We got the chance to chat with Donovan Livingston, aka D.LIV(E), an aspiring musician from NC, UNC graduate, and personal friend to Fresh From Birth. He had a successful career at UNC, both rapping and in spoken word, winning the Step Show as well as opening for Lupe Fiasco…If you haven’t had a chance to check out his stuff, then you are missing out on some seriously good home-grown music!! Dude is already getting mad love on his ReverbNation page, so peep it before you hear about it on the radio.
Donovan’s interview was indicative of his music and character: witty, insightful, goofy, and above all else, honest. Fresh From Birth loves artists who stay true to their roots, and no one stays truer than D.LIV(E).
What first drew you to music?
The edge of it all was so enticing! I wasn’t always allowed to listen to rap, in particular; but the way it all came together was beautiful. I was being babysat one afternoon in the summer of ’95…mom and pop were at work; I was 8 years old. The lady who was taking care of me had an older son, and at the time, he was watching VH1. This predates, reality TV, mind you; back when all they used to air were music videos! Anyway, Nas and Lauryn Hill, “If I Ruled the World” came on, and from that moment, I was hooked. I couldn’t turn away. It was hip, relevant, and even at 8, I knew that this was something I could relate to. “If I ruled the world…Imagine that”, who can’t relate to that feeling of pure freedom? Hip-hop provided me that avenue; it would just be awhile before I could get my parents to feel the same lol.
Speaking about influences, how much did UNC influence your personal and musical growth?
I believe the institutions (not just schools, but cities, organizations, groups of friends, etc) in which we find ourselves, influence our perception of humanity. These institutions shape our worldview, and ultimately influence how we live our lives. For me, UNC was a bastion of inspiration, and personal development. Much of my new project, is a reflection of my undergraduate and post graduate experience. Simply put, “College brought out the best and worst in me/Life’s a University, but the inTUITION was free” (track 3, “Undergrad”)…UNC taught me to be introspective, critical, and inquisitive; not just of the world around me, but myself as well. I’m a product of the people I’ve worked with as well. And I had the tremendous pleasure of working with some extremely talented individuals during my tenure; many of whom I still rock with today (shouts to The Administration!…Admin UP!)
What about after UNC? How was the transition from NC to NY?
Transition??? I feel like I’m at home wherever I go!!! I moved here in August of 2010, finished my masters in Higher Education Administration at Columbia in May; and now I’m working as a college counselor at a high school in the South Bronx! I love my job, and I love New York; but my heart beats for NC…beleeeeeeeeeeeeeeee’dat (believe that lol)!!!
Besides yourself, what new artist is on your radar to do big things in the near future?
J.Cole is a force to be reckoned with! Although it’s taken a lot longer than expected, his album is slated to drop late this month; September 27th, if I’m not mistaken. He’s the first cat from my hometown of Fayetteville (FAYETTE’NAM), to really get on! So I’m a Cole fan…he’s so deliberate in his message; it’s honest, and that’s something I appreciate in music…and life! Aside from Cole, I’m really excited about the release of Phonte’s debut solo album; which actually drops the same day! By no means is Phonte a new artist though. Formerly of Little Brother, the mastermind behind The Foreign Exchange, Phonte has been putting in soulfully solid work for well over a decade! In a way, Phonte poses a double threat, as a singer and emcee…but I just remember vibing to albums like, “The Minstrel Show (2005)”, “Get Back (2007)”, and a host of mixtapes…being blown away…and left scratching my head, like “yall don’t see that this man is a genius?!?!” And he’s from ‘round the way too?!?! So needless to say, my rap radar is honed in on NC…it’s about time the game paid attention to what we NC emcees have to say.
How long do you spend in the studio for a particular track?
Depends…when I’ve had time to go over the song, prior to stepping in the booth, the actual recording takes minutes. I’ll do a couple takes, decide which ones to keep, which one’s to scrap, ad-lib for emphasis, hook and I’m done. Mixing is the hard part! I’ve been blessed to work with a dope DJ who’s been doing his thing in the Bull City since the 80s. DJ Skaz Digga, is a beast…he has a true ear for music, and works tirelessly to maximize my product’s potential. When I book my sessions, I try to finish at least 2 songs, mix included in a 2-3 hour frame. However, there are nights I go in, and just create…which, in a way, is even more liberating…not as efficient, lol, but it’s organic…and that’s what matters.
How do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
“I wake up everyday; that’s all the inspiration any of us ever really need.”
Who is your biggest idol in music? in life?
POPS!!! The Rev. Dr. Harold Livingston…he’s THAT dude. I’m not influenced by musicians per se…instead, it’s the people I surround myself with, that inspire me to do great things. With that said, my dad is whom I’ve dedicated this mixtape to. My dad, pastor and principal, is one cool dude. I see more of him in myself with each passing day. Everything from my walk, to the way I tell my jokes, is a manifestation of his influence. He’s no emcee, but he did teach me to never run from my emotions. Sometimes, feelings are the only thing we have ownership over, and to ignore them would be an injustice to our inner-selves. He taught me the value of honesty, leadership, and so much more. I dedicated “Verbatim” to him, because he encouraged me to broaden my scope by being real with myself, and the people who listen to my music. Thanks Pop!
