“Hi, my name is Dwynell Roland and I'm weird as fuck” were the first words Jamari Dwynell Roland a.k.a Dwynell Roland said to me as we order our first round at O'Donovan's Irish Pub across the street from the historic concert venue, First Avenue. Fresh off the “Battle by the River” contest and a first place bonus check, Dwynell took a moment to congratulate and sign the praises of the runner-up he competed against, Nick Jordan. Dwynell spoke to Upcoming Hip Hop about the year behind him, everything falling into place on his new album The Popular Nobody and his charity work with Toys for Tots.
Growing up in Minneapolis the music of the cities is enough to immerse anyone, whatever your genre or preference, but for Dwynell one artist in particular really sparked his interest in hip-hop.
Upcoming Hip Hop: For everyone reading that hasn't had a chance to meet you what really got you started in music, what were your influences?
When I saw Nelly at a Target Center show a ways back and thought 'damn, I wanna do that.' Just being around music in general [music is something] I have always been around and thought if I can do it, 'fuck it,' let me do it.
An important aspect of the music industry and life in general is surrounding yourself with people that not only keep you pushing forward but keep you humble. Dwynell is part of a group of four, going by The Rotation, that includes Finding Novyon, Devon Reason, DJ Travis Gorman and himself. The group was founded by a natural love of music. Novyon introduced him to Reason and Reason introduced them to Travis and “the rest was history.” As their abilities grew, they have stuck together to see each other rise. I first met Dwynell at PROF Outdoors 3 and saw him bring out the other two emcees (Travis was already Djing) to electrify the crowd and earlier this week Finding Novyon returned the favor when he brought the Rotation out to LA for his set as a RedBull Select artist to open for YG.
For me, and many others like me, one vital aspect of music is the live performance. This philosophy is one that makes Dwynell one of the must-see acts in the Twin Cities.
We talked before Danny Brown a little bit about the importance of live performance. What is your mentality on live performance vs studio recording?
I feel like live performances are everything now. You can be a dope ass rapper and have so much talent but if you live performances than [pause] your raps aren't selling records. A lot of people come out to shows and that's where they buy merch and [do it because] they watch your shows....I have always took pride in my live shows. I remember Half Dozen told me a long time ago, at a show in Mankato, 'every single time you perform try to get five new fans and if you get five new fans you did something.' [When he told me it] was a long time ago, I'm pretty sure even he don't remember that.
While live performaces are for the audience, Dwynell explained why his next live performance was for a group of people that wouldn't be able to attend. For the third year in a row, Toys for Tots will be offering free admission into the show with a donation of a toy for Gillete Children's Hospital. This event is very close and personal for Dwynell.
On the subject of live shows, you have an important show coming up for you personally. It is one I wanted to highlight because I feel it is a great event. Tell me a little about the Toys for Tots show and what it has meant to you.
Yeah thank you! That show means the world to me. Personally, for me, I grew up an only child and people thing that an only child don't give a shit and only care about themselves, but [pause] nah bra. It is one of those things where I feel like I am tryin to do my part, you know what I mean. I feel like if I have this name and I have this brand and I have this following, its nothing if you don't do anything with it. If you're not giving back or you're not helping [it's not worth it] and that's why I don't mind giving advice or doing things like this cause [it could be over tomorrow]...
Dwynell went on to explain why this event, specifically, was so important to him. The children who are receiving this gift and separated from their families during a time that family and togetherness is so important. Christmas is a time when we celebrate and sometimes that struggle and pain of being in the hospital for most of your life can really begin to wear not only on the children, who's strength is unmatched, but in the parents that have been able to keep in high spirits at a time when they are given every opportunity not to. For me, this is another knotch on the belt of Dwynell Roland. The pride was visible when he talked about these kids and his opportunity to give them a spark of joy at a time of giving. As an artist he has proven himself time and time again. Now, as a man he shows the same drive and voice in his communal activities.
He is a rapper, an activist, and friend to many, but his new album he wanted to explain that he is still just a nobody. A dual meaning he explained to me.
This new album embodies your personality, but can you explain the meaning behind the title “The Popular Nobody”?
A lot of people know who Jamari is. A lot of people know who Dwynell is. A lot of people know who Roland is […] people know that, and they know [of] me, but they don't know me. That's why I wanted to bring this title in because a lot of people know me, but they don't know me. And the success of this album has been surprising.
He went on further to explain that he doesn't feel particularly important. Although he is hitting his stride, performing for thousands, and being recognized by peers and fans alike, he doesn't feel that different. It's a surreal feeling that sometimes he doesn't believe. He doesn't see himself as this hot shot or as someone who talks himself up, even though the world around him seems to be bragging enough about him. Staying true to himself is very important and Dwynell shows that with this album. "Admitting Whirlwind" featuring deM atlaS was his favorite track of the album, there was one song in particular that he kept is especially real.
