Tanya Morgan: A Good Look
Over the last two years, the Brooklyn-meets-Cincinnati trio of Von Pea, Ilyas and Donwill [click to read] won over fans in a saturated marketplace for simply being "regular guys" - with exceptional rapping abilities. As their 2006 album Moonlighting took a slow crawl to one of the cult-favorite releases of the last two years, the group dashed for the studio to release their present EP The Bridge.
In transition though, perhaps the group's "regular guy" veneer got lost on a posturing industry that coveted their carefully cultivated success. Barrages of "That's a good look," "We should do a song" and "How did you...?" became the 2008 "Please Listen To My Demo," and three of the nicest guys in Hip Hop realized that fandom is a rare trait.
Still devout Hip Hop fans themselves, Tanya Morgan's Bridge hopes to silence not critics - but busybodies. The group sits down with HipHopDX on a busy afternoon to discuss adapting to success, confirmation, and dealing with all the good looks that have come their way.
HipHopDX: At this point in your careers, with an already successful album in Moonlighting, now this The Bridge EP, besides simply Brooklyn and Cincinnati, what are you guys bridging?
Von Pea: Not to speak for everybody, but I think the main thing we want to do is just get people back into music and away from the politics of it. A lot of people care about how much you sold last week, and what label you’re on and blahzay blah, and we’re trying to bring people back into just the fandom. That goes for artists too, ‘cause we’re still fans. We just want people to sit back and be able to hit play and just enjoy the album, and not worry about who’s on it, how much it’s gonna sell the first week, or blah blah blah. Just music and artistry.
Donwill: We’re pretty much bridging Moonlighting and Brooklynati. A lot of growth happened, a lot of transitions regarding production and lyricism, and The Bridge is like that, letting you know [about] the growth.
Ilyas: We’re also bridging all the things that we’ve learned. Your first project, you make a lot of mistakes or whatever, but we’re bridging together a lot of what we’ve learned this time around. We’re more confident about how things are gonna turn out.
DX: Moonlighting, when it was released, was treated like it was the kind of music made after nine-to-fives and as a true labor of love. It was so well-received, that I’m curious to know about your commitments to be fulltime musicians, and if they changed…
Donwill: The dedication has always been the same. The same thing motivates me. The vibe has changed a little bit. To answer the question though, [music] is all I do; I don’t do anything else.
Ilyas: I don’t know. As time has progressed, you become a lot more observing that this is work. So we’ve become a lot more driven and focused towards our music.
DX: Last year’s Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival seemed like a coming-out party for Tanya Morgan. After all the work, to rock with some of those legends had to be a big deal. Tell me about that event and your New York audience and its significance to you as a group…
Von Pea: Some people might’ve seen it as a coming-out party, but to me it seemed like a platinum party – without going platinum. It was like a celebration of being accepted. I just really felt accepted that day.
Donwill: That was the confirmation. We had been confirmed several times, through several people at several places, but that was like the [real] confirmation.
Ilyas: Honestly, as far as that’s concerned, to perform at The Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and then also receive a nice response from the crowd – you know how that New York crowd is, that was real. [Laughs]
Von Pea: They don’t play.
DX: Looking at The Bridge EP, I get through the record and the bonus track “How Low” comes on. It fits as a bonus because it sounds nothing like anything on the record. It’s whimsical, radio-friendly, but still good. It’s a fun record, tell me about the fun you had making it…
Ilyas: Well, there was a producer in Cincinnati whose studio I went by when I heard the beat, “This sounds like some roller-skating shit!” I laid down the hook. Initially, it was gonna be a song me and Don was gonna throw on this Il Will mixtape, but it was such a jam, [Von Pea] hopped on it, and we were like, “Damn!” He just murdered that joint if you listen to that third verse; he killed it.
Von Pea: I don’t know if the music conveys it, but that record is great for our stage show. Our stage show is pretty lively; a lot of photographers have problems getting us to stand in one place. We move to much.
DX: Is that a song that you perform frequently?
Von Pea: Yeah. That’s pretty much a staple right now.
DX: Between you guys, J*Davey, K’naan [click to read], Interdependent Media is flooding the market right now with hot material this summer. To what extent do you believe that this label has the potential to become something of a 2008 Rawkus? How do you guys look at this label?
Ilyas: I definitely think it has the potential. They’re poised to [follow in Rawkus’ footsteps]. If all goes well, with the success of the projects and artists, I really think they might be able to take a step beyond, honestly.
Donwill: The potential lies there. The potential will be realized by, not only releasing albums, but more so by maintaining and cultivating those artists so that they have more than one album and more than one shot. You gotta give a person at least three or four albums to realize they’re artistic potential. You can’t just drop an album, and then a week later, you’re not on the label or something. That’s [true] of any label. All I know is that the roster is pretty dope, and I’m anxious to see what happens too.
