Activist, rapper, songwriter and podcast cohost works with Newark Pride
LGBTQ visibility has increased significantly during the past couple of years, and the societal push for inclusion and acceptance has skyrocketed. When it comes to his presence in the music industry, Derek Doll is creating his own lane. Doll originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, has called New Jersey his home for the past eight years. Although “Forever 25” is a part of his brand, this 33-year-old is wearing many hats, and he’s here to stay.
Doll is on the Executive Board of Newark Pride, he is a co-host on the Darren Green Show, a Web series moderator, and an established singer/rapper/songwriter. Doll also sang in the university choir. After graduating college, Doll then went to Los Angeles to work for Entertainment Tonight. He then decided to do his own radio show, The Darren Green Show, which is now a podcast, focused primarily on entertainment news and pop culture
How did you get into music? What was it about music that made you want to make this a career choice?
DD: I’ve always been a performer since I was three. I fell in love with music, thanks to artists like Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, and Prince. I think I was around 10 years old, I was in Atlanta, and that’s when I joined my first choir. At the time, our director saw something that I wasn’t looking for, and something that my mom and I didn’t even notice. From there, he started grooming me for recordings and performing, and before I knew it, I was singing and performing across Atlanta. So, in my fifth-grade year, I’d have school, and then directly after that, I’d have choir rehearsal and perform at events. I’d perform at talent shows and then record a few demos. This was back in the Myspace days where you recorded tracks, and the music was fun, but the quality was trash. It honestly was fun to me.
What made me want to put some time and thought into it, honestly, was when I met LL Cool J. I’m not really starstruck by people because they’re all supposed to be my co-workers. These are my peers, and I’m supposed to be comfortable around these people. I asked him, you know, “as a person who started off as a rapper, and then you went into acting and hosting all of these events and things, did you ever feel as if you had to choose just one?” He replied, “everything that’s inside of you, you are charged with bringing into the world.” It changed my life and I’ll always remember that moment.
I told him thank you. I hadn’t had someone who affirmed me that way. I started to host open mic nights in Shreveport and then I would sit back and listen. Have you ever sat back and listen to someone and then think, now I can do this if they can? That’s what happened. I linked up with Young Pros Entertainment and started working on my first EP Goldrush.
What was the move to New York and New Jersey like? Is it everything you expected it to be?
DD: I had received an invitation to come to New York through a friend who knew an A&R from Atlantic Records. I wasn’t that excited at first. Every time I had been to New York, it had rained, and I took that as a sign, like it’s rainy there and when it rains, I’m sleeping. It never occurred to me that I’d be here. I talked to my mom and she explained to me that opportunities like this don’t come by that often. So, I pursued it. I closed my business down and hosted an open mic night. We went as far as to selling buttons and everything and I’ve been here ever since.
So, you’ve been out here hustling and grinding?
DD: It wasn’t easy when I got here but I bought myself a red sleeping bag, one of the first things I did. And my friend was like, “you didn’t buy any snacks, you didn’t buy any clothes, why?” And I was like, “Madonna was eating out of trashcans before she got discovered. I have to be prepared for anything. If it comes to that, then I want to be prepared for it.” That’s why it means so much to me. When I went to LA, I was too young for that experience, because I was getting money fast, and I was spending money too fast.
What are your viewpoints on the LGBTQ representation in the entertainment industry and music? What are your thoughts on LGBTQ representation of color?
DD: I think when I was in LA around 2010, we didn’t really have open LGBTQ representation. But we did have Q representation. I’ll always say that being queer doesn’t always have anything to do with your sexuality. Being queer has to do with people who defy social norms. At times, it can be gimmicky, but even someone like Andre 3000, I consider his work Queer work because even though he’s heterosexual, he presented his work in such a way that you wouldn’t typically see a heterosexual man present.
There really were no out artists in the U.S. at that time. I look around now and I see artists like Lil Nas X and Tyler the Creator. It’s good to see it but of course we need more in different varieties. There have always been gay and lesbian entertainers; they just weren’t able to live in their truth.
