Donnie’s album is definitely what you would call ripped-from-the-headlines.
Not many music labels would know what to do with R&B singer, Donnie. In his new album, The Daily News, the Kentucky-born, Atlanta-raised musician combines ragtime, soul, hip-hop and gospel in a Stevie Wonder-ish and startlingly honest and original package.
Take a look at Donnie’s latest, well his second, video, "If I Were You." The song, although a bit more upbeat than some of his tracks, does follow his theme of urging our culture to make a change.
On the rest of the album, Donnie addresses the displaced from Hurricane Katrina in “Impatient People,” the drug war in “Over-the-Counter Culture” and even talks about his own contemplations of killing himself on the track, “Suicide.” USA Today praised Donnie’s work, comparing him to Stevie Wonder, and commented it’s nice R&B can still be about “more than just preening and pickup lines,” thanks to musicians such as Donnie.
The interview…after the jump!
Donnie began getting attention as part of the Atlanta soul scene; after independently releasing The Colored Section in 2003, Donnie signed with Motown records. This relationship, however, didn’t pass the test of time, but Donnie says he’s glad their deal is over.
This past weekend, Donnie performed at Black Gay Pride in L.A., but I was able to talk to him the Friday before the event to discuss his new album, his short-lived time with Motown and his own sexuality. For someone on Gay Black Pride’s performance roster, though, Donnie’s feelings about the celebration are definitely…mixed.
But it was fascinating talking to Donnie if for no other reason than his he is an artist who is truly passionate about his message.
I just watched your “If I Were You” music video. What was filming it like? Were you happy with how it turned out?
The director had a vision, and he put it across, and I really liked it – the whole process of a video in a video and really having fun. And just doing it, man; it was my second video I’d ever filmed. I had much more fun, and it wasn’t quite as hot as my last one. I loved it. I love the song because it’s very personal, also.
So tell me about The Daily News. Did you have a specific message you were going for?
It’s a concept album, so of course there’s a certain message I want to put across to a country I call home, to basically lay down a lot of these grudges that are built on, really, lies… To realize that we have live here together.
And I just wish there was more love and camaraderie between the people of the Americas, especially. I’ve never seen a nation so divided. This fantasy world, you live in your neighborhood and I live in mine, it’s really irritating.
You’re either going to die, go crazy or move on in this type of world. As far as this lifetime, I’m Donnie and I was born in 1974 and I was born in America…Basically I want to move on, I don’t want to die and I think I went crazy for a minute…When I came back, I had to just really, really figure out what’s precious in life.
I had a friend who just had a miscarriage. You know what I mean, what am I really going through in my life? Not to compare my life to hers all the time, but how can I make my life better? She’s in this hole right now, but my life is still going on. I have to get a lot of blessings from her tragedy, just the message of changing and being able to deal with the world.
What would you say is different about this album from your last one, The Colored Section?
I think it’s a wider audience I’m trying to reach. The last album was more so a tribute to what I call an experience, the great tribulation; 12.5-25 million men, women and children were stolen from the west coast of Africa and shipped all over the world. I just think I was trying to get a lot of demons out, what we call black people in this country, gained a lot of hope from The Colored Section, like, “Wow, it’s not forgotten.”
I just don’t want that to be forgotten, the struggle. I can’t be gay, I can’t be black, I can’t be a woman, I can’t be fat – it’s like, good gracious! People are going to have to realize you’re going have to accept people or you’ll be looked at as a savage, irrational, stupid person. So basically, that’s what I tried for. The racism, the prejudice…the hate for religion. The hate for white people. It’s an intense hate…you have to learn to not hold on to those grudges no matter how hard it is to let go of them because you live in it every day.
The whole system is already set and has been set, and I don’t think people see anything going wrong because the system’s been going on so long; it’s on automatic. And people don’t understand when I walk down the street and a white woman crosses the street; they don’t understand that this doesn’t happen once in a while, it happens all the time. And I’m a dark-skinned black man, and they have a sickness, a mental sickness, called “negrophobia,” and it’s a real mental illness. Racism is a mental illness, sexism, homophobia – because it’s just people being irrational. If women are not supposed to go to school, then why is it they go to school? They can learn just like men can, they can do this, they can do that, so why aren’t they supposed to? They’re not supposed to because you want them to be prisoners. But they want power.
But I had to move on from my mental illnesses, and I’m still battling them because I live here. This is my home; I love America no matter how messed up it may seem. There’s a lot of good that goes on here. We all are of the same people now because we’ve all mixed with each other. We have people of the black race who could pass for white – white people are black. I mean, you have melanin, you’re of the culture. That’s just how that is.
I read that Billboard called your album a “marketing nightmare.” Were you worried, because of your message, that your records might not sell?
No, because somebody is going to listen to it. Coming from gospel and coming from being raised in religion so fanatically…Just being raised like that, my calling is to be a minister, to be a preacher, but not to preach the same way as my relatives, to have a secular message. Not to have a message to call people to God, but to call people to logic – so that we can have the choice.
