For aspiring rappers, rappers who have sweated and toiled in anonymity for years, who have played shows to crowds of less than 20 people, who have picked up an extra night shift at their day jobs to afford studio time, signing to a major label feels like the pinnacle. Finally, they think, I’ve made it. Of course they haven’t made anything, except an advance (an “advance” is what the music industry likes to call a “loan” to sound cool). Although watching the ink dry on that contract may feel like the culmination of a long … ...Read the full album review
DJBooth Album Review
For aspiring rappers, rappers who have sweated and toiled in anonymity for years, who have played shows to crowds of less than 20 people, who have picked up an extra night shift at their day jobs to afford studio time, signing to a major label feels like the pinnacle. Finally, they think, I’ve made it. Of course they haven’t made anything, except an advance (an “advance” is what the music industry likes to call a “loan” to sound cool). Although watching the ink dry on that contract may feel like the culmination of a long journey, in fact it’s only the beginning. The hard work hasn’t even started yet, and even after creating a debut album, there’s still no guarantee that album will ever come out, let alone be a hit (just ask Joe Budden). Signing to a major label isn’t an ending, it’s a crossroads. One road leads to stardom, the other the slow descent back into obscurity. Donnis is standing at that crossroads, and he knows it.
After releasing one hell of a mixtape, Diary of an ATL Brave, and perhaps more importantly, a hit single with Gone, people started talking about Donnis, and it wasn’t long before that talk extended all the way to the offices of Atlantic Records. Now, technically less than a year later but figuratively overnight, Donnis is staring down a major label debut, but before we get that seminal work we’ll first have to get through an EP, and before the EP, we get the Fashionably Late mixalbum (less than an album, more than a mixtape, it’s a mixalbum). If the Fashionably Late mixalbum is supposed to give us a taste of what the album will eventually sound like, Donnis has the potential to make some very serious noise in the game. Of course, until then, it’s just potential, no matter how dope Fashionably Late is.
Donnis built a name for himself on the strength of his lyrics and delivery, and longtime fans will be glad to hear that he hasn’t abandoned either on Fashionably Late. The mixalbum starts with the deeply autobiographical Corries Outro, an ambient cut that Donnis uses to expound on the rap purgatory he currently finds himself in and the isolation that fame brings. In a way, Corries Outro serves as a blueprint for the mixalbum as Donnis routinely comes back to the idea that he’s worse off for having chased stardom, but that he’s more than willing to be an a**hole if that means success. “I’ve been poppin these pills…that worries my friends, wait, I ain’t got friends,” he raps on the darkly paced For the Kill, and on the banger More Fire he states that “my momma don’t like me, she just love me cause she’s supposed to.” This blend of vulnerability and unrelenting aggressiveness is not the work of your usual rapper, but as he shows time and time again on cuts like the storytelling Folk Tales and the somber Make It Home, Donnis isn’t your average rapper.
With albums selling like bags of ice in Alaska, the major labels are first and foremost interested in hit singles, and while I don’t think Fashionably has the next Nothin’ On You on it, there are some indications that the man might be able to carve out a place on the charts. Just take Yup, a soaring cut that flips a Rihanna vocal sample into a high energy hit, and the party-centric, head-nodding Tonight. Both have widespread appeal, but thankfully Donnis doesn’t seem to be trading off quality for accessibility. In fact, the mixalbum’s biggest hit may just come from Lightning, an intelligent, emotional cut that Colin Munroe drives into the stratosphere with a perfect hook. If Atlantic is smart (always a risky proposition) they’ll push Donnis more towards the Lightning end of the spectrum and away from the painful Pop Bubbly territory - an OJ da Juiceman guest feature? Really Donnis? Really? And as long as we’re here, Donnis, if you’re reading this, you’re not Drake. Stop singing. I know it’s technically an “interlude”, but Vampire is terrible, and that goes for Eat You Alive too. We can’t all be B.o.B. and do the rock-rap hybrid thing. Just do you Donnis. Just do you.
You’d be hard pressed to listen to Fashionably Late and not come away impressed, but if Donnis really wants to make it, he’s going to have to only get better from here. There’s a fine line between being fashionably late, and being late, and being gone. Here’s hoping Donnis comes out on the right side of that line.
Listen to More: Donnis Written by Nathan S.
First DJ Booth Appearance:
"Smoke n' Drive ft. Big Sean, Donnis & Jackie Chain" (2009)
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