In Talks With Country Dons: “We haven’t followed one genre on the mixtape”
10 Mar 2022
Few upcoming artists within the UK rap hemisphere have as strong and unique an identity as Country Dons. Faces masked, their clandestine guise acts as the perfect counterpart for their full frontal musical approach, as they take no prisoners on their quest for UK rap domination.
Since bursting onto the scene with their now classical debut single, ‘Sticky Situations’, the Dons have gone from strength to strength, consistently racking up towering numbers with each single release, whilst showcases a strikingly individualistic style. Their most recent single ‘Family’ epitomises their raw and gritty sound, as well as illustrating the bond that seemingly untouchable trio uphold. We’ve seen them switch it up, with the influence of wave and drill creeping into their real rap/trap approach, and we’ve been promised more on their upcoming, highly anticipated, debut mixtape that is set to drop in the spring.
Mixtape Madness had the opportunity to sit down with one of the three Dons, Maroc, via Zoom for an in depth discussion about their come up, their influences, the upcoming mixtape and beyond.
Who influences you as a group?
We grew up listening to Nines, the Ice City lot, Blade Brown. The trap genre influenced us in music.
How did you form as a group?
We’ve known each other as mates for years. Rokky was doing music before Country Dons, he had 2 singles out and then we collectively came together as a group. Rokky was obviously touching on the music, but me and Blaze never intended to. I enjoyed music, loved it, but I never intended to jump in the booth. We’d go to studio sessions with Rokky a lot, play around and write bars. ‘Sticky Situations’ got made and we sat on it for 6/7 months and we were never going to drop it. We showed it around the local area to people we know, and they said it was different and that we might as well test the waters. We dropped it and here we are 15 million views later.
The reaction to it must have been a madness for you!
Yeah it was crazy. Funnily enough I was in Thailand. I remember sitting there and getting a phone call, like two days after release because of the time difference, and I wasn’t really expecting much from it. The mandem called me and said we’ve hit a million views and it felt abnormal. It’s good though, it definitely drove us to think we can do this and helped us take it more seriously. We always used to sit there and talk about Fredo, how he came out with the one track and just popped off. I swear to God, we used to say imagine that happens with us, and it kind of did.
When was the moment you first thought you could make a career out of rapping?
Once we established ourselves as independent, setting up distribution and networking ourselves, we started to understand the business structure. When people started breaking down the figures of what you can actually get paid, then we began to think that we could actually make a career and a business out of it. It was definitely the business aspect that made us serious about it.
Were you expecting such a good reaction?
I’ll be real, I thought we’d get more of a ‘what the hell is going on’ reaction. I think it’s the whole countryside aspect of it, but if you look at the video you’d think it’s a group from London. We thought we’d get a mixed reaction, but to be fair the reactions we did get were really good, with people saying to us that it’s a breath of fresh air. At the beginning, a lot of people were calling us ‘one hit wonders’, but that quickly changed.
I love the way you structure your tracks, there is always a killer hook!
Lucky we’ve got Rokky to be honest. One thing that we felt was important was to keep it versatile because one thing I noticed as a fan of music is that a lot of artists release stuff that sounds the same all the time, and the numbers start to drop off. With three of us as well we knew we could make it versatile because everyone sounds different.
Is the tape quite versatile?
Yeah, we haven’t followed one genre on the mixtape, we’ve thrown a few songs in there that sound completely different. I think it’s important for us to show people that we can do drill, we can do trap, we can do autotune/wave. Even look at ‘Pull Up’ with Charlie Sloth, it’s a bit of a club song but when we jump on it, it sounded right.
Is it usually hook first when you are writing a track?
Not necessarily. Everyone has got a different way of writing, Rokky tends to come to the studio with a chorus ready for the beat. When Rokky slaps a hard chorus down, it motivates us to come with hard verses. Most of the time, we prewrite verses unless we are doing features. A lot of the time we write away from the studio then come together to make the track. When it comes to releases, if a song doesn’t sound good enough to us, then we will park it. When we were writing, we ended up making like 20 songs, and thought about whether they were good enough to drop as singles. If the answer was yes, then we’d add it to the mixtape. When you come in the game with a tape after having gotten so many views, there’s a maintenance you’ve got to follow. It doesn’t always work well for artists and it is pressurised. It’s hard to maintain the level of what the fans want.
How did you make sure you maintained that level?
We’d listen to a song 10 times and if we could listen to it without getting pissed off, it’s good to run. We try to put ourselves in the fan’s shoes and analyse a lot of things to make sure it’s the music that people want to hear. Most music these days runs on algorithms so you’ve got to approach it like that. When we made ‘Ramsay’ we knew it was a hit.
Why have you chosen to hide your identities?
For me personally, unless someone is going to offer me 10 million on a record label, it’s not going to change. Don’t get me wrong, we get noticed because of the CD jewellery, and it’s not awkward, I like getting noticed. But only if it’s with music. My personal life is my personal life. When I go for a meal with my missus, that’s my private space.
