*gga you gon touch the moon.” I’ve got to ask. Did you do that? If so, what did that taste like?
You know what it is? My friend and I were working on some ideas and stuff. You know when you just have a craving for a thing? So, we went to McDonald’s, but their drink machine wasn’t working. The whole purpose of going to the McDonald’s was to get this drink. So, we drove to another McDonald’s and I hadn’t had a Sprite in a minute. At that moment, it just hit me. That sh*t was spicy! So, that’s where that tweet came from. I haven’t done it yet, but I think I might have to try it this week now that you have reminded me. I’m pretty sure that combination would lift you to new heights.
That last tweet I wanted to ask you about actually has to do with music. Who would’ve thought? On August 16, Tomi of R&B Radar shared a few of his favorite R&B mixtape covers with the caption that reads, “I miss R&B mixtapes.” You quoted his tweet and wrote, “I got an R&B mixtape dropping soon. We’re bringing it back!” I was just wondering. What R&B artists would you like to see put out an R&B mixtape right now?
Right now? Anything from Frank Ocean would be great. If we could coax him out of a mixtape, an EP, teaser or anything else, that would be great. I feel like there’s a rawness to mixtapes that’s different from full LPs. Lauryn Hill, I think she’d make a fire mixtape. Liv.e, I think she’d make a fire mixtape as well.
I agree. Definitely, I’ll take any kind of music we can get from Frank Ocean at this point. With that said, I wanted to touch on the R&B projects that you have put out. In addition to checking out your Twitter, I rewatched your short film, 8 Bit Memories. Then, I listened to the audio version as well as your new EP, Self Contained. While I listened and watched each project, I began to put together a list of themes that sort of tie everything together. Specifically, I noticed that there is a continued relationship between your younger self and who you are today. In the short film, you transition from your adult self into your younger self at different points. On “Badu Feels,” you almost lament growing up when you sing, “When did adulting get so real?” Are there any specific memories or feelings from your younger years that you haven’t been able to put into words or songs, but just haven’t found the right way to do so yet?
Yeah, there are a couple. I’m definitely an overthinker. I kind of ruminate on a lot of stuff, which is good for the art and bad for life. Sometimes, I’ll have an idea for two years and just wait until I have the words to say it. Even on Self-Contained, I started “Jenny” in 2018. I kind of had the bones of it, but I didn’t have the end of it until like four or five years later. The same can be said for “Solid Gold.” I wrote “Solid Gold” and “Over You” on the same day. It was a very random day and it kind of took a while for it to make sense and have context. A lot of times, I’ll experience certain feelings and I’ll just jot down notes. Then, I’ll just wait until I have the words to say what I want to say about those feelings. I will definitely write down a bunch of different versions of the same thing until I say to myself, “Ahh, this is the way to say it. Got it.”
It’s important to keep that youthful passion. I think there’s this transition that happens when you go from adolescence into adulthood. As we get older, we lose a lot of the excitement that we had as children. When you’re a kid, many things in life are new, so you’re able to stay excited.
I want to stay on this topic just a little bit longer. When I was watching 8-Bit Memories, there was a scene where you’re talking to Mia about the police stop and she says, “I thought that this incident would make you grow up.” Fast forward a few years, you’re preparing to release Self-Contained and the first single is “Badu Feels.” As I mentioned earlier, you start the song by singing, “I’m at home with Badu Feels. When did adulting get so real?” If you could go back and speak to yourself when you were 17 or 18, what advice would you give to yourself about making this transition into adulthood?
Patience. I think a lot of adulthood is being patient. When you’re young, you’re used to being very emotionally driven and sometimes you get to fly off of the handle with emotion. There are various reasons as to why that is not good for an adult to do.
Passion. It’s important to keep that youthful passion. I think there’s this transition that happens when you go from adolescence into adulthood. As we get older, we lose a lot of the excitement that we had as children. When you’re a kid, many things in life are new, so you’re able to stay excited. For adults, it’s also important to keep that excitement.
Also, don’t make decisions for money. You’re going to spend it and you’re going to be mad about things later down the road anyway.
