PAUSE Meets: Donae’O



Speaks on his name, sound and what’s to come…

Stylist: Joshua Meredith // @joshuameredith
Photographer: Joel Smedley // @smedleyshots
Studio: KLStudios // @studios_kl
Interview by: Johnson Gold //@Johnson_Gold
Faeturing: Donae’O // @donaeo

Destined to be Donae’O…

Knowing from an early age that music was his calling, it’s clear that determination and self-belief are among the building blocks pushing Donae’O  on his path to success. Fast forward a few years, with two studio albums, a slew of fire songs under his belt, PAUSE sat down with Donae’O to talk past & future.

 Jacket: A-COLD-WALL at Browns, Jeans: LEVIS, Glasses at SAFILO at Vintz Shop, Trainers: NIKE 

Your real name is Donae’O, right?

Nah my real name is Ian. (laughs)

Seriously? How did you come up with the name?

Yeah, I asked God for a name like De Niro, I wanted a name that was masculine and beautiful at the same time.

Why De Niro?

Because I think it’s masculine and beautiful. I just always thought De Niro sounds very powerful, but it’s very beautiful to say and to write as well, it has very good elements. My friends came up with a group name Donae’O and I was like, ‘that’s the name,’ but I wasn’t going to teeth my friends’ name so I was like you know what I’ll join the group, but when the group disbanded, I asked them for the name and they were like yeah and then my friend said the name actually means ‘gift from God’, so I would say Donae’O is my god given name. That’s why I feel like it suits me because it’s the name God gave me, and then my mum’s given me the name Ian.

Hoodie & Jumper: DIESEL, Jeans: TOPMAN, Trainers: ADIDAS, Socks: PAUSE

Got it, and did you think of that when you were 17?

No, when I was 14.

So where were you born and raised?

I was born in North West London.

Whereabouts in North West London?

I was born in Willesden but I grew up in Cricklewood.

So that’s your area from the younger days?

Yeah, Willesdon, Golders Green, Great Cross.

How has growing up in North West London influenced your music?

North West is like little west indies, so you hear a lot of reggae, that was a big influence to me, obviously hip-hop, African, but you hear a lot West Indie music in North West.

You’re half West Indies and half Ghanese?

My mum’s from Ghana, my Dad is from Guyana. So I’m actually half-African, and the other half is West Indian and South American. Because Guyana is on the South American continent but on the side of the West Indies.

So growing I’m sure your parents played their cultural music?

Not really, my mum used to sing all the time because she used to be a singer, but my parents never really played music in the house. Any time he had to himself he played a bit of Bob Marley. My dad played a lot of music in the car, he’d play like Luther Vandross and people like that, and rap music.

What did your mum sing?

My mum was just a singer, that’s how she got out of her village and stuff.

So music now has evolved so much, what era did you start? Was it the funky house era?

That’s not when I started, the era I started was Grime, I helped like start the beginning of grime, so when grime was turned into like Garage.

What year was this?

Like 2000s. The first song that I blew up with was a song called ‘Bounce.’ That came with like Pulse X, came with Are You From The Ends, Dizzee Rascal – I Luv You, Wiley – Eskimo; they were all the first kind of
records that created Grime.

Yeah, I remember that era. Did your music transition from that?

Yeah so it started off with Garage but I wanted to make garage and rap together. That’s why Bounce sounded the way it did, and then after that I made bassline.

How old were you when you started this by the way?

Bounce was made when I was 17/18 years old.

What made you want to pursue that and just go for that?

When I was 6 years old, my dad put in a tape and that’s what made me want to do music, and then when I became an adult, which is when I left secondary school then I just delved into it.

Jacket: CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN, Jacket: HITEC, Jeans: LEVIS, Trainers: NIKE, Glasses: Hilton at Vintz Shop

Did you skip your schooling years?

No, I got bullied a lot, so I didn’t skip but I didn’t really enjoy it either, there was so much stuff going on that I didn’t focus on school properly. I went to college but I didn’t really do well in that. I left secondary school so my responsibility to my parents was over by then. Now I’m like a young man.

So it was just you against the world basically.


If you don’t mind me asking why did you get bullied?

I was just different when I was younger and I didn’t understand that I was different, down to me not being aware of how I was treating other kids, there were just loads of different things that contributed to it. When you’re different, kids don’t really understand that, but I never really got physically bullied, I’m quite good at fighting.

