G-7L1BQ01JC4 google-site-verification=FcHx71H1bjVosBa3N5PbNSP0lPlz9dKW5Fnb3zbHVBI Don+ is In the Key of Q - Gay Music: In the Key of Q

Episode 13

full
Published on:

7th Jun 2022

Don+: Hip Hop, Islam and The Golden Girls

Welcome to In the Key of Q the weekly podcast where I chat with inspiring Queer musicians from around the world as they share stories, inspirations and of course their music.

Don+ is an independent artist and writer who has been writing and making music since 2013. He gained recognition with his first EP Raw Rhythm and Words (Apple / Spotify), which debuted in the top 40 on the iTunes RnB charts.

He grew up in a house surrounded by music, from Luther Vandross to gospel and learned to make peace with the homophobia in some of Hip Hop. With loved artists such as R Kelly it was tough to separate the music from the man.

Christianity and Islam were highly influential, not an easy combo for a Black kid growing up in America's South. Despite attacks from many religious sides, he went on to find peace in his own sense of spirituality.

After testing HIV+ in what he thought was a monogamous relationship, Don+ took this news and ran with it. He became an advocate for people with HIV, giving lessons in schools to fight ignorance and stigma.

Additional Material

If you enjoyed this episode why not take a listen to Blake Mundell.

In the Key of Q is a weekly 30-40 minute podcast publishing every Tuesday. I’m your host Dan Hall, and in each episode, I chat candidly with a gay/bi musician about their life and music. 

Access exclusive interview content and support the production of this podcast by heading over to Petreon and making a small donation.

Enjoy the music of previous guests by listening to these playlists with tracks selected by the artists themselves.

Credits

  • The podcast can be reached on email and on social media at Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. The podcast’s forever home can be found here.
  • Theme tune is by Paul Leonidou.
  • Press & PR by Paul Smith.
  • Many thanks to Kaj and Moray for their continued support.
  • In the Key of Q is presented and produced by Dan Hall and made at Pup Media. Dan has recently produced the landmark BBC film, "Freddie Mercury: The Final Act" (dir. James Rogan) and is the producer of the podcast series Been There Done That. For audio or video production inquiries Dan can be reached here or at Talent Manager.

Would you like to appear on the show? Or have an artist you'd like to recommend, please tell them to get in touch via email.

Transcript

Don+

I do not believe that there's an entity or a higher power that has simply pointed out that we as queer people are just damned.. Your spirituality is beyond anyone else's perspective of a religion or, or what they believe.

Dan

This is In the Key of Q featuring musicians from around the world who inspire my queer identity. Everybody is welcomed to the conversation, whatever beautiful identity pleases you. Music helps us feel connected and know that we are not alone.

This program is made possible thanks to the financial support of listeners like you over at patreon.com/inthekeyofq. And remember to subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

I'm Dan Hall. Tune in. And be heard.

riting and making music since:

Don+

Thank you for having me.

I grew up in a family that was always involved in music in some way, but it was very much into intellectually based. It was all about, you need to have good grades and you go to college. If you're doing something with music, it's like in church, or, you know, you sing in the shower, but that's not something you're going to do.

And so, um, while I didn't professionally have the opportunity to do music while I was younger, I was surrounded by it. My aunt had this room. It was a dining room that had a piano in it, and it had nothing but records and CDs and cassette tapes.

Dan

Oh, that sounds like a good house. I like that house.

Don+

It was heaven. I didn't necessarily like going to my aunt's house cause she would make us do chores all the time, but I would go, I would go just to go sit in that room and I think that's where my spark for writing came from because I would listen to the music, but I would always flip through the records or flip through if people are old enough to remember who's listening where you had the booklets with the lyrics in the cassette tapes or in the CDs.

Yes. I used to sit and just read those just to find out who the writers were or like to really dig into the lyrics. So that's really where my spark for writing and music came from.

Dan

So what music then was being played in your home as you were being brought up, what were the elders in your house playing?

Don+

Tons of Luther Vandross. Tons of Teddy Pendegrass. Tons of Diana Ross. I Anita Baker.

Dan

Ms. Ross seeping through the walls!

