Tanya Morgan may be hip-hop’s trojan horse. While images of a neo soul songstress hit you upon initial contact, don’t be fooled. The group is actually a male outfit comprised of Brooklyn MC Von Pea, Cincinnati lyricists Donwill and Ilyas (aka Ilwil) and fellow Cincinnati resident and producer Brickbeats. As Tanya Morgan enjoys critical acclaim for its first full-length album, Moonlighting, HipHopsite managed to stop the men behind the woman to discuss the album as a reference point, people’s perception of the group and meeting the real Tanya Morgan.
HipHopSite: For a group of guys, what was the motivation of naming the group after a woman?
Donwill: Pretty much for me, I would say it was just doing something different. I mean, like in terms of just trying not to limit ourselves by a name. I mean because the name is kind of limiting. It didn’t sound like a rap group. And plus, it was just kind of like, for real, just some inside joke shit like between…it was like a side project, so we kind of wanted to give it a name that wouldn’t detract from the Von Pea/IlWil franchise.
HHS: Is Tanya a real person or a fictional representation of everybody’s personalities?
Donwill: I met a Tanya Morgan through Myspace actually. She hit me up and was like “Yo, people keep asking me when did I do an album and people keep asking me do I have an album out. And I just want to say that you guys have made my life a living hell.” (Laughter)
But then she turned around and listened to the shit and she was just like “On second thought after hearing it, I’m like this shit is crazy. I guess it’s just kind of like another funny story to add to my life because it’s like some really really dumb, critically-acclaimed hip-hop named after me.’ It was kinda quirky, but outside of her the only other Tanya Morgan I heard about was some B-movie actress who died or something.
HHS: In a recent interview, Ilyas mentioned that he wasn’t worried about Moonlighting going platinum so much as people respecting and appreciating the music.
Ilyas: That was probably all of us. So we pretty much all agree on that same feeling about the album. We just want it to be received well, pretty much. I think when the time is right, it will potentially be appreciated on a large mainstream level. As artists, we just want to have fun with it because as soon as we start worrying about how much our album sells, that’s when Tanya Morgan (quits) being Tanya Morgan anymore.
Donwill: I just had a conversation with Von Pea the other day and he was just saying. We were talking about the upcoming projects we working on and what not, and he was saying like— I feel like this sums up everything— he?s like ‘We?re making music that I want people to grow to.’ I want people to be like ‘Yo, I remember back in the day…’ Like shit that you like sticks with you, when you reference Midnight Marauders or how you reference early Gang Starr. It’s almost like we want it to be like a reference point as opposed to some momentary satisfaction like some shit you not going to play next year.
HHS: Is the artistry what’s missing in today’s hip-hop?
Von Pea: As far as that goes, as far as what’s missing, I don’t really want to say anything is missing because then I would be another underground rapper complaining about stuff. I don’t want to say anything is missing, but I just want to say that I just think that everybody just has to be themselves and a lot of people are not being themselves. And when you’re yourself, if you’re a true artist, you already have your artistry within you as opposed to trying to compromise who you are and trying to hold back and dumb down and blah blah. You know, you can just be yourself. But a lot of people say “Oh the people won’t be ready for that if you do that” and that could have took you to that next level.
Like somebody like Common, for example. I love Common. He’s my favorite artist, but I can’t help but think sometimes he’s holding back. If you feel where he was with Electric Circus, I think it’s kind of like he came back, you know. So I think a lot of people is just holding back.
Donwill: For me, I would say the one thing missing in hip-hop is point of reference. I don’t want to sound like a purists, but it’s a purist’s stance. Like the whole aesthetic is kind of gone. It’s almost like all day long, the regulations that affect society, it kind of affects the art form. It’s not really so much rebel music as it was. It’s not really a platform to kind of buck the system anymore as it is a platform to buffer the system. Whereas people now are really embracing hip-hop. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I’m just saying we need a whole new point of reference so that we can develop the ethics of the culture again and reaestheticize
HHS: Much has been said about hip-hop being dead. Do you believe that the music is on its way to becoming deceased or is it already there?
Brickbeats: I don’t think it’s going to be dead. It’s hard to say. I mean I know they’re trying to make a change with a lot of things now in the industry, but it’s just hard for me right now. It’s hard to see what’s going to happen.
Donwill: I say it’s alive. I think that some people have more of a stake in its well being and livelihood but I would say even the people who are helping to kill it, so to speak, have a little bit of a stake in it. I feel like it’s not dead. I feel like it’s just kind of tired of itself.
