Damond Blue Premieres New Project 'V.S.O.P,' Talks Helping His Hometown Overcome Violence: 'You Stand Up'
Baltimore, Md. native Damond Blue is looking to bring the city up through his music and philanthropy.
In 2018, FBI data revealed that Baltimore topped the list of most violent cities in the United States. Per 10,000 residents, 98.6 crimes were committed in the city. Blue was exposed to the tough street life on the east side of Baltimore at an early age. By the time he was 17, Blue claims he was carrying a loaded firearm selling crack cocaine as a means to get by. After witnessing the death of a close friend, Blue left the life behind to take his talents to the next level.
In 2015, Blue made his introduction with the release of his first mixtape Blessonz. The project featured King Los, Fat Trel and Houston legend Bun B. Blue followed his debut with the single “Give It To You,” which became a local hit in Baltimore. The buzzy record caught Wale’s attention to the point where he remixed the single, and Wale’s stamp pushed the Baltimore artist to drop Dream Bigger: Vol 1, which served as an ode to his label Dream Bigger Music Group.
Though he's bringing a whole new vibe to the city, Blue is also giving back through his youth organization Beats Not Bullets. The organization offers kids in the Baltimore area a chance to learn the basics of music production and beat-making. “There's a lack of [help] in my city, no one is giving back,” Blue tells Billboard about the shortage of support.
While uplifting his city, Blue is keen on sounding like no other artist in hip-hop. Teaming up with Billboard to premiere his new project V.S.O.P., -- which features Young Thug, MoneyBagg Yo, and TK Kravitz -- Blue is looking to further separate himself by pushing the smooth trap sound he’s adopted, forward.
Billboard sat with Damond Blue as he spoke about his album V.S.O.P, Baltimore’s influence on his sound, his motivation to continue helping the youth in his hometown and why his career, up until this point, mimics Antwone Fisher. Stream the new project below, and check out the rest of our Q&A after the jump.
Baltimore holds a very special place in your heart. How has it contributed to your sound?
It contributed a lot, [not] only to my sound, but my life. It's more than just the music; it's a lifestyle. It's a place with so much culture and talent, but it's overshadowed by the violence and killings. It molded and shaped me into a person that wanted something more and something better. I tried everything from the street life to the 9-5. But this is the one thing I stuck with and it helped me get to that platform that I'm at now.
You’ve said in the past that everyone in hip-hop sounds the same. What are you doing to make sure you’re not falling into that category?
I'm owning my craft and being myself. I don't fall into what's going on right now. I love what's happening right now, don't get it twisted, but I came from the era where you had to be nice and actually spit. That's me all the way but I had to add a little melodic side to it and just be who I am. That's what makes Damond Blue. I never try to step in anyone's lane. I control the lanes and own the roads. People always tell me to pick a lane, but nah, I'm not with that. That's just how I feel. In hip-hop today you have to be that way. You can't be stuck in one box. You have to be multi-faceted because things are not how they used to be back in the day.
You have a very unique sound that you call smooth trap. What exactly is that sound?
It's self-explanatory. It's soft, but still has that edginess to it. You can ride with your girl in the car and still get that knock that you need. You could feel the edginess, feel the hunger and feel the pain, but you could also feel that vibe like you can play this on a road trip. It's not just a genre, it's a lifestyle. You never heard of smooth trap before. There's plenty of artists who do it but they don't categorize it as that.
With your organization, you’re giving kids a chance to harness their creativity. Where do you find the motivation to continue giving back to your community and help the kids that need it in your city despite making strides in your music career?
It's a part of me. My mother was into philanthropy earlier on when I was a kid. I didn't understand it but my mother would take all the old clothes and shoes that we couldn't fit anymore to all the kids on the block who were less fortunate. That's something I embodied and made me want to start Beats Not Bullets. It was also due to the fact a young man bombed the home of a family and killed them. I won’t get into details about that for obvious reasons but that was something I had to do because I come from a tough place where we don't have outlets or recreation centers.
They just built a $35 million jail but school started a month or two ago and there was no AC in the schools. No AC, man. That's what keeps me going more than anything. It's just having a platform and I'm an artist, I come from a place where you stand up and say what you got to say. Social media outlets create so much and I feel like that's what I need and that's what I need to do to keep going. Even when I have songs, tour dates, and interviews I always make time for the kids. We just did a back to school backpack giveaway. They set us up for failure, but me? Nah, this is Beats Not Bullets, we're going to set you up to win.
What’s the meaning behind the V.S.O.P title ?
All my people that like to take a sip they know, that's the top of the line top shelf liquor. For me, it means "Victory Shall Only Prosper." I've been dealing with a lot of hardships and a lot of ups and downs coming into this game. When I first got the title, I couldn't think of what I wanted to name it. V.S.O.P. came about and I sat with it for a while and I felt that something was going on with my personality or universe because I'm dealing with too much stress and too much weight on my shoulders, you know what I'm saying? I just relocated to Atlanta from Baltimore to chase my dream and I'm working so hard to get my family out of that and get my daughter right. This is it for me, victory shall only prosper.
You have Young Thug, TK Kravitz and MoneyBagg Yo on V.S.O.P. What did you take away from each artist you worked with on this album?
I'll start with Moneybagg Yo, because we have the record out called "Ride." Working with him it was just a fresh sound. I watched him come in the game and blossom. Just hearing a fresh sound that's edgy and the streets bang with him, it's dope. My city loves him and Yo Gotti, so I was like, "Let me get with this guy." He was cool. He came to the studio and we banged the song out. We shot the video the next day. I had to fly to Houston for J Prince Weekend. We were in the middle of the third ward in the trap. It was a great energy.
TK Kravitz, that's the homie. Our chemistry is great because I already knew what records to throw these artists on. Young Scooter is another homie. He's real cool and really say what he's about. That's authentic stuff you can't beat that. I live for authenticity, chemistry, and energy. All these people gave me that even though I'm a newcomer in the game. They could've just chopped me up like, "Let me get your bread and you get up out of here." I'm not saying these guys do it, but artists in the industry do it every day just to get a bag. These people don't work with everybody. They just don't jump in the booth with you because you've got a bag or you're cool, you have to really pay your dues, go in there and chop it up with them.
What was done differently on this project compared to your others?
I have a plethora of music, like 2,000 songs. We switched the songs up so many times because there was so much music. My manager Ron was telling me I need to own this moment, own my sound and stop being afraid to step into the light and [be] who I am. I feel like this is the one that'll give people a better understanding of who I am as an artist. It's on a larger scale. We've got a lot of great things flowing. We have a great relationship with Empire Distribution, so they're going to push the record and help us get to the next level.
I'm in a great situation and trying to stay positive as much as possible in the midst of all the things I'm going through personally, and what my homeboys and family going through. They're looking at me as the anchor and it's important to me. I feel like this will break the chain for my city. Nobody came from Baltimore and made noise or made any sound. I at least want to be front and center when it happens. I believe in myself and this project.
As you continue to progress in your career, is there a movie character or athlete that you could compare yourself to creatively?
I would compare myself to Antwone Fisher. You see how he went through all his stuff, the triumphs, the downfalls? He went through pain and it's parallel to my life. It shows even though I went through all this stuff, I struggled and went through pain. I'm still here. Nothing can stop me. I'm going to get it. I'm here. Antwone Fisher is where I'm at right now. I'm at the point where he went to his adopted mother's house and told her he's still standing and still winning. That was dope to me.