Don+

Oh my gosh. SWV. Um, Michael Jackson. Janet... it was a very soulful RnB. Even gospel. My, uh, my grandparents are pastors and so I remember very vividly even to this day, like they had like these little Intercom systems throughout the house and they would play a gospel through them in the morning and you would wake up and that'd be the first thing you hear.

And so, not even just like the spiritual aspect of the gospel is amazing, but just like hearing the power and the voices and you have a choir where you get just layers and layers of backgrounds. And I think that's kind of where I learned how to harmonize and, and play with my voice a little bit. Listening to gospel and being like, oh, today I'm going to do the tenor part. Oh, today I might attempt this the soprano.. I mean, I may not do it quite well, but I'm going to try the soprano.

Dan

Hang on, Don+. I've just got to rewind a little bit. Your grandparents basically ran a private radio network in the home.

Don+

You might as well say that!

Dan

Were they like, this one goes out to all of those in the dining room!

Don+

You know what, that would have been hilarious. It was more so like w it was this one particular radio station. They would put it on and then it would just like blast through the house and like, you can mute it, but by the time it was on, it was kind of just like, I really have to reach all the way over there and get up out of bed to turn that off. So it would just play.

Once I got older, I realized the shift and maybe it's cause I had like older siblings and my uncles and aunts were a little younger, um, to where I started getting exposed to hip hop. And that's when I started getting into Nas and really diving into Tupac who I, I love his writing. I love his, uh, raps. I love just like his, his transition, like everything about Tupac really spoke to me. So I really dug into that.

Dan

Our guest in episode one of the second season, QBoy, who's a British rapper speaks quite a lot about the complexity of the relationship between, uh, being gay and hip hop. How did you resolve that? Or what are your thoughts on that?

Don+

In developing a love for hip hop it wasn't an issue because I was younger. Yeah. I knew I was like different or not like the other boys, but I didn't really put music with that. And yes, I heard, you know, you always heard derogatory words and hip hop or metaphors in relation to homosexuality and hip hop, um, as a, as a negative thing.

But it wasn't something that I at the time paid attention to. Now that I'm an adult and I'm like an active participant in the creation of music, you know, that's kind of different where I believe that, one, I believe it's okay for people to have different views first and foremost. However, on the flip side is as like when does that go too far to where you're now impacting and hurting people?

And so like, that's always this actually a battle that I kind of play with now. Um, because there are artists that I enjoy that skillfully, they are great artists in, in what they do, but there is a battle, maybe not even about their perception of homosexual people, but just in general of their views and how they engage in the world.

Um, and even as a black man, that's kinda hard because there are instances, even when you think about when, how women are portrayed in hip hop, it's like, I don't necessarily view women in that light. I don't necessarily view my mom or my sisters or my aunts, or want them to be seen in that light. Um, but it does exist in hip hop and there are songs that, you know, talk about things in them that it'd be like, oh, I don't know if I would want to see that type deal.

So I feel like it's a constant battle in music. Um, I think it's important for people to find out what their moral line is when it comes to creativity and how it impedes all that.

Dan

And it's that classic thing, isn't it of separating the arts from the artist because I've got a couple of musicians who I like from the early eighties who have since gone on to become quite a right wing. Uh it's it's probably no surprise to you that I'm a bit of, a bit of a whiny lefty and proud of it. A proud socialist!

Don+

Similar similar.

Dan

.:

But it's, it's curious, isn't it? Because we, we, especially in the world of Spotify or streaming generally, we do consume music now much more without knowing the branding without knowing what the artists looked like without even knowing what they stand for. Because so much of this stuff pops up on algorithms.

Don+

There's a one artist in particular that it really it's annoying because it's like, there's no way I could separate the artist from their music. Cause their music reflects who they are now. Um, and I think a prime example of that is like R Kelly. Like I, growing up, I was so clueless to who R Kelly was, but I, as a writer, I enjoyed, I enjoyed the music.

Um, and he was like a mash when it came to RnB from the nineties on, through the two thousands, he was a powerhouse when it came to writing for other people in his own music. So, once I became older and real, you know, learn the history of what he's done and what he's been doing. Um, and then listening to his music is like, oh, there's no, this clearly no separation between what you do and what you put in these songs. I can't support that.