Tell me about "Dude" featuring Finding Novyon because this isn't the norm when it comes to your music. You have never been one to beat your chest and talk yourself up in your music, but on this song you let loose and beat your chest. How did that feel?
I keep it real in my music. I am not cocky about my music. I am not cocky about money or really anything at all, but I AM cocky about women. So that beating on the chest is a real thing, that's a real beat. That wasn't for fun, that was real and I wrote that song and called Novy and was like 'yo, wanna be on this'. What happened with this song was some 'dude' got mad at me for commenting on his girl's Instagram.
I can personally thank that guy for being so insecure over an emoji because it gave me a track to listen to over and over. For anyone out there that has felt that annoyance in their life, "Dude" featuring Finding Novyon is the perfect song for how you're feeling. “You take my girl she was never mine in the first place” is how Dwynell explained the song and its a very simple but very important message. He tells it like it is and said this story was as real as it gets. “She say that she loves me. I know that she do. He say that he hate me. I know that he do” is the chorus that throws it back in the face of the guy on Instagram. Dwynell says he and DJ Fundo are the poster children for dudes hatin' him because of girls and this song is his proof.
The incredible aspect of a true artist was shown when Dwynell spoke of his philosophy on life. The fact that he can boast and brag about his abilities with women, but at the end of the day he cares about everyone and everything. He said “Everyone Matters” and explained how he used to be the kid in high school that hung around with everyone, even joking about trying to help the kid sitting alone at lunch hit on the girl he is clearly digging. Moving from a college town where I had a handful of friends always around to a place where there are hundreds of thousands but still feeling isolated, Dwynell's words and attitude resonant with me because of personal experience. People draw from their experience and as I stated above on of the most important things in music and life in general is to surround yourself with people that with not only push you but will keep you humble. He explained this further by telling about the people in his life that have been constant reminders of how a human should be.
There are a lot of amazing people that are big in this world and they still do a lot. Mercedes Lewis down in Jacksonville, he is like my big brother and he does the most for people. [It is] the same with Stef […] my man has a fuckin star on the First Ave wall but he still sits here and comes out and shows support and is down to talk to whomever but is down to get super weird.
That is how I feel about Slug as well, I went to a show with Murs and Propaganda at 7th Street Entry and when I got home I looked at my SnapChat to see that Slug was at the show and snapping and I was like “How did I not see him there? There are like 200 people and I missed him.
Yeah that is just all of them and at the end of the day, when someone of that stature and is making millions is still giving back because he cares too. Someone like P.O.S. just walking around and chillin' and taking pictures while his son is chillin' there with him. That shows enough to the point where you have to be on to them. I try to put myself into that situation [like them] and that's how I look at it.
Remaining humble is sometimes tough when the rapid expansion hits. Gaining fans he has never seen before and being recognized all over the town. He told two stories of just how strange the feeling can get. From being stared down by a random girl at the zombie pub crawl who freaked out when she found out he was who she thought he was a random guy coming up to him, instead of the girl he was with, at a local bar in New Hope to get a picture. But this new-found popularity isn't taking a toll on Dwynell, he is taking it in stride and reminding himself and everyone else just how great this is. He wants to be that constant reminder to people to follow their dreams, to do the things they want. That is a sentiment that I have strived for in my writing. To have a voice and to use it is important, and when you use your voice to build up those around you; it becomes infectious and exciting. Dwynell finished off the interview with a classic uplifting message.
I will end it like this. How I always looked at it and how I want it to come off is that 'If I can do it, you can do it.' Period. There are rappers that half ass it and I tell them don't half ass it. If you are gonna quit you might as well, if you quit the first time it's gonna be hard to bring yourself back up […] As far as dreams and goals, you determine that. People believe in faith and shit but God ain't gonna do that for you. He might put you in a position to do it, but at the end of the day faith isn't going to push you.
Over the course of an hour at O'Donavon's Dwynell Roland showed the importance of what being a decent human means in the face of success. From staying true to himself to giving back to those less fortunate, Dwynell shows that performances make fans, but the importance of having a presence off the stage is what makes a man.
You can help the children at Gillette's Children hospital and support Dwynell and his cause at the 3rd annual Toys for Tots December 15th at Honey in Minneapolis, Minnesota. For free entry to this show featuring Aftrmind, Lyric Marid, Omie tha Homie, BlackK GMS and headlined by Dwynell Roland and Corelone Banks you can bring a toy to be donated.
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