I want to double back on something that you mentioned earlier. You said that you wrote “Over You” and “Solid Gold” on the same day. In less than a year, you’ll mark five years since the release of your first official single. When you think about where you were back then as opposed to where you are now, how do you feel like you’ve grown as a person and as a musician?
Jesus! I’m definitely more confident. I started off by doing different types of music and I knew I wanted to sing, but “Over You” was the first song that I really wanted to put out. I just had this burning desire and I felt like this song needed to come out. From then until now, I feel like I’ve definitely grown as a songwriter and a singer. When comparing 8-Bit Memories to Self-Contained, I feel like my voice is way more front and center on a lot of the newer records. It took a long time for me to like the sound of my own voice, which sounds weird to say as a singer. I was shaky on it for a minute.
As a person, I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time in Los Angeles, Berlin, Portugal etc. It’s really opened up my palate for a lot of different things. It’s been cool. I was born in Florida, but I grew up in London. For a long time, my whole lens on life was South London because that’s where I’m from. So, traveling, meeting new people, having new relationships, experiencing failed relationships and everything in between widened my palette.
We’ve talked about some of the similarities between 8-Bit Memories and Self-Contained and you sort of mentioned this in your last answer, but what makes this new project different than what you’ve released before?
On some of the songs, I feel like I’m writing from a different place. “Badu Feels” is about how I was losing my mind during the lockdown. For a while, I felt like there was a smaller box of what you could talk about as a singer. In Hip-Hop, there’s a range of different topics that you can talk about and stuff. As a singer, I spent time trying to figure out how I’d want to tackle those things in my music. This time around, I feel like I’ve done that and I’m just more comfortable and confident in songwriting. I also feel like I’ve matured vocally. The song, “Self-Contained,” is one of my favorites on the project and I don’t think it would sound the same if I made it at the same time I recorded 8-Bit Memories.
It’s really interesting that you mention how we can sometimes limit the scope of what R&B and Soul cover. Recently, I was talking to one of my friends about how R&B and Soul are limited to love and relationships, which are important parts of the genre. I don’t want to say that they aren’t. One of the things that I really enjoyed about watching 8-Bit Memories is that it covered love and relationships, but it also talked about adulthood, police brutality, transitioning into a new country, etc. During a previous interview with DJ Booth, you mentioned that the first hook you wrote in university was for a song about police brutality. That’s a lengthy way of asking, when did you start to feel this freedom of being able to talk about a wide range of topics in your music? Does it come from freestyling or is it more intentional?
It’s a bit of both. I’m a Hip-Hop head. That’s the music I love the most because that’s what I listened to growing up. I look up to people like Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo and Frank Ocean because they talk about so much. Kanye has kind of touched on everything throughout his career. I think music should just be representative of life. Love is a big part of our lives, but so much else is also a big part of our lives as well. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye is like this as well. This is the king of Soul music who’s written all of these love songs, but one of his most important albums is not about that in the slightest. The same can be said about James Brown. Some of the most popular records he wrote were just about life and ended up being inspirational.
You mentioned your Mom and it triggered something in my memory from a previous conversation I had with Rapsody. While we were talking, we landed on the subject of her going to college, but ultimately telling her family that she wanted to pursue music as a career. In your experience, how did you explain to your family that you wanted to pursue music as a career and were your parents accepting of this choice at first?
I wasn’t a musical kid, so there weren’t any signs that I’d make music as I got older. Instead, I went to college at 16 and I was very geared toward the academic route. If anything, everyone thought I would do stand-up comedy. I would watch all these comedy specials and just memorize the routines. So, music wasn’t something they foresaw me doing, but they quickly realized that I was serious. I graduated though, so they could have that. I’m the eldest, so I was like, “I’ll give you that. You can have this piece of paper. I did it, but this isn’t what I’m going to do moving forward.”
During my last year of college, my Mom came up to visit me because my university was right outside of London. At the time, I was living in this flat with no furniture. It was all studio stuff. I think I had a sleeping bag, speakers, a keyboard and other things to make music. I think at that point they realized that I wasn’t playing around. From then on, they’ve just always been supportive.
You grew up in South London and went to college out there, but you were born in Florida. Now, you’re out in Los Angeles. How do you feel moving back to the U.S. has impacted your writing or recording process?
