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Quiet Glories and Manifestation: Butch Dawson Releases ‘Stardust’ EP

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With every syllable in every bar, Butch Dawson makes you feel what he is feeling. You see the city through his eyes. The artist’s work is full of quiet glories and irreducible hip-hop artistry. When you hear his words live, the lyrics reach you and the energy is infectious.

I first saw Butch Dawson perform in 2019 for Boiler Room at JPEGMafia’s album launch at The 8×10. The lineup was stacked full of Baltimore’s best and brightest. This was one of the last concert memories I have pre-COVID, and I can still feel the anticipation of waiting in line, the impatience at waiting at the bar, and the thrill of being in a crowd. On that day, Dawson conducted an orchestra composed of bodies that traveled for this show—the crowd danced, some recited every syllable, and everyone rode out the unparalleled adrenaline rush only obtainable at a live performance. 

Debuting Friday, August 20, Stardust is Dawson’s first EP since 2019. Dawson has worked on the project for a year and a half, and although this ability to tour and perform was halted by COVID, Dawson steadily worked on music. I believe that the twelve-minute Stardust will be a sonic time capsule marking this moment in Baltimore City.

Dawson has a penchant for creative direction and criticality when it comes to the promotion of his albums. The rollout of the project has been accompanied by three YouTube vignettes labeled as Enigma 001, 002, and 003, featuring other Baltimore stars including Miss Kam, Tromac Pineapple, Rico Connolly, and Bushido. Surrounded by artists and collaborators, Dawson is as enigmatic as he is deeply personal and familiar. His devotion to his craft is readily apparent, in all of its complexity, generosity, and authenticity. His music is visceral, bellowing, and ascendant.

 

Photo by Rico Connolly
Photo by Rico Connolly
Photo by Rico Connolly

During the pandemic, Dawson has been busy working, writing, and revving up for his return to releases and performances. He’s recently dropped videos and singles with Baltimore collaborators including viral vanguard YTK and Earl From Yonder. In both of Stardust’s two singles, “Hummer” and “Get Money,” Dawson delivers his lyrics in rhapsodies. The pace and direction of the song and their accompanying videos beg the listener and viewer to listen and to turn up.

The video for “Hummer,” directed by Dawson and Amira Green AKA THUGM0M, is a black and white and sweaty and iridescent three-minute film. The first half of the video begins with Dawson singing “I wanna celebrate / but it’s not the time,” and then the beat switches and he raps with bravado “woke up, I might run it / drop top, I might fuck up the summer.” The “Hummer” video currently has over 150,000 videos and as Stardust gains traction and attention it could become a Baltimore summer anthem.

In the second single for Stardust, “Get Money,” he repeats twice in the chorus, “I will never die in this bitch / get money”—an affirmation and declaration that cements a certainty of incoming celebrity, security, and stardom. 

On his solo debut masterpiece, The College Dropout, Kanye West mused about his new positionality as an emerging superstar artist. On the track “Spaceship,” West, who used to work at the Gap, remarks that he dedicated his entire life to working on navigating and manifesting his future: “Lock yourself in a room doin’ five beats a day for three summers . . . I deserve to do these numbers.”

I couldn’t help but think of these lines during my interview with Dawson. Listening to “Spaceship” today, we can see the context of 2021 where West is a billionaire, currently maddeningly delaying an album and also currently designing a collection with Gap. Everything that he said he would do he did. That’s the power of manifestation inherent in rap. These artists are the architects of their own realities, the pilots of their own spaceship to greatness. 

These artists are the architects of their own realities, the pilots of their own spaceship to greatness. 
Teri Henderson

Some music is so well produced, so well composed, so intentional that it exists outside of time. Two weeks ago, Pharrell Williams’ band N.E.R.D celebrated the 20th year release of In Search Of…, an album full of songs that I still play regularly. It’s no wonder that Dawson, a producer, rapper, and designer from West Baltimore, lists Pharrell as one of his greatest inspirations. When Dawson’s single “Feel Nobody,” from his 2018 EP Swamp Boy, comes on shuffle, I’m taken back into time. Dawson and I spoke over Zoom a few days before the release of Stardust and we talked about what inspires him the most, the fine-tuning and evolution of his craft, and how In Search Of… is still a pristinely produced masterpiece.