Do you feel like that maybe had some influence in you pushing for your career?

No, I was born to make music and God decided to let me know from a young age.

So you just loved it and were like “Ok I’m going to do this.”


Did you expect your first track to blow up at 17?

No, but I believed in it enough that I thought it would. When I made it I thought this is a banger, I think this could blow.

Following forward you’ve had more tracks that blew up as well, name some of your favourite tracks that you’ve done that blew up.

There are loads like in the bassline era I had Falling, Colours, those two blew up.

Did you say the bassline era?

Yeah so after grime, I made bassline. So you know Heartbroken – T2? I had 5 hits in that era. I had a song called Raving, Falling, Colours, Slow it Down, and I can’t remember the 5th one. After that, I had the funky era which most people know me for, and in that, I had Devil In A Blue Dress, African Warrior, Party Hard, I’m Fly, Move To Da Gyal Dem, Go Hard w/ Lethal Bizzle.

Do artists have to transition with the flow of music, because every few years music changes and everybody’s tastes’ kind of fuses, do you think it’s important for an artist to adapt?

If you want to, because remember being creative is about enjoyment first, you’re enjoying yourself first. You’re pleasing yourself first, so I don’t make a style of music unless I’m a part of the culture, so every time I’ve made a different style of music, that style of music has crept into my lifestyle. My track Gone In The Morning, I was raving to House before I made it and all of my favourite tunes were made by Carneo Beats, so it made sense for me to make a record with him. Same with like rap, I was already raving to it and having an experience with it, meeting girls to it, and having experiences with my friends to it, so that’s why I made it. I don’t think as a creative you should just make something because it’s popping, because you’re never ever going to make your best stuff.

 Top: CALVIN KLIEN 205W39NYC at Mr Porter, Shirt: DIESEL, Jeans: RIVER ISLAND, Trainers: NIKE, Glasses: Hilton at Vintz Shop

True, and you won’t be happy.

Nah, you’re never going to be happy.

So it’s key to always put yourself first?

Yeah, you as a person, experience so many different things within your life. You need to be aware of that when your creative because that’s what you’re going to put into your creativity. Whatever you are, if you’re going to write a story, if you’re going to take pictures, if you’re styling; like if you’re in the winter time and for some reason you’re feeling bright, everyone might want dark colours but you as a stylist should bring bright colours. I think today sometimes artists are not thinking about themselves, they’re making a sound for the moment and then they do that and next year you don’t hear from them because they can’t recreate that sound.

But with you, you’ve been going for years and you’ve kept bringing great music every time.

It’s because, all of my songs are my favourite songs, so I’m basically giving you my opinion, and you happen to have the same opinion as me. If you’re going to make a song because you think that’s the sound but you don’t like the song, how are you going to recreate that sound? You didn’t like it in the first place so you don’t know what it is. If you know what you like then you can recreate it, because it started with you.

It’s a good point but then also some people feel like you should make music for yourself but also remember the public as well?

No, making music for yourself is making music for the public. What you like is for the public because you have an understanding of what your fans want. Often because your fans have the same opinion as you. If you know that then you can recreate that, it should never ever be for someone else, it should be for you first.

Are there any struggles you faced as an artist, from the beginning to now? What are five of the hurdles you might have faced?

The first hurdle is always money. So I would always advise any creative to get a job while you’re being creative because creativity is about your passion. If you’re worried about money, then you’ll worry about what sells rather than making a great product. The second hurdle is – and it happens to everyone – when you get power for the first time, you’re going to act like a dickhead, and it doesn’t matter if you’re 15 or 45,  it’s very intoxicating, like everyone says they won’t change but you’ve never experienced power before. That’s like saying when I get drunk, I could drive a car when you’ve never drunk before, you can’t say it as you don’t understand. The thing is, you’re also going to lose it. You’re going to lose the power. What most people don’t understand is that you got to keep going until you get it again. And when you get it again hopefully you can learn from your other mistakes and therefore you won’t act as much of a dickhead as you did before. Then you’re going to lose it again and that’s how it runs. You work hard you work hard, you build energy, the energy turns into power, you exploit it as much as you can, it goes.

