Dom McLennon is one of the brightest young minds I know, not just musically but in general. He’s wise beyond his years, very thoughtful and the most determined. The most. From the moment I met him, he’s been pushing. Pushing through doors that weren’t open, pushing back against conventional wisdom musically, pushing others around him to elevate their game like a veteran point guard. I haven’t seen him in a long time, so we reconnected over the course of a few days and talked about everything from steamed cheeseburgers to what kind of music his dog fucks with to compromising creatively for MTV. Read the first part of our interview with Dom below and make sure you catch BrockHampton’s new video for “Dirt” on MTV, brought to you VFILES & Fool’s Gold Records.
Duke London: What’s good Dom?
Dom McLennon: What up what up?
Duke: Typical Southern California afternoon, we have beautiful weather and no power. It’s back on now though, good to go. What are you on today?
Dom: Today? Just working on a bunch of creative projects; beats, websites, verses and whatnot. Keeping myself busy and keeping my mind active by any means. Playing with my puppy and shit too, he helps pass the time.
Duke: What kind of dog?
Dom: We actually don’t know still! He’s about 4 or 5 months old and we rescued him, it’s a crazy ass story actually. So the day after I did a show with my boys in Jupiter Thief, I was at my boy’s house who is also a part of the group. He was having a little kickback and invited some of his friends from back home over. On the way to his place these kids found 3 puppies coming from around the corner of a dumpster and picked them up to bring them back to the house. We fed them, or at least tried to, at this point in time there was no way any of them were a day over 6 weeks old. My girl ended up coming to his house as well so she could see them and we both kind of fell in love with them. We wanted to take them all but our apartment wouldn’t have been able to handle that, so we ended up taking one and the other two went to Dallas that night with the other people. Unfortunately, ours is the only survivor. They all had coccidia and a bunch of other shit like hookworms and some other bacterial infections, so it was a lot of work keeping our little guy here. We did it, though. If i had to guess his breed, I’d say he’s a mix. Something like a cross between a Dachsund, Labrador and a Rotty.
Duke: He’s a little warrior, that’s awesome. What’s coccidia? If they explained it, I’m just curious.
Dom: It’s a bacterial infection that comes from birds. Around the time that we rescued him there was a really bad flood in San Marcos so it probably came from him drinking bad water or coming in contact with an infected bird.
Duke: He perk up for any certain kinds of music yet? My two dogs at home have very distinct tastes so I’m always interested to hear what other people’s dogs fuck with.
Dom: Well the sign he gives me when I play music he likes is it’s easy for him to chill out to it. He’s super hyper but if good music is on he gets really chill. I think just hearing sounds in general intrigues him a lot. I play albums from front to back a lot at my house so he really dug Cosmogramma. At one point I was listening to that heavy, studying it. He likes Toro y Moi, King Krule, he also fucks with BadBadNotGood and a lot of jazz like Bill Evans. I’m always playing something different in the house.
Duke: Your puppy has a more eclectic taste in music than half the population. You’re doing a great job raising him.
Dom: Taste is important man! I feel like taste gets more and more diluted whenever people accept what’s given to them instead of discovering things they enjoy on their own time. Investing the time to discover things you enjoy, whether it be music or a restaurant that’s in the cut or even a preferred drink, it’s rewarding to know you know what you like for a reason. Taste begets culture, culture begets nature.
Duke: Skraight up.
Dom: Real shit man.
Duke: Why do you think people have become less curious, at least as a whole?
Dom: I mean, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, that’s a part of nature too. I think a byproduct of this age of information is that people don’t care to find new things with the ambition they used to. You’re usually never the first person to find something, somebody is already at the party in one way or another. So it’s easy to let your taste be defined by the tastemakers and pass it off as your own.
Duke: For a generation with as much entrepreneurial spirit as ours, it’s weird that we’re also such followers.
Dom: Everybody wants to be important, everybody wants to be a part of something. It’d be a lie if I said following trends wasn’t the most efficient way to do so. It all goes back to taste, taste defines those trends which in turn defines the culture.
Duke: So how do you stay ahead? What drives you to find new things?
Dom: My family got our first computer when I was 5. I taught myself how to use the internet at like 11 or 12 so I could learn how to make beats. I’ve always been a person that likes to figure things out and discover things on my own time. I think because I was exposed to that stuff so early it defined how it inspires me.
Duke: What made you want to make beats at first?