Um, and that's like, that's my hard line. If you're, if I'm listening to your music and your, your politics, how you engage, um, in the world. Um, and your impact on the world is negative. And I see that in your music, then I no longer support it because there's no way I can separate you, what you do and what you're saying in the music. Cause it's all aligned.

When I'm writing a song. I want to make sure that it's coming from a genuine place of like authenticity. Um, and so a lot of that means that I am using boy and I'm am referring to, "and he", and like, I feel like those, um, I feel like people appreciate that I do those things because I've always struggled growing up, singing, I dunno, an SWV song, or I don't know if any female singer song, um, and then wanting to change a pronoun because it's like, Ooh, I know I like boys. In that sense, my music does directly align with what it is I put into the world, but it also is directly catering to a specific group of people.

I do believe in making sure that I show a diaspora what my gay experience is. And I think that's important because while I made throw a "he" in a song, there are instance, there are situations where I'll write a song and I don't put any pronouns at it because in that moment, it may not even be about a person. It may be me talking to myself, but people receive it as I'm just talking to somebody which is great because they can place themselves in a song however they want.

Dan

So Don+ you spoke earlier about having grandparents who are pastors.. What was it like living with that intersectionality of, uh, burgeoning queer identity growing up, uh, in a world with a lot of religion. Because religion has a complex, complex relationship on this podcast, according to my guests.

Don+

Yeah. So it's interesting. My grandparents are pastors, um, heavy Christian influence. However, my father who's their son and my immediate family, we grew up Muslim. Um, so I had a very unique experience of growing up queer and in seeing like what those experiences are in two different religions. And it was, it was, it was kind of tough for me. Uh, just because it was a universal message of this is wrong and it wasn't just coming from one source. I feel like most people, if they, in terms of religion, they're like, oh, I, um, I am very traumatized by my family through this one lens of religion. Whereas I've kind of got it from, from two different religions messaging, the same thing and in very graphic way. Um, and so I think that's been, that was a big struggle for me.

As an adult. I find that spirituality in the, in, in, in the realms of religion, um, it's still a work in progress. Uh, more so because I've gotten to the point, it was like, oh, my spirituality is something that I can define for myself, um, to include me as a queer person and the people that I love and to include the, the ideas that I believe are important.

Dan

In post 9/11 America I don't imagine growing up a queer, Black kid was particularly easy. Those can't be the easiest intersections to navigate it.

Don+

It wasn't. Um, it's, there's so many intersectionality points here. So queer black Muslim in the south. Cause I grew up in and was born in South Carolina. So that was, uh, that was interesting in itself because it was like, I would hear these messages of hate toward my queerness at home and in places of worship. But I, and I would go to school and hear more hate about being Muslim in this very Southern Christian town. And so it was almost like I had to develop a really strong skin when it came to that. And I, I think because of that spirituality, um, the journey of spirituality has been a little bit difficult and like digging out because I'm really digging through just like messages of hate on all fronts.

Dan

How would you advise people do get past that though? Because a lot of my guests come on here are very, very scarred.

Don+

I think it's, uh, people don't take the time out to, to study. Um, and I say, study religions, cause these are like institutions, but people don't take time to study religion to really learn the doctrine and understand at least the basic understandings of what the tenants of these religions are. And I think I was fortunate enough to grow up in two separate religions to where I was forced to do that research. And I was forced to study and it forced me to study other religions beyond that.

Um, And so I think that's the first thing. I think the second thing is really separating people from religion. People, religion, and doctrine are totally different from spirituality. And I think once you identify that it's easier to be like, this is what I believe in, how I'm maneuvering the world and what I, um, what I would, I think about mymy spirit.

Dan

Since the fall of Kabul in Afghanistan, we've started to get downloads of this podcast in Afghanistan.

Don+

Oh, wow.

Dan

What message would you give to our queer brothers and sisters who are living there under a version of Islam, which is threatening to kill them? What message would you have for them, for them to hear this?