It hurts, then you build it again and that’s how it goes, up and down
up and down. Each time it goes up, you just save a little bit more and you learn from experiences. But you’re never ever going to fail, the only time you fail is if you completely stop. Even when it feels really, really hard,
nothing’s really working for you, you might just be right on the edge of your success. But power it comes and goes. So that’s the second thing. Always try and give value to other people. The only way you’re going to know if you’re giving value to other people is if you’re giving value to yourself.

Jacket & Hat: A COLD WALL at Browns

What do you mean when you say give value to other people what do you mean?

So say if I make a song and I’m dancing to it, I’ve given value to myself because that day, I’m dancing to a tune, so the value I’ve given myself is happiness. So now, I know if someone else has the same opinion as me with music, they’ll dance. Like, say, for instance, Jen plays a lot of music that I like, so we probably have a similar taste in music, and she likes my music right? So we probably like the same music, so if I make a song and I’m going to dance to it, Jen will probably dance to it too, so I’ve given her value by giving myself value.

Got it, that’s interesting.

So that’s the third hurdle, the fourth hurdle is to get a team who is passionate about what you do. You’re always going to find people who want to make money off you, but it is very rare to find people who are actually passionate about you and what you do. If they’re passionate, they’ll go the extra mile. You could find a manager who’s got all the links in the world but only cares about you because you’re making money for them, or you could find a manager who doesn’t have the links but is very smart and is passionate. That manager is going to do better for you than the manager with the major links. See where I’m coming from?

How do find people who are passionate?

You’ll know. How old are you?

I’m 26.

So you should know by this age who’s passionate about you. To be honest, most people do find it hard to accept love, so they probably would find it hard to accept someone who’s passionate about them. You kind of have to learn to love yourself to understand how to accept love, and then understand how to find people who are passionate about you. So yeah the answer to your question is, learn to love yourself first, then you will learn to accept love. Then you’ll learn to accept passion.

Ok cool. And the fifth?

Don’t worry about what you look like. Someone will find you beautiful. In the music ting, somebody does find you beautiful. So again, if people are like ‘you need to like this or that’, leave them. There’s someone out there who’s going to be happy with you the way you are.

You came with a new track with Belly, how did that come about? As a UK artist is that the first time you’ve worked with a US artist?

Nah, I’ve worked with Talib Kweli on my second album.

Who produced the music?

Calvin Harris.

Wow, so that’s a strong package already.

Tremendous package.

How did you go about working with those amazing artists?

Calvin Harris followed me after Linguo, on Twitter, so I followed him back and he was just like Linguo is a f*cking hit, best song of the year in his opinion. And I was like I’m going to be in LA next week and he was like
come to the studio, so we went to the studio, done a tune for him, and the next day he was like I want to do a Donae’O song and I said alright. He had the beat there, I put the song down.

You said you done a song for him?

I did a song for him and then the next day we did Chalice.

So there’s another song on the way?

Yeah. Then the label and my manager was like working out who to do the feature with. I left them to it, I had done the song and I was happy with it. They came up with Belly, my A&R found Belly, they sorted it all out and
then yeah. When I saw the video I was like ‘wow this is so sick’ because I listened to his music growing up from young. So now, just seeing this was like amazing.

Top: COS, Armour: ALYX STUDIO at Mr Porter, Trousers: HITEC, Socks: PAUSE, Trainers: NIKE, Glasses: Cartier at Vintz Shop

What was the idea behind the video?

In regards to the video, I decided to sign because I wanted to reach a wider audience, and you need a bigger team for that and you need money. I didn’t want to change my music, my music’s fine the way it is, I just wanted my music to get spread to a bigger audience. So that meant coming out of the shadows because usually everyone hears my music but they don’t know what I look like. That’s how I liked it for a long time.

Yeah, you had that kind of phase for a long time.

Yeah, like my music is so big, eventually one of them is going to pop. You might like 5 of my tunes and you don’t even know I’m on them. But I realised in order for me to become a bigger artist, I have to become a fully rounded artist. The thing is, I just know the gift and curse is that I’m a person people are interested in. I’ve always known that. That was also probably another reason I got bullied, I was just very popular. Like everybody knew me in my ends. It’s always been like that for me and I think the bullying helped me learn how to hide. So I did very well doing that for 14/15 years. However, recently I just realised if I’m going to do this I might as well put myself out there fully, I just knew once people knew what I was really on, then the popularity would grow. So say with the video for Chalice, I always wanted to do a video like that but again big up to Ireland for giving me the opportunity to do that. That’s my personality and now it’s out there, it’s fashionable, it’s bright.