Stardust drops today, just in time for the end of summer and for your Labor Day cookout, and as we head into an uncertain fall marred by COVID, we can turn to artwork and to music to provide us with inspiration and hope in the form of lyrical stardust. With his team, talent, and determination, Dawson will ascend and carry Baltimore with him wherever he goes. Aside from Pharrell, one of Dawson’s other inspirations is his nephew Ollie, the namesake for his 2019 project Ollieworld, and the last full-length project he released before Stardust. And on the chorus of Swamp Boy’s “Feel Nobody,” Dawson utters this dedication: “I do this shit for Ollie.” 

Three years later with the release of Stardust, on Asylum Records, Dawson inevitably adds another cement layer to the foundation of greatness for himself, for Ollie, for his family, his friends, his collaborators, and his Baltimore. 

 

Photo by Rico Connolly
Photo by Josh Slowe
Photo by Rico Connolly

Teri Henderson: How do you describe yourself? What do you do?

Butch Dawson: I produce music. I’m a recording artist. I like to design. It can be a lot of mediums, as far as creating and designing, editing videos, stuff like that, doing funny skits. That’s kinda my thing right there, just creating and designing. 

I was watching the Enigma Skits earlier today, they were funny.

Thank you.

I’ve been watching them as they came out and rewatched them this morning to prepare for the interview. So where are you from? Where are your roots and where are your people from?

I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. My roots are African-American and Korean. I grew up in West Baltimore, my whole life. My mom, she grew up in West Baltimore, her whole life. My grandmother, she’s from Korea. She moved to the US during the Korean War. My grandfather was in the Korean War, I guess that’s when he ran into my grandmother in Korea. They had a son, my uncle over there, and I think when he was two, they moved to the US and that’s when they had my aunt and then they had my mother. We just been in Baltimore ever since.

What is your favorite song of all time that it’s not one of your own songs? 

“You can do it too” by Pharrell. The feel and the subject matter and what he was talking about in the message, all the frequencies just match, it all feels good. I’m getting a whole bunch of wisdom when I’m hearing that song. And also I’m just vibing out when I’m hearing it. That’s my favorite track.

I love Pharrell’s production, it’s so good. 

Too good.

I saw recently that In Search Of… is almost twenty years old and I was like “I am old!”

It’s still timeless.

Yes! Congratulations on the upcoming release of your EP Stardust. How are you feeling about the project overall?

I feel really good about the project. I just wanted it to be out. It took a long while for me to even get any real music—and I don’t mean I’m just putting out all fake music—just project-type music, music that’s with a project, and just a project in general. It took me so long to put one out. 

Just off the fact that I’m just trying to level up every project, and now I work with management, CMPND Group, so everything just gotta be planned out perfectly. It took me probably a year and a half, you know, all the COVID stuff happened. On my end, [this] is a leverage project. It’s about taking that next step and taking that next transition into stardom. I’m building leverage to actually put out the project that I want to put out, and building momentum after all the COVID stuff that’s been going on. That basically sums up what Stardust is. 

How is Stardust related to your Jazz Star project?

The songs and everything don’t have any relation to Jazz Star, except for the name. 

How all this went is because I was supposed to drop Jazz Star last year in the summertime. I had a lot of label offers and stuff, and once COVID happened, everything just went out dry, and me and a lot of other independent artists didn’t really know what was going to happen. [Editor’s note: Jazz Star is still unreleased.]

Throughout that I was getting all depressed, and I was trying to figure out how to give my fans something for the meantime. So I wanted to put out an EP called Stardust. I originally had a list of songs for it, and then me and my management changed a lot of songs around. 

Eventually one of these labels was fucking with the EP; they wanted to pick it up and work with us. And then I had to wait a little bit more for all that to process. ‘Cause that’s a whole ‘nother process.

The good thing is that I got the opportunity to put out this project with Asylum and I’m able to just be here and to still be able to put out music. It’s just a blessing within itself. I’m very grateful for that. Basically I’m just excited for the next thing. So once this thing comes out and I’m just like, “all right, I’m ready,” I already know what I need to do for this next project. 

