The Man Behind The Mixtapes…
At the beginning of the month, Donnie Propa dropped The Best of Lee Ramsay online through his various online outlets, this is the fifth in a series of mixtapes released since early 2010.
After just a few minutes listen to any of these mixes, it’s evident that Donnie Propa has a natural ability to recognize what works together. His track selection and timing are spot on and we’ve had his compilations playing on repeat here for months.
We got in touch with him a few months back to ask if he would perform for us, an invitation that he gratefully accepted. We thought it would be nice to ask him a few questions ahead of Aprils show and find out more about the man behind the mixtapes…..
Ok, this is what we know of you. You hail from Lincoln, your and your brother Ben, aka Habitat, form Undertone host regular nights in the area surrounding your home town. Over the past year you’ve dropped 5 mixes featuring arguably the best rappers the UK has to offer, we hear there are plenty more in the pipeline. What have you to say for yourself as an introduction?
Im Donnie Propa, from Lincoln, and DJ for Heavy Links. Im a vinyl junkie and make mixtapes for artists whose music im feeling and who are up for working together. I have started making beats too recently so when I feel I got some that are good enough, you can look forward to hearing them! I like to DJ wherever and whenever possible.
I also run monthly nights called Undertone alongside my bro, and a couple of mates, where we have on Hip Hop, Drum n Bass, Dubstep and Reggae acts.
Please tell us a bit about the nights you run? Who have you put on and what has the turn-out been like?
The main night we run is called Undertone and runs the 2nd Saturday of every month in Lincoln at a club called Scy. We have been doing Undertone at various venues for over 6 years now and have had on plenty of quality acts including Cappo, SonnyJim, Chrome + Ill Inspired, Benny Page, Fused Forces, Distance, Bass Clef, I-Mitri, Inkrument, DJ Severe + Fast T, Phaeleh, Kromestar, Netsky, Total Science, Benga, Scratch Perverts, DC Breaks and many many more. Our nights are all about the vibes, nice and dark inside with a heavy sound system. No egos or attitude.
What plans have you for future shows? When might the next one be?
The next Undertone night is a Drum n Bass night on March 12th with Commix headlining and support from Birminghams Central Projection Crew. Then in April we have got Original Sin as our main act.
As for my DJ sets my next ones are March 16th in Bradford supporting Drumsound + Bassline Smith, March 19th at Greatest Beats in Hull, March 25th Djing for Otee the Dirty Scoundral in London, 1st April in Lincoln, and of course 2nd April at Holding Court!
Then sometime in August im going over to Holland for a show or two which im looking forward too.
How did your first mixtape focusing on Nottingham’s Scorzayzee come about? He’d been quiet for a few years and this would have been the first all be it in-direct release many would have heard for quite a while?
Basically i’m well into UK Hip Hop and have got a pretty good collection on record. I was always massively into the Out Da Ville stuff and have got everything they have ever put out. So rather than all these records being sat in a room doing nothing I thought I should start doing mixes that no one else does. Being that Scorz is one of my favourite MCs I thought he was a pretty good place to start really! Plus with him just coming out of retirement and me having his full back catalogue, I thought a lot of people might not know his history so the mix would be a good place for them to catch up. So I did it one night, sent it over to Big Trev asking his opinion and does he mind it going out, the rest is history as they say!
How did the audience who downloaded it seem to respond? Did you receive much feedback? What is your relationship with Scorzayzee himself?
The feedback was amazing, better than I could of imagined. Im still getting peeps talking to me about it now and a lot of people saying they didnt know most the tracks or realise he had that much material, so the mixtape worked well for what I was aiming for. Plus the fact its all done straight off vinyl seems to impress people.
I dont actually know Scorz on a personal level, but im told he was feeling it. I recently opened up for him at a show in Notts ran by The Dealmaker Label, which was the best Hip Hop session iv been to in a long time, with Phi Life Cypher, Cappo and Inkrument all performing massive sets too. Big up Ste and Yassa for that one!
What is the compilation process you take? Working with such good artists must mean you have a hard task selecting the final tracklisting? How much do the rappers get involved in the decision?
It depends really. Because I know these artists work inside out I pretty much know which tracks I want to use, so like with the Scorz one its a case of going through a few ideas and seeing what goes well with what.
With Cappo he was happy for me to do what I thought then take it from there. I didnt want to use anything from his and Styly Cees Directors Commentary Mixtape so I worked out what went best where, then sent it over to him. He thought I nailed it so he recorded the Intro and we put it out there for free download. Its also available on CD and we did a limited run on Cassette.
Same with Lee Ramsay really. He was happy for me to do a mix and send him it then be open to any criticism or ideas from his end, which is all good for me as its only gonna make the mix better. It originally had some of his real old tracks on there but he wasn’t really into them so sent me a load of exclusives and let me choose which ones to use. Then we felt it could do with a host so asked Capps and he was straight on it.
Again with the Son Records mixtape. I met Alastair (label owner) at Cappos album launch night at Suspect Packages and we spoke about the idea after Chrome (Def Tex) had originally mentioned it. His idea was for me to do what I thought, then him say which bits he was feeling and which bits he wasn’t. So I recorded an original mix and sent it over, Alastair then gave feedback about shortening certain songs, using certain verses etc so I redid it with that in mind and he was happy with it.
