Photo Credit: Do Not Associate
From grimy boom-bap to fast-paced trap songs, Welsh-born rapper ‘Do Not Associate’ (D.N.A) is always exploring new sounds. His latest offering ‘I’m Gifted’ is his catchiest track to date, pairing an addictive chorus with effortless rhyme schemes and a laid-back beat. I had the chance to talk to him about his new track, his upbringing in Wales, and what it’s like being an independent artist in London.
“ …I wrote it when I came home from university… I was in debt, and I was broke, and sh*t wasn't going good”, he explained to me over a video call from London. “But when I came back home to Wales I [had] a writing session. I was like ‘Nah, I'm blessed, I’m chill. I’ve got potential… I'm gifted’.”
“This was one of the first times that I didn't make the beat, I was going through a bit of a dry patch with producing”, he further revealed. “Initially I had a different beat picked out for this song. I was listening back to it in my headphones and the bass wasn't sounding right. I was like, ‘Well I can't change that because it's not my beat, I don’t have the stems’.” After digging out a beat from his hard drive and swapping the vocals over, he explained listening to the track for the first time: “As soon as I heard it start and then drop I was like, ‘Oh shit that works really well, too well’.”
During our evening conversation, the 22-year-old rapper detailed his journey from growing up and listening to artists like Linkin Park, The Notorious B.I.G and Mobb Deep in West Wales, to performing live shows in Birmingham and recently moving to London. “I got into making music when I was about 10. I remember I was listening to Skrillex and I was like ‘Ah, I would love to make music like Skrillex’.” Laughing, he continued, “So I found out that you can download software, and on my nans old PC, I got FL Studio: the demo version. And from then on I was just making beats.” Despite this influence, the rapper began writing rhymes and pursuing his lively attachment to hip-hop; a natural progression that led him away from his initial roots in producing dubstep.
The interest in hip-hop and rap music only grew from there, with a decisive moment coming when D.N.A was only 18. “I wanna say when I started college… that's when I started taking music a bit seriously. I had my first show in college, so I was like ‘Okay, I can do that’, but yeah after that I started following it.” Recalling how he felt, he revealed his thought process at the crucial time: “If I give up on this, I got nothing else going for me. So I'll just keep going, see where I end up, because there's no point chasing a dream that doesn't exist. So I just kept going.”
Attending that first show personally, it's incredible to see the constant improvement in the years since. Everything from his stage presence to the quality of music being released has only gotten better, more professional and enjoyable. There is no lack of motivation either, as Do Not Associate laid down his plans for the future with a stark confidence that is evident even over the temperamental internet connection: “At the moment I'm working on another EP, I want to do like a part 2 to Outside Observer”, the artist’s concise 2022 EP. Broader goals are then put into perspective, which the rapper has been planning for years: “In the next couple of years, I can see myself going on my first tour. Doing like a major album that will be distributed everywhere… I can see things keep going up and up.” Major plans are in place to bring these to fruition, also, such as hitting ten thousand monthly listeners. A picture is being painted with a clear outcome in mind - “The overall goal is just to influence the people, be someone the people can look up to, especially through music. I wanna teach people about shit that they might not look at the right way. I wanna be at a level of fame and influence where it's like, ‘Okay, people will listen to me’.”
It’s not just easy sailing, however, as navigating the music industry successfully is no easy feat, especially as an independent artist living in London. I’m given an insight as to what this experience is like: “It’s good in the way that you have full creative control. So I can choose if I wanna make a song right now, distribute and release it. I have that power fully. The shit thing about being independent is because you have no team, you have no label, you have to do it all yourself. So you gotta put money into that, you gotta put time and effort into that. If you have a full time job and a girlfriend, friends, you have to balance that.'' Regardless, D.N.A believes in his vision, and despite this tough balancing, he is adamant that it will all pay off.
This is all part of what it means to be ‘Do Not Associate’. Contemplating his name, he chose an experience that is very close to who he is as a person: “Something about it just resonated with me. Because I have autism, so I don't associate with people. I walk past people on the street, even my friends. I don't want to look at them, I don't want to... people in my brain I don’t associate.” Much like his lyricism, this is also built on complexity: “I wanted a name that was authentic and meant something to me. Then when I broke it down I was like ‘DNA. Oh, it's written in my code.’ It was too perfect that I couldn't not use it.” He is also a product of his influences, citing Griselda, Mobb Deep, Dr. Dre and Eminem as having the most impact on his sound today. “Conway changed the way that I started wording things. Before that I was writing about stuff that like, wasn’t necessarily authentic to me.”
Ending our conversation easily on the topic of dinner, Do Not Associate presents himself as easy-going but determined to reach the top. His new track ‘I’m Gifted’ is out on all platforms now, and embodies this chilled and dedicated spirit. D.N.A is definitely one to watch on the hip-hop scene over the coming years.
Edited by Lucy Blackmur, Music Editor