Brooklynati Natives Stay On Their Mark

Since their debut full-length Moonlighting was released in 2006, Tanya Morgan has been like the long-distance relay team of underground rap. Individually, Von Pea and Donwill have shown to be more than qualified to run things, releasing a handful of solo projects and providing guest vocals for their peers. From Don’s Don Cusack in High Fidelity to Von’s Pea’s Gotta Have It, they have showcased the diversity in their respective styles, and explored their own concepts. While each project holds its own weight, their true strength is as a unit. All of a sudden, their individual flavors become complementary and certain attributes are strengthened.

Though Tanya Morgan was originally a trio for the first two albums, Donwill and Von Pea didn’t drop the baton as they continue to push forward, record and tour just as hard as they did before. While currently working on their third as-of-yet unrevealable-titled album, Von and Don are hitting the turf with a 10-city West Coast tour. As the two explain, the new album is inspired by the energy of the stage and dedicated to having a good time, which will undoubtedly be on display when they stop by The Blue Lamp on Jan. 27, 2011. Joined by Big Pooh of Little Brother and the Hall of Justus, the bill reads like a podium for underground champs. In support of the show, Submerge reached out to the two via conference call from their home bases in Brooklynati to discuss resolutions and more.

Do you have any rap resolutions for 2011, either personally or for rap in general?
Von Pea: I would like to do more production this year. It’s a talent that I have that I don’t exercise enough. Music in general, in 2011, I would like to see a larger platform for independent artists. That’s not just for us, but music in general. I mean the platforms are there, but it’s very crowded so I guess it would be for some kind of filter. It’s like out of 30 people, 20 of them are just making music because their computer came with Garage Band, and 10 of those are serious about it, so a filter to get those 10 people what they need. I don’t know how or what that would be, but hey.

Donwill: My resolution would be to learn piano. It was my goal for 2010 too, but to find someone who knew enough to sit down and teach me. I didn’t see it through for whatever reason, but that’s still my goal for this year. Just learning a new musical language excites me. I’m sure it will improve a lot of other areas for what I do as an artist. Outside of that, just having a game plan. A lot of people use the word “grind” and “hustle” pretty loosely. The most important part of all of that is having a vision. You can grind all day and have no vision and get nowhere.

You talk about having a game plan, but when I look at you guys as a group, I feel like you guys have always been strategic and thorough in the way you present and release your music.
Donwill: We plan out everything. We have never done something haphazardly as a unit. I might have done an EP out of the blue, but as a group we always put a lot of thought and effort into what we do. You have to remind yourself to do that though. It’s not a force of habit, and once you’re accustomed to making plans you want to become more involved in the planning. It’s a talent, and just like the music, you have to practice it. I like to remind myself that I have to have a plan.

Von Pea: You can’t control a lot of things, but the one thing you can control is your plan. It’s like if something isn’t going as planned, you have to pull back, and if it takes another month to get it right, then that’s what you need to do. That’s how it has to be done. If you don’t go for everything, then it becomes what somebody else wanted. You can’t control how much your fans like it, how it sells or the money you make, but you can control how it comes out.

You both have Band Camp sites where folks can listen to your music for free, and you both have mixtapes that are open for download. What is your philosophy of giving certain projects away?
Donwill: In my opinion, it’s a necessary evil. It’s something that becomes a reward to the die-hard fans, and for those who aren’t, it’s a like a litmus test.

Von Pea: You have to use the free project right though, like have it up for a limited amount of time, or package it with something else. A lot of artists sell themselves short and put out all these free projects hoping it will pay off. In their minds they feel like they have to do it, but for us, we use it as something between projects. There won’t be a free Tanya Morgan album [laughs].

Donwill: It’s a trippy time right now for an independent artist. It’s great in a lot of ways, but very tricky. There has to be a strategy for the free releases.

Of the three aspects as a musician–writing, recording and performing–what is your favorite and what do you get out of each of those?
Donwill: Writing was my first love and I hated performing, but it got to the point where I learned to love performing more. Performing is where you get the validation. It’s the return you get for the hard work of making a song. I can’t describe the feeling of being in another country and have people recite back your rhymes; it’s incredible. Right now, we’re working on our third album, and I’m having to fall back in love with the writing process. Some artists write the same songs over and over and are OK with that. I’m not, so I have to figure out new ways to talk about my life. I mean my light bill wasn’t paid last year, and it won’t be paid this moth, so you know, you have to figure a way to say it differently.

Von Pea: It’s funny you said that, because I’m going through that right now. We haven’t had this conversation, but yeah, I’m feeling the same way.

Donwill: That’s what I’m falling in love with again, though–figuring out how to talk my shit again. I want to be more forthcoming, and not so cryptic. I want to say, “I want some money,” instead of, “Yo, the greenbacks, dolla signs, Illuminati…” I want to say what I want to say, but not make it sound redundant. It’s a delicate balance.

Von Pea: I love recording, especially by myself. Just piecing everything together is fun for me. Writing is hard, making the beats is hard, but yeah just vibing and being weird, that is my favorite thing.

To wrap things up, you mentioned working on the third album; can you reveal where you are in the process?
Von Pea: We’re about 12 songs deep right now. It’s not like a big concept record like Brooklynati.

Donwill: Yeah, I think we themed ourselves out. I mean there will be something that keeps the album cohesive, but nothing complex. I think for this album the focus is the performance aspect. We’ve learned so much just being out there, and seeing what the fans like. This album is dedicated to the stage.

So more toward the fun side of things…
Von Pea: Yeah, I would say that. There will be substance, but it won’t be like “Brenda’s Got a Baby.”

See Tanya Morgan play live at the Blue Lamp with Big Pooh, Addict Merchants and others on Jan. 27, 2011. Show starts at 9 p.m. Go to for more information.