Since forming in 2003, Tanya Morgan has become something of an unintentional torchbearer for people nostalgic for the days when De La Soul and Native Tongues ruled the mic. Whether such classification is deserved is up to the listener. However, everything about their music and work ethic keeps at least one foot stooped in the early '90s. They release music at a slow pace by today’s standards, haven’t dropped a mixtape since 2007 and are quick to drop A Tribe Called Quest reference in their lyrics to top it off.
This year, though, things changed for Tanya Morgan. The group found themselves as a duo for the first time in their nine years of existence, with Cincinnati-based member Ilyas choosing to leave the group and focus on a solo career. So what did they do? Drop an EP pro-bono. By all indications it looks like Donwill and Von Pea are going to be just fine. Still, we decided to check in with them to get the scoop on working as a duo what it means for hip-hop to drop music for free.
Why did you guys decide to release You and What Army EP free and without a label?
Von Pea: We did it that way because of the way things were going at the time. Everything had changed over from the last album – label, management, we had done our solo projects, and the third member of Tanya Morgan had decided that he wanted to do his own thing more. So we were eager to start over and just reintroduce everything. We just felt that it couldn’t wait for everything to be ready. So we decided to just got to roll with it at our earliest convenience.
How do you feel about the fact that so much music, especially in hip-hop, being released for free nowadays?
Donwill: I understand it. I think the mixtape changed the entire landscape and economy of how music is dropped. I mean nowadays you got cats dropping four unofficial albums for free, Whiz put out all these free mixtapes before his actual debut, Drake got a Grammy for a mixtape, there are singles, free EPs, nowadays everything is just a project. So I understand why it's happen. I feel that there is probably an overabundance of hip-hop, though, too. And since everything is made with a computer now, there really isn’t much of a barometer to tell if it’s good or bad.
For me personally, I recently flushed my iTunes completely. I just took everything on my hard-drive and got rid of it. Now I only play albums I can find. I did that because I was just trying to purge myself of that technology where life and everything you listen to is on shuffle. So I am trying to just go back to the way I use to enjoy music where you really had to take time with it.
Do you feel like it lessens the value or the worth of the music?
Von Pea: I don’t even want to go down the road of complaining in this interview like we're mad and want ‘95 back and start talking about “back in the day” with A Tribe Called Quest and all that. I mean that’s just the way it is nowadays, you know? It’s not a sad thing, it's just the way it is. People still make it through, though, whether they are hyped up or really good. I would say that it does lessen it a bit, maybe…but even if you look at "back in the day," as they say, a lot of people made it through that weren’t that good either, just like today. People say there’s no check and balances now but I dunno if that’s true. You still gotta be good enough to make it through now. I think people still have an idea of what’s good and bad for the most part.
Donwill: I don’t think its devaluing but rather empowering a lot of artists and also encouraging exploration. There are lot of things are available to us now that wouldn’t used to be available. I mean people want to talk about the “new guard vs. old guard” but that’s the way it is until the time.
I don’t see anything wrong with it. Like Von said, the talent cuts through the noise. As for me, I’m not really concerned with connecting with a fanbase or somthing because we’ll find who were gonna find, you know?
Von Pea: I mean there are probably good people who don’t catch on either too, though. Just the other day I was on Twitter to give a shout-out for the new Roots album. And when I’m on there, I notice that there was a handful of other cats who had dropped mixtapes and albums and singles that day and I’m like, I can't sit here and just re-tweet every album and mixtape. I mean it’s hard to even see, in that sense, how it’s doing anybody any good. There’s just so much of it.
I look at this way: it's like the difference between when your fridge is full and when it's empty. When it's full and you got food in there and you’re like I’m good now. You take your fill and you're good. But when that fridge is empty and your starving, you are going to take that bread and that leftover butter, and you are gonna tear that shit up. Right now there’s a lot of good stuff to rock with, not all of it but quite a bit. So, I get my fill and I don’t think there’s a problem with that, it’s just that there is so much of it.
Donwill: On that note, going back to my comment about getting rid of everything on my iTunes, that’s not a criticism of what’s going on, it’s just how I want listen to music as a consumer. That’s just the way I approach music and I wouldn’t suggest anyone else do that way, that’s just my own approach.
