Interview: DaŹaY opens up about the ups and downs of ‘Quarantine’

Not long ago, rapper DaŹaY unveiled the music video for “Quarantine,” a track lifted from his latest EP.

DaŹaY’s sound doesn’t begin and end with hip-hop, mirroring flavors of rock, R&B, jazz, and other genres. Not pigeonholing his sound infuses his music with sonic freshness, devoid of even a hint of derivation.

Growing up in Harlem, DaŹaY and his friends started out as freestylers, calling themselves the Vagabondz because of their nomadic lifestyles. Later, he studied Music Business, which invested him with the realization of the significance of his live performances. Showmanship is what makes his live shows beyond impressive.

He’s shared the stage with Joey Bada$$ and participated in a live session with Sofar Sounds. Once the pandemic hit, he focused on new music, resulting in Where 2 Go Vol. III recorded at his mother’s house.

In the video, directed by DaŹaY and Reilly Balcom, DaŹaY describes the feeling of being locked down not only physically but mentally. Shot in his neighborhood in Harlem, with clips shot in Central Park, as the visuals proceed, butterflies flit across the screen, symbolizing his personal growth and transformation while locked down.

Rhyme Junkie caught up with DaŹaY to discuss his influences, his songwriting process, and the making of the music video for “Quarantine.”

How did you get started in music? What’s the backstory there?

Music has always played a big part in my life, I started out singing and performing throughout New York City as a kid but didn’t start rapping until later on in high school. I sang at Amateur Night at the Apollo three times as a teenager and really fell in love with performing and how it made me feel. I’ve always dabbled in Rap as a kid, originally writing parody raps in class and for school projects but never really took it seriously until the end of high school.

My friend Tyrone and I used to freestyle all the time in school and we started recording with some friends around junior/senior year and gained a slight buzz off of SoundCloud early on. We came up with the name “Vagabondz” as our collective name because it described us and our lifestyle perfectly, a vagabond being someone without a permanent home, a nomad that never stops moving.

Being from the city that’s a big part of our culture, always on the go and never settling or getting too comfortable. We’ve done many shows in the tristate area together and expanded to not only rappers, but also producers, DJs, poets, and visual artists as well. Vagabondz is best described as a cultural collective/movement based in Harlem.

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What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

Growing up I loved to sing Maxwell songs in the shower like “This Woman’s Work” (my middle name is actually Maxwell, too, named after him), currently, however, I’ve been really digging Rod Wave’s songs and love singing them in the shower. He belts a lot in his music too so it’s fun singing along to his music, my favorite one to sing is “Chip On My Shoulder” – it’s a beautiful song.

What singers/musicians influenced you the most?

Growing up, I was really obsessed with a lot of blues musicians, I got to meet B.B. King and actually have a picture with him laminated on the back of my guitar. He inspired me a lot, along with The Temptations, Sade, Donny Hathaway, and Billy Joel.

Hip-Hop wise I looked up to rappers like Nas, Wu-Tang, Lil Wayne, and Missy Elliot. Missy definitely was the one who inspired me to be as creative as possible and to have fun as much as possible in my music videos because I always loved watching her videos growing up. She’s so dope as an artist. I can’t forget Prince and Michael Jackson as well.

What’s the story behind the name – DaŹaY?

My mom almost died giving birth to me and was trying to figure out what to call me so, apparently, I went nameless for like two or three days, I believe. She came up with my name herself. It’s my legal first name. It’s stylized that way as well because I’ve always liked playing with capitalization in words when I type, and more specifically since it’s my real name, it represents me personally and how somedays I feel big and somedays I feel small, which is why only three letters are capitalized. Giving it the up and down effect, similar to my life – ups and downs.

How do you keep your sound fresh and avoid coming across as derivative?

I’m always trying to make something new that I haven’t heard before, and trying my best not to repeat myself in my music. Even if I do, I try to change my delivery or how I say things in all my songs. I don’t even like saying the same words in my songs, meaning if I notice that I say a word a lot in my songs, I make a conscious decision to steer away from that word or idea.

I also listen to so many different artists and genres of music that I find it hard to not keep my sound fresh. I’ve made Rock influenced songs, Jazz-influenced songs, and Pop songs, etc. My main goal is to make a song of every different genre. I love genre-bending and incorporating different influences in my music.

I need my music to progress every time, so I always listen to my old music before I put out something new, and if the song sounds similar to something I already put out, I’ll scrap it more than likely. Staying fresh and new is extremely important to me because I want to make the best music I possibly can every time without it coming off as derivative.

What is your songwriting process?  Do the rhymes come first, or the music?

