Fall is in full swing in New York City which means school is back in session. As I approach Columbia University’s campus I get a sense of nostalgia and a little anxiety. College was great but the thought of having to do homework on the weekend sounded dreadful. Which brought me to wonder, how in the world does Dolapo Akinkugbe better known as “DAP the Contract” find time to maintain a rap career while going to law school full time?
As I meet him at his apartment near campus, we sit down and discuss his musical process, the truth behind being a law school student and where he sees his music going next.
Saturday School: When did you first start rapping?
Dolapo Akinkugbe: Officially when I was 17 but I started producing at 14 and started writing rhymes around 15/16.
SS: So you produce all of your music?
DA: 99% of it yeah. I might get help on bits, but I do pretty much all of it.
SS: Where do you produce your music?
DA: My bedroom! Literally you see my keyboard, my mic and I record everything in here, and then I send it to an engineer in London who brings it up to the quality that it should be.
SS: Wait so why do you send it specifically to an engineer in London?
DA: I went to high school and middle school in London and when I started producing the first studio we went to, my friend knew a person that worked there and he’s been my engineer ever since.
SS: So you produce and record everything in here? How do you soundproof everything?! This is fascinating to me [laughs]. I don’t know much about production so this is a learning experience.
DA: Literally the way you would expect. I put the towel under the door, turn off the AC, turn off the fridge and just make it a quiet as possible. Technology is so good now that even if it’s not dead silent as long as you can project your voice, an engineer can do the rest. The engineering is just as important as the quality of the song.
SS: I think that’s cool because I feel like a lot of artists are doing that. They’re like “we don’t need to pay for that studio time.”
DA: Exactly, cut the middle man out to cut the cost.
SS: I’ve been watching your videos for Contract Thursdays and I was wondering how do you come up with the concepts and the art direction? Not just for the videos but for the album art as well. Do you do all of that yourself?
DA: No I don’t do any of the album art, Rekha does some (@rekhalala) and a kid who went to Brown who did the album art for the mixtape I put out that really took off for me. Literally that artwork alone was all the promotion it needed. That was when I realized how important presentation was. People still ask me about that artwork to this day, three years later.
I started shooting and editing my own videos in February. I know my songs the best, I wrote them and recorded them and I see what I want the song to look like, so it just made sense. Rather than to pay someone to make the video look crazy with all of these effects, I rather have the concept carry the video. Even if I don’t have the equipment, the cameras or the expertise in videography, as long as long as the concept is cool and interesting I’m good.
SS: Yeah because I was looking at them and they looked super high quality and then I surprised when I saw in the credits that you edited them! Did you teach yourself how to edit?
DA: I literally started taking videos and trying to chop them up. Because everyone does that with Instagram, everyone is a video editor lowkey. You can do crazy things with just Instagram so I just jumped in. The Two Roads EP I put out in April was the first video I edited. The video for Details I shot with a GoPro. The concept of the song is a back and forth conversation so I was like if I just split the screen that can represent a conversation with myself.
SS: That’s awesome! So you went to middle school and high school in London, you’re from Nigeria and you live here now, how has your background affected your music?
DA: Honestly I think it’s been one of the most important things. Experiencing different cultures helps me to understand all types of music. One of the main things about my music is blending different cultures and different sounds and different genres of music and that comes from having all these different backgrounds.
SS: Yeah I can definitely hear some of those influences throughout your music. So you’re in law school, congrats! I’ve been wondering, is it as hard as everybody says it is?
DAP: Yes [laughs]. Exactly as hard as everyone says it is.
SS: What made you want to go to law school?
DA: I was a classics major in undergrad, I studied Latin and Greek and then music as a second major. The majored in classics because those were my best subjects in high school, so it was what I was naturally good at and what I liked the most. I didn’t really want to be a classics teacher and that’s the natural career path of a classics major. So law just seemed to make the most sense and it was what I was most curious about. Now I’m still sort of trying to balance what I do after I graduate. I’ve spent all this time and money working on this and not making music so that’s what I’m trying to figure out right now.
SS: Yeah that was my next question, how have you been able to balance music and school?
DA: I’ve been here for 3 months and so far I’ve only made one song. I would usually be making a beat a day or a beat every two or three days. So I haven’t made any music, I had to edit some of the last few videos I put out while I was taking classes and that was a lot. I plan to stop now and build up a lot of material that I can release slowly throughout the year and then where I find time over Christmas break, spring break or in between finals and summer break, I’ll build material. This past year I just tried to make as much as possible and put out as much possible but now I’m finding that I need to focus on putting out one big thing. But there is no balance. It’s really just reading and performing, I’ll probably perform twice a year.
SS: Where do you perform?
DA: My friends are in this band called Lawrence and we performed at Bowery Ballroom and they’re really dope and they sold out Friday and Saturday. I’m working on a joint tape with the main leader of band, Clyde and another friend who went to Brown. The group is called Hi-Lo Jack and the EP is about six songs.
SS: So Open Letter II, is super personal, did you have any hesitation releasing it? And how did you feel after?
DA: Damn...that’s a fire question. No, looking back I feel like I should’ve had more hesitation over certain things which is weird because you’d think you’d be hesitant at that moment. But now I look back and I’m like “damn did I really think that through?” Because when I make something that pure I don’t let anything get in the way of it. For example, the video for Free that would be the one I would’ve been more hesitant to put out over Open Letter II. But if it’s the music and it’s true to me, I don’t want there to be anymore factors that go into releasing it.
SS: You’ve been working on music for a while now, what advice would you give to other aspiring musicians?
DA: This is such a hard question. My first instinct would be to say own your stuff. Be as involved with every piece of your creativity, your business and your manager. Know what’s going on and don’t let anything fly under the radar. Just keep your circle small and work with people you trust. It’s really all about independence and not signing away your rights to a person or a label. Like what I’m trying to do is do everything myself and not owe anyone anything which makes it so much harder, but I would still say just trust your gut. Do what you like, don’t do what you think is cool. Be true, and let people know who you are through your music and just good luck on trying to figure out how to make a living out of it [laughs].
SS: Last question! If you could go back, what advice would you give high school you?
DA: I would say don’t worry and chill out a little bit. I was a high strung kid in high school, I worked my ass off all the time and part of that is what got me here, but just to have more faith.