After serving almost a decade in prison, Alpoko Don came home to Greenville, South Carolina in May of 2012 and started banging on his porch with a pen and rapping to it. He uploaded the videos to Youtube under the name Dondada and they quickly racked up millions of views. If you love drumming your fists on any surface you can find to Clipse’s “Grindin” or the lunchroom rap style on “IHOP” by Kevin Gates, Alpoko Don is for you.
After the porch freestyles, he dropped Plugged In, a mixtape that drastically departed from the sound that put him on and ended up disappointing many core fans. Then, in February, he quietly dropped his first official release, The Ol’ Soul EP, on Spotify and iTunes. Despite being covered by Pitchfork, the project garnered too little overall attention.
How long have you been rapping?
I’ve been rapping all my life, it seems like. I had done time in prison…I never really wanted to be a rapper. I never said I was gonna be a rapper. I did eight years in prison for some assault charges and stuff, got out and my homeboy was just recording me and he started putting it up on Youtube. I did eight years and two months later people knew me.
Who was filming you doing those original porch freestyles?
It was my cousin. We weren’t even really trying to get no exposure, he was just like, “Man, we gonna put this on Youtube.” Just fucking around.
You remind a lot of people of Scarface. Who are some of your favorite rappers?
You know, Scarface has been a big, big inspiration. I actually got a song with Scarface, it’s gonna be coming out on my next album which is gonna be here around first quarter next year. UGK, Top Authority and 5th Ward Boyz.
What made you do the Plugged In mixtape with more traditional sounding beats?
Man…it wasn’t a mixtape. It was really just me [laughs]. It was really just for me. I didn’t put that out, I wasn’t trying to put it out. It got out.
How did it get out?
I guess I met somebody…I mean I had a couple samples of it. You know when you let somebody hear something and that thing goes viral like the Youtube videos, you know what I’m saying? I knew my beats and stuff wasn’t all the way intact and you know how that is. I’m fresh out of prison and just trying to get something heard. I didn’t even mean for that to get out, and the world ended up getting a hold of it.
How did you spend a normal day in prison?
Eating and rappin’, rappin’ and eating [laughs]. I love to write, you feel me? When I came to prison, I had like 617 songs. That’s all I did. It kept me out of trouble. That was my gospel. And I am a gospel dude, I fear God like no other. I just like to keep it real and that was my tool for prison.
Did you have ciphers with other inmates?
Yeah we did it all. I rapped with other people, had songs with my cellmates and other people. I was trying to sharpen myself up, I never said I was gonna get out and do something with it. I didn’t care if I got out and didn’t do anything with it. It was just so easy. Rapping is so easy.
Are you the only voice on the Ol’ Soul EP? There’s some singing on there.
Yeah, I’m the whole thing.
Are you going to continue with that porch freestyle aesthetic?
I’m gonna give it to them all the way around the board. I’m gonna give ‘em action with the pen and action with the music. The world really asked for that acapella like that. When I do concerts, man….they go crazy about that raw.
I know you’ve performed in New York City before. Any chance you’ll be doing another show here soon?
Those are some of my biggest fans in New York, I’d love to do that. I just came off tour in France. When I say these people can’t even speak English, but they know Alpoko Don! When I went up there, there were big billboards with my face on ‘em. I kinda got emotional, I ain’t lyin’ man, I ain’t no soft dude but you know what I’m sayin?
How did the song with Scarface come about?
I got tired of everyone saying I sound like Scarface. So Scarface has always been an inspiration for me, and since we sound alike, I reached out to him. Once he found out who I was, it was a go. He was like, “Oh yeah I know you! You were the man beating on the porch! Let’s do it.” He even dropped the price down.
Tell me how you actually captured the sound of beating on the porch in the studio.
We go to the studio and I’m looking for something to beat on. I’m hitting everything. My manager said, “Look, we gotta go to Home Depot and get us some wood.” [laughs] We ride to Home Depot, find the board, come back to the studio, set the mics up and I’m beating on the wood during the whole album. I did the [Ol’ Soul EP] in about nine hours, seven hours.
