15 Minutes With Baltimore's Own Butch Dawson
OCTAVIA BURGEL // SEPTEMBER 12, 2018
I met Butch Dawson in a large, makeshift green room (a reappropriated classroom on the second floor of Wilder Hall). On the left hand side of the vast fluorescent-lit space was a chalkboard on wheels. Scrawled across in bright blue read the message BUTCH TAKES OBERLIN. He completed this mission later that night, mesmerizing the ‘Sco’s energetic audience with dark beats and clever, prophetic lyrics like “walkin’ on that water/ Call me Butchy Christ, damn.” My camera in hand, I sat down with the underground star to discuss his projects, influences, and beloved hometown of Baltimore.
This interview originally aired on Jetsetting, Monday nights at 11pm on WOBC 91.5 fm, and has been edited for legibility.
OB: Who are your greatest musical influences?
BD: Growing up I was really influenced by Lil Wayne… well, I wouldn’t really say influenced, I’ve just always been a big fan. Off the top, the people that I was really inspired to be like were Pharrell, Nas, and AZ. I really wanted to rap like AZ growing up. That’s about it. I’m really inspired by feelings and stuff like that. That’s what I’ve been looking into, just doing kind of an experiment with myself. I’ve been thinking of different shit and analyzing certain things in a different way. Like, I know for fact that I’m a true artist and I’m gonna be making music and creating until the day I die, so I’m just looking for different ways to be affected by a certain feeling and then expressing it through music.
OB: So was that experience of processing emotions kind of your entry point into making music?
BD: I was always around it from a young age— my father was a locally known rapper. He was always in and out of my life, but being a boy, when I was around him I was trying to get that father and son time, and he was always doing music as his work, so I was just around that kind of culture. I wouldn’t say that that inspired me to do music, but it definitely gave me an open mind on what was out there. So it was never really a thing for me when I was younger, to be like “I want to be a fireman.” I was like, “My father is a rapper,” and if you just have an open mind on that from a young age it kinda just molds you.
OB: Having listened to your music and read some interviews, I noticed that you make a lot of reference to bridging the divide between rap and punk. Are there any artists you look up to who you feel have been able to do that particularly successfully?
BD: Yeah, I feel like my friend Peggy (JPEGMAFIA) really does that at his shows. Like, same outfit type shit, just like, sweating. Yeah, there’s definitely been a lot of artists who did that. Even artists now who have like mosh pits at their shows, they’ll be doing wild shit and thats just punk, that’s just total punk. It’s just that form of freedom; performing like that, you’re getting a lot of emotions out. So for me, I’m pretty chill, I like to chill out, but when I’m performing and people are going crazy and there’s a lot of chaos happening I’m just getting everything out.
OB: You’re active in Baltimore’s DIY scene— what do you think of that space? Is it welcoming of people of color or is it generally pretty white?
BD: Oh yeah. It is definitely welcoming of people of color, LGBT folks, it’s really open to anybody. There were a bunch of safe spaces, probably like 5 or 6 years ago, but due to the situation that happened in Oakland [a mass-casualty fire in the winter of 2016 at Ghost Ship, a warehouse turned arts space in Oakland’s Fruitvale District] a lot of fire departments were going around Baltimore checking spaces and they shut a lot of shit down. It’s still cool though, I feel like Baltimore is the king of DIY shit, like we’re really putting a lot of shit together from nothing and I represent that all the way.
OB: You describe yourself as being involved in a lot of creative projects. What are they and how do you feel that having those projects influences your music?
BD: Working on videos, editing videos and doing skits— I’ve been doing that since I was in middle school. So that’s just one of the things that I really like doing in terms of, like, incorporating all of the creative things that I’m trying to do with the music just to make the brand bigger. I do a little creative directing on the side, like with our merch and stuff like that. I do this monthly mix called “Basement Rap Radio,” and that’s, like, inspired by Grand Theft Auto radio stations so it has like that same aesthetic. I give you comical, funny commercials mixed in with Baltimore local music, and it’s, like, all different types, it’s not even just rap. Any creative thing that I do I just want to incorporate it with the brand and make that experience bigger, so that’s what we’re doing with our whole team and brand called Basement Rap.
OB: And is Basement Rap the brand focused on Baltimore, too?
BD: Yeah it’s like a movement, but anyone can represent Basement Rap. I just wanna be able to provide a platform where people can see Baltimore the way I see it.
OB: How would you describe the sound coming out of West Baltimore? Do you think it differs from a lot of rap coming out of New York or other big cities? Are there any particular styles?
BD: I really can’t pinpoint a certain sound that comes from West Baltimore because there are a lot of artists from that region who have different styles, different sounds. I feel like West Baltimore and East Baltimore kinda have the same sound because [the city] as a whole is so small and the region we’re in is kind of out of the spotlight.
Baltimore is not really a musical city, but slowly it is becoming more musically progressive because of the artists who are now coming out of it. A lot of artists are starting to come out and be successful and the city has really started to make more of a name for itself, which in turn is really inspiring a lot of younger artists. I feel like as that cycle keeps going we will continue to develop our own sound.