- 'GO HARD OR GO HOME': Or, do both, if you're Ferocious — a hip-hop producer who's chosen to keep shop in Little Rock even as his star rises on the Atlanta scene.
Hip-hop has a long history of bragging. Reppin' your status just comes with the territory. It's built into the culture. Few artists use humility as a source of pride, but that isn't the case for local producer Dondrae Vinson, who goes by the name "Ferocious." Vinson's taught hip-hop production workshops on U.S. Embassy-sponsored trips to Gambia, Mauritius and Seychelles, and after working with a "who's who" list of the top talent around the state and industry greats — the late Pimp C of U.G.K., Bishop Lamont, Grammy-nominated R&B singer Case and Slim of Atlanta R&B quartet 112: He's still proud to call Little Rock home. What follows is a Q&A with the producer:
I met you back when you worked with DatHeat. How'd that start?
One of my buddies brought a tape to school and let me hear some demo stuff Bware and Gsizz [Bware's brother] had put together. After high school, I played Sizz some beats and he was like, "Your shit's hot, man." So, he played me some stuff he had been working on and we clicked. Courtney [Nex Ray, also known as Next2C] had already worked with them. From there it became DatHeat. The first mixtape we did was the "Flame Flowas" in 2002.
Tell me about [your work with] Pimp C.
I did Xxzotic's "Go Hard or Go Home Vol. 2," and "Caught Up" was one of the songs we did with just her on it. Xxzotic [April Mills] was signed to NextPage at this point. There had been talk that they were gonna get Pimp C [to feature] on the song. We were both like "OK, whatever." Three or four weeks later, she called and said, "Yo, Pimp did the verse." He also did the video and there was a big video release [party with] radio promo at Power 92 [KIPR-FM, 92.3] They called him and asked how he came to get on the song. He said, "When I first heard the beat it was jammin', and I liked the song a lot, so that made me want to jump on it even more." That was a major moment — Pimp C is one of my favorite rappers/producers. Then they asked if he had any advice for young artists, and he said, "Do real music, it's all good to use programs, drum machines, but put some live bass in your stuff. Some organs. Make it organic." So to hear Pimp C say all that stuff was like a legendary moment in life. But at the station, they catch [the interview] and play it when they come back from commercial. He hangs up, and the dude says, "Aw, man, we lost it." Like he didn't capture the interview ... supposedly. So nobody ever heard any of that. We were so pissed. [But] I have that as memory, right hand to God, that's really what happened.
How did you transition to being hired as a songwriter?
We put a video on Facebook of me and Sizz working on a song in the studio. Isaac Hayes III (Ike Dirty) saw the video and sent me five instrumentals. I wrote two songs in a day and sent 'em back and he was like, "Man, come down to Atlanta." I go down there and I meet him and he wants to sign me to a deal with his publishing company. So I did that in 2009.
Explain what that means.
So a publishing deal is [you] sign under a company to write X amount of songs, for a period of time, and they work to shop those songs. I did everything on the back end because I didn't want to be in the hole — if your songs don't get placed, you'll never recoup and you'll be in debt. I just believe in the music that much. When it comes to business, I'm about ownership. I never did this to have any short-term money. I knew I wanted this to be a career. I'm also about building solid relationships. I like meeting and working with people I actually like, and to this day Dirty is still my guy.
And this was all related to work with Case on "Heaven's Door?"
Yeah, I did two songs at first, then we found out that one of those would be the single, the one he shot the video for. The third I did was the bonus song on the physical copy.
Why not to go to Houston or Atlanta?
I have always been a person who is anti- the popular thing to do. I don't want to do it because of that reason. Second, I love the city of Little Rock, man. I love the local scene, and I feel like I'd be doin' the city a service — working with homegrown talent and doin' other stuff, so they can have somebody that's within the industry. I feel like that's important.
What did you do on Big Piph's newest, "Celebrate?"
I executive produced it, meaning that he sat down with me [prior]. I was present at every session. I was there to oversee all his vocals — basically anything he needed to make the songs better, I accommodated where I could. I did produce one song called, "You Said."
How do you plan to move forward from here?
The way I have always thought about it is: I try to do as many different things as possible so at least two will break. Diversify. I do a lot of commercials and stuff — VH1 reality shows, the stuff you hear in the background. The goal is movie stuff, that's the big money.