It was a weird turn of fate that we bumped into Damian Lillard. He was in the studio recording his voice for a commercial – and he had a funny habit of jokingly singing in the mic while he was waiting on the producer to pipe up again in his headphones. The chorus to a Marvin Gaye song, something way out of his register in a high falsetto voice, it was hard not to crack up at this as the engineer for the session. As we joked that he missed his calling as a back-up singer, it broached the topic of his hiphop aspirations.
Fast forward six months, and I got a text, and boom – 11 PM and Damian was now “Dame D.O.L.L.A.”, recording the first of dozens of songs we’d work on together over the next year or more. With Dame that night were his brilliant and loyal friends, V.I.P. and Bozzle, and together they finished one of his first public Soundcloud releases, “Free Bands”:
Dame, V.I.P. and Bozzle always seem to take the high road. Their bars weren’t the usual boasting, as fun as that can be. They were hitting societal and cultural issues while somehow completely avoiding profanity(?!) – seemingly just as a challenge to themselves to see if they could write without it!
Everyone took note. I was amazed, but also not surprised at all, at the rocket-fuel with which his rap career lifted off. Within 6 months he went from doing impromptu free-style appearances at venues to a packed-to-capacity show at the Crystal Ballroom on his birthday.
One of my favorites pieces we worked on was his ‘Isley’ track. Over a neo-soul beat that’s perfectly economical in it’s sound, Dame delivers a hilarious, amazing set of bars including references to ‘Saved By The Bell’ and ‘Snakes and Ladders’.
An awesome live performance of ‘Isley’ was captured, too.
Later, as social unrest about police brutality across America was reaching a boiling point, Dame released his song ‘Bigger Than Us’ which was a world-class production piece that both soared high and dug into the rawness of life on the ground at the same time. Although the final version of the song wasn’t recorded at REX, we were extensively involved in the life and growth of the song.
This set the stage for Dame’s first full album ‘The Letter “O”‘. Dame again recorded the final product in a “secret location” studio, but we were closely involved in the pre and post work on the album. Personally it was also a high moment of pride for Dame, as I know how much this work means to him, many of the songs touching on his love for his home, community, and especially his family – namely his grandmother. While I listened to the tear-jerking song “Thank You”, I remembered all the times he flew home to Oakland to work on the new house he was building for his Grandmother. Time and time again, this guy’s loyalty and heart were shown to be larger than life.
We look forward to any and all future work we do with Damian in the future. He remains a friend of the studio and myself. As the engineer who worked with him through his rapid rise in Hiphop, I’m very, very proud to have been a part of it.-Jamie Vance, Mixing Engineer