J.R. Donato Talks About His 'Fast Money & Freedom' EP, and Chicago's Music Scene

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Taylor Gang's J.R. Donato is a man on a mission. He's not only trying to prove to the world that he is a talented artist, but also that there is more to Chicago than the "Drill" movement. His new EP with TGOD affliate Sledgren, Fast Money & Freedom, does just that.

HYPEFRESH's Jesse Lyles (@AKidNamedGeno) got the chance to speak to J.R. about the project, Chicago's music scene, and gave an exclusive on a possible Taylor Gang compilation album.

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Jesse Lyles: How does it feel to finally have Fast Money and Freedom available to the world?

J.R. Donato: It feels good! It's a project I really wanted to drop in the summer, but you know, timing is everything and I felt like I guess right now is the perfect timing for it. And I'm cool with dropping projects in the fall because that's actually something I want to make my thing. But yeah I'm geeked about it being out. I'm geeked about having a project with Sledgren. So, I just want to see all the like feedback and connections I make with the music and my fans.

JL: You mentioned Sledgren. The whole EP was produced by him, who is also one of my favorite producers. What was it like working with him for this project?

J.R.: It's pretty dope! Like, Sledgren he loaded me up with folders and shit when I needed it and when we did this like we knew we wanted to create a certain sound -- our own sound -- and I feel like we accomplished that. For the most part, he doesn't talk much. He just hands me the beat and then I just go from there. He's weird in his own way, but it was just dope overall because I got to record a lot of it in LA at the trap that we have with a studio setup and everything. It was pretty dope man working with Sledgren and always -- before I met him and everything -- wanted to actually just have a beat from him. So for me to actually have a whole EP with him now is pretty dope. And the creative process, for me is pretty much being stoned in Hollywood thinking about what I come from in Chicago and everything, and knowing that when I finish the EP I'm gonna head home for a little bit. So it was tight.

JL: Yeah, on "Mad at Me", Sledgren gave you the perfect beat to match with your laid back style and cadence. It's personally my favorite song on the EP.

J.R.: Thank-you man. It's actually one of my favorites because it's like...when you hear "Mad at Me" it can almost put you in the mind of a Kush & Orange Juice kind of feel.

JL: Yeah, I definitely got that vibe.

J.R.: So you feel me on that right? So I was just happy that like I can bring that kind of feel and that I ended up getting that track. But soon as I heard it actually, it was like weird how we made it because we were in LA on our way to the club, but we had set up a studio session before. So when we got there he didn't even want to record -- he was already stoned and almost wasted [laughs]. So he was just like fuck it, just do you. So I end up just going in there and just doing that, and it was kinda cool because I know no matter what, he's listening and observing what I'm doing and how I'm working. That whole, like just the way it came together, was pretty dope. I knocked it out and we went to the club. But yeah it's one of my favorite tracks too just because it got that slow vibe and it's something that you can smoke to.

JL: Definitely. So what is it that you wanted to prove with this EP that you might not have on your last project, North Pole?

J.R.: With this I just wanted to show people once again I can make good music but on my own. I feel like al ot of people look at North Pole like a tape that you would look at for the big names though I have a lot of features on it. With this I wanted to create my own sound with Sledgren, but with no type of help. Just make it all me. Give people more J.R. Donato and more of my story, what I come from.

JL: Before joining Taylor Gang, you were touring to high schools with Twista. What advice did he give you about the music industry and how to be the best artist you can be?

J.R.: For real for real, you know Twista always just told me he can hear the growth in my music. He likes what I'm doing and stuff like that but it was more like his manager -- who I was working with at the time -- he was just more telling me like how to go about things and figure out my direction and stuff like that. As far as where I was recording at the time, you know I come from recording in the basement. So they were on my ass about quality and stuff like that then, and just making good music with good quality that people can actually bare listening to and actually wanna listen to. He [Twista] didn't really tell me a lot of things but I learned a lot from just being around him.

JL: And since I mentioned Twista, who is a Chicago legend, and you're a rising star from Chicago, it's only right we talk about the city's music scene. How do you feel about its current state?

J.R.: I feel like Chicago, we've been doing good. I think we've been doing good for the last few years. A lot of the big artists that have been popping these last few years have been from either Atlanta or Chicago. And I feel like we've been doing good at just staying in the mix; and like, beyond the 'Drill' sound, we have a variety of people of different sounds coming out of Chicago. When you think of like me, Rockie Fresh, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, and you know everything that's outside of the 'Drill' movement. I feel like we got a lot to show for out here and we got a lot going on. We got a lot of good music coming out of Chicago. So with my project dropping now, I'm geeked that I get to step in and just keep playing my role and bringing more light to the city.

JL: Yeah, also you're from the North side of Chicago and most rappers from the North side are often overshadowed by those from the South side. So who are some North side artists who we should keep an eye on?

J.R.: I don't know if they consider my homie Big O, I mean he off 290, they might consider that kinda out west or whatever. But I feel like Big O is an artist that you can look out for. And I'm really like, to be honest, I can't really say too many artists that I fuck with from the North side because the way Chicago is set up -- unless you really meet someone at a venue or like get up with people -- it's not like a city where people just randomly show love or show that they fuck with you. If you're not really on top of it, you'll never see it. But I'm pretty sure there's a lot of good music coming out the North side.

But I feel like we're, as far as what we listen to, you might catch -- and this all throughout the city, people listen to all kind of music. But I just feel like on the Northwest side or the North side in general, we'll be the first to listen to like alternative rock or just give some different shit a try.

JL: So it's like a whole different culture compared to the South side, is that what you're saying?

J.R.: Somewhat, yeah. It's a whole 'nother sound for real. 'Cause the South side, I'mma keep it trill, it's more turnt, it's way more hood in the sense, that's what's going on out there, that's what they get most of the recognition on -- like the grimy shit. So they don't feel like it's nothing but back there and the people coming from there, they ain't go no choice but to tell their story and that's how they are -- they're more aggressive with the shit. Even some people say I am. But yeah it is kind of different, like you said with the cultures I guess.

JL: Now that FM&F is out, what's your next move?

J.R.: I wanna keep fuckin' up the Internet and I wanna work on putting a tour together. I got a couple situations I'm tryna get out the way and then I wanna work on a tour. With Wiz [Khalifa] being a big tour and -- not even Wiz, just the whole Taylor Gang -- I usually stay on the road, so I wanna make something happen with my own tour. Probably tour with another artist from Chicago or something.

JL: I'm surprised there hasn't been a Taylor Gang compilation mixtape, like how MMG has Self Made. I'm surprised that hasn't come out yet. Is that in the works?

J.R.: Oh definitely! I think we gonna have the hardest compilation album out...it's definitely in the works and we got some crazy shit we've been putting together and I think next year you'll probably hear more about it.