Dom: Well I had a family member who was really ill with it, his name was Jeremiah. I used to always bother him, me and my cousin who was like a week apart from me. Every time I would go to my Aunt’s house I would just see his door closed and hear sound coming from it at all times. So my cousin and I being the annoying little kids we were would always run in and out of his room to bother him, and one time I looked at what was on his computer screen and it was like Fruityloops 3.5 or some shit. I asked him if that’s what he uses to make music and he slammed the door in my face. I was persistent and kept bothering him until it got to the point where he locked me in the room, loaded FL up and told me to figure it out. My younger cousin and I sat there and made terrible beats for like 3 years straight. Eventually I got into internet forums, and there was people making music online there and I would just ask them questions. They would point me in the direction of Youtube tutorials or whatever it was at the time that I could use to learn. I acquired my own skill set. I remember being like 15 years old discovering cats like Memorecks out in Toronto, adding him on MSN Messenger and just picking his brain about the process. I feel like I’ve always been in tune with finding cats who are at the forefront of what they’re doing in regards to creativity and pushing the culture by doing forward-thinking shit.
Duke: I think a lot of people would agree with that last statement. I feel like you’ve always been a part of wildly talented collectives. What do you like about that type of creation, in a large group setting?
Dom: Do you know what kinetic energy is?
Duke: In regards to science, yes, but not necessarily how it correlates to recording music.
Dom: I think creative energy is kinetic energy in human form. Think about your brain like it’s a popcorn kernel. Then think about putting a group of popcorn kernels together and heating them up. It’s inevitable that one of the kernels will pop, and then that energy will transfer to the next kernel and so on. The heat being applied to the group of kernels is an idea. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been around people who don’t consider themselves creative, but when you put them in a room with creative thinkers they want to do SOMETHING.
Duke: I’m just trying to wrap my head around the metaphor, are the kernels that never popped Saigon?
Dom: OMG. I mean even some of the kernels that don’t pop in the bag when you put them in a microwave can still be popped on top of a stove, my cousin showed me that. If you want to take it even deeper, the only kernels that don’t pop are the ones that don’t have enough energy given to them to create steam. Duke: Ok so there’s still hope for those kernels, they just need a little extra
time and marketing heat. I feel you though, you all bring out the best creatively in each other. You really knocked this analogy out of the park.
Dom: I mean… rapper, wordplay. I should do that, right?
Duke: Tru. Should we go back to the beginning? Shadow Room?
Dom: Oh Jesus. That was an interesting time in my life, also a dope ass venue. Wish it wasn’t 21+, it would’ve been lit every night. I fuck with the “venues that look like hallways” aesthetic.
Duke: It was such a unique spot, plus they had the steamed cheeseburgers spot next door open really late.
Dom: Yooooooooooo oh my God!
Duke: DJ City and I were hosting an event there that night. I think it was a showcase or something. I remember as we showed up for sound check, you asked if you could open up for us and play beats.
Dom: At that point in my life, I don’t even think I had recorded a verse yet. Yeah man, I was there with Klokwize. We had shown up at the venue super early because he knew the owner or something. That was my first exposure to the Connecticut hip-hop scene, it was wild. Fucking Dia Diesel man, what a G.
Duke: Oh shit, what a name drop.
Dom: I have an elephant’s memory, especially when somebody demands the presence of a whole room like that. Wild shit.
Duke: How long after all that did you really start writing? I remember visiting you when you were working on LIVN, just can’t remember how long in between.
Dom: Probably a little less than a year. I had always been writing but was never comfortable with my voice until around mid-2012. That project was a dope experience, made it at Chris B’s house with him over the course of Memorial Day weekend. I remember because we dropped it on my Mom’s birthday. [Sidenote: Yerboi didn’t just visit the LIVN sessions, he made it on a track. It’s called “The Cloud”. Do ya Googles.]
Duke: How’d you become comfortable with your voice?
Dom: Just growing up, becoming comfortable with my own voice was like becoming comfortable in my own skin. The way you sound in your head is so much different than when you hear it coming back to you through speakers for the first time. I hated that experience. I still think i have a really hollow voice but through the process of learning how to record I’ve definitely been able to manipulate it and make it work in my favor.
Dom: Random side note, did you see the new Tesla X whip that came out today? Wow.
Duke: The doors are so tight.
Dom: THE DOORS THOUGH
Duke: Yeah I’m copping one as soon as I have 100 racks. There’s so many Teslas out here in CA, they’re like Camrys.
Dom: I can imagine. Can’t wait to be in Cali.
Duke: How’s Texas been?
Dom: It’s been good, man. It’s a nice transitional period. I’m living on my own for the first time and shit. San Marcos is a nice town, it’s really easy to get around and whatnot. The pace isn’t as fast as Austin so it’s easy to keep up and not be overwhelmed here, which is good for when you’re making your first move away from home, you know? Having said that, I’m ready to manifest destiny my ass out west and start fucking shit up.
