Words by Jerry L. Barrow
Donwill has just spent 40 minutes navigating gentrified Brooklyn traffic on his bike. His partner Von Pea has been enjoying the A/C inside of MiniBar on Court Street, nursing what was probably a very expensive iced coffee. But the two members of Tanya Morgan show no signs of fatigue just hours after rocking the release party for their new album, “YGWY$4.” In fact, they have another party tonight and a follow-up DJ gig the next. It may be why Von has stopped drinking (alcohol), to keep up with the exhausting pace of the indie music promotion grind. But if anyone is up to it, it’s the MC/DJ/producers from Ohio and Brooklyn respectively.
In 2006 they became vanguard members of the pre-Twitter, post message board, hip-hop discovery era with their debut album “Moonlighting.” Then a three-man group with friend and MC Ilyas brought forth a mix of humorous, blue collar themed wordplay and boom bap built on bargain bin vinyl gems that earned comparisons to their Native Tongue forebears and more recently groups like Little Brother. Four more group albums and six EPs later they’ve leaned into their formula like Dr. Dolittle, delivering deliberate quirkiness with an off-the-cuff vibe. Thanks to production from Astro Note, Quelle Chris Brick Beats, Aeon, Roddy Rod, Fresh Sinatra and the group members themselves, “YGWY$4” reflects the breadth of their musical influences while underpinning what is arguably their best lyrical display to date.
Nodfactor spoke with Don and Pea about the extended journey of creating their latest album, the first two videos for “Dirty Stay Out” and “Trunk Shit” and what exactly the people get when they pay for this album.
NF: I think this is the first time we’ve talked since “Rubber Souls…”
VP: This is the first actual Tanya Morgan album since “Rubber Souls.” We did a Lessondary Album, we did an EP called “Abandoned Theme Park.” Shout out to Che Grand, he produced it. We were trying to start the whole weekly drop a song thing. We were looking for beats from everybody but Che was ready. He had ALL the beats.
DW: He sent a batch and it just became an EP.
VP: Our boy Filthy Gomez had the idea to call it “Abandoned Theme Park” and the weekly songs turned into a quick little project.
DW: The bulk of that was done over the course of a weekend. Then we added one or two songs over the course of a week or two.
VP: We said ok, let’s drop it on my birthday, November 11th. Then a week later, arguably the best rap group of all time gets back together and drops an album on November 11th. And as a huge Tribe fan that’s the best birthday present I could have. Even though Trump getting elected kind of ruined it a little bit, I wasn’t even mad. If our shit was gonna get totally ignored let it be by A Tribe Called Quest.
Now we have “You Get What You Pay For” with the very interesting social media style Mnemonic spelling…
VP: Yes, YGWY$4…
DW: It’s next level trolling. We had to troll a little bit. The troll for this album was to not say what the name of the album was. He says it only once on the whole album.
VP: I say it a couple of times in the background. “You get what you pay for…”
DW: People ask me how do you pronounce the title and I say “Yeguwa Dollar 4” or Y Dollar Sign…
So why that title?
VP: We had this title and we started this album a long time ago. This was before streaming really became the shit. The joke was nobody is buying music, they just stealing it. So we said let’s make an album called “You Get What You Pay For” and you get nothing. I remember running into Torae and he said “Oh so y’all selling a blank CD?” Even 6th Sense, who produced “Rubber Souls,” was telling Don “I don’t know about this title. It sounds like you’re trying to diss the fans.” So this title kept getting a reaction from people, so that’s a good title. As time went on you had people like 6Lack with numbers and symbols in their name, so we just made the title YGWY4. The concept is a telethon going on throughout the album. We didn’t go too heavy with it.
What was the inspiration for this telethon?
VP: It’s a bit of an inside joke. A label wanted to sign us for “Rubber Souls,” and it’s a label that people know, but we won’t say who. Respect to them. They wanted to sign us but they wanted us to make $10,000 crowd sourced. But we said if we announce we sign to y’all, it’s a good look. But if we turn around and ask for $10,000 we look crazy. So we didn’t sign to them because we get the look, but then we don’t get the look.
