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East Coast Rap Duo Tanya Morgan Bringing Boom-Bap Beats To Back Bar Sofa

In Music
MC Donwill of hip-hop duo Tanya Morgan says he views his group and its fans as an ‘island of misfit toys.’

MC Donwill of hip-hop duo Tanya Morgan says he views his group and its fans as an ‘island of misfit toys.’

Back in 2003, when Cincinnati MC Donwill and Brooklyn MC/producer Von Pea settled on naming their duo Tanya Morgan, they intended it as a goof—an inside joke about a record store clerk attempting to trick customers into buying a hip-hop album disguised as a ’50s soul record. At the time, the pair never expected to make another album together.

“We planned the album as a one-off deal,” Donwill says, speaking on his cell phone last week. “I thought I was gonna be Nelly; Von thought he was gonna be Pete Rock.”

It’s more than a decade on now and he and Von Pea are still working together. In fact, at the very moment of our conversation, you could say they are literally stuck together—in a car, with a just-fixed flat tire, somewhere in the middle of Wyoming..

These days, Donwill says, the name still retains its original meaning, but he adds that it has also become “a rallying cry.”

“So many people got behind it,” Donwill says. Today, he views the name and his group as a collective gathering space for those who never quite felt like they fit in—“an island of misfit toys.”

Upon listening to Tanya Morgan’s extensive catalog—the group has released 10 albums in 15 years, and the individual MCs have also dropped solo recordings—you can hear that tension, that feeling of otherness, of being an outsider.

Just consider Rubber Souls, Tanya Morgan’s 2013 LP. On the album’s lead track, “For Real,” Eric B and Rakim are name-checked, along with the year 1994—the year Nas released Illmatic and Biggie dropped Ready to Die. And song No. 4, “Never Too Much,” features the distinctive ping of an 808 cowbell. Both songs have some serious boom-bap and are reminiscent of the so-called “golden era” of New York City hip-hop.

Songs like these stand in sharp contrast to what’s hot right now—the triling, machine-gun hi-hats of Southern rap, and the bombastic lyricism and minimalist beats of Rae Sremmurd and Bobby Shmurda.

Von Pea says he and Donwill aren’t trying to make any kind of statement about what sounds better by hewing to this sonic palate. “It’s more or less what we know, really,” he says, explaining that the “golden era” jams of Tribe Called Quest, Common and others were the sounds they grew up listening to.

On the group’s forthcoming LP, You Get What You Pay For, due out later this year, Von Pea and Donwill say they will be sticking to their boom-bap guns, but will move away from the live instrumentation of Rubber Souls in favor of a samples-based approach—akin to what the duo did on the 2011 album You & What Army.

Tanya Morgan play the Back Bar SoFa on Apr 2. Doors at 8pm. More info.

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