Am I talking too much? Sorry, I go off into my little thing. But yeah, they don’t want to understand the album, and they don’t know they don’t want to understand it, because it’s so built in them, so programmed, that , “Oh this won’t sell,” and they call it a nightmare. But all types of people write [to me] on MySpace, send me emails and have great ideas that these people, who are supposed to know what they’re doing, don’t have – because they’re not creative. They’re in a process.
Is that why your relationship with Motown ended?
Definitely. They did nothing. They did nothing for The Colored Section. I think they signed me to squash me. They didn’t want the marketplace to change, so they blocked the whole thing—squashed it so they could keep on selling the cookie-cutter product. Sylvia Rhone got on board…and she let me go, which was really good.
So you’re performing at Black L.A. Pride this weekend? Are you looking forward to it? What are you expecting?
What I am expecting…is this: In the black race, being a homosexual is out – and I mean really out. In some parts like Jamaica, they will kill you. You will be dead. That’s just how that is. And how I grew up, it was an abomination. You grow up with a lot of self-hate. You grow up with a lot of just insecurities, man. I just used to be a very crazy, mad…I’m just now coming out of it, just delivered from that craziness; it took over a decade.
Going there this weekend, I have to say this message: First of all, I want to ask them, if we didn’t have sex, what would being gay be? I really want to ask that question to gay people all over the world. What is being gay?
What do you think their answer will be?
I think some of them will not know. I think the gay lifestyle is a rest stop for them for their life. People don’t know who they are in this country. That’s why you have all this secret stuff. You have gay people who have sex with the opposite sex on-the-low. It may not be in other cultures, but in my culture, it happens. You have so called straight people who have sex with the same sex on-the-low, in the culture, a lot. It’s like, well what is that? If it wasn’t about sex, what would gay be?
I have my own perspective. I feel we fly this flag, this American flag, this rainbow flag, and we say justice for all and a life of diversity, but I know in the life, you can’t wear the wrong thing without some queens talking about you – “You’re not wearing the labels,” this and that. That’s not accepting diversity. So what are you doing, what are you celebrating? And that’s my question. What are you going to do? Are you going to keep on running? Some people come to the Pride, all the way to L.A., to be free, and when they go back to so-and-so in the east, they just go back and be a married husband.
OK, this is why I’m upset. I had a friend, I went to his funeral because…He was a married man who would get these little thug boys, you get what I mean? He’s married but he would get these thug boys and get with them. And he was murdered, and I think while he was on his job, he picked up a little thug boy, and “thug boy” had a gun, and they probably fought and all that kind of stuff. And people aren’t saying a bunch of stuff, but I know what happened. It’s like you have to do that, instead of being you, and it gets you killed.
You’ve got brothers who are having sex with each other—our sisters (I don’t mean to exclude anybody, that’s just the way I talk)—but you’ve got black women, I’m talking about young, teens to early 20s, are the highest in the HIV count. Because you’ve got these black men who are going to go and have sex and basically, get f*cked, ’cause that’s what they’re doing, and you’re going home to your woman to have sex with her to convince yourself that you’re a man.
I’m on the inside; these are my people, so I know what it is. They’ve had it on Law & Order, and it was like, you know…What are you really celebrating? That’s what I want to know. That’s the type of person I am, and I guess that’s why I’m so different in the life.
I’ve done that, and I’ve seen where it’s taken me. I am not here to play a game. I have lived the life. I have gone out, I have been with the boys, been at the clubs all night long and seen the vogue-ing and been at balls – I’ve done all of that stuff. It ain’t nothing but a big old smoke screen.
So what do you think people are covering up?
The fact they do not think homosexuality is right. I don’t think it’s real with a lot of my people. Most of the church choirs you see on TV, the tenor section is a bunch of queens. And it’s the truth! And in the alto section and the soprano section, it’s a bunch of dykes. You have some straight women, but in certain choirs, the whole choir is gay. But you’re sitting up singing, "Oh Jesus!" to people who hate your very existence – and you hate your very existence. Let’s be real. Because I think it’s a rest stop. If you don’t think it’s right, you need to address it. Why do you think people are in the closet? They don’t want to be persecuted or they don’t think it’s right. Period. So how do we address that?
And that’s all I’m saying. I don’t want to be in a confused world. We don’t want to talk about issues as a culture of gay, black people, and we’ve got a lot of issues just being black. We always want acceptance from this nation – they don’t want to accept you. Do something else! Be peaceful and do something else. It’s not that I don’t love my people, yeah, we do complain too much but that’s part of a sickness of wanting to be accepted by a nation that doesn’t want to accept you.
So tomorrow is going to be a big thing for me. I’m going to get up there and give my best, but I’m going to say what I feel my spirit has always been wanting to say to my people.
This is the deepest I’ve ever gone into an interview, that issue…and it’s time for us to stop.
Donnie then, somewhat abruptly, ended our talk. I definitely believed him, as he got a little heated from time to time, when he said this was not something he discussed in interviews on a regular basis. But his heart for his music, for his message and for the African-American community were all so apparent…And along with his talent, I have a feeling his career in the music business will keep on growing.