DW: Sign to us then run a Kickstarter campaign…
VP: So we started the joke of putting this telethon on the album. It starts at 8 or 10pm and Headkrack is like, we got to make the goal of $10,000. We play two or three songs then Jean Grae and Quelle Chris come in at midnight, we gotta make goal. We play more songs and at 2 am Che Grand is on the phone taking calls. He tries to shake somebody down to pay the whole $10,000. [laughs]. The joke is he is talking to the guy he was talking to on the Moonlighting album. It’s an easter egg for the deep fans. Then I come in at 4am and I’m super low energy and Ilyas shows up and we do a joint at the end of the album. Right before the album ends the phones are going off but we never say if we made the money or not. We didn’t do a final skit.
DW: Help us make the money.
On the first track “Started” you say that you once got booed while opening for Drake. True story?
VP: Hell yeah! This was at VCU in Virginia when “So Far Gone” was out. We had CDJs on our tour rider. Drake had CDJs on his rider, too. He can have a unicorn on his rider, he’s Drake. So I get on stage, pop out the CD—I respect the next man’s CD so I put it face up and put our CD in. His road manager comes in our room BUGGIN. “Come here, come here. WHO TOUCHED THE CDJ?” So we go in Drake’s room and it’s flush and beautiful and [his manager] is like “Don’t touch the CDJ. Find some other way to play your show.” And this wasn’t Drake, his manager was just trying to protect his artist…
DW: Road managers SHOULD be doing that to be honest. I ain’t gonna front.
VP: So the cat that was DJing that spot, he DJ’d for us. We did like three songs and they’re waiting to see Drake. Three songs in they’re like all right [wrap it up]. Where’s Drake?
DW: We were the only opening act so they tolerated us. They finally got fed up though.
VP: We were on stage for like 9 minutes and his road manager was motioning for us to get off the stage. The promoter came and handed us our ‘Blank’ Thousand dollars. I was like I’m supposed to be mad? We got a big check right now. Let’s go back to Brooklyn.
DW: The college checks be good.
For the first single and video, “The Dirty Stayout” you get busy with the Golden Girls. The song itself was a little more serious but you made it comedic with the video. What made you pivot?
DW: Initially we weren’t going to be in any of the videos. We were gonna cast people to play our roles. That video was supposed to be us as bit players in another person’s scene. But we didn’t find anybody to cast as us and it was a time crunch to find somebody to play us and learn the lyrics and shit, so boom, we’re in the video. Shout out to the ladies who were in the video. It was a balance of comedy and tragedy. We don’t want something too serious or too silly.
VP: The white woman in the video, Haddy, she is craaaazy. She comes in the room and sees me and young her in the bed and she says “I remember the first time I had some Black dick in real life,” and we was like Yoooo! She was like we were in love and it was different times and my family didn’t understand. So it ended up being a nice story. But she walked in the door like “Black dick!”
DW: She was cool as shit. I love her.
You dropped “The Trunk Shit” video today. What were your first cars?
DW: My very first car was a Black ’86 Ford Escort with the hatchback. I literally put my house speaker in the trunk and would ride around. It sounded awful. Awful. I would pull up in this dusty ass Escort with no feet, no rims playing DJ Magic Mike. The all white Chevy was my second to last car but we couldn’t get it for the video because it got totaled years and years ago. I sold it to my sister’s ex-husband and he totaled it the day after I left Cincinnati.
VP: I’m a New Yorker but my pops did have a car. I learned to drive on a black Pontiac Thunderbird. It used to lean to the right so you had to hold the wheel to the left a little bit. I’d be doing 30 mph and pops would be [scared] like I was doing 80.
Don, you had a line on it: “The new school veteran, just dusted off the letterman, consider these crow bars if they don’t let him in.” That’s a loaded statement. Do you still feel like Tanya Morgan is not being let in?
DW: Yes and No…
VP: I think our generation, that kind of post-Little Brother, pre-heavy blog like that ’06/’07, all those guys from around then are in this weird place.
DW: I would say when cats started getting major deals off of blogs, we were right before that. There’s a whole era of music where this crop of artists were left to figure it out with no precedent and nobody who could even advise properly because it was unseen before. Producers like S-1, his group Strange Fruit Project is amazing but cats aren’t talking about it.
VP: The producers kept it pushing. Cats from my era like !llmind, Oddisee, S-1 and 9th Wonder those guys kept it rollin…
DW: A lot of labels didn’t know exactly what to do with artists like us. We got approached by a couple of labels but they didn’t have the level of analytics to figure out what the listener engagement was. We know the music is dope, y’all are on the road and y’all are selling CDs but we don’t know what the market is.