What are you listening to right now?
“Regurgitation” –Orrin Carter…download his debut solo album, “The 6th Day” on www.orrincarter.com (ADMIN’ UP!) …if you don’t support the underground, the foundation will crumble.
Outside of hip-hop, what do you listen to?
Gospel and R&B; rhythm and blues is definitely my favorite genre. I’m more of the ol’school 60s/70s kinda dude though. This new stuff is alright; but there’s nothing like that nice groove, you can two-step to! I’m a big jazz fan too…Coltrane, and the Duke (Harlem stand up!!!), are some of my favorites. I love how the genre is driven by improvisation; it’s an instrumental cipher…a freestyle of sorts, conveyed through raw emotion, and extreme complexity. Jazz evokes a feeling you can’t from too many other styles of music. I’m slowly falling in love with folk and bluegrass too; I’ve jammed with bluegrassers before, and I really appreciate how everything is centered around this idea of serenity through sound; it’s so laid back – a direct counterpart to jazz…a smooth, down-home alternative. I like that.
Favorite venue you’ve performed in?
Before last year, I would have said Memorial Hall; there was a sold out crowd when I opened for Lupe. I always felt at home on that stage. I hosted multiple shows there, won the homecoming stepshow (Phi Beta Sigma, 3-time defending champs!!! BLU-PHI!!!), and really came into my own in front of all those people. But I’ve never been more nervous, and more humbled than performing at the Nuyorican Poets Café in lower Manhattan. It’s by far the most intimidating venues you’ll ever see. Imagine, a tiny night club, standing room only…a mic stand, sits atop a stage that maybe raises a foot off the ground. You, the performer is standing on this 5ft by 5ft island, frozen in a moment, paralyzed by a blinding spotlight. You can’t see what’s in front of you, but you can feel the people stabbing you with their eyes, imploring you to bleed your soul. Dramatic…maybe…but that’s how you feel when you’re up there. I won a few poetry slams there this year…and I’m anxious to go back. That rush is a high I’m weak to cease chasing.
Do you ever get nervous before a performance?
YES!!! But it manifests itself in different ways. I won’t speak to anyone for an hour before a show, or maybe I’ll forget my lyrics just as the host introduces me/says my name…it’s funny, because it may not seem like I’m freaking out, but in my mind I’m like: “(O_o)!@%^#*$&#^*(^$(#*+_#%@^” …translation – “why do I insist on torturing my psyche”…lol But once I start speaking, it all just feels SO right!
Where do you see yourself musically in the next 5 years?
You had to ask me this didn’t you!? Lol Um, that’s a tough call. I believe one achieves ultimate success through balance. It’s very easy to become oversaturated and bogged down by the rigors of life. Music has been my escape since I was 8 years old. Whether I was listening and internalizing, or bringing it to life for myself, music and poetry will forever be a part of what gives my life symmetry. However, I am equally passionate about education, and reform in this country. I fight for my students every day; and I’m in the business of making their dreams come true. I’ve done some dope things thus far; but none are more important than helping them get to where they want to be and exceed their own expectations. I’d love to be a famous rapper/poet/actor/host the Oscars/win a couple grammys/pay back my student loans with the money from this record deal (I don’t have lol)…but I was put on this earth for much more than that. Academically, in the next 5 years, I hope to have completed my doctorate in either Education Leadership, or Policy and Administration…but you needn’t worry; I’ll still be LIV(E)…just something along the lines of D. LIV(E)ingston, PhD.
What makes your music Fresh?
Honesty. Not being afraid to make yourself vulnerable will set you apart in this day in age where rappers feel like they have so much to prove.
When you were younger – what was your favorite show?
Martin! (Don’t tell my momma tho…I wasn’t allowed to watch that either)
Favorite video game of all time?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2
Jordan vs. Bird (google it…that ish was LIV(E)…no pun intended)
NINTENDO or SEGA?
Got my first Nintendo in ’90…however, I’ve been known to get nice on the Genesis from time to time!
What’s your Kryptonite?
Women…refer to “Mr. Right Now”
What do you miss most about home when you’ve been gone for a while?
The kitchen!!! I love to cook for my mom and dad!!!
Finish this sentence, I would never leave home without…
MY PHONE!!! I may as well have it surgically inserted in my palm.
Last clothing item purchased?
I just bought two new suits for the first day of school…I won Best Dressed Faculty Member at the prom two years ago…It’s time I reclaim my title, and start earrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrly!!!
Lebron or Kobe?
JJ Reddick!!! Lol
But really though, I vehemently root against all of the aforementioned gentlemen…nothing personal, just a Celtics fan.
Long live Michael Jeffery Jordan (’85-’93, ’95-’98 though…as far as I’m concerned, the whole baseball/Washington Wizards thing, never happened)
Thanks again to D.LIV(E) for taking the time to interview with us, and be on the lookout for D.LIV(E) to be rockin’ some new FFB swag at future shows 😉