Interview: Tanya Morgan
by Winston "Stone" Ford
Tanya Morgan is not a sultry R&B singer, or the hottest new female emcee.
Tanya Morgan is a rap group. Comprised of three dudes.
The trio, made up of MCs Donwill and Ilyas, and producer Von Pea hail from both Cincinnati, Ohio and Brooklyn (hence the title of their latest work), and have been on their collective grind for the latter part of this decade. The group, who connected via Okayplayer, have been consistently grinding on the underground hip-hop scene, dropping the critically acclaimed Moonlighting in 2006, followed by the well received mixtapes Tanya Morgan is a Rap Group and The Bridge in 2008. In addition to their collective work, solo member Von Pea dropped his stellar The Further Adventures of.. as well.
This week the trio was in DC in support of their newest LP, Brooklynati, their most cohesive work to date. The name, which pays homage to the bi-city nature of the group is in stores now.
But for those who are still scratching your heads, I went ahead and got the most puzzling aspect of the group’s dynamic out of the way first.
Stone: First question I wanna ask….and I’ve always want to ask this question for the past 4 years…
Von Pea: (laughs) I’m gonna answer that question. First and foremost, we just love making music. We started out as a one off project. We were gonna do a one off album and just get it pressed up as vinyl and put it up and record stores. We wanted people to pick up the album and see that it was a woman’s name and think that it was a soul record that they weren’t up on and have it turn out to be a new rap album. That’s where the name came from initially, and now the name just means “expect the unexpected.”
Yeah, the first time somebody sent me an MP3 of you guys, they were like “check out this hot new female rapper!”
Moving on. I know you guys connected through the Internet but what is the back story on how you guys became Tanya Morgan?
Donwill: Me and Ilyas are still to this day in a group called Ill Will. We started out rapping together, perusing it professionally together, same time I was online corresponding with VonPea and he was doing some shit up in New York. He had an album called The Words and Why, and we were talking back and forth, trading music, and it built from there. It just made sense to become a larger collective, just because of the chemistry and symmetry that we were doing in the demos.
I’m the outgoing guy in the group so I hit up Von [Pea]. It wasn’t like “lets do an album,” it was more like “what do you think about so and so’s album.” So we were just talkin’ on the message boards and shit, and you know how message boards are. Me and him just started talking about music in general and he was sending me music, and vice versa. We kind of figured out that our musical tastes aligned to the point where, as musicians, not only do we appreciate each others art but we contribute to each others art as well.
I hear a lot of similarities to old school hip-hop in your music. What are your influences and what artists inspired you to get into the game?
Ilyas: Coming from Cincinnati, Ohio I grew up listening to a lot of West Coast cats like Compton’s Most Wanted, NWA, Above the Law, and the Geto Boys. But I gotta say that the primary influence of how I spit is attributed to Outkast, Ice Cube, Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, and Nas. And honestly I was influenced a lot too by the whole Miami bass movement–Luke Skywalker and stuff–that always pops in my head when I think about hooks and stuff. You know you gotta shake your booty too.
Von Pea: When I first started listening to hip-hop it was like, the Fresh Prince, Jazzy Jeff, Big Daddy Kanye, and then it went to The Native Tongues, The Roots, Outkast, and especially Common.
Donwill: I would say my influences are a lot of West Coast artists since I come from the Midwest. My thing is that I’m more influenced by lyricists in general, so cats like Rakim and KRS too. My [influences] are more poetry than anything so I get down with anybody that cares about their word more than their image. Production is key too, but production only enhances your message. So those type of MCs influence me.
So I know you guys have been grinding for a while, starting with Sunset, to Moonlighting, to the current album. And I know you guys hussle like crazy but you’re still not a household name. How do you feel about hip-hop and are y’all comfortable with being outside of the mainstream?
Donwill: My grind for me is keeping the mainstream informed. The mainstream just watches the underground and finds it and waters it down, and makes it more profitable and more accessible, so when an artist does something revolutionary on the underground level, it takes a mainstream artist to recognize that and take it to a major scale and dilute it or they will just co-sign it fully and adopt it, you know what I’m sayin’? For us its more about being ourselves and understanding that our music is urgent, and what we have to say is important.
Von Pea: He basically said it!
So I want to talk to y’all about your latest project Brooklynati which drops this week. Are y’all all in Brooklyn now or are y’all still split?
Ilyas: We moving Soon.
Von Pea: They gotta get up to Brooklyn and have some of this fun man! (laughs)
Word. So I know that everybody is talking about the new project. What can people expect from the latest album?
Don Will: People have said that this new album is a progression of anything that we have done before. And this project is the next step ahead. So if you liked anything that we have done before, whatever you think the next step is in your mind, that what you will get from Brooklynati. It’s the next step of Tanya Morgan as a group.
So I went to the Brooklynati Chamber of Commerce website at 3 AM and I was fooled.
Von Pea: It worked huh?
Yeah, who’s idea was it to do that concept?
Donwill: Conceptually as a group it was everybody’s idea. I would say that we don’t necessarily make music…well, we make music to entertain ourselves and our fans, but when it comes to the heavily conceptual shit, we’re entertaining ourselves. So if you’re entire journey with Tanya Morgan is buying the album an appreciating it…cool. But if you want to delve deeper we have inside jokes and other shit for days that you can get lost in a maze with us.
For the most part the website and shit is to make me, Von, and Ilyas laugh. So when someone is like “I went to your website and it looks like a real city,” we can say “gotcha.” It might sound like counter marketing or the opposite of what you’re supposed to do, but I enjoy witty, intelligent humor, and I hope other people will too.
So I have one last question for you guys, a Couch Sessions standard. What are your top 5 tracks that you’re feelin’ on your iPod right now?
Diamond District – Streets Won’t Let Me Chill
Drake – Successful
Drake – Best I Ever Had
Drake – Uptown
Diamond District – First Time
Diamond District and Drake. I know those two are completely different but that’s where I’m at right now.
Donwill: See, this question is hard for me because we jut got off the road, and on the road you play a lot of different shit, and you don’t play the same thing over and over because you take 10 hour drives, but these are the artists that I’ve been bumpn':
and…the fifth one is kinda rough. This question is hard for me since this shit changes every hour. So I’m gonna stop at 4.
Wait, I think I have a fifth one….RAY J! You know why? Because he makes horrible music and he loves it. The guy doesn’t take himself seriously. When he wants to sing he can, but that “No Porno” shit was probably the worst album of that year. For that matter alone it is the most entertaining shit I’ve heard in my life. He threatened Kim Kardashian with Brandy whupin’ her ass. How is that even logical? You gotta love some shit like that.
Ilyas: Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of rock lately, so I’ve going to come on something a little differnt
A Perfect Circle
Brooklynati is in stores now. Look for Tanya Morgan in a city near you.