Alpoko’s Manager: Let me add, I’ve seen this guy do like 30 songs in the studio and pull out a piece of paper and write two lines one time. Other than that, I’ve never seen him look at no paper when he was rapping.
Yeah everything on tap. They call me one take Jake, I don’t even mess up in the studio. I like to kick it in the studio, but I get my work done first.
Are there other artists you’d like to work with right now?
Shirley Caesar. She’s a gospel singer. I’d love to do another track with Scarface. 2 Chainz, Future. I want to do a track with everybody. I don’t even think there’s a wack rapper out there, because if they take the time to write their music, it’s coming from the heart. Everybody in their own lane. Whoever I’m on a track with, it’s gonna be good anyway.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up in the house?
Sam Cooke. That’s my favorite singer in the whole world. I don’t even listen to rap. I don’t like rap, period. But I like BB King, Percy Sledge. That’s my era right there. Mahalia Jackson, people like that. I got an old soul, man [laughs]
Do you want your music to have a certain impact?
I just want the world to understand that it’s still somebody out here giving music straight from the heart. Like now, you hear music and it’s all about poppin’ your butt, poppin’ ya ass and jumpin’ around in the club, you know how it is. I don’t feel like that’s music straight from the heart. They just get in their studios…it’s really the beats. A lot of these beats are making people, man. So I just give it everything I got. Everytime I do music, it’s sweat over my brow. I’m really going for it. Even the name of my next album is Straight From The Heart.
How was it coming home from prison? Was it a tough transition or did you jump right back into rap.
When I came home, I was looking for a job. I was trying to get myself together, have myself a little family and whatever. Like I said, I never wanted to be a rapper. The world made me a rapper. They D-Bo’d me! [laughs] I knew I could rap and I was always better than my homeboys when I did rap.
When I was in prison, you got so many rappers with talent in there and they’d move around from yard to yard, and I’d be the best in every yard. My man told me, “Man, if you ever get out and somebody hear you, you gone.” I got out, put a video on Youtube, it went viral, somebody got my video and put it on WorldStar and it got a million views in 19 hours. That’s when everybody started calling: Pharrell, Timbaland. Everybody.
What were Pharrel and Timbo calling you for?
I mean, they was trying to pull me in. But we just didn’t agree on it.
I mean…it’s a lot going on with that. I really keep it to myself. Put it like this: if you call me, you called me for being Don Dada, not for being nobody else, put it like that. So I’m not gonna get in in the studio and start rapping like somebody else.
Yeah, that would kind of defeat the purpose.
Okay, I’m gonna leave it right there. But I love Timbaland, I love Pharrell. They’re some great artists and I’d love to work with them anytime.
Where do you get some of your inspiration for the vivid details in your raps?
I couldn’t tell you, man. I just go in there and do me, man. You got people that end up, like they get to rapping and they get a little better, or they might get worse. But it’s different when the rap game’s on you than when it’s in you. Then you’re born with it, and I feel like I was born with it. I always had a tune in my head since I was a boy. And I don’t listen to rap, so I don’t get my ideas from anybody.
By the way you rap, it sounds like you read a ton of books.
Yeah, all I do is watch cartoons and read Western books. Louis L’Amour.
So what’s next?
We’re about to start recording for the next album real soon. It’s gonna be ready by first quarter of 2014 and I’m gonna mix up my sound a little bit. I’ve been working with [producers like] Lil’ Lody, Cory Mo, Mjeezy, Six Figga Digga, he’s the one that worked with Jay-Z on Blueprint. Cory Mo did Scarface and UGK music. Lil’ Lody worked with Yo Gotti and a lotta people. Mjeezy he worked with Wayne. I love Lil’ Wayne man, he’s a tough guy.
We’re also dropping an EP on Christmas day. Live From Youtube EP. And that Scarface song will be out first quarter next year. Look for it.