As you’ve just mentioned, on the Lee Ramsay Compilation, Cappo, who is the artist featured in your fourth mix The Skillsman Mixtape introduces the mix, how did that come about?
Sure..As I said, me and Lee both felt it could do with a host, and as I had just done the mixtape with Cappo, and him and Lee going way back, we thought he would be ideal. I rang him one night and asked about it, he agreed so I sent him the mix, then a few days later it was done. A friend of mine by the name of Ruta designed The Skillsmen cover so we asked him about doing this one too, which he happily agreed too!
So..who else can we expect to get the Donnie Propa Mixtape treatment? What criteria do you look for?
Well the next one which is ready to drop is with SonnyJim – The Late Checkout Mixtape. After he killed it at our show in Lincoln we talked about the idea. He was impressed by the Scorz mix and the Cappo mix so sent me some tracks and basically let me do what I thought best. Then he recorded the Intro, made the cover and that will be dropping anytime now.
Me, my bro and a couple of mates make up Heavy Links. We got our second EP ready to record. We put the first one out a few weeks back, The Bombsite EP and got some good feedback. That one was a little taster, the next one is gonna be more focussed and is featuring a track with Cappo and Chrome which is dope.
Im also doing The Premo Takeover Mixtape. Basically a load of MCs from around here doing exclusives 16s over a load of DJ Premier beats that im gonna mix. I already got Heavy Links, Cappo, Lee Ramsay, Chrome, Ill Inspired, C-Mone, Otee, Franko Fraize, DPF, Yogi, Lady Paradox, Mista Smith, Apocraphe, Ill Citizen, Redbeard and many more that have said they would be up for doing a verse for it so big up all of them!
Are you a mixtape listener yourself? With the acceptation of one-off promotional cd’s, I can only think of one or two other people who put together mixtapes representing underground UK rap in the way that you do, yet mixtapes seem to be the choice of less established rappers in the U.S? What are your thoughts on this?
I like listening to mixes. I dont get why so many people drop these `mixtapes` that have no cuts or juggles or anything on them and its very rare that they are actually mixed. But thats all good for me as it makes mine sound different!
I really liked DJ MK - Bangers and Mash and Plus Ones Champion Sound Mix, as they featured some dope beat matching rather than just one track finish then drop the next one.
Also the Prose and DJ Matman Force of Habit Snippets was don.
How did you first get in to the Hip-Hop culture?
The first CD I ever bought was Wu Tang Forever when that first dropped, I was about 12 or 13 I think. Then I got Snoops Doggystyle and GZA – Liquid Swords later that week. Since then iv been hooked! I use to be well into West Coast Hip Hop when I was a youngun, MC Eiht and Kurupt were my favourite MCs! I didnt really get into UK stuff till 2003, when I was living in Australia randomly. Cappo – Spaz The World was the first UK album that I milked so its dope now that im working with him.
Which other musical genres interest you? You collect vinyl right?
I do yeah, I got a stupid amount but its never enough! Iv got a pretty big Hip Hop collection, I also got a fair bit of Reggae, Drum n Bass and Dubstep. Then some Funk, Soul and Jazz stuff too. Good music is good music so im open to whatever really. Commercial stuff isnt my bag, I have no interest in whats big on the Radio or anything like that.
Give us an example of your most recent purchases? Where do you shop? Is there anywhere local to you?
The last thing I got was the Metal Fingers – Special Herbs box set. 10 records of Doom instrumentals. I got a few ideas for things with that but we shall see if any of them workout.
There is only 1 record shop left in Lincoln called Back To Mono, which I also work in now and again. Its mainly old stuff but gets its fair share of Hip Hop. So the days when I work I just go through the crates looking for samples and at the end of my shift usually end up owing them money.
So you’re coming to Dj for us on April 2nd, what can people expect from your set?
I like to plan my sets for the night im at. It sounds stupid, but I think a lot of DJs just throw on what they want to hear and dont think about the vibe or crowd etc. I like my sets to flow, plus im my own worst critic so I like it all to be tight. Im not a Turntablist so I like to do real quick mixing to keep the heads nodding. Throw in as many heavy tunes as possible with a few juggles and that along the way.
Where can people keep up to date with your releases and listen to your mixtapes? Does downloading it cost the listener anything?
Everything we put out is free. The Heavy Links stuff is available from http://heavylinks.bandcamp.com/ and you can get my mixes from http://www.donprops.blogspot.com/ and http://donniepropa.bandcamp.com/ Any feedback is always appreciated.
Finally, any shout-outs?
Anyone who’s into the material we put out and everyone who comes to the nights and supports what were doing. Its all appreciated. Everyone we work with and meet along the way. Big up Bottomless Crates Radio Show, Disorda at Suspect Packages, Alastair at Son Records, Ruta for the artwork, Rack Attack, Capps, Chrome, Fused Forces, Eat Good Records, Chris at Headcount Records and everyone else….too many to mention. And big up yourselves for the Interview and the Show!