Duke: Yeah I’m 6 months deep out west and it’s wild inspiring how focused everyone is.
Dom: I can imagine, Michael Christmas was out there for less than a year and it’s been hella inspiring watching him grow.
Duke: I met him and we discussed you actually.
Duke: It was a secret Travis Scott, OG Maco & Rome Fortune show. We were both just chilling waiting for it to start, I mentioned I knew you and he seemed stoked. Told me to tell you wassup (that felt very Seth Green in Entourage). So, Michael Christmas says wassup.
Dom: I saw him not too long ago in Texas during the Logic show in Austin, he fuckin killed it. He deserves everything coming to him for sure. Him, Cousin Stizz, all those dudes from the Northeast are making noise right now.
Duke: Yeah, New England finally starting to blow. That brings me back to you. It’s been a journey, but do you feel like you’re seeing more and more traction with regards to your music and reaching new fans?
Dom: You know, I’m not really sure, to be absolutely honest. I see things coming full circle for everybody around me and I know that it has been on my end as well in some really interesting ways. But all in all, sometimes I wake up and i feel like I’m starting from square one. I’m not really upset about it or salty or anything, I’m kind of grateful. I’ve always felt like I had something to prove. Making the transition from being a producer to a recording artist, people love to tell you to stay in your lane because they’re scared of what you’re capable of. I feel like from LIVN to THESIS I had things to prove to myself and others. That I wasn’t just a producer or just a rapper or even a producer-rapper. I feel like this journey has been a journey where I’ve spent the most time trying to un-define myself to everybody. I just always wanted to be that creative motherfucker. The difference is now I don’t have anything to prove to anybody. I feel like I’m making the best music of my life consistently; any time I lay a new verse down I’m proud of it, anytime I make a beat I’m proud of it. Even if it’s just a draft or an idea I see the potential that it has to be some groundbreaking shit and I’m happy there.
Duke: Do you think that was part of becoming comfortable in your own skin/voice?
Dom: Absolutely, I feel like the Dom McLennon that made Thesis and the Dom McLennon you’re talking to now are completely different people. I still have the hunger I’ve always had, but also the confidence to know that anytime I touch any creative outlet I’m holding my own, even if I’ve never done it before. At one point in time in my life I worried about waking up and nobody caring about what I do, and now I feel like if that was the case I’d just bump all the shit I make for myself. Nobody has done what I’ve done and nobody is doing what I do. Nobody else can make Thesis, and nobody else will be able to make the things you’ll see coming from me in the very near future. When you look at my verses you’re not looking for quotables or for your next tweet or snapchat story, you’re listening to somebody establish themselves in history as an individual who can’t be replicated. I feel like I’ve stepped into my role as a maverick in this culture and the more I blaze a trail, the more people will realize what I’ve been doing and what I am doing.
Duke: With that in mind, how has your writing process evolved? It seems like you have a ton of abstract thoughts and I don’t know if that’s always easy to put on paper.
Dom: It’s been something I’ve developed for a long time. When I started writing Thesis I approached writing phonetically, like how many syllables can create this bar? What syllables can I take out to make this flow better? Through the process of making that project, I learned how to write in rhythm first then fill the words in later. Now whenever I hear something I plan on being a part of, instead of hearing it bar-by-bar I hear it phrase-by-phrase. It allows me to manipulate the way I’m putting my words together and articulate my thoughts properly. I want to write a book on it one day, for real. I think approaching songwriting in the sense of putting your thoughts to a rhythm and cadence is a lot more freeing than the standard way people write raps. Studying dudes like Cudi all the way to Big L and shit really brought me to that conclusion. Now instead of writing all day and then finding a beat to match it, I keep all my thoughts internalized. So when something musical really speaks to me emotionally, it just spills out and I’m able to place the words exactly where they need to be to get my point across.
Duke: Would you say you’re now writing better music while not working quite as hard at that aspect of the process?
Dom: I‘d say that I’m writing music in my head all the time now. When I’m sleeping music is being written in my head so I have fresh ideas when I wake up. I don’t think it’s not working as hard, I think I’m just working smarter than ever before.
Duke: Yeah I didn’t necessarily mean not as hard, just more efficiently. You get what I’m saying.
Dom: It takes a lot of the stress off, like being able to do slant rhymes in the middle of a bar and have it still make sense in the verse, or being able to switch a rhyme scheme up whenever I want. Duke: So you’re saying there’s levels to this shit?