 

Photo by Josh Slowe
Photo by Josh Slowe

I’ve seen you perform once, when you were with JPEGMafia at that Boiler Room show at The 8×10. That’s one of my favorite shows that I’ve seen in Baltimore. How long have you been performing? 

I’ve been performing as long as I can remember. I started in elementary school. I say, the first time I stepped on the stage was at graduation, I was rapping like in fifth grade. Then I started doing these talent shows at my high school. I guess that got me ready for performance, and it just made me comfortable on stage. After that I was going to open mics and stuff like that. And then after that, I was doing my own shows or just being on someone else’s show. 

The levels have just gotten up and gotten up and have just kept getting higher. But my first actual show where people was out and they were actually here for me, I want to say somewhere in 2011 in this streetwear shop. I did so many shows. It’s ridiculous. 

Also, your set design is ridiculous. There’s photos that I’ve seen from Ottobar and the Crown, and you and your team completely transform the space. Especially like the Swamp Boy release party, at The Crown, it was insane. I’m excited for the next show for sure. 

I am too. It’s gon be fun. I was gonna have a release show here, but I had to push it back because of all this [COVID] stuff. So hopefully we have another release show here, probably next month. 

Hell yeah. I’ll be there. So I’ve been playing “Hummer” since it dropped this past May. Can you tell me about your process with that song?

Basically the process with “Hummer,” this all took place last year in the summertime. I was living at my other crib before I moved to the crib where I’m at now. We had the studio room, I forgot what part of the pandemic it was, ‘cause I don’t think we was on lockdown, but it was still quarantine-type shit. I was just in the house, depressed, looking outside the window while it was hot. And I’m just trying to make these songs and stuff because my team wanted me to make a lot of mass-appealing hits. I was just trying to make some digestible song. 

So I’m just real depressed, looking outside, just thinking of summer shit, things that relate to the summer, things that just give me a nostalgic feel about the summer. I came up with “Hummer” and I was writing and it just didn’t sound right. Then I put it aside, then I came back and deleted everything, and then I just ended up just freestyling the song. 

Sometimes the process just be all over the place. You have an idea of what you want and then it doesn’t sound right after you scrap it. And then you just end up doing something that you didn’t expect. That was “Hummer” and that was the case for a lot of the songs on Stardust

I’m just getting into this process where I need to make some hits and stuff that not only my fans can fuck with, but other people who’s starting to get to know me at a first impression.

Did you produce all the music for the project?

I produced about 65% of the project, there’s like three tracks on it that I didn’t produce. One Heaven Away is produced by one of my managers, James P, and this dope producer named Vide. Then I have two tracks on there (“All Mine” and “Momentum”) that’s produced by my homie from Toronto named Ktoe. 

[Editor’s Note: everything else on the project was self-produced by Butch Dawson. Stardust was recorded and engineered entirely in Baltimore.]

Are there any features or is it all you? 

Just all me. I had my friend Beya Likhari on some background vocals on the intro. 

 

Photo by Josh Slowe
Photo by Josh Slowe
Photo by Rico Connolly

Who are some of your favorite creative collaborators in Baltimore? If someone was like, “here’s money; do a project,” who would you call?  

I would collab with NXPA media, it’s a creative media platform in Baltimore city. They’re very dope. They make some fantastic content, it’s amazing. I would collab with Devin Allen. I would collaborate with my friend Akilo who has AKILOGRAM, that brand is very dope. My homie Josh Slowe, he goes by @atribecalledjosh on socials, but he’s a dope photographer.

My best friend, Thug M0m. She’s my main photographer. I always got to give her props. That’s her calling me right now [answers phone call]. She’s so dope.

Yes she is. She’s brilliant.

I would collaborate with, I don’t even know his name, Mr. Bippley Snip dude. Muhnuck. 

Yes, from TikTok! That’d be really cool. So Basement Rap, can you tell me about that? Is that something that you started?

Basement Rap just started as an idea. I wanted to create a tag for my songs, it all started as a tag, and then later it became like a movement, then after that it became a group. 