DX: Knowing how hard you guys work at your craft, how difficult is it for you when so many of you’re own fans are aspiring rappers, producers or industry card-passers? Is that frustrating?
Von Pea: [Laughs] It can be. You’re doing your music and your doing your music, and a lot of people, instead of saying, "Yo, I like what you’re doing, I want to come to your show," they’ll be like, "Yo, how’d you get that show?" "I like that beat. I need a beat like that." "We need to do something together, it’ll be a good look." Everything is about a damn look! Oh, it’s a good look? “This is a movement.” We’re going on tour with Hieroglyphics in July [click to read], and a lot of people are like, “That’s a good look.” Not “I’m gonna come to the show.” They’re saying, “Yo, that’s a good look. Can I open up? Put me through.” Everybody just wants to know how you can pull them to where you are. It ain’t even about pulling up anymore; everybody is being pulled side-to-side.
DX: Where do you think that comes from?
Von Pea: I think it comes from accessibility. It’s easy to be an artist now. There’s a lot of people without money that deserve to be an artist, and there’s some people with or without money that don’t deserve it, but they just have the access to it. The reason I put money into it is because…you’re sitting around with a lot of talent, but you can’t afford a MTV or you can’t afford to go to a studio that’s $75 an hour, you should be allowed to sit at home with your $200 mic and your crack of Protools and make your music. But then you have people that have the same thing that just have it for no reason, and now they think they’re an artist. You buy a Mac now, and it comes with music software to make beats and all of that. I don’t mean that to sound like everybody shouldn’t have a chance, ‘cause they should, but this is everybody – and it’s not supposed to be everybody.
Ilyas: The only thing is bothersome about that, at times, when you step off the stage or whatever, and people approach you. You’re thinking, “Word! A fan. They really appreciate what I do.” And then they’ll be like, “Yo, I should get your number,” and you’ll be like, “Ahhh!” They came to politic.
Von Pea: We don’t really do that. We go to shows, and we just go as fans, there chillin’, and they might be like, “So, what’s up?” We’re just there being fans.
Donwill: We just go to look at a show. I’m not saying I don’t want to work with people, but it pushes me away. There are certain channels of appropriateness that you have to go through. Sometimes it’s not in good taste to coattail another man’s lane, or side-swipe it.
Von Pea: Sometimes you just gotta be a fan, man. It’s funny, I saw my man Skyzoo, and I see him a lot. I had a magazine he was in, and I said, “Yo, sign my magazine.” He was like, “I’m not signing that. You’re Von Pea, blah blah blah.” I’m like, “Nah. Sign it! Sign it!” You’ve got to remain a fan too. Nobody’s an artist no more – especially in Hip Hop, at least they’re not treated like one. And keeping it 100, a lot of times, it’s artists that I know for a fact that I want to do joints with them, but I won’t, just for the simple fact that I would rather enjoy them as an artist, and enjoy how they influence me. The song’s allowed to happen, but it has to be a natural setting; you can’t really force anything. That’s the problem with Hip Hop sometimes, is you’re forcing something that’s natural.
DX: Is that one of the reasons we don’t see Tanya Morgan doing a lot of collaborations?
Donwill: If you like every collaboration we’ve done, from production to emcee, that’s a personal relationship. Those collaborations came about as easy as you goin’ out and getting a drink with somebody. It was nothing like, “Yo, do this track!”
Von Pea: And if you look at the mixtape we put out with DJ Soul, Tanya Morgan Is A Rap Group mixtape [click to listen], the people on that, those are all friends. The joint ["Shake It Off"] with Torae [click to read] and Supastition, that’s just off the strength of being homeboys with them. Naledge from Kidz In The Hall [click to read] – we were all just hanging out one night and were like, “Yo, we gotta do something.” It should always be natural, ‘cause that’s when it works the best.
Ilyad: Without a bunch of collaborations, we know our fans are our fans. We don’t have just a bunch of people checkin’ for us ‘cause we did a song with so-and-so, and that’s real.
DX: Moonlighting is still finding its way to new fans, simply because independent releases get out there a bit slower. Do you guys find a lot of fans still treating that album like it’s brand new after two years?
Donwill: We’ve been touring the past two years off of Moonlighting. With all due respect, whenever it touches you, it’s brand new. As artists, in order to make your statements, you make one statement an album. We’ve made that statement, and now The Bridge is a separate statement. I’m not knocking Moonlighting at all; it’s a dope album. If you ask me right now what fans should pick up, I’d say The Bridge. We recorded Moonlighting in 2004, and it didn’t drop till 2006; we recorded The Bridge in February.