I came out here because I love Soul music and so many albums that I love were made out here. I just felt like this is where I needed to be. Also, I felt like I needed to experience something new. When I was leaving London, my two choices were to come out to L.A. or move to Berlin. I just felt like I had hit a ceiling creatively and emotionally with everything that I had done in the U.K. I just wanted something different, an entirely new way of looking at life. Experiencing Blackness in the states as opposed to experiencing Blackness in the U.K. has been really eye-opening. I was here for George Floyd, the riots and all of these things that I would have seen from far away. It was just very different being up close to it.
I guess I kind of know the answer to my next question, but you can correct me if I’m wrong. Where would you like to live next? Is it Berlin?
New York. Absolutely. Yeah, I just sit on Zillow every couple of days and just look at apartments and say, “I’m going to move to Brooklyn.” I don’t know why. Once I find purpose in something, my mind is kind of set on it. Even with Los Angeles, I’ve been coming back and forth since about 2017. I had a show in Los Angeles in early March 2020. It was about a week before COVID got real for everybody and I said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to stay here.” I didn’t really have a plan though, but my dual citizenship really helped me out.
Pivoting back to Self-Contained, we’ve talked about “Badu Feels” already, but I wanted to ask you about the second single from the project. When I listened to it, “Pull Up” felt like this gumbo of emotions. It made me feel like you were battling between being vulnerable and protecting your ego in this real situation. It puts us all in this relatable series of events that result in wanting someone that may have moved on. They also may not have accepted it fully either. When you’re drawing from what feels like real-life experiences, how do you draw the line between what is acceptable to put in a song as opposed to what is too personal to put out in the public?
It’s tricky because I like to be honest and draw from real experiences as much as I can, but you know [there’s a line]. I always feel like it’s good when something makes you uncomfortable sometimes. It’s just funny when a song can make you uncomfortable in so many different ways because I think that’s good. For example, my parents have never heard me sing about sex before, but I’m talking crazy in some songs. I also have a younger sister. She’s like 18 and I sent her this song because I wanted to know what she thought about it. She said, “It’s a really good song, but I never want to hear you sing like this ever again in my life.” I was like, “Fair. Good.”
It’s also tough because the people closest to you tend to know who and what songs are about. Then, the people who are the focus of a song know it’s about them for the most part. “Everytime I See You Again” is about someone I knew in college and it kind of is what it is at this point. I can’t help it. I think it’s always good for me to write with honesty. You need to believe the lyrics and the delivery. It’s hard for me to sing something that I don’t believe in myself, so I kind of have to throw everything in the open and hope for the best. Then, send some apology texts if I need to.
The last question I want to ask has to do with the last song on Self-Contained, “You.” It feels different than any other song on the project because of its sound. I grew up in New Jersey, so many of my early experiences with music involve Club music and House music. Hearing “You” sort of brought me back to some of those memories. I was just curious as to what inspired that song and how it came about.
It’s funny. I wrote this with a friend of mine, Nate Fox. He’s known for working with Chance The Rapper and all of that. When we were going into that session, we thought we were going to make some Gospel songs or whatever. I don’t know why. Then, we started chatting. Then, I found out that he’s super into British culture and music. It was just super cool getting to know him and this just ended up being what we did. It’s funny how it took me coming out to L.A. to make my first real London-sounding song. Life is like that.
It’s weird because the song is upbeat, but the lyrics are very melancholy. I said, “My heart is pouring out like autumn in the flume. Be gentle with my heart. All I want is you.” That’s my journey in life. I need to figure out how to write happy songs, but I’ll figure that out eventually. I’m just not there yet.
With that song, it just felt different too. I was just in a different place. Moving forward, I’ve just got the next year lined up release-wise because I’ve also realized that I’ve taken huge gaps in music. But yeah, it just felt like I wanted to end things on an up note. If this was a Marvel movie, this is like the end credit scene to let people know that there’s more stuff coming. Also, it just felt like it needed some levity because Self-Contained is a pretty dense project emotionally. “You” is like the sorbet at the end to cleanse the palette, but it still has those sad a** lyrics.
Note: This conversation was lightly edited for grammatical clarity and brevity.