In anticipation of his final show as an undergrad last Friday, we got to sit down with Brown’s own Dolapo Akinkugbe. Dolapo, who performs under the name DAP, took his talents downtown to Colosseum for “The Last Class”–a name honoring the first song he ever performed at Brown and, simultaneously, the end of his four years in the PVD.
Talking to him before the show, Dolapo was animated yet calm. His earbuds dangled from his t-shirt collar, ready to get back into his pre-show ritual at moment’s notice. We chatted about everything from Mark Ronson to UK grime to the best advice from his dad.
Blog: How did you get your start in the music scene at Brown?
DAP: Before I got to Brown I spent a year at Berklee College of Music. One of the first things I did my freshman year was play at the freshman talent show on the Main Green. I had my first real show on March 14th at AS220 freshman year. And from there, I started doing as much networking as I could in my music classes. I would go and watch bands perform. And I would make sure to tell people like, “Well done, well played,” and get their information and just talk to people and make sure I remembered names and faces.
Blog: I read that you were classically trained from a really young age. What were your biggest influences that got you to the style that you perform and write in now?
DAP: I started playing the piano when I was four. My mom is a piano teacher and my brother and my sister and I all play the piano. My mom’s family is really musical. My dad doesn’t play an instrument but he knows more music than any of us put together. I was born and raised in Nigeria. I lived there until I was 10, then went to boarding school in the UK…and then high school, my first year, all my friends started rapping. And me, being the musical one, I was like, oh sweet, I like being number two and behind the scenes, so I’ll make the beats. I got frustrated with people wasting my time, it was taking too long to do things, and my beats were too weird and they didn’t know how to rap on them. I knew I liked poetry–I’m studying Classics so I study a lot of poetry. I started taking rapping seriously at 17, put out my first tape at 18.
Blog: Who are your biggest Nigerian influences?
DAP: Fela Kuti is Nigeria’s biggest artist of all time. His style is a lot more classic…stuff my parents would listen to. 2Face is another artist who’s incredible. He probably has the biggest song in Africa ever–it’s called “African Queen.” I listen to Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy. But none of those influences really started to hit [me] until about two years ago when I went home for Christmas, and I stopped and realized that I really loved this music.
Blog: When you say “home,” do you mean Nigeria?
DAP: Yeah. Nigeria. Home is always Nigeria. I started paying more attention to their music and at the same time, the scene started taking off. Wizkid’s on Drake’s album that came out today. Those influences really started to settle when I got a manager and he told me, “Your greatest tools are the fact that you’re Nigerian and play the piano.”
Blog: When did you get a manager?
DAP: I put out this song called “Blue” my junior year, around Christmas. It’s featuring Stella Mensah, who’s a junior at Brown. Her older brother’s Vic Mensa. Stella showed her dad [the song]. And her dad said, oh, this is cool, I’ll show Vic’s manager. And he then went and listened to my mixtape and asked Stella for my contact information and started managing me. He was the one who told me to apply for the Converse Rubber Tracks thing to record at Abbey Road Studios with Mark Ronson.
Blog: What was your application process like for that? How did you get selected? And, of course, what was working with Mark Ronson like?
DAP: The application process was a questionnaire online asking your influences, your musical background, et cetera. I think they had 6,000 or something apply. That might be very wrong. There were only 84 finalists. My manager knows people at Converse and at FADER. I sent in my mixtape and “Blue,” the song with Stella. They have studios in Brazil, Toronto, Brooklyn, Australia, Iceland, the UK, all over the place. I was selected for Abbey Road and I was assigned a mentor, Mark Ronson. The date they gave me was a week before I took the LSAT, October 3rd, which was a whole other conversation with my parents letting me fly to London in the middle of the semester. The engineer was Ken Scott, who engineered all the Beatles and Pink Floyd albums and stuff. He’s been at Abbey Road since he was a teenager. They both made me feel really comfortable and before I knew it I was sort of organizing people, telling people what to do, without even processing what was happening. That’s just because the music was happening and I had ideas and everything just kicked in.
Blog: Did you record new material when you were there?
DAP: Yeah, all new material. I went to [Ronson’s] personal studio, and he said, “Play me all your music, play me anything you want. You have Nigerian Dolapo, and you have jazzy, soulful Dolapo, and you have UK soul/house Dolapo, and you have classical piano Dolapo, so instead of making them so distinct you have to blend them all together and make a new color…We’re going to try to blend all your colors.”
We ended up making three songs, one of which is probably my favorite song I’ve ever made.
Blog: When will it be released?
DAP: I’m trying to put out an album in July. I don’t want to put anything out prematurely, so hopefully I’ll have a single to put out in May before I graduate.
Blog: You’re not signed anywhere, are you?
DAP: No, I’m not signed at all.
Blog: So who are you working with in the post-production of all that stuff?
