While rap lyrics can often communicate braggadocio and alpha status, rhythm-based music has enormous potential for telling and emotive sentiments. This is especially apparent in the songwriting of Calvin McHoward, a.k.a. Dontez, who’s Soulful R&B counterbalances his harsher side with moments of heartfelt honesty.
Dontez was introduced to rap by his cousin around age 12. “We formed a group, started performing local shows, and over the years learned the ins and outs of music,” he says. “Now, I write, rap, produce, engineer, edit, create graphics, direct and edit music video, and oversee the copyrights and publishing.” Along with his production team GroundXero Entertainment, Dontez writes and works with regional artists like Young Vokals and Precision Grooves. The song “He Ain’t Me” has received some radio play.
The singer’s influences range from hip hop icons Jay-Z, Mos Def, and Goodie Mob to soul singers Jill Scott and Maxwell, and classic rockers Aerosmith. He has lately turned his ear to alt rock, favoring artists like Stone Temple Pilots. Dontez has fused his influences into a blend of hip hop, soul, and R&B. He recently released his first album, Falling Up.
Although tracks like “Free” begin with genre-typical bravado, lyrics can reveal the singer’s flipside, remorse and pain at the end of a relationship. “I have learned that for a lot of male artists in the hip-hop industry, vulnerability is something that isn’t really discussed,” says Dontez. “I speak from experiences and I try to relay the message that love and relationships are just as hard for men as they are for women.”
“All of Me,” produced by Neal_hd, looks back at a difficult a relationship. “I was with a woman for about three years and I just felt like I gave my all, but I didn’t get the same in return,” says Dontez. “I felt like I was being pressured into being someone I wasn’t. It’s a song about being vulnerable and giving 100% of yourself with no promise of the outcome, which is what love is. Love is a gamble with no guarantee on a return.”
This lyrical approach lends itself to the slower R&B songs like “In Return” and the ambient “If I Wasn’t.” Falling Up is by no means a book of lamentations, though. “Hands” embodies club scene machismo and “Saving It” doesn’t hesitate to whip out the autotune. Dontez does include a welcome dose of funk in his composition, like the Lamont Dozier inspired “Quite Like You.” In these cases, he may pick up on a sound, sample, or idea that branches into an entirely new statement. “I mostly have an idea for a melody or feel for a song, or I may hear a sound and build a track around it,” he says.
Despite the layers of production involved in Falling Up, Dontez is always eager to bring his music to a live audience. “My music is easily open to live performance because it is structured for a live feel,” he says. “It’s ready for a band to dissect it and play it live.” For the live gigs, instrumental bits come straight off his record.
The bulk of the music is composed by Dontez himself, through a mix of editing programs like Pro Tools, Reason, FL Studio, and various digital instrument plug-ins. Although he recorded his first album in a home studio, Dontez also operates a studio in Alabaster with GroudXero. The GroundSound studio offers full recording services.
In addition to the studio, Dontez manages the Modern Vintage label, which he started in 2012. The independent label features various musicians whom he has collaborated with, such as producer/rapper Steve Mac and alternative/soul artist Bryant Welch. Starting the label has allowed Dontez to work on both sides of the microphone. “Learning the full scale of what goes on behind the scenes has made me a better artist,” he says. “I don’t focus on any one specific genre of music, just good music.”
Dontez is currently working on his follow up album. You can follow his progress on Twitter.
Anyone interested in contacting the studio may email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Bryant Welch for Josjahri Photography.