Don+

Whew. Your connection in spirituality is defined by you. And I do not believe that there's an entity, um, or a higher power that has simply pointed out that we as queer people are just dammed. And I would also say that your spirituality is beyond anyone else's perspective of a religion or, or what they believe. And I would say like, stay, stay true to your beliefs. You know, what's in your heart, you know what it is to be true. And, um, if that's keeps you in your moral compass, like on the line and give you peace at the core, then you stick and you believe to that.

Um, and you have other queer folks that out here that understand that struggle. So, you're not alone.

Dan

Now moving seamlessly on Don plus, I understand you are alone because you're shit at dating, aren't you?

Don+

I'm alright!. I'm so horrible at it. I might have gotten better. I actually went on a date yesterday and did really well. It was a really good date.

Dan

Um, suddenly this is something turned into an episode of The Golden Girls. I feel like you're Rose coming back in and you know me, of course, I'm Dorothy. And Sophia and everybody else is just standing, waiting to hear back about the date.

Don+

That is hilarious because I just finished watching the spinoff of Golden Girls, the Golden Place. Cause I love The Golden Girls.

Dan

Is it as bad as everyone says it is?

Don+

It's not, I really enjoy it. It's a, for me, it's a nice pickup from The Golden Girls and I do feel like it does touch on issues that are a little deeper than what they did in The Golden Girls.

Dan

Really?! Because Golden Girls went to some pretty impressive spaces.

Don+

They did. I think so one episode in particular is when Blanche decides that the Sisters of the Confederacy are coming to The Golden Place Hotel. Um, and so she hangs up a Confederate flag and in that spinoff, Don Cheadle, it like works in a hotel with them. And so she looks at it as like this very cultural thing. Whereas he has this perspective, like it's a symbol of racism and of like slavery and bondage.

And so it's it, the whole episode dives into that. And so it was, it was really, it was really deep. I really enjoyed it.

Dan

Blimey.

Don+

Yeah. Yeah.

Dan

But we got off topic. You see what happens with gay men, you throw a reference to The Golden Girls in, it's like a glitter bomb goes off. It's like, whatever we're talking about is forgotten.

Don+

It really is! Dating. Yeah. I'm where have I gone wrong before? I think personally just not doing the work on myself, honestly. The longest relationship I had been in was like four and a half years. Um, and after that, I think I spent a lot of time. You know, with the mindset of get over one is to get under another.

Dan

I don't know what you mean, Don+. I don't know what you mean.

Don+

So I would date here and there, but I would always find that once it ended, I would always go back to myself like, Ooh, I'm still doing that thing, or I'm still doing this thing. Um, what I will say as I've gotten older, the list of things that I do has gotten really, really small.

Dan

Says

Don+

you!

Dan

The things

Don+

that I think are red flags for myself, I've kind of hope I've gotten those under control.

Dan

In the past, I think I've had real kind of codependent type behaviors or real people pleasing. And it's just, it's just shit.

Don+

And the thing itself. I was dating this guy is the same guy that I was with before and a half years. And I woke up one day and I looked in our apartment and I did not see anything that said me. Nothing. Um, it was a great apartment. We had like three bedrooms, amazing kitchen, amazing dining room, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I was like, I would never live in a place with this many rooms. I don't think I even liked the color of those drapes.

And I actually stopped doing music. Like once we like got together type deal and I was just like, oh yeah, I don't see or feel like myself anymore.

I am very shy, like extremely shy. I wouldn't speak up about things now. Kind of like, let things happen. And, um, that was a big thing for me is like, why, why am I dimmin myself to fit the box of this person that I say I want, but who only wants me if I'm fitting this criteria?

Um, then I had to learn to get over it. I had to learn like, to like those parts of myself.

Dan

Now you spoke that then about your shyness. How on earth does that marry with being a performer? Like if want to be shy, why aren't you a librarian?

Don+

Very true. So by profession, I'm a teacher. Um, and have been for about 10 years.

Dan

Well, that just as bad!

Don+

I know. I know.

Dan

What's wrong with you?!

Don+

So I honestly tell people like me not being Don+ is a totally different person, like Don+ is, hella confident Don+ will just like take over as a space. Like he's hilarious. He's very extra. He likes anything shiny and sheer. Like Dom+ is that guy, but me outside of that, if I'm not in front of kids or on a stage, I'm very much like I like to be hidden.