Being Black, being male, and homosexual, I feel like I have the cards stacked against me at times. You have to work three times as hard to prove your worth, even in spaces that are supposed to be more accepting. It’s sad because an artist like Saucy Santana is working and doing the thing and continuously releasing music. Is that major deal going to come? Is a major company going to feel like he deserves that major deal worth millions of dollars or sell out buildings? Will they be able to take that risk on him?
And the same goes for Big Freedia. She’s been rapping for a very long time, and she couldn’t be on a bigger platform until now—it’s not marketed the same way Drake is marketed—with the billboard advertisements and stuff. We’re one of the highest consumer bases.
In your latest song, “Bang” you said, “I had to branch out to my own family tree just so you n***** would listen to me.” Were you talking about the industry?
DD: Whew, God. So, “Bang” wasn’t even supposed to be out. It wasn’t supposed to be a single or anything. It was more of an exercise for me to get back into writing and sharing things that I had been feeling, and a little of my background. I had to leave behind everything literally: I had to be willing to let go of everything for people to hear me and take me seriously. I come from a family of influence, and my last name carries some weight back home, so I’ve always been different and had to bear a standard. But when it came to music and entertainment, this is my space, and I had to be willing to do what I had to do for myself. I had to be ready to let go of everything that I knew. I had to detach from my family stuff and thinking about what they would think about me.
It ended up being a single because I performed it at the New York Arts Festival in October. My EP doesn’t come out until the spring.
What are your thoughts on LGBTQ people of color being at the forefront of social justice movements this past year but yet some still come home to urban areas and even face some sort of discrimination in their own backyards?
DD: I also say we have this fighting spirit in us because we literally have to fight for everything. And when it comes to being Black, we know that’s something that can’t change. When people are fighting a systemic change, they know that they need people who will fight. When I think about Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, or when something happens to unarmed [Black men], I think this could’ve been me. This could’ve been my brother. How can I use my voice to bring my awareness to this?
“We don’t fight each other. We fight for each other.”
That also comes from graduating from an HBCU (Historic Black Colleges and Universities) and being emerged in our culture. We understand the power that’s in us. When it comes to fighting for things and justices related to my own queerness or discrimination related to my sexuality, I find it interesting that the same brothers that I’m fighting for don’t find it necessary to show up and fight for me. If we’re going to be a part of a Black Lives Matter movement, you can’t tell me that we have to link arms every time a Black man dies, but then again, when it comes to a Trans person of color, who we know are getting murdered at alarming rates, that isn’t the case.
I come from a large family and the saying there is, “we don’t fight each other. We fight for each other.” I had to really get out of a space where it angered me as much. At the end of the day, we’re all human and I was hoping you could fight for my humanity because I’m fighting for yours. No matter if you’re Black, white, gay, straight, at the minimum, we’re all human.
What more can we expect from Derek Doll?
DD: I have my EP coming out in the spring. I want it to be out early, at least before the summer. But until then, I’ll be releasing some songs and buzz tracks. You can find my music on Apple Music, Google Play, Spotify, and I’ll even be releasing some music on Instagram and SoundCloud, as well. Outside of music, I have this series that I started called Q For You. I play all of these characters and I decided to take my Memojis and turned it into an animated series. This quarantine has turned into a nuisance. I was thinking, ‘how can I get all of this creativity out of me and into the world?’. I can’t wait to present some new things in 2021.
What would you like to say to the little Derek Doll’s out there or for those that are still coming into their own?1
DD: When I first recorded my music, I used to say that I was recording it for my six-year-old version of myself who thought that I would forever be trapped in Shreveport. And me being different is something that would hold me back from greatness. If I could say something to a little kid right now, I’d say everything you need is inside you. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have family that would breathe life inside of you. I’ve been in that space before. There were times when I didn’t feel that I deserved to be alive. So, it is required of you to give all that you have inside of you to those people out there. You can do it, and it is your life’s mission. Because if you don’t do it, who else will?