Damian Lillard Talks "Big D.O.L.L.A." & Earning Lil Wayne’s Respect As A Rapper
Back in 2016, NBA fans were intrigued when Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard dropped his debut project The Letter O, under the name Dame D.O.L.L.A. It was well documented that Lillard had superior rap skills when compared to his contemporaries in the league but people were curious as to how that would translate to a full-length project. Lillard didn't disappoint as he dropped a concise, 12-track project which contained introspective bars about his come up. Dame was also able to secure some high profile features in Lil Wayne, on the track "Loyal To The Soil," and Jamie Foxx on the song "Plans."
Just a year later, Lillard would prove himself once again with the album Confirmed which was a continuation of his bar-heavy sound. On both projects, Dame D.O.L.L.A. was able to show people that he's a voice to look out for and over the last two years, fans have been clamoring for new music. Today, Dame delivered as he dropped a 10-track album called Big D.O.L.L.A. which as he explained, is a complete evolution of his style.
Leading up to the project, Dame took the time to talk to us about what his goals were for the project, how he's been able to continue his relationship with Lil Wayne, and also talked about his independent record label, Front Page Music.
Read the full interview below, edited for clarity and length.
HNHH: Hey man. How are you doing today?
Dame D.O.L.L.A.: I’m pretty good. How about yourself?
Not bad. You got your project coming out next week. Are you excited?
I’m super excited. I love how it came together. It’s different from what I typically do. I felt the growth in myself when I recorded it, so I’m excited for people to hear it.
For sure. Your last album Confirmed dropped two years ago. How did taking your time in between projects help to cultivate your sound?
For me, it really helped because music is changing and evolving. What was popular two years ago might not be popular now, different sounds and what people are paying attention to. A few years ago, you could have a five-minute song but now, people are trying to keep it two and a half- three minutes because people don’t listen for that long. So just catching that, being able to sit back and listen to what kind of music is sticking, what kind of music is successful. Also, getting people who listen to my music to the point where they want more music instead of just flooding them with music. People actually tweet me, DMing me constantly about when I’m going to drop some music so it’s kind of anticipated by people who listen to my stuff. I think it’s helpful to back off of it for a few years.
Absolutely. With your first two projects, you were able to establish yourself and show people your talent. With this record, what do you feel like you are setting out to accomplish?
With this one, I just want to show people another side. My first two albums were on the humble side, just storytelling and the foundation of who I am, the kind of person I am and the kind of life I live. With this one, I’m still the same person and I still hang around the same people but, I’m at a different level and different time in my life. I have things now. I’m at a different level financially. I’m at a different level in my career. It’s just different and I think these two years were also big for that because I’ve grown so many strides. I’m so many levels up from when I dropped my last project.
You have such a busy life with your NBA career, so how do you find time to record and where do you record your songs?
We make time for stuff that we wanna make time for. Music is a passion of mine. I’ve been telling people that for a long time. Obviously, basketball is my number one priority because it’s my number one career, it’s what I’m known for but, I’m as passionate about music. I listen to a lot of music. I’m always writing. I’m always in that mind frame of being an artist. This is something that I want to do. Usually, when I’m recording, I’m in L.A. I’ve recorded in Arizona. Wherever I’m at, I’m trying to find somewhere where I can lay some music down.
Before the interview, I got to hear your song “Moneyball” with Jeremih. You say you get to record in L.A. and you’re able to make time for it. When you collaborate with an artist like Jeremih, are you able to get into the studio with them, or is it a situation where you’re being sent stuff?
I’ve had both situations. With that specific song, I sent it to him and he sent it back. It was one of those situations. I’ve had others where I was in the studio with people and getting to see them work, extremely popular, high-level artists. I was in the studio with Wayne. Seeing them go, I learned a lot both times. Like I said, I’ve experienced both sides, being in the studio and working with them and having to get comfortable with being with someone who has done this a million more times than me and also, sending people music and getting it back.
Before the interview, I also found out that Wayne has some production credits on your current album and you’ve worked with him in the past. How were you able to cultivate that relationship over the years?
He saw that I was doing music and thought it would be a good idea for us to connect on some music stuff. We knew a mutual person and they connected us. From the jump, me and him had direct contact with each other. So I didn’t have to go through two or three people to communicate. It was just me and him. We were texting, talking on the phone and he sent me a song originally. When he sent me the song, I sent it back immediately because I didn’t want to keep Wayne waiting. He was like, “Man, you really can rap.” He respected it and sent me like two more songs so I sent those back. I ended up sending three or four songs back to him and then I got him on my first album. We’ve been real cool ever since then. He’s kind of a mainstay on my album. Whenever I’m doing an album, you can expect that Wayne track.
You said you made more songs than you ended up putting on the album. What’s your decision process behind choosing which tracks you want on the album?