In my review of the new EP, I mentioned that Tanya Morgan is never quick to jump on rap’s latest trends. How do you feel about where hip-hop is right now?
Von Pea: Shit. I dunno. [laughs] There’s a lot of pretty good stuff out. I dunno it’s like walking into Foot Locker and every shoe is free. It’s like you just don’t even care, it’s just all there. It’s not jaded or an “over it” thing, though. I mean, I am still anticipating new music week by week but right now, hip-hop is just there, I dunno what to do about it.
As a consumer, its amazing, though. Better than its ever been. Put it in perspective. Imagine if like back in the day music was being dropped the way it is now. Like what if Biggie before he had died, had dropped like five mixtapes and a free EP with Nas and Raekwon and then Raekwon had released some free shit even before The Purple Tape and then Big Pun dropped all this music for free before Capital Punishment. If you’re 19 years old right now, it's great. Like all the biggest new cats right now have all this free music out and then they when they finally turn around and drop the album they want you to buy with like 15 songs and cover art and the whole nine yards, it had every one you can think of on it and its like only 5 bucks. For a consumer? It’s great.
Is that intimidating? Do you worry how you are going to make money in a musical landscape like that?
Donwill: I’m going to cut into this question right now by saying that the “profiting artist is an endangered species” conversation is old. This year it’s too much music. Two years ago it was about how there are no labels and it’s always the conversation about how the artist is gonna survive. Personally, I’m not scared or under the gun. If you go to the Rite Aid around the corner and its closed, go to the other one. If I want to make a profit, there is ways to go about doing it. The support is there and if you reach out, there are people who will support you. For example, when we dropped this EP for free, some people were mad. They were like, “We wanna give you money” for it. So we said, “go buy a shirt.”
Von Pea: Not to mention shows as well.
What’s the status with Ilyas? Is he officially no longer in Tanya Morgan or could he return?
Von Pea: At first it was like a Malik in the Roots kind of thing but then we all sat down and it became official because we don’t want to confuse people. But if you hear him on the song then…he’s on the song, alright? I would never say “never.” It’s not a beef issue or anything like that. On the other hand, I don’t want people to wait for it and keep their fingers cross waiting for his return.
Donwill: For the purpose of this EP, we’re a duo. Tanya Morgan is a working crew, it’s like a collective. It’s not a hard-bound group. With that said, as of right now, it's just us soldiering on.
Is that why you’ve continued under the Tanya Morgan name and not create something new?
Von Pea: Well, we’ve been going under this name for so long. And especially now with the way things go, if you don’t say Tanya Morgan they might not know about it. Even people that love us might not know or figure it out.
Donwill: That’s actually what the cover art is about. If you look at it, it doesn’t say anything, it’s just us and the logo. No words. We did that on purpose because we’d love to get to a point where people just see the logo and they know, they know it’s good music. It’s less about whose in the group and more about what the group just released. We wanna remove that whole stigma of what specifically the group is. At the end of the day, we just want people to fuck with the music.
I heard “We Rollin” has a pretty funny story behind it but no one is telling. Can we get some details behind that or are you two keeping your lips sealed?
Donwill: Here’s the story: Von had to coerce me to do the song because I didn’t want to do it. I mean not that I didn’t want to necessarily do it but I just wasn’t feel it. Then Von said, “Let’s not put it on the EP, then. But then I was like, “Well if you really want to do it then OK, lets do it.” Now, funny enough, it’s the one that people keep gravitating toward and talking about. And Von now is just like, “yeah man, that’s the joint!” So “We Rollin” is the one song that I didn't even want to do and definitely wasn’t my favorite and now I play it more than any other and I love it. For me it was just about trusting instincts. I’ve done this before with Tanya Morgan. Before though, if there is two out of three majority, then you just gotta do it. But now its a little bit different.
So what should we expect from Tanya Morgan in 2012?
Von Pea: Music, music, music and more music. Full-length closer to the summer time. That will be the album that you go and buy with 15 songs on it. The whole thing.
Donwill: Tell Def Jam that I still want to get signed by them. [laughs]