DAP: My manager has a lot of networks. He used to manage Russell Brand, Childish Gambino, and Chance and Vic. So, he knows all the right people for me because their music is a similar realm as mine.
Blog: Yeah, I feel like Childish would be a great influence for you.
DAP: Yeah, exactly. Especially with his level of presentation–I’m making a screenplay with the album. That’s the kind of thing I want to do. A testament to “Lemonade,” a testament to Kendrick. Presentation’s an important thing for me. [My manager] is also managing the kid from Dope, Shameik Moore, also known as “Malcom.” I’m trying to get contact with him and meet him at some point. But apart from that I’ve worked with one of my favorite bands, called Jungle, from the UK. And another band called Beaty Heart.
Blog: Did you get any grime influence from being in the UK?
DAP: Oh, I love grime. That’s the one thing I did take when I was there, and enjoy when I was there. I can’t wait for Skepta’s album, Skepta JME, the whole lot of them. BBK [Boy Better Know], Section Boyz, Krept and Konan, all of it.
Blog: What are your plans for next year?
DAP: So I got into Columbia Law School, but I’m trying to defer for a year, get a job–
Blog: Doing what?
DAP: I plan to live in New York, work, and focus as much on music and do as much as I can before I end up going to law school. [My parents] definitely put pressure on me to go into law, but for very good reason. Like, I was just listening to Drake’s album last night, and there’s a line where he says, “I’m gonna retire at 35.” When I’m 35, 38, 40, I’m not gonna be running around the world and doing festivals. I might not even be hot for more than a year. So it’s a matter of protecting yourself and your family, and being able to support yourself as a musician post-“your time.” And also I want to be able to change the music system in Nigeria in entertainment law and being able to protect myself and be a legal advisor to other, younger artists.
Blog: Do you see yourself going back to Nigeria?
DAP: Absolutely. Not immediately, I want to start off here. I think the market here suits my music a lot better, even though it’s getting more and more Nigerian influences.
Blog: What’s the highlight of your Brown music career been so far?
Every show is better than the last one. The most recent one was at Lupo’s–I did Spring Weekend After Dark– and that was amazing. That was one of the moments that I’ll remember forever because that was the first time I was on a real stage. I’ve been to Lupo’s about 20 times over my time at Brown. I’ve seen J. Cole there, I’ve seen ASAP Ferg and White G, I’ve seen 2Chainz, I’ve seen everyone there. Hearing my music on proper speakers… was crazy.
Blog: Do you like performing?
DAP: Performing to me is the best–it’s not only the way you have to make your money these days, but also it’s very different listening to a song in bed, versus in a car, versus on speakers in your living room, right? But that’s still only 50 percent of a story. Seeing the artist present their music is a huge thing. It’s the most business place–that’s your work–but it’s the most comfortable place at the same time.
Blog: Do you have any words of wisdom for other Brown students who are looking to enter the music industry?
DAP: My dad gave me this book called Outliers by Malcom Gladwell, and the second chapter talks about the 10,000-hour theory, which says that it takes about 10,000 hours to become a genius. An expert at something. And immediately I relate that to playing the piano since four, practicing at least three days a week for my entire life, which is a crazy amount of time.
Second thing is trust your instincts because everything happens for a reason. I could’ve stayed at Berklee. Now, everyone on my first tape and on this new tape is a Brown student. And they’re some of the best musicians and people that I know. They’re the most intelligent people.
Use your ears. You know a good musician when you see one. Go and talk to them. Collaborate with each other. There’s a crazy Brown scene building right now. This girl called Kamaria Woods is in one of my songs. She’s a sophomore, she’s also from Chicago, she’s Stella’s friend, and her sister’s Jamila Woods, who’s on Macklemore’s song, she’s on “Sunday Candy” with Chance, plays a lot with Social Experiment and stuff. 15 of the best musicians I’ve ever met just were in my classes, or on the street.
Use performances to your advantage. The ones that have 10 people, take those the most seriously. Like I’m looking around [the Underground] now and imagining…I had three shows in here and every time they’ve been kind of awkward. There was one time when everyone was sitting down and I made them stand up. I learned almost everything I’m going to use tonight in a space like this.
Blog: Do you have anything else you want to share?
DAP: If I work hard, eventually, the gods, so to speak, or the energies, will reveal themselves, so I’ll know what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s exactly what happened. I stopped thinking and I just started working. My first song I performed at Brown was “Last Class,” and it’s the last song I’m probably going to perform at the show tonight. Ironically, this is the official last day of classes at Brown. These are the little signs that let you know something greater than you is happening here.
Please hit me up to let me know if you like my music, you hate my music, constructive feedback, advice, anything. I’m very easy to talk to and I love hearing people interacting with my music.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Images via Danielle Perelman ’17.