It’s kind of still a group, but is more so concentrated with four or five of us that makes the content, but we got members all over the place. Now it’s more so another creative platform and we just like to create different things and show people the lifestyle of Baltimore through our eyes. That’s basically what it is now. That’s always going to be with me, you know?

And while I’m doing this, hopefully I can just continue to build this brand and do better things with it. I’m just making sure everything is going as planned and making sure I have a plan with everything, because I’m busy as shit now. So I just been trying to find time to still have my hands in a lot, and you know, it’s difficult, that’s just what it is. That’s what the hard work is about.

Speaking of multiple projects. I know that you’ve modeled in the past for designers like Telfar. Is that something you want to continue doing?

Yeah, modeling, I loved it. I still would like to, it’s just the COVID stuff messed up a lot. But I still take photos here and there. Modeling and the music stuff go hand to hand, so I’m still out here, taking photos, just doing cool concepts. I get my model satisfaction off when I do these press shoots and stuff for my music, ‘cause I’m able to do the concepts myself, editorial style. I still do it and I’m still trying to get back into that bag. 

 

Photo by Rico Connolly

Your rollout that I’ve seen in the past for different projects or your album art, it’s pristine. I can tell that you and your team are thinking steps ahead and making sure that everything is detailed. I’ve been following your career for a couple of years now, it’s really cool to watch it unfold. I know you have a show with Turnstile coming up on September 16th. How are you feeling about the show? Are you excited to go back and tour? Are you nervous about COVID? 

I’m not really nervous about Covid, I’m vaccinated, but I understand how effective [fear of COVID] can be on people and people who haven’t been vaccinated yet. But I can’t wait to tour. Honestly, I’m so excited for this show and I feel like it’s going to be the icebreaker to me, resuming back into… just what I’ve been missing. 

I’m really looking forward to the energy. Hopefully I get to tour toward the end of this year, we are really working on it.

I can’t wait to go back to shows.

Man, me too, I went to a Roc Marciano show, it’s this guy from New York, it was such a legendary show. It was a lot of people there. I still had my mask on and shit, but it was just amazing to feel that energy and to experience that, because I really love performing. That’s one of the things that was my main money maker in 2019. And to experience that and see the people and the energy, and react to the performance and the lines—I cannot wait. I’m not rushing to perform. I’m not going to do anything that might lower my standards. I’m just going to wait until everything is okay. 

How can the BmoreArt audience support your work? What platforms will Stardust be on?

Y’all can support me just by searching Butch Dawson. Stardust is going to be on all platforms, literally every platform. Buy the album, bump the songs as many times as you want. It’s short, it’s like 12 minutes, so that’s like a car ride. It’s manageable enough for everybody’s attention spans. I sat down and tried to figure out how to put out a project that everybody can enjoy, especially in 2021. I was like, let me just try to make six songs that people can just, it gets stuck in their head. it’s very catchy and anybody could fuck with it. And make it short enough so people can really listen to it quick and easy. No skips. 

How have you been taking care of yourself through COVID now? How have you been keeping sane, how’s the self-care going? 

I feel like it’s definitely getting better. I was definitely going through a lot of depression last year, I got a therapist. It was cool, I only did two sessions and then I just figured out my own coping mechanisms. I started running a lot more and just having conversations with different artists, just so I know I’m not alone with whatever shit that I’m going through. All of that stuff really helped me and it got me in a better place. 

And just making music, that’s all I’ve been doing for the whole pandemic, and getting ready for this album, for this EP. That was about it. Whether or not the pandemic was going on, this music stuff is still going to be my job. So I got to, you know, keep that shit going.

For sure. Who is your greatest inspiration? What inspires you? What makes you want to work?

What makes me want to work is when people tell me I can’t do something. I don’t know why, it’s crazy. I go so crazy out of spite. That’s one of my motivations. My nephew Ollie and my niece, that’s my inspiration and my motivation right there. 

Pharrell always and forever. 

Where I’m from, my neighborhood, West Baltimore, Pennsylvania Avenue going into Division. That’s my motivation right there. It’s literally everything that represents me and my music. That’s really my inspiration.

Photo by Josh Slowe

All photos by Rico Connolly or Josh Slowe as noted. Header image: Photo by Rico Connolly

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