VP: We were one of those first “The Internet is your hometown” kind of groups. It was a burden at the time, now it works out a lot better for cats. But when we came out it was “where are the battles you were doing in Cincinnati and the gigs you were doing in Brooklyn?” and we was like ‘We’re on the internet.’
DW: There was a four-year black hole where the Internet was still crystalizing and the labels realized they couldn’t sell CDs. We were in the middle of all that. We were in the first XXL Freshman issue. We were the group Freshman. Shouts to Datwon Thomas.
VP: If you look at a group like Pac Div, they got CHILDREN out here.
DW: The first time people heard Ty Dolla $ign was on a Pac Div record. There are a lot of artists that came from our era for rap.
You reunited with Ilyas on “The Filthiest,” to the delight of fans. How did that happen?
VP: The first thing we sold was an EP called “Sunset” and that had a song called “Filthy Interlude” aka The Duck. It was called that because the record I had was a 45 called “The Duck,” I got it from the 50-cent bin. It was a dirty ass record with a lot of static and the beat was really dirty. Then we were doing a song with Black Milk, but then it didn’t happen. So we called it “The Filthier Interlude aka Place” another grimy ass record. So this time on purpose we made the third version ‘The Filthiest’ and we couldn’t do it without Ilyas [since] we did the first two with him. I produced the first two when I was producing under the pseudonym ‘The Beatmaker.’ So I made the beat how I used to make beats. So that’s why that bass line is so trash on purpose. I was channeling my old style.
DW: Writing against Ilyas is always fun. We compete and it’s not a secret. We’ll be on the phone and I’ll say “I got you.” I wrote my verses first and he did his second, I think I got him. His verses are dope. There isn’t anything I would have done differently. Also, he can’t comment right now so [laughs]. He’s one of my favorite rappers of all time. It gets me amped to hear my brother.
VP: I can’t wait for the day ones to hear that one. You can’t have more chemistry than that. We’re on the track like it’s yesterday. It was like a bar free for all and I love that the drums have talking all through the drums. I love it. You’ll know the break when you hear it. But there is just talking all through the break…
DW: When we did the record I was worried that there was another song out with another artist [that used the same break]
VP: But the way they did it, they chopped it so it kept stopping but I was like no. The talking, all of it. We have nobody to answer to. We’re rapping over the talking.
“Finish Line” might be my favorite song on the album…
DW: Word, thank you. That means you made it to the end of the album! When you put an album on Soundcloud you see the steap drop after track 3.
VP: That’s a feat with all this media and entertainment.
I burned a CD from what you sent me and played it in my car so I could sit with it…
VP: Please do that!
Is this announcing a retirement of some kind?
VP: Tanya Morgan is over! [laughs]
DW: For me it was a song about completion, seeing your goals through to the end. Sometimes you need motivation to cross that finish line. If I tell enough people an idea and I get a good enough response, that’s enough. If ten people tell me to do it, it’s like I’ve done it. I don’t have to ACTUALLY do it. It’s an instant gratification thing. But sometimes it’s about the actual work in completing it that you learn from. I write songs for myself in the future on some Marty McFly shit. I’ll write a song and go back months later and listen to it and say “oh, that’s what I was trying to tell myself.”
VP: It’s funny because Astro Note produced the first song “Started” and I wrote that hook like “we’ve been around but we’re just getting started.” And then you wrote “Finish Line” and it wasn’t supposed to be [the end] but it just made sense when I was looking at the titles. That wasn’t even on purpose.
So what DO people get when they pay for this album?
VP: The true meaning of “PAY FOR” is not your $10. You could pay us and just throw it to the side. You could download it and never listen to it. Or you could steal it and LOVE the joint. The way you said you burned it to CD and rocked with it, that’s what it means, because time is money. Giving an album your time is way more valuable than your $10. I could buy a drink and be drunk for an hour with your $10. But we took a long time to make this album. OUR time is money as well. So if you hear it and acknowledge it you’re paying us with your time.
DW: Just pay attention. The money is cool. We can all use money, for real. But we can also use your attention. Media drops everyday. I think there are 6 other albums that dropped today I want to check out.
VP: Please live with it. If you hear it today play it again next week, and the week after that because this is our best album. We’ve been making this record for a while. These are our best songs.