Dom: There’s always levels. When you look at the verse I did on that Dylan Brady song on paper, a lot of the shit doesn’t necessarily rhyme bar-for-bar, its more internal rhymes.
Duke: Who do you listen to for inspiration in regards to rhyme schemes and the flow-specific intricacies of your music? Dom: I think the most exciting artist, when it comes to taking what a bar actually is and manipulating the fuck out of it, is Young Thug for sure.
Duke: He’s shown so much progression on Slime Season, even from the Rich Gang stuff to now.
Dom: Yeah man, every time I hear “With That” I just wish more people would be that creative over beats. A lot of cats still don’t have any substance with what they’re saying, but it’s more how they’re saying it. It’s getting more and more inventive. One day people will want their artists to say something again, and there will be artists like me giving them the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, a lot of the cats who do actually have something to say don’t make listenable music.
Duke: How do you balance telling your story versus sending a message, or do they intertwine?
Dom: They definitely intertwine. I feel like as an artist your job is to deliver your message within a context your target audience would listen to. If you want to appeal to the youth you can’t rap like an old nigga. If you want to bring something new, you can’t use dated cadences. A lot of old rap reads on paper like a grocery list.
Duke: That old rappity rappity rap.
Dom: The statements don’t intertwine with one another, it’s just statement A, next bar, statement B, next bar, statement C, next bar, etc. That shit is boring, I don’t care if you’re the second coming of Jesus as a lyricist. I’d rather watch paint dry, maybe the drips will move in a direction that isn’t as predictable as those rhyme schemes, you know?
Duke: The kids clearly crave increasingly inventive and weirder music. Listen to the kids bro. Individuals want music from individuals.
Dom: LISTEN TO THE KIDS BRO! Yes, and people will recognize when you’re just setting yourself apart for the sake of being relevant or just because it’s what everybody else is doing. We’re getting to a point in society where we watch the revolutions happen within our lifetime. We’re accelerating forward at an exponential, telescoping rate.
Duke: We consume music like the old MTV dating show Next.
Dom: I think that’s relative. There’s this dude named Eamonn Healy, he said some crazy ass shit. “If you look at the time scales that are involved here — two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it — you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at 10,000 years, 400 years, 150 years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation.”
Duke: Music may become some whole other thing
Dom: When you see that nature evolves at this telescoping rate and then you look at internet culture and see the same thing. You can develop a culture without any physical foundation, then bring it into the physical realm.
Duke: 3D print a fan base.
Dom: You see the rise of a completely different form of individualism; a form of individualism where people have the opportunity to develop a culture around themselves. The only way this existed in the generation before us was if you were Prince or Martin Luther King or Timothy Leary.
Duke: What do you think the next step in the evolution is?
Dom: I think we’re living in it right now. You know me as Dom, but at any point in time I could create a new social media profile, completely independent of “Dom McLennon” that can develop its own culture. My individualism can duplicate itself to the point where Im existing in multiple planes of the same reality. We are the first generation that can be in more than one place at a time.
Duke: Dom Wachowski, the rap game’s Oracle. It’s true though, anyone can be anyone, plus everyone else.
Dom: Yeah man, kids like Kevin Abstract get that.
Duke: How did you guys meet? I’m going all-in on internet.
Dom: Through the internet, see what I mean? I even met Romil (below) through the internet, everybody that I’ve recently been associated with in one way or another is through the internet. Elon Musk says the internet is the first man made superorganism.
Im so glad I met this kid lol A photo posted by @life.gif on
Duke: It’s honestly so many different organisms. It’s so vast when you take a step back and try to fathom what it’s evolved into just within our generation.
Dom: …and the fact that it’s still evolving, we’re changing what evolution means.
Duke: We’re seeing its infancy.
Dom: That’s what I’m saying, the older generation doesn’t understand exactly what type of monster they made. You go to a concert and take your phone out to record the moment and it’s frowned upon. People are going to start developing experiences where that is encouraged; where pulling your phone out and recording the moment brings you even more immersed into the world the artist is creating. That’s the type of shit that excites me now.
Duke: Yeah the alternate reality boom is happening right now.
Dom: Erykah Badu just remixed “Hotline Bling”. I think that has everything to do with the conversation we’ve been having.
Duke: A cover of a remix of song that is loosely based on a really old dance, but the chain of artists is reversed compared to conventional wisdom. In the old days an artist would make something and aspiring artists would cover it, trying to get noticed on something more recognizable to people’s ears. Now you have an internet-driven song being remixed by a massive artist, then covered by an even more veteran artist. It’s fascinating.
Dom: It’s bewildering even.
[continue reading the rest of our interview with Dom tomorrow in part 2]