With a list of collaborators that includes Giggs, Young T & Bugsey, Sarkodie, Fredo and Ghetts, Donae’O is the artist holding down London’s underground.
The producer, songwriter, rapper and vocalist has been an early adopter of almost all crucial urban movements coming out of the capital – from garage to grime to the UK funky-inspired house that continues to influence today’s charts.
Growing up in Cricklewood, North West London, Donae’O knew he wanted to make music aged six, after hearing East Coast classics blasting out of his Dad’s car stereo.
Donae’O began his career releasing a slew of tight garage hits – including playful dancefloor filler “My Philosophy (Bounce)” – via Social Circles, the home of Ms Dynamite. After some time spent knee-deep in bassline, two singles – the chaotic club smasher “Devil in a Blue Dress” and the now-seminal “Party Hard” – marked a shift in his production from gritty two-step to more kinetic, percussive beats and sparse, dancehall-inspired harmonies, placing him at the helm of the burgeoning UK funky scene.
Donae’O’s later solo work drew in big names from grimes’ upper echelons. In 2014, legends like D Double E and Lethal Bizzle brought teflon bars to album The Forest of Zephron; in 2016, skippy single “Black” enlisted Dizzie Rascal and JME; in 2017, Donae’O’s last solo LP, sixteen, referenced that brooding Atlanta sound, and featured cuts with Fredo, Young T & Bugsey, Ghetts, Wretch 32 and the late Cadet. These releases – whilst still bearing the bass-heavy energy of Donae’O’s debuts – showcased a softer side to his artistry: see the delicate break-up anthem “Leave Me Alone” from The Forest… or the synth-flecked half-step of “Alone” from sixteen.
In contrast to the larger-than-life persona he wears on record, Donae’O also describes himself an “ambivert” who keeps his cards close to his chest. “I don’t like having loads of friends,” he admits. “I just like having a small group of people around me. And I’m not really into being famous – though of course I want people to like my music. I’m an introvert naturally, but an extrovert around people I’m comfortable with.”
It’s perhaps for this reason Donae’O become so adept manning the desk in addition to grabbing the mic, with production credits on everything from Giggs to Burna Boy. But with his new album dropping in 2022 the time has come for this polymath to slide back into the spotlight.