It’s also the whole mystery behind it. I always sat there when a rapper came with a balaclava or whatever and wondered what they looked like. It keeps you listening if you don’t know who it really is.
Within most groups, there tends to be a leader. Would you say that all three of you are equal, in terms of decision making and creativity?
100%, we are all very equal. We run on a ratio to make life simple, so if it’s two against one then it’s two against one. There’s no allegiances so it’s whatever is best for the group. We are all quite diplomatic, so if someone is really not happy with something and it’s not working well, we won’t run with it. We want to keep the energy in the group, we don’t want any little fallouts destroying what we’ve built. From the beginning we made that important, and the fact that we were all good friends before music makes it easier to be clear and straight with each other.
What do you tend to look for in a beat?
Believe it or not, we use YouTube beats. We’ve never even had a session with a producer, but we are looking to start doing that now with the album after the mixtape. Nowadays it’s ‘Country Dons type beat’, ‘Fredo type beat’, ‘Blade Brown type beat’ etc. With that being said, after we find the beats, we tend to quickly build a relationship with the producers. If we can write on one of their beats then we know they can make similar vibes that would suit us, so maintaining a relationship is important. I think producers don’t get as much recognition as they deserve, that’s why when we drop stuff we always credit them and make sure they get paid. At the end of the day, without them, what have we got to work on?
What about directors for videos?
We’ve usually worked with PacMan. We’ve done a couple of videos without him, and if you compare the views, when PacMan directed, they tend to be bigger. I think people know that Country Dons and PacMan go together as a package, people know what the vision is going to be like. We don’t see the point in changing something that is working. Apart from ‘Pull Up’ and ‘Top of the League’, he’s shot everything we’ve dropped. Big up PacMan, he’s a legend in the scene. One thing I’ve always wanted to do is bring two directors in for one video. Everyone seems to think it would be a difficult thing but I don’t think it would. Imagine getting two directors in, getting loads of footage and getting down and editing together, I think that would be sick.
How much creative direction do you have in the visuals?
Quite a lot. Locations are sourced by us, we style ourselves. PacMan knows what we want, but if for certain videos there are certain things that we want, then we’ll tell him and he’ll do his best around that.
You’ve touched on the drill scene, what is your impression of where the UK drill scene is heading?
I think it’s done massive things for the UK scene. Especially some of the bigger drill artists like Headie One who have put the scene on the map and given the opportunity for the other drill artists to make their name. I think drill is punished a lot because of certain lyrics that are put in it compared to other genres and I don’t think it’s fair. Music is a way out for some people so by all means let them do it.
How do you feel that Country Dons stand out from the rest of the UK rap scene?
I think the whole ‘Country’ thing has helped us as it’s a niche that no one else is really part of. For us, it’s about selecting the right music. I know this sounds a bit mad, but if we see a lot of people dropping hype music in the scene, we will actually do the opposite, because if there’s too much of something, we think it’s good to break it up with something else. There’s no real theory behind it, it’s just keeping consistent with it and dropping the right things at the right time. When we first started, we were wary of dropping too much, so we’d release once then wait three months to build up hype around each drop.
From the beats to the delivery, your musical approach is quite intense and aggressive. Why do you choose to create this way?
It’s just how we are as musicians. It is aggression but it’s also energy. For me personally when I rap, if I’m emphasising something I want to do so in a way that you can feel what I’m telling you. Rokky really gets in the zone when he’s in the booth. He’s there because he wants to get something off his chest. The beats too, if they are aggressive we’ve got to rise to whatever we are working with.
Who would you love to collaborate with?
We’d love to do something with Fredo obviously. Meekz Manny is sick. That type of genre is what we are about. I’d rather do a feature with someone that all three of us listen to and that we can relate to. It’s not about the clout and the numbers, it’s about the artistry. When we first started releasing, we had loads of artists who wanted to collab with us, but we had to be very careful with who we worked with, because we wanted to establish ourselves first rather than make it big because of doing a track with someone else.
What are you trying to convey with the upcoming mixtape?
It’s letting people know where we are from. It’s coming back to the roots of the countryside. With a few videos we’ve done recently, we shot them in London, but this is about bringing it back to where we come from, with the country roots shining through.
How does it feel to be finally releasing a body of work?
It’s a stress off of our shoulders! We wanted to drop it earlier than this, but we got into the routine of dropping singles and getting good numbers. Now we want to establish ourselves more as artists within the industry. Before, it was very much that we were independent and did what we wanted to do. Now it’s about reaching out to a wider audience. We did it for the fans mostly, but also for ourselves to start growing bigger as artists. Once this is done, it’s a stepping stone to get the album out which we want to chart with.
Have you thought about when you will drop the album?
Yeah, it’ll be the end of this year or very early next year.