It's intriguing to look at the rise of Pontiac, Michigan's own DDG. In the last five years, he's amassed millions of YouTube subscribers as he's grown as an artist in the music industry. After signing to Epic in 2018, he's continued to drop singles like "Run It Up" and "Arguments," which featured a video with fellow Michigan native Queen Naija, herself an artist who got signed after blowing up on YouTube (she sits at 38 million views at the time of this writing).
The last couple of weeks have been huge for DDG. Not only did he recently perform during halftime at a Pistons game, but he is dropping his long-awaited debut album, Valedictorian (which isn't just a catchy title; DDG really was his school's valedictorian). Ahead of his Halloween listening party/concert in New York City on Halloween and his appearance at ComplexCon Long Beach 2019 (on Sunday's From YouTube to Major Moves panel, alongside Casey Neistat and Timothy DeLaGhetto), we got to speak to DDG about the new album, his rise in the world of YouTube, and how his music career and YouTube presence will intersect.
I was lucky enough to listen to the album. I got through all of it over the last couple of days. It definitely sounds like you stepped up. What was the time frame in working on the stuff that became part of Valedictorian?
It's been maybe like a year or two of just working, ever since I've been with Epic. I've got a lot of songs, so it's a lot of songs that didn't make the project. But the ones that I picked out, I wanted to just show my versatility and everything different about my music.
Was it a situation where you would be going and doing songs and holding stuff, knowing full well it was going to be for that project?
Yeah. Even when I dropped my Sorry 4 The Hold Up EP, I had songs that I just kept for myself because I knew I was going to put it in an album and I wanted to make this album long. I want to shoot a video for every single song. I'm going to really push.
I recently saw a vlog where you were dressed up like the old man. Is that for the "Push" video?
No, we got some other stuff coming out—coming really soon—so it's a big surprise.
There's a couple of tracks on the album that sound like they're real L.A., like something YG should be on.
That was the plan; he's probably going to be on the remix or like that. That was the plan at first, but I really wanted to drop this album with not as many features, for the people that really enjoy it for me.
Were there any particular artists that you mess with that you kind of were taken as inspiration when you were thinking about approaching this project?
Not really. It was all about just being versatile, because not only do I want to just show my skills and being able to switch it up, but I want to see what people like from me—what type of style people gravitate towards the most.
You've been playing the album for your homies a lot?
Oh, yeah. All my friends, they already know all the songs.
Are there any songs that they're messing with in particular?
I don't think they got a favorite. I don't know if they got a favorite, but I got a few personal favorites.
What are the songs that you're feeling the most off the project?
I really like all of them—"Earthquake."
"Earthquake" is a good one. I like "Woozy."
You like "Woozy"? I like "Woozy," too. I'm glad you said that because I was showing people and they was iffy about it. I'm like, "Nah, this song hard."
It was dope to hear that you revisited "Arguments" on the album. That's a heavy song. You know, there's a lot of real emotions in that. What made you want to go back to that?
Well, first off, "Arguments" has never been on a project. I got a song called "Why" on there, and we like calling it "Arguments Part 2." So it makes sense to put "Arguments" on there, then throw Part 2 on there. But for the most part, it's just because "Arguments" never been on a project. I know a lot of people heard it already, but I feel like it just adds to it, to have it on there
You've mentioned that you want to be the first rapper that really blows up and then is blogging throughout the entire experience. Is that going to be a situation where you not going to be holding the camera anymore?
I want to do it myself, but when I'm at events, when I've been doing all [of this] stuff, sometimes I forget because it's a time and place to pull out a camera. I want to do it myself, but eventually I'm going to have somebody following me around.
Do you remember the moment when you realized that it was bigger than what you were just messing around on YouTube?
When I had my first show in Atlanta and it sold out and I was like, "Damn, this is crazy." Because that was my first time doing my own show thing and people are singing every song, word for word. That's when I knew it was poppin'.
Our fourth annual ComplexCon in Long Beach takes place Nov. 2-3 at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. For more info and tickets, click here.