To be honest, I don’t usually have a specific process, my mind is really all over the place 24/7 and it’s frustrating sometimes trying to develop a concrete process for me, something I’m still working towards as an artist. It really all depends on the day and mood for me. Sometimes I’ll hear a beat and have the whole song already done in my head, and sometimes I’ll just have a sudden urge to write and just start jotting down rhymes that might not make any sense at the moment, but might turn into a really DOPE song later on.

I’m a writer at heart, so I usually always write down my rhymes, but at times when the pen isn’t really working, I’ll freestyle a song, and that works for me too. Many of my newer songs were actually made that way. It’s a fun way to make songs organically I’ve learned.

What was the inspiration for your new single/music video “Quarantine?”

The “Quarantine” song was the first song I made when NYC went on lockdown and is about me being on lockdown not only physically, but also mentally. It’s about being trapped in your own psyche for whatever reason and breaking out, as well as being trapped inside during quarantine and finally coming outside.

The video was inspired by that whole idea of stepping back outside and getting back on your grind in a sense and trying to maintain normality throughout it all. I wanted the video to show a day in the life of me and my friends on a regular day during the lockdown as well, and to show that you can still enjoy yourself and create during a hard time.

What do you want people to take away from the video?

Well, mainly I wanted people to get a good visual of me and the group because this was the first video that had the majority of the members in it. I didn’t have a big crazy budget for it and the song is short, so we had to make do with what we had. The butterflies that show up throughout the video also symbolize growth and transformation, and I wanted people to see that even in the hood there’s so much beauty and creativity within, you just have to pay attention to it and have an open mind to see it.

People will hopefully see the video and get inspired to keep creating through the pandemic because art is more crucial to the community now more than ever, I feel like it’s my duty to tell my story, and hopefully, the video with all of us wearing masks and still having fun will serve as a time capsule at some point in the future.

Where was the video filmed and who directed it?

The video was filmed right on my block in Harlem outside of my family’s apartment where I grew up, and the last part of the video was shot on the grass in Central Park on 110th street. The park is right behind my building, so it made sense to get the final shots there to wrap up the video and to contrast the grittiness of the beginning shots.

The video was shot and edited by Reilly Balcom who works with many Harlem artists as well. He was great to work with because he let me co-direct as well, so we were bouncing ideas off each other and he was very flexible with what I wanted to do and the message I wanted to convey in the video. I would definitely recommend him for other artists looking to get their videos done. He was very professional as well and fun to work with!

What’s next for DaŹaY?

Right now, I’m working on new music and hoping to put out another EP soon. The EP “Quarantine” was on was called Where 2 Go, Vol III: LOCKDOWN and was made entirely during the lockdown in my mom’s basement, I bought my own recording equipment and taught myself how to record, so I’m planning on releasing Where 2 Go Vol. IV soon, which may or not be the final installment in the series.

The whole “Where 2 Go” idea is based on me being a vagabond and figuring out what’s next, so each EP is a chapter of my life and where I’m at mentally at that time. I already have the EP done, just waiting to get the mixes/masters back for that, so definitely be on the lookout for new music soon! I’m also selling merch very soon with the cover art for Where 2 Go Vol III, which is one of my favorite covers made by my good friend Logan. Selling limited edition hoodies and beanies right now, and if they sell well, I plan on selling more in the future.

But besides that I’m not really sure what’s next, just trying to stay positive, healthy, and inspired musically. I miss performing a lot but the pandemic is giving me a chance to build up my music catalog more, so that’s what I’m focused on now more than ever so that when shows come back, I’ll have a plethora of new music to perform.

Any people you want to thank or give a shout out?

I have to give a shoutout to my friend Luke who mixes my music. We went to high school together and he’s the man behind my last EP and future music coming out. Big shoutouts to Tom V in New Jersey, who’s my mastering engineer, he’s a BEAST and a great guy to work with. Logan, aka Leesgotasthma, who does my artwork; without him, I wouldn’t have the vision to create musically. I also have to give a big shoutout to my family, my mom, sister, and brother for keeping me motivated and grounded! I do it for them.

Last but most CERTAINLY not least, huge shoutouts to my fellow Vagabondz, who’ve supported our music and our vision. Whether you’ve been a Vagabond fan since day one, or you just found out about me and the movement recently, I appreciate you more than you can ever imagine. Even if you only played one song ever, it means the world, truly. I put soul, blood, sweat, and tears into everything I do musically, so the fact that anyone plays my music is enough for me!

P.S. SHOUTOUTS TO RHYME JUNKIE FOR INTERVIEWING! Much love on #BONDZ

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