“Who am I?”
I’m not asking, Dayon Greene is. Not in real life, because you haven’t met him. No one’s really meeting anyone right now, aside from the exchanges of pleasantries via Zoom or through chats on Instagram Live. But even those interactions are captured on a series of screens. Greene asks “Who am I?” on his Instagram account’s tagline. It’s not a query so much as an invitation to get to know him.
The answer would have been different this time last year, at least professionally. He used to be known as The Experience, a flashy moniker that promised exactly what you’d expect: an experience. In 2019, he had no issues delivering, whether through catchy hip-hop married with R&B and funk on his L.A.-inspired EP All For You? or on his more aggro, rhyme-heavy two-song EXP Pack 1. Musical stylings come naturally for the almost 26-year-old, as he grew up singing in church choirs and attending his dad’s go-go concerts. It’s personal, ingrained in his DNA.
The phrase “The Experience,” however, is impersonal. Greene’s latest project no longer leads with this promise. Instead, his new album, out on July 1, is simply titled Me. With no other words or nicknames to hide behind, he isn’t promising anything but himself: Dayon Greene.
“It’s a fully thought-out representation of who I am as a person, how much I’ve grown from The Experience to me now. I think it’s just a body of work that speaks to what I’ve been through, personal stories about ups and downs. You hear me talk about family. I’m a pretty private person, but there’s [depth] there. I no longer want to be pigeonholed by a name. I want to be who I am.”
So, who is he?
Greene is a DMV native who grew up exploring the respective scenes of D.C. proper and Prince George’s County, Maryland. His dad, who he calls “Pops” throughout the interview, played with a number of go-go bands in the area and also owns a local barber shop. There, Greene heard hip-hop music and go-go covers of rap songs, which piqued his interest. However, the genre fully grabbed him while away from D.C. on a trip to Atlanta, sitting in a tinted minivan complete with rims and a PlayStation setup in the backseat.
“My godfather was the manager for [‘90s rap group] Section 8 Mob. I was always around them, and one day, we drove to Atlanta down to a big mansion [where] they had a studio in the basement. There were probably 20 people in there smoking weed and drinking. I probably shouldn’t have been there. I was there for a couple of seconds, and there was a Jamaican guy in the booth just rapping. I’ll never forget it. I loved the music and seeing the lifestyle. These guys had full-scale basketball courts and Range Rovers, [and they were] just a group from D.C.”
In middle school, Greene tried his young hands at go-go but gravitated toward athletics, particularly soccer and basketball. Even on teams, he was known as “the music guy.” Playlists for friends over here, mix CDs for friends over there. People who knew him then look at him now and simply say, “Makes sense.”
As the region is in his blood, it overtly represents a heavy undercurrent throughout his catalog. From track to track, fellow locals each play a part in shaping and molding the final sounds – from producers to engineers to featured artists. Greene isn’t shy about enlisting the help of other locals for his songs, often on the lookout for collaborators with the mindset of a hungry talent agent. He wants the DMV to shine in his music. It’s a prerequisite.
“I always talk about this: I feel like you have to win your city,” he says with a mix of hope and pride. “Your city has to be behind you wholeheartedly. You look at Drake, he has all of Toronto behind him. You look at Kendrick [Lamar], he has all of L.A. behind him. Look at Nipsey [Hussle], how big of a legend he was because L.A. rocked so hard for [him]. I want to showcase why the DMV is so tight. We’re getting a mainstream push, but at the same time, it’s still not where I would like it to be. It’s organic. That’s what comes out.”
Greene says the bulk of Me began bubbling to the surface six to eight months ago, before quarantine and his stage name change, at a time when he began to dig internally toward subject matter and material he felt compelled to pen. Some lyrics reflect moments of insecurity, despair and melancholy, but this record does more than beat you up and wring you out.
“I went through a breakup at the beginning stages of making this record,” Greene says. “For a long time, I was in a really dark place, and I talk about that in the intro of the project. I think a huge part of my music is to give you a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not trying to put you there and keep you there. You’re going to make it through this.”
This checks out. Greene is a positive and thoughtful guy. When I ask him about social distancing, he brushes it off.
“Quarantine is cool.”
Instead of dwelling on music video cancellations, tour delays and being forced to complete his album remotely, he busies his mind with cooking, exercise and his weekly “Creating Through the Quarantine” series on Instagram Live, where he interviews other creatives, makes beats and tries anything else that feels right in the moment.
“I’ve picked up that a lot of us are in the same mental space. I ask [interviewees] how they are staying creative. They all miss the human aspects of being around people, and utilizing different senses that we might not use as much from the house.”
Maybe there’s no better time to rebrand than while stuck in quarantine, to focus inward in an attempt to shed the layers of a past moniker and emerge as an artist completely anew. He’s confident his new record will prove “life-changing.” When you see his tagline “Who am I?” on June 24, you’ll get your answer.
“I think this is the album that is going to propel me to different levels as an artist,” he says.
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