Dot Da Genius’ first new single in four years was created (and scrapped) during a moment of grief.
While working with Denzel Curry in March of 2019, the producer scrolled through Twitter, only to discover that roughly 16 miles south of the Brewery Recording Studio in Burbank where they were recording, Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed.
“I remember Denzel was already recording the second verse,” Dot says now. “The engineer and Denzel didn’t know, but they could see in my face that I just read something that’s crazy. We talked about it and made another song. And it just sat at the bottom of the pile me and Denzel kept creating.”
The song they were working on, which was temporarily put aside after that day, was called “Talk About Me.” At the time, it was more or less a Denzel Curry reference track with a fiery chorus—one that Zel had even left behind on his quest to complete Melt My Eyes—and it only found its footing again a year later when Kid Cudi got his hands on it.
When Dot played the song to his longtime collaborator, Cudi was immediately sold and cut a verse on the spot. “For Cudi specifically, when I create with him, it’s very exclusive,” Dot explains. “Every sound, everything we make usually is for him specifically. So this being a record I did for Denzel, for him to hear it and be like, ‘Nah, that’s the energy,’ it was more of a sign for me.”
It wasn’t just a sign for Dot to finish the song by adding some bars from JID. It was a sign that a solo career was on the horizon for the 35-year-old beatmaker. After nearly two decades in the industry, with several albums (and many accolades) to show for his time as Cudi’s musical confidant, producing everything from “Day N Nite” to “The Scotts” and serving as one-half of their alt-rock duo WZRD, it’s now time to “talk about” Dot. Now he’s releasing music of his own as an artist for the first time since his 2018 single “Fettucini,” with his name is all over playlists, his face on the thumbnail for a Lyrical Lemonade music video directed by Cole Bennett, and a venture of his own is receiving praise from his closest collaborators.
Dot da Genius is finally stepping out from behind the booth, and he caught up with Complex to discuss this important moment in his career. The interview, lightly edited for clarity, is below.
How does it feel for the single to be out in the world right now?
Honestly, it’s surreal for many different reasons. Just having done music for so long as a producer and the capacity to have done it, and now having the feeling that I needed to put something out on behalf of myself. And I underestimated the politics behind putting out a record of this magnitude with no major label backing, I’m not gonna lie. I thought it was about to be easy, but it wasn’t. But the air around it is amazing. It’s something I probably should have done earlier in my career.
Is it a different feeling for you to see yourself all over this one, as opposed to behind the scenes when a Cudi or Denzel record drops?
I’ve gotten really comfortable with being the man behind the man. Being creative is just in me. But being a performer was nothing that I ever aspired to be. So this, for some reason, it’s showing me the importance of sometimes stepping out from behind where you’re comfortable being, and really standing in front of everybody and letting them know it’s me. A lot of people may have heard the name Dot Da Genius, but a lot of people can’t put the name to a face. I’ve done that by design. You know, I could be doing 1,000 things to remind everybody, but I’m very low key. I’m a low key guy. I get the importance of this. It’s time for it.
Could you get used to this feeling?
Honestly, bro, I’m at a point in my life, I’ve been doing music for a while. So it’s like, “OK, what’s the next step?” That’s how I really be looking at things. Obviously there’s accolades and things you want to get. But in order to push my creative agenda forward—and I’ve been saying this—as a true creative, you have to cut out your own body of work before you decide to do anything else. So yeah, I can get used to this. There’s definitely more coming for sure.
You first recorded “Talk About Me” in 2019 in a session with Denzel at the Brewery. I’m not sure if it was initially intended for Melt My Eyes, but did it feel like, in that moment, it could’ve become something more beyond those sessions?
The day I recorded it with Denzel was the day Nipsey was shot and killed in LA. It was kind of crazy. That’s the day the song was born. And then I was working on more music for my album, and Cudi heard the Denzel reference and was completely energized by it. It was exciting to see, I’m not gonna lie, because when Cudi gets excited about something creatively, I’m like, “Oh shit.” He’s very particular—very specific. If it doesn’t feel authentic or dope to him, he’s quick to be like, “I’m not into it.” But he heard that record and was like, “Let me get on it.” It was the first time ever in his career where he heard a song I did with somebody else and asked to be a part of it. Yeah. Which was exciting in and of itself.
We recorded that song, and then with JID, I’m a fan of JID and naturally I love what he’s been doing. When it came down to rounding the song off, he was the first person I thought of. Me and my manager were talking about it.
“I’m excited to have my own musical schedule that I’m releasing, and hopefully everyone catches up, because we’re definitely going to keep dropping.”
So did you present it to Cudi as a reference for him? Or rather as something he could be featured on?
I was working on my album, so there was a lot of music being made. He was hearing things, but when I played this record, he just responded to it. He knew I was working on my project. And once he heard that, he was like, “Make room.”
When did talks with Cole Bennet begin for the video?
I told Denzel that Cudi just put a verse down for one of our records, and he looked at his phone and was like, “OK, cool.” Then he did a double take, like, “What the fuck?” And he started calling me, like, blowing me up. He’s like, “What song?” He didn’t even remember the song, so I’m like, “Let me play it for you,” and he went apeshit.
Apparently Cole was trying to do a video for Denzel at the moment—he wanted to do a video for a song off Melt—but then Zel already locked in all his directors for the album. So he was like, “I do have a song that might be a fit for you to do.”
So I met Cole at Denzel’s house. We went in the car and vibed to the record. And to be fair, this is not even premeditated Cole. This shit had to be done so last-minute because of the caliber of artists that were involved. Logistical nightmare. I was like “OK, this video is not gonna happen. Let’s just put the song out.” But props to Cole. His energy was like, “I want to do this. I’ll get this done.” And everybody was able to show up on the one day to get this video done.
Was it exciting being the leading man in a video this time?
Having done this for so long, it’s almost like this is what I need to be doing. In this game, and in this industry, people are quick to give your credit to someone else because you ain’t step up to claim that credit. If someone just steps up and claims your credit, it’s theirs. I’m more excited to just have my own musical schedule that I’m releasing, and hopefully everyone catches up, because we’re definitely going to keep dropping.
What does this moment in your career mean to you—to be able to release your own song and have such a positive reception?
It means the most. Even before the record comes out, [it means a lot] having the trust of my peers. When you do this for a while, your face and name starts to become something that’s associated with good. With the artists advocating for me, it was easier to push this song through, because I know I’m new to a lot of people. A lot of people may have heard the name, but a lot of people don’t know who I am. But that’s exciting for me, for people to discover it, and then they have to do the research. And hopefully they pull from it.
How much solo material have you recorded so far?
It’s hard to distinguish what solo anything could be. Any song sitting on my drive could potentially be a solo record. I definitely have hundreds of thousands of songs that I love, and I’ve been sitting with for years. But I think I’m trying to move with the energy that the fans give me. So I’m just seeing the reception and appreciation for this type of record. All my records are not going to be like this, I’ll just say that. Off the top, it’s not going to be three artists on one record. And it’s definitely going to take departures from hip-hop.
With all that in mind, what would you want a Dot Da Genius solo album to sound like?
Everything that I am. I’m a kid from Brooklyn. I’m a Black kid from Brooklyn, African-American kid from Brooklyn, by way of Nigeria. You’re gonna get all of that. I live in California, so that definitely has inspired the vibe. “Talk About Me” was a great introduction to it, but it’s gonna be a surprise.
How have Cudi and some of your other collaborators taken to this new journey for you?
Everyone has been super supportive, but Cudi is my guy. He’s trying to push me to get this project done and get it out. Me and Cudi were from a different class and generation when it comes to music, [compared to] Denzel and JID. Denzel has been around for a minute as well, and his energy feels new and refreshing. For JID, his ascension now is undeniable. They’ve been super supportive. And I need that, because they are representing the kids now that are coming up, the ones pressing play on new artists and on music. So as long as I have my guys that I’ve been working with, and my peers and friends that I respect, artistically and creatively, it lets me know that there’s still something interesting there creatively.
Do you have any advice for other producers who are looking to more or less do their own thing?
If you truly love this music—and I’m not talking about the music business, I’m talking about music—it’s important to represent yourself creatively outside of helping other people with their vision. Putting out music that represents you is going to help you find the people that really truly fuck with you for your creativity and your vision. And it’s important to connect with those people as quickly as possible. The quicker you decide to start representing your voice creatively, the quicker you can connect with the people that truly mess with you for what you actually do. And I’m learning that now. Just from being a student of the game and watching other guys, you can’t talk about producer albums without talking about guys like Metro [Boomin] being able to drop an album as a producer and go platinum. That doesn’t happen often. He was able to put out his music and connect with his people that truly mess with him for what he does, and thus creating something bigger. That’s what I’m on.