I send them to people whose opinion I respect. I’m real cool with Common. I’m real cool with Wayne. I’m real cool with J Cole. I’m cool with his manager. I’m cool with Pusha T. People who’s opinions I respect, I’ll send them a song and take the feedback, whatever criticisms they have, and then, I’ll play it for the people that I’m around, people on my label, people that I do music with. I let them hear it. Then, I’ll just listen to it over time myself and if it’s something I eventually grow off of, I’ll be like “Nah. I don’t like it as much as I did in the beginning.” Then I’ll take that with the opinions that I got from other people. There are some songs I make where I really like it and over time I still like it. Some times I like songs more.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
You touched on your record label a little bit. How important is it for you to establish your label, remain independent and drop music as an independent artist?
Really important. When you talk about the direction that a lot of artists are trying to go in, and me being in a position to back myself financially, I can keep myself out of a lot of situations that way. That’s what it’s about for me. I got two artists on the label right now and I’m working on more, I’m working on creating a situation where once my music is out there and can really take off, I can position other people to play. That’s what it’s about. Also, it puts me in a position where once it does take off, I can start taking the steps to put them in that position as well. I can put them in a position to do it for themselves as well.
As far as the artists that you have on your label, could you name the two artists?
The first one is Brookfield Duece. He recently put a project out a month or two ago called America’s Orphan. That’s a really solid project. A lot of his projects link to each other so you would have to listen to one and go listen to the others. It’s really great music on the conscious side, really honest music. Danny From Sobrante is the other artist on the label. He’s a really popular Bay Area artist and more on the street side but he’s got a great story to tell, great music. He’s working on a lot of music as well. Both are top artists trying to get their music out there.
Will we get to hear them on your project by chance?
Yes. Danny is actually on “Moneyball.” He has a verse on “Moneyball,” and then I’ve got a song called “Dre Grant,” that’s Brookfield Duece’s one.
You said you have songs that didn’t make the album that you’re already thinking about for your next project. Do you see yourself taking another two years or will this be something quicker or maybe even longer?
It’ll be quicker. I’m not sure how much quicker but it won’t be two years. Even when I did this project, I felt the improvement. My mind was just working differently when I was recording the music than it did on either one of my first two albums. The first two albums, I was in a spot where I was surrounded by a bunch of people and everyone was giving their opinion and I was very open to other opinions. Maybe one song that I didn’t love, somebody else would be like “That’s the one! You gotta have that one,” and I would listen harder and convince myself that they were right. With this album, it was me and the engineer a lot of times and I’d have one or two people in the studio. The engineer is a guy whose done music with every artist you can think of, like the best of the best. I’m listening to his opinion and I’m taking my own and I’m recording it how I want to record it. Like I said earlier, after that, I’m playing it for people and seeing what people think. It’s more of me. This album came out more what I feel strongly about and what I think. If the music go out and it misses, it’s something I can deal with because it was me. Previously, everybody's opinion was taken into account and maybe some opinions that shouldn’t have been considered were considered.
Do you find that having less people in the studio helps with the songwriting process?
It helps a lot. I have a much clearer mind. Before, I wanted to create an environment of people. We would have people in their just hanging out and the music was playing. It was a good time. This time, it was much more efficient. I was able to go in. I would literally record one thing to a beat, be like “No,” and I would start over and do something else. I would have like two songs to one beat and halfway in, I would choose the one I liked and then finish that one. It was a real process of taking my time but not wasting time.
Lastly, on your project, what would you say to your fans in terms of what they should expect with this album?
Expect a more up-tempo, more fun, album. My first two albums required a lot of listening to get it. I think this one feels better. If you out and you hear it come on, the production is better. Overall, it’s more relevant and recognized. It’s almost like a humble flex, the whole album. It’s like me and the truth but what the public knows. They know I just signed a max extension. They know that I live in a big house. They know that I have nice cars. They know all this stuff but they don’t know it about me. They don’t know my attachment or my connection to it because I’ve never spoken on it. Now, I’m letting them know. I’m letting them in on the fun side instead of the “I come from the neighborhood and I had to struggle and I had to do this,” it’s more on the fun side than that.
What do you hope to accomplish in hip-hop going forward? You look at so many hip-hop artists out there who have longevity well beyond their years so what are you hoping for with hip-hop in that respect?
Honestly, it’s not about making money. It’s strictly about my music. I want people to listen to my music and say “This dude broke the barrier. He really did it.” My stuff is getting played everywhere and people are listening to my music. I’m doing shows. I’m doing a tour and I’m an NBA star and a rap star at the same time. I want to be the person to break that barrier and open the door for people to really take it seriously.
You’re well on your way, man. Thank you so much for taking the time today.
Appreciate it, man. Thank you.
Big D.O.L.L.A. is out right now and you can listen to it here.