Von Pea: As far as that go, it’s not what it was. But that ain’t a negative thing. It’s something different now. What it was is dead, but it’s not dead. It’s almost like if you went to high school with somebody. They was one way in high school and then you see them 10 years later and they’re completely different. They’re still alive. They’re just not what you remember them to be. So I can’t say it’s dead. What was it when we were younger? Us having fun and listening to music. So how is that dead, you know. It’s just not what we know it to be, but it’s still here. It’s just different. And to be honest…We try to preserve it, no matter what it was. So I can’t say we trying to bring it back. We just trying to preserve what it was while it’s still here as what it is right now.
If that person you knew in high school was nerdy in high school, but now they in rock band and wild now. You still have the photo book of when you was nerdy and you look at it everyday. You might embrace how who they are now, but you prefer how they were. But they?re still alive. And I think its still alive. It’s just different
HHS: Throughout the album are skits where this album is given away to people who think it?s going to be one thing but it’s really another. Are you worried that some rap fans won?t get what Tanya Morgan is all about?
Donwill: I would say it’s happening on a smaller scale. I think that we kind of created a monster. It?s almost like the cassette tape just happens every time somebody hears the name of our group, sees the album cover and plays the tape.
We kind of just made that Groundhog Day scenario for ourselves. I mean it’s just odd. I wouldn’t say that it’s happening like where people are just like extremely turned off by the fact that we’re named Tanya Morgan and there’s a woman on our album cover. But I wouldn’t say that it turns people off. But I think that it is, in a sense, a situation where artists of our caliber and artists in general are preaching to the choir when they’re trying to reach a different platform. Because I’m pretty sure that people would enjoy our music that aren’t exposed to it, but they aren’t exposed.
Just like Murs. How do you get away from your bread and butter crowd and try to expose yourself to a larger audience without initially subjecting your crowd to feeling a little bit of slight abandonment? Like how does Murs get away from a room crowded with 60,000 white boys and try to get to those black people that he so desperately wants to perform for? I feel like that’s the plight of any artist that does not have the backing of a major label machine is that they?re subject to preaching to a choir as opposed to preaching to the congregation.
HHS: You put this album together through the use of the Internet. With the next full length album that you’re going to do, are you guys going to utilize the same strategy as far as utilizing the Internet correspondence or are you guys going to hit the studio and do it?
Donwill: It’s more or less by any means necessary, really. But I will say this in regards to that. We want to achieve the best audio quality we can with this next recording. I mean, because the first one…I won’t say it was haphazard or we just kind of threw it together and didn?t really give a fuck as to how it sounded, but we literally were just having fun. We were literally having fun, just trying to impress each other with what we could do. Like listen to this beat or listen to this verse. That’s what I mean.
It’s time to up the ante on ourselves in terms of not creativity, but quality. I?m not saying that Moonlighting doesn’t have a quality sound, but we want to achieve a more uniform-like sound without losing that characteristic. I don’t want it to sound like Puffy came in and sprinkled the little keys all over the shit. (laughter) But I want it to sound like when somebody throw the shit on in the club, the bass hits hard, the highs are high, the meds are med. I want the shit to work like correct soundwise. That’s pretty much the only thing I’m really pushing for with Brooklinnati or any other project that follows is sound.
HHS: Going back to the skits, all the people that passed the tape around say that it’s not their type of hip-hop. So what is your (or rather Tanya Morgan’s) type of hip-hop?
Ilyas: Me personally, I listen to everything. I was listening to the old Mobb Deep. The new T.I. Some Tribe Called Quest. But as far as our music is concerned, if I were to categorize it, I would just say it’s like hip-hop being fun again. Like we’re not aiming to have a certain sound. It’s just that what you hear is our signature, like what happens in the studio.
Brickbeats: I feel pretty much the same way. I mean I think that’s why we come together so well because we all have the same type of music that we like and we like to make the same type of music. That’s why the album came out like it did… Last thing I listened to today was some stuff I made actually. (everyone laughs)
HHS: What’s next for Tanya Morgan?
Donwill: Tour. Tour. Yessir. We supposed to be going out with Kev Brown, El Da Sensei and Dave Ghetto. We still waiting to see what’s going on with that. And then we got a tour for the Fall with Tableek and Pseudo Slang. That starts Sept. 12. Just hitting the road. Just continuing to build our name and our family’s name, the Lessondary. We just found out that Brickbeats is on Cartoon Network. I had to throw his name out there.
HHS: Any final words for the people?
Donwill: I would say that upon listening, don’t analyze. Just enjoy it. It’s a thing about art where you listen, you feel you have to be critical and really analyze what this MC said or if this snare is turned up in the mix or if MC X said one thing on a song and is contradicting himself on another song. We take our craft seriously, but we didn’t take it so serious to the point where… there are faults on the album, but don’t listen to the faults, listen for the dope, youknowwhatimsayin.
Von Pea: Labminoritymusic.com, download Sunlighting if you haven’t already. Continue to look out for us. Tanya Morgan and the Lessondary. Just continue to look out for us.
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