I felt like you let a lot of people see another side to you as well. I also loved how in terms of fashion you pushed boundaries too, the kind of looks you were putting in the video, you were looking sick.

That’s a big shout out to Leymar, my stylist in America. I like fashion and I like looking good. And to be honest I look good in most things. But then sometimes again it’s art, style is using your body as a canvas and the
clothes as paint. If they’re good at what they do and if you believe in them, then together you can create a great moment with the pictures. And that’s really where I’m at now. I’m old enough to handle it.

Yeah because before you didn’t really put yourself out there so now that you have, people have seen that ‘ok this guy is into these jackets, this guy is into some Gucci, this guy is into this.’ I feel like a lot of London artists are very closed in terms of the fashion side of things so I thought it was great to see that you weren’t. As we’re a fashion magazine, name five of your favourite brands?

Supreme, Nike and Versace is also up there.

Why Versace?

As for Versace, I love the classiness of it, I love the loudness of it, I love the way the clothes make me look, when I’m out of shape, when I’m
in shape, I always wear Versace, it’s a vibe. I feel like when it comes to fitting, Versace’s got my back, every time without fail. I never put on something Versace and not liked it.

Growing up have you always been a Nike boy or do you prefer something like Adidas or Puma?

I wasn’t anything, I avoided the style for a long time because I didn’t want to be noticed. I just knew once I decided to get into it I had actually thought: ‘do I like this’ or ‘do I feel good about myself.’

So in society and in the music industry, in general, the generation has changed, do you think it’s important for an artist to also be aware of their image and style?

I don’t know if I think it’s important. I think it’s fun, I think if you delved into it, it adds another layer to it. That may not be your thing not every artist is on fashion like that but you are definitely missing out on another part
of creativity.

So do I think it’s important?

Nah I don’t think it’s important.

Jumper: MONCLER at Mr Porter, Jeans: LEVIS, Gillet: MC OVERALLS., Trainers: AXEL ARIGATO, Glasses: CHRISTIAN DIOR at Vintz Shop

Would you ever delve into collaborating with any fashion brands in the future?

I’d like to, yeah.

What kind of brands would you like to collaborate with?

I don’t know, I like what Diesel’s doing at the moment. They’re smacking it. I love the 2Chainz and Versace collab, my goodness. That collab is so banging but also under the radar. It just makes sense as well.

Yeah, at first when I heard I was like ‘ok,’ but when I saw the trainers I was like ‘yes!’ They’re my favourite, I don’t even know why I haven’t got a pair to be honest!

In terms of music, who would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Loads of people man. I’m at the stage in my life where I just want to collaborate with whoever, there’s no one like above all else as Michael Jackson and Tupac are dead.

You just dropped this track, so is there anyone next that you’ve already collaborated with that we should look out for?

Not really, I just want to collaborate in general. I’ve already worked with Giggs and he’s one of my favourite rappers.

In London?

In the world.

Like Giggs?

Well, he’s definitely in my top 5 of all time.

Who’s the other 4?

Biggie, Tupac, Jay Z, Andre 3000 & Giggs.

What do you think about the new wave of artists like Yxng Bane and Not3s?

I think they’re banging.

What do you think about their music in terms of the sound?

I think it’s beautiful, man. I think they are more well-rounded artists than we were when we were coming up. I feel like they have opened the doors for someone like me to go ‘actually yeah this could actually help in other areas.’

What’s next for Donae’O?

New album, so ‘Chalice’ is the first single, then the second single is coming, then I will put out the album next year around June.

Nice, so right now are you working towards it or have you already made the music?

I’ve already made the music, I’ve already had my heart broken so I’m just ready to fling it up.

So next year’s a big year for you then?

Every year is a big year for me.

You looking to do any festivals next year?

I don’t know yet.

So you have got a big year ahead.


Top: CALVIN KLIEN 205W39NYC at Mr Porter, Shirt: DIESEL, Jeans: RIVER ISLAND, Trainers: NIKE, Glasses: Hilton at Vintz Shop

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