Photo by Liz Barclay

Photo by Liz Barclay

It’s a rainy afternoon in New  York City. Not a torrential downpour, but enough that I look foolish without an umbrella. DonMonique and I are supposed to meet on the basketball courts near West 4th, where we’re planning to do a photo shoot to accompany this interview. I’m nervous that she won’t want to shoot in the rain. Where else could we go? Why can’t I ever remember to bring an umbrella?

Then DonMonique enters the courts. She’s wearing white sneakers and white sweatpants accentuated by a bright Married To The Mob sweatshirt. In the midst of all the grey, she’s a burst of color and energy.

In a lot of ways, this is the same effect her music has had. In a relatively short time, DonMonique’s presence has been commanding. Both in and out of the studio, she approaches her craft with a self-assurance far beyond her mere 20 years of age.

With her upcoming EP—titled Thirstrap because “my style is trap music that’s cute and sexy”—on the way and her July 8 No Ceilings performance approaching, DonMonique speaks on living in New York, how she got started in rap, and what else she’s got coming up.

When did you first start rapping? Was there a point when you knew you could make a career out of it?
I’ve always been rapping on the side but I never had the connects to get into the real scene and do a real song. Then I met Jim Duece (now her manager) and we mobbed for about a year. Then after that I finally got into a studio and that’s when I came out with “We Don’t,” my first song. From there I just stuck with it. Then we did “Pilates” and then we did the [“Pilates”] video.

You’re only 20 right now, so this didn’t all come about until you were 19?
I was 19, yeah.

Were you born and raised in Brooklyn?
Yea. I always been back and forth from uptown to Brooklyn but normally my friends, my family—they’re all in Brooklyn.

How important is that New York sound to your music?
With beats and stuff like that, I don’t necessarily have to have like, a hip-hop New York beat because my voice and my accent is so thick. So like “Pilates” has a West Coast beat, but you can still tell it’s someone from New York rapping on it. I don’t have to have the whole nine, I can switch it up because of my voice.

What do you think of the New York rap scene right now? Because for the past few years, places like Chicago and Atlanta have taken over hip-hop and it’s been a while since we’ve had many New York artists in the spotlight.
I feel like we’re making a comeback. What’s important to me is that even if you’re not from New York, you can fuck with my music. If you’re from Chicago, or wherever, you can fuck with my music because I’m not just sticking to strictly New York New York sounds. I can play with it because of my accent.

Are there other New York artists you’re working with?
Not really artists, more New York producers. Oh, Slayter! He’s always in Texas so I forget he’s from New York. Yeah, I got a track with him and Danny Brown.

That’s crazy. Tell me more about that.
He [Slayter]’s pretty new like me. We both came out with our first track like a year ago. We were just in the studio playing around and we came up with the hook for the song. And Danny [Brown] had followed me on Twitter but I wasn’t too sure because, you know, you can always accidentally follow people and he follows a lot of people so I didn’t really wanna get hype about it. But then like a week after he followed me in Instagram and I was like, “OK, this is real.”

Yea, you knew he was paying attention.
Right. So I DMed him and I was like, “What’s your email?” He sent me it and I sent him the track. And right away he sent me back a verse for it.

Wow. Who made the beat for the track?
Stelios [Phili].

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Photo by Liz Barclay

I love this story because it’s exactly how artists should be communicating and working together in 2015, you know? That’s what social media should help you with if you’re a new musician. It can connect you to someone you’d never expect.
Yeah and it was like natural, you know? It wasn’t because my manager knew his manager and they set it up. It was two artists who just fuck with what each other is doing musically.

So you have this with Danny, who else are you working with? You’re working towards an EP?
Yeah, we’re working on an EP. We’re going to have Tunji [Ige] on there, Chuck [Inglish]. He’s actually going to be on the “Pilates” remix.

I was just going to ask if there was going to be a “Pilates” remix.
Mmhmm, there is. So Chuck and Skizzy Mars is going to be on the remix, we’re working on that now. I have a track with Chuck for his album too.

I feel like at this point, I just want it to be genuine. If you fuck with me and I fuck with you then let’s do something. I don’t want it to be forced.

Is there anybody that you still want to work with for this EP?
I feel like at this point, I just want it to be genuine. If you fuck with me and I fuck with you then let’s do something. I don’t want it to be forced.

How did the connection with the Awful Records crew come about? Because the “Pilates” video is filmed at an Awful Records party, right?
That’s actually a party we threw for them. I met them down at A3C in October, and when they came to NY we were like the only people that they knew. So we threw a concert and a house party for Rich [Richposlim] and his birthday. We had been sitting on the video for a minute, and I kept wondering when we were gonna shoot it. Then we was like, fuck it let’s just shoot it at the party. Hidji [the director of the video] came and I was like, “Do you wanna shoot my video tonight?” and he agreed. It was just like spontaneous and freestyled.