Dan

Which one of those Don+ though is the mask, do you think, is it the shy one or is it the one on stage? Does the stage give you relief and respite from wearing a mask and actually allows you to be bizarrely a more authentic version of yourself?

Don+

I honestly believe that. That feeling of being shy and nervous and scared, it goes away because it's almost like I feel that's a hindrance to people being able to depend on me. I can't be shy and timid in a classroom because if something happens, like I'm responsible for 60 students every day, 90 students every day. So if something happens to one of them, I can't be timid. I have to be ready.

Um, and in, in the terms of music that translates to like people have decided that they like my music or they like, you know, the stories that I tell or they're invested in me as a person. And I am not providing it is what it is that I said that I'm going to provide as someone that's a queer artist. I feel like there's like a level of responsibility. I'm a queer artist. I can, can provide something that people want. Let me give that to them and let me have them enjoy while we're in that space.

I was diagnosed in:

Um, and for a long time I dealt with feeling like I wasn't. Like I was tainted, like I was dirty. Like I had this little secret, um, and going through that was hard because it wasn't like a, you know, two month thing and I feel better. It's like, it's this thing that sometimes that still pops up and definitely is, you know, constantly a conversation in my therapy. Therapy is amazing go do it. Um, but I think what made it better was having like openly having those conversations.

Um, I started doing a lot of work at medical schools where I would go and I'll talk about what it meant to live with HIV. Um, I put, for instance, even my name like Don+, it was like, yes, I am. You know, as singer songwriter. Plus all these different things, but I also put it there because for me it was like, I'm, I'm not scared of this. I don't, it's not a secret it's I don't mind talking about it. It's something I'm very comfortable with talking about. And I think it's because I, I honestly believe that's my, my mission when it comes to music is like, I am, I'm essentially everything they say that is not supposed to make it, or it's not supposed to be in this realm of music and I'm going to be it.

Dan

So, what advice would you have for anyone who's newly diagnosed and is feeling uncomfortable about that news?

Don+

Newly diagnosed it's unfortunate. Um, but it has happened in a time where things are better than what they were for me and better for what they were for people back in the nineties and late eighties.

Um, I'll also say that the biggest work that you're going to have to do is really own yourself. Um, And sometimes that means redefining yourself. Like for me, my status made me, made me say, like, this is my, my last chance.

Um, I actually, when I found out I was positive, I didn't want to, I didn't want to live like that. I was like, I'm dirty. Like, why am I going to like, live my life this way? I've accomplished what I want to accomplish. Um, I'm over it. Um, but the one thing that kept me was music because it was something I hadn't done before. Um, I didn't really, I have done it, but I didn't put my energy into, and it was like, well, this is the last thing that's going to keep me alive because I've accomplished everything else.

So if you need to find that thing, that thing that you have not done, that, that, that experience, we haven't explored that part of yourself that you don't know about, that you want to dig into. That's what's going to keep you, keep you pushing.

Dan

Now then Dom+ for the next

two or so minutes, I'm going to give you a platform to talk about whatever you want. I'm not going to add to anything. I'm not going to change anything. You can speak about something we've already chatted about or something completely new. Really the whole point of this podcast is to allow artists to have their voices heard. And this is a chance for you to do it without even me babbling away.

So the clock will start as soon as you do.

Don+

Oh, we can talk about all the new stuff I have come in. I'm so excited. So excited. Um, so I am, I can't spill the name yet, but, uh, about to be on a reality show here in Washington, DC, which was very exciting. Um, wasn't a big fan of wanting to do reality shows, but I really want to make sure like my music and who I am is getting out there. And I think this would be the greatest way to do it. Um, so I'm excited about that.

Um, courting new music, closing out the, the, the Raw Rhythm and Words era um, with another video, I can't wait to do that. You'll get some choreography, you're going to get some looks! Um, everything is leveling up. Everything is leveling up. Uh, so I'm really, really excited about that.

It's a busy, it's a busy first quarter for Don+. So we've got a lot coming. A lot coming.

Um, what else do I have going on? Uh, lots of collaborations. I think that's one thing that I did not really get to jump into on my first project.. Um, I really wanted to figure out who I was as an artist and like learn on my own. But now that you know, I'm out there and, you know, people are recognizing me as a queer artist and other queer artists that respect me as queer artists, which I love, um, I'm doing tons of collaborations with some great people. Um, and I can't wait for everyone to hear, um, this, this independent artist road is really, really, really hard, but what does make it great is like the queer independent artists circle is like really, really supportive of folks. And that's, that's what I enjoy about this a lot is just really being able to connect with other queer folks who have this passion for creativity.

So get ready:

Dan

So what do you think your 15 year old self would think of you Dom+ and the music that you make?

Don+

15 year old me, it would be like, what are you doing? Why did you think you can do this? Who gave you permission to do any of this? 15 year old me was, uh, 15 year old me cared about what people thought. But 15 year old me also still had like this passion for music. So 15 year old me would be sitting there screaming, like, what are you doing? But in the inside being like, you better get it. Yes. Yes. This is exactly what I wanted to do when I was 15 and now I'm doing it at whatever age.

Dan

And where can we find you online, Don+?

Don+

Yes. So on Instagram, Twitter, um, also some media is, is it's don_music. Um, you can find me on Apple Music, on Spotify. You can find me on SoundCloud. Um, you might find some hidden gems on SoundCloud if you go there. Um, but yeah, it's don_music. You can find me everywhere.

Dan

Fantastic. And can I just say to my British listeners, don't you love how Don+ puts a whole extra syllable in the word "on"? I love that?

Don+

Do I really?

Dan

That's a whole new syllable in there!

Don+

I can't help it. It's just like, I don't know what it is. It's a part, it might partly be from being from the south and or me moving around so much. Um, I dunno, I dunno where the accent comes from.

Dan

Blanche Dubois, just be you.

Don+

I'm gonna own that. I'm going to just going to be Blanche. I'm going to have all my dates and I'm going to talk with a Southern twang.

Dan

Now we've been listening to your music all the way through this episode, but of course we've saved the best till last. Like all good shows. Now this is what I like to ask my guests, what would be their gateway song? And that is a song that best introduces them to an audience who don't know their catalog. So what would yours be and why?

Don+

Ooh, my gateway song, my gateway song would have to be Make a Move. Um, it was my first single. It really showed who my inspirations were. It really gave me a chance to play with my look. Um, and it really catapulted me into a, a sphere of queer artists and like actually being seen as an artist.

Um, I put a lot of work into the song, put a lot of work into the video. Um, and I got to work with a lot of queer creatives and it was my very first experience when it came to like professionally making music. So it really, you know, when I look at that video, I really like, man, I really started with this and did this. And it started with one song. It was like, I wrote this one song. It's like, oh, I guess I should do a video. So I did the video. I was like, oh, well I have like 10 songs. Maybe I should do a project or EP and then the EP came one. Well, let's do another video. Um, so Make a Move it's definitely like you get everything Don+ you get a little rap from me. You get the vocals, you get a little sexiness.

Um, and the video gives you a little, a little skip.

Dan

Don+, thank you so much for coming on In the Key of Q and sharing with us your stories and of course your music.

Don+

And thanks for having me. It was a joy.

Dan

Thanks for listening to this episode, you can support In the Key of Q via Patreon. The link is in the shownotes.

Theme music is by Paul Leonidou at unstoppablemonsters.com. With press and PR by Paul Smith.

Help others discover new queer musicians by rating and reviewing In the Key of Q, wherever you find podcasts.

Thanks to Kaj and Moray for their continued support and to you for subscribing.

The show was made at Pup Media. I'm Dan Hall. Go listen to some music and I'll see you next Quesday!

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About the Podcast

Gay Music: In the Key of Q
Queer chat. Queer music.
Music-loving gay podcast. The best bi and gay music from around the world featuring insightful and inspiring conversations with Queer musicians.

Episodes drop weekly and are 30-40 minutes in length, celebrating LGBTQ identity, tunes and stories.

Presented by Dan Hall (producer, BBC’s Freddie Mercury: The Final Act) and produced by Pup Media.
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