Discovery: Doss the Artist



23year old, Ivy League-educated Doss the Artist is making waves in Detroit’s underground hip-hop scene. We know what you’re thinking: 8 Mile! Rap battles in dank basement rooms! Sweaty palms, vomit on his sweater already, Mom’s spaghetti. Luckily—or perhaps unfortunately, depending on where you are coming from—Doss the Artist is not Eminem. Nor is he what you would expect from a rising rapper. Doss’ musical style is much harder to pin down; he has rapped over everything from jazz to indie darling Imogen Heap, the “producers’ producer” J-Dilla, and club favorite, Daft Punk. When asked to name his favourite contemporary artists, his immediate reply is Radiohead and Andre 3000.

We caught up with Doss the Artist to discuss Brazil, Lois Lane, and whether his Brown University degree is hurting his street credibility.

AGE:  23

HOMETOWN: Detroit. 


ON GROWING UP IN DETROIT: Growing up in Detroit was always kind of a balance between the city and the suburbs. A lot of opportunity in the city is outside in the suburbs as far as anything to do recreationally or educational or anything like that. I spent a lot of time, especially when I started rapping, outside of the city even though I’m from the city and I lived in the city. The reason Detroit appears in so much of my music is, not only because the city’s important to me, but the writing sort of evolved out of a kind of nostalgia for the city and hanging on to our parents’ memory of what the city used to be.

MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS: I grew up listening to a lot of soul music just around the house with my mother, with my father. It wasn’t really until high school that my father and I began to connect with music; he was going through midlife crisis kind of stuff so we would listen to DMX and a lot of Tupac. [My father] got me a Bootsy Collins album, he’s one of the musicians who worked with The Parliament-Funkadelics and George Clinton, and he got me Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On for my 15th birthday. We also became really big fans of James Brown around the same time. I think what all of those artists have in common is a sense of a really rough and kind of in your face (sound), so I kind of grew from that tree of music in a lot of ways. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Little Dragon, a lot of Panda Bear, a lot of really indie alternative artists.

WRITING SONGS: I try to draw upon my daily experiences, but as the artist I feel like I have to paint a picture, I have to write a novel. I really want to make (my music) something a bit abstract and have people latch on to it and interpret it how they will. In terms of the beats that I pick for my rap, a lot of it comes from the mind of my producers, but a great deal of it comes from me coming up with a sound or a sample, I like to reach wide—old school R ‘n B, classic rock, psychedelic, independent music—some of the deepest and dirtiest sounds I can come up with on my own. We try and put that all together and create one crazy stew of all types of ridiculousness. I know that when the (song) comes out, some people may interpret it as a rap song, some people might interpret it as a slag song where I can just talk shit and do a normal rappity-rap type deal, but I always want it to be leaning towards a greater look, and that’s why I try and make my music diverse, so people can take what that will from it and find every different feel.

TRYING TO RECORD AN ALBUM IN YOUR BOARDING-SCHOOL BEDROOM: Hir-O is the executive producer on all my projects, because he and I came up together into the rap scene. We made our first album together in high school under the name Question Mark. I think the musical content is some of the best work I’ve done, but the actual recording quality is crazy because we were at a boarding school and a lot of the recording was us, sneaking around late night in the dorm room recording into a really shitty mike and just trying to make it happen. We were surprised by how much love we got; it was 2005, so we were still selling CDs.  We never got in trouble for recording after hours, but there are definitely a couple of takes where you can hear the housemaster knocking on the door and then we just cut the recording because we were trying to be quiet and hide out.

BEING RECOGNIZED AT HOME: Once I got back from college, I really got involved in the Detroit hip-hop scene. It was crazy to come back from the East Coast and go to a show for a Detroit rapper or some type of opening and meet people who are like, “Hey, you’re Doss the Artist, I heard Computer B!ue and have good things to say about it.” I think I made my way on to the Detroit scene through the Providence hip-hop scene; I originally started rapping in high school and I had a little bit of spin then—but when I came back from college, it was like the stage had already been set for me here. It was a really nice homecoming.

BEING THOUGHT OF AS AN “IVY LEAGUE” RAPPER:  I don’t raise my Brown University  flag onstage, I don’t talk about it very much as a rapper—but I don’t think it’s something that would hurt my credibility too much.

DREAM VENUE: I would love to do a show in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Brazil, that would be my dream. One time I went out there and I remember going to a show where the people had to literally swim out to the stage. It wasn’t too far offshore, close enough to tread water, but it was amazing in its craziness.

DREAM COLLABORATION: Who would I love to perform with? If I could pick two, I would pick the DJ Flying Lotus and Animal Collective, because I’m a big fan of sonic experiments that really just play around a whole lot with sound. I think we could put our heads together and come up with some pretty crazy shit.

ON LOIS LANE: “Lois Lane” was a track off [my last album] Computer B!ue. It was one of those tracks where, when Hir-O sent me the beat, I immediately went into the studio—that same week, two days later. That first verse, “Don’t hate me for flying, because you can’t blame Superman for playing Clark Kent sometimes,” was taking a look at all the stress that we face, all the conundrums that we fall into. Why not have Lois Lane if you’ve got to play Superman anyway, if you’ve got to feel like you’re saving the world one day at a time?

WHAT I’M WORKING ON NEXT: The first project is a mixtape series; the name of it is 9Lives. The premise is that a song will be released each week over the next nine weeks. The format isn’t entirely new, it’s kind of the same thing as Kanye’s Good Friday.  Each single is trying to showcase the many styles of Doss the Artist, that’s why I called it 9Lives; I’m hoping to cover a lot of ground. Everything that I’ve released so far has been kind of conceptual, the next big project after nine lives will be 86 Miles Tall, a huge collaboration love fest between ACB and Hir-O, two of the most dynamic producers I’ve worked with. The concept is really about escaping to a higher place and kind of trying to find the height of heaven.