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Photo by Liz Barclay

You get that feeling from the video. Which reminds me, I was sent Lolawolf’s new video which has a very similar feeling, and I’m watching it, and all of a sudden I see you in it! How did you link up with Zoe [Kravitz, lead singer of Lolawolf]?
Hidji shot my video and he also shot that video. It was on some shit where we were down the street from the house they were shooting at, and he was just like, “Hey I’m shooting a video with Zoe Kravitz, do you wanna come?” So we went down and shot it with her. She was cool.

I was on your Instagram and I saw a few pictures of you with Post Malone. How do you guys know each other?
My manager is cool with his manager. I went to Westway and they were like, “You gotta meet Post!” Post already knew about me because his manager is cool with “Pilates” so when I met him, he was like, “Oh hey what’s up!”

Are there any singers you’d want to work with?
I’m trying to do something with Bahja from the OMG Girlz. She’s solo now and she just put out her first song and it really went up, so I’m trying to do something with her. Um, who else… I don’t know! I don’t really know any singers. Definitely Bahja, and Tunji—he sings too.

One of my first interviews, like two years ago, was Young Thug and I asked him the same question, and his answer was James Blunt… like the guy who sings “You’re Beautiful.”
[Laughs] What! No way.

Yea, so I always ask rappers this now, because I never know what to expect.
I would want Wayne to sing on a track, I like his singing voice. Like when Dej put him on “Me U & Hennessy.” He’s good at not singing well.

That’s kind of his charm though, that’s what’s cool about it.
Yeah! Like those slow songs, “Me & My Drank,” “Me U & Hennessy” remix, “How To Love.” He has a lot of slow songs.

I know I can rap just as good as guys can, so I don’t really take offense to it. I let my music speak for itself.

Speaking of Dej, I want to talk about the female hip-hop world. I’ve interviewed a lot of female artists and talked about this, but I hate how writers introduce them by putting the word “female” in front of their title. Like female rapper, or female singer, or female producer. It should just be rapper, singer, producer. Is that something, as a young woman coming into hip-hop which is a very traditionally male world, you’re cautious of?
I mean, it doesn’t really bother me. I’m used to it. I grew up hearing, like, “[Lil] Kim is a female rapper, Nicki is a female rapper.” But I know I can rap just as good as guys can, so I don’t really take offense to it. I let my music speak for itself.

Were there women in hip-hop you looked up to that influenced you to start rapping?
Kim. Definitely Kim, and Trina. You know, the New York chicks for real. I think we’re making a big comeback, just like New York and hip-hop. I mean you see Dej, Nicki—she’s coming back on her rap shit and it’s crazy. And even Remy [Ma]’s coming back. I fuck with her.

I would love to see a collaboration between you and Remy. Is that something you’d want to see down the line?
Oh yea, we always talk about getting Remy on shit.

You’re playing our No Ceilings show in July. How important is your live show to you?
I love being on stage. It’s like I’ll be nervous, but then it all goes away as soon as I’m on stage. It’s always better performing because you see how other people react to your music. I can perform unreleased music and I can see how they react to that before I even put it out. You get a little review for it.

Your style on Tumblr and your Instagram is really distinct, from the settings to your outfits everything is so well put together. Was that a conscious decision on your part to have that aspect with your music or is that just something that’s always been natural for you?
I always had like this style, but before I take pictures I usually have a vision. I think, “I want to take a picture in front of here with this on,” then it’s just all about finding the right person to take the picture. Most of the time it doesn’t come out like how I envisioned it in my head, it comes out different, but still good.

Are your friends now more people you grew up with in Brooklyn or people you’ve met as you’ve gotten into music?
They’re more like, people I’ve grown up with in the industry. We’ve known each other for like two or three years so far and we just click. Because there’s been a lot of people I’ve met and I’m not friends with anymore just within the last two or three years. You also want to keep your image up, you don’t want to surround yourself with people who will make you look bad.

What’s your family like?
I have a sister, she’s 15. She’s excited about everything. I was at Hot New Hip Hop earlier and I took a picture there in front of the sign and sent it to her because she’s always on HNHH. Like, “Yeah, get mad at this!” [Laughs] She’s also been like my photographer too. She’s really particular about the lighting and stuff. She’s been taking my picture since we were little, back when it was like Myspace and AOL profiles, so she thinks she’s a pro now. But now she doesn’t really want to take my picture anymore because she’s older. She wants me to take pictures of her, and I’m like, “Uh, honey!” [Laughs]

I mean you gotta have someone around you that’s gonna be honest with you.
Yeah, exactly. I like to have friends that are honest. The other day Slayter told me he didn’t like some song I was working on, and he’s like, “You mad?” and I said, “I’m mad but I’m glad that you told me instead of just going along with it.”

I don’t want to have any expectations because right now we’re just going with the flow. You never know who might hit you up tomorrow or next week. I just want to be eating.

Where do you see yourself in a year?
I want to just be able to be like living off rapping. I don’t want to have any expectations because right now we’re just going with the flow. You never know who might hit you up tomorrow or next week. I just want to be eating.

OK last question and it’s random: what was the first CD you bought?
Ooh, I think it was NSYNC. It was… oh, wait, no. It was Britney Spears. And then her movie came out [Crossroads] and I bought the DVD. Britney